On December 3, the City’s Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency (MFA) issued a report that major progress is being made with residential housing in the Downtown area. According to the report, affordable townhomes are already being constructed in one development project and another complex of 150 units is planned and will be constructed near the Silver Street Market which is a mere few blocks south of Central in the heart of downtown Albuquerque.
On Silver Street and south of the Silver Street market, more than a dozen affordable townhomes are being constructed in the Palladium Project. Across 2nd Street, a complex of more than 150 micro housing units are part of another project. The MFA report also identified 178 housing projects like Nuevo Atrisco and Broadstone Highlands, 218 hotel units with the Springhill Suites by Presbyterian.
The MFA is hoping the boost in homes and jobs will be a welcomed addition to the neighborhood. Karen Iverson, manager of the Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency, had this to say:
“Coming out of the pandemic, we’re seeing a really strong market for housing. … We see that all across the city that rent, the vacancy rate is really high. … It’s amazing what a project like that can do to really change the atmosphere of the surrounding neighborhood. … Seeing new businesses opening up and new residents coming into these blighted areas.”
Iverson says despite the pandemic, many of the projects are proceeding ahead on schedule. They include more residential and shopping options at the Highlands, along with the Rail Trails project along the Railyards.
“How do we bring businesses back to reduce the vacancy. … What kind of infrastructure projects do we need to help people move and walk around the area.”
Albert Chavez, a store manager for the Silver Street Market had this to say:
“We have several apartment complexes nearby. … Various levels of income and so we see a pretty good variety of customers. … Looking forward in particular after the last couple years. … It’s always good to see new doors and new people. It would really help us out here.”
The MFA is preparing studies to report on redevelopment along Central between University and Nob Hill. They hope to complete those findings by early next year.
With the 14 current redevelopment projects, the city is investing more than $160 million. The MFA is also hoping to entice businesses to the downtown area with all the development projects started and being planned. MFA storefront grants will give up to $30,000 to businesses that open in the area.
The link to quoted source material is here:
METROPOLITAN REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY
The Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency (MFA) is a City of Albuquerque government agency. The mission of the MFA is straight forward as it gets and states:
“To make Albuquerque competitive in the global market by revitalizing downtown and the Central Avenue corridor, leading collaborative public-private partnerships that result in catalytic change, investing in sustainable infrastructure, and providing opportunities for local residents and businesses to thrive.”
The MFA also has a mission statement that is ambitious and clear:
“To make Albuquerque the Southwest’s premier mid-size city attracting economic investment and building a healthy and vibrant community that reflects diversity, innovation, rich culture, and unique history. Its mission also includes ensuring economic prosperity for all residents and where visitors dream to return.”
METROPOLITAN REDEVELOPMENT BONDS
To achieve its mission, the MFA has a number of financing mechanisms in place. The biggest financing mechanism are Metropolitan Redevelopment Bonds (MR Bonds) used to support projects within Metropolitan Redevelopment Areas. Projects must meet the goals of the adopted Metropolitan Redevelopment Plan and result in the elimination or prevention of “slum and blight” as defined by New Mexico Statutory law. The City does not provide financing or credit enhancement for the bonds. An MFA applicant is responsible for identifying the bond purchaser and negotiating the rates and terms. Metropolitan Redevelopment Bonds are taxable.
Metropolitan Redevelopment Bonds also provide a seven-year property tax abatement on the incremental property taxes. Property owners continue to pay the pre-development tax amount to the County Assessor. All land uses are eligible for a Metropolitan Redevelopment Bond, as long as the project is found by the City Council to meet the criteria described in applications.
IMPACT FEE WAIVERS
Impact fee waivers are another financing mechanism made available to developers . Impact fees are a charge of assessment imposed by the City on new development in order to generate revenue for funding or recouping the costs of capital improvements rationally related to new development in accordance with applicable law. Capital improvements include: roads, drainage facilities, fire stations, police stations, parks, open space and trails. Impact fees are assessed and collected during the building permit process.
All projects located within a Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Are eligible for a waiver of City of Albuquerque impact fees. This does not apply to Water or Sewer Impact Fee’s assessed by the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.
REVOLVING LOAN FUND (RLF)
The City of Albuquerque has an EPA Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund to issue low-interest loans to qualified developers. The program goal is to encourage the redevelopment of contaminated properties in our community. As repayments are made, the funds are revolved, enabling the Brownfield Program to provide additional loans to borrowers. Applications are accepted on an ongoing basis and loans are made based on the availability of funding. For more information view the documents below:
20 METROPOLITAN REDEVELOPMENT AREAS IDENTIFIED
There are 20 Metropolitan Redevelopment Areas in the City of Albuquerque. Each area has an adopted redevelopment plan that guides the City’s redevelopment strategies.
The 20 MFAs are:
1. Barelas Neighborhood Commercial Area Revitalization and Metropolitan Area Plan (1993)
2. Central/Highland/Upper Nob Hill Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan (2003, 2005)
3. Clayton Heights/Lomas Del Cielo Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan (2010).
4. Coronado Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan (2016).
5. Downtown 2025 Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan (2000, last amended 2014).
6. East Downtown/Huning Highland/South Martineztown Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan (2019).
7. East Gateway Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan (2016).
8. Historic Central Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan (2012).
9. Los Candelarias Village Center Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan (2006, 2010).
10. McClellan Park Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan (1984, 2002).
11. Near Heights Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Expansion Plan (2000, amended 2010).
12. Railroad Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan (1998).
13. North Corridor Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan (2020).
14. Sawmill/Wells Park Community Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan (2005).
15. Soldiers and Sailors Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan (1985).
16. South Barelas Industrial Park Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan (1992).
17. South Broadway Neighborhoods Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency Area Plan (1986, 2002).
18. St. Joseph Hospital Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan (1985).
19. Sycamore Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan (1982).
20. West Central Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan (2004).
The link to review each of the 20 MRA’s, with maps and goals is here:
DOWNTOWN 2025 METROPOLITAN REDEVELOPMENT AREA PLAN
One of the most closely watched MFA’s is the “Downtown 2025 Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan” because of the decades of Mayor’s and City Hall being enamored with trying to revitalized the downtown area to its glory days of the 1950’s and 1960”s where it was the center of retail commerce and government.
The goal of the Downtown 2025 Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan is to make Downtown Albuquerque the best mid-sized downtown in the USA. The strategies in the Plan are:
• Make Downtown a “pedestrian-first,” “park-once” place with excellent pedestrian, transit and bicycle facilities;
• Make Downtown New Mexico’s premier pedestrian-oriented “urban place”;
• Preserve and enhance the character of the neighborhoods which surround Downtown.
• Have at least 20,000 people living within one mile of the Downtown Core, and 5,000 living within the Downtown Core by 2010;
• Create Downtown as an exciting “urban retail destination”;
• Maintain Downtown as New Mexico’s largest employment center and the Region’s Center of Economic Activity;
• Make Downtown Albuquerque a vibrant, urban 24 hour destination for arts, culture and entertainment;
• Make Downtown and the Historic District a “Tourist Destination”;
• Create new parks, open space and plazas that are easily accessible to downtown residents, workers, students and visitors; and
• Develop, maintain, and market Downtown as if it were a single mixed-use project.
ABBREVIATED HISTORY OF DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION AND CITY GROWTH
A very abbreviated history of “downtown revitalization” efforts is in order to fully understand the significance of what is happening with the Downtown 2025 metropolitan redevelopment area plan.
Central Avenue going West from Broadway Ave to the Rio Grande River is traditionally thought of as “Downtown” by many born and raised in Albuquerque or long-term residents. Downtown Albuquerque should probably also be considered to include a mile north and a mile south of Central between Broadway and the Rio Grande River so as to include Old Town, the Albuquerque Museum, the Children’s Science Museum, the New Mexico History Museum, the Zoo, the BioPak, which includes the botanical gardens and aquarium, and various government buildings including courthouses and commercial office buildings.
From approximately 1952 to about 1965, Downtown Albuquerque on Central from Broadway to 1st street was considered the “hub of activity” for retail and business where you would shop, bank and go for entertainment. In the 1960s and the mid-1970s, “urban renewal” was the big “buzzwords” at City Hall and the then existing City Commission. Urban Renewal was federal funding ..given to cities for the large-scale improvement of urban areas riddled with “blight,” a catchall term used to describe almost anything city planners may have found problematic or offensive with the city structure.
Blight was used to describe otherwise healthy urban neighborhoods inhabited by a single ethnic group; historic and dilapidated buildings whose owners were either uninterested in renovation or unable to secure funding to do so; heavy, poor, or inefficient traffic flow through central business districts; and nearly any other sociological or psychological issue that was affecting the urban area.”
The term “blight” provided ready justification for city planners and developer aspirations. Today, “blight” translates into “gentrification”.
The 1960’s-1970’s urban renewal in Albuquerque resulted in city government use of “eminent domain” condemnations and the leveling of entire neighborhood blocks and areas of downtown, including old government buildings. The many retail stores on Central Street downtown or the Central Street area before urban renewal including Sears, JC Penny, Montgomery Ward’s, Fedway Department Store, Paris Shoe Store, Stromberg’s clothing, American Furniture, People’s Flowers, Russell Stover’s candies, Mc Clullens, Kurt’s Camera Coral, Krees’s , Levines, Woolworth’s, Payless Drugs, Zales Jewelry, Skaggs, Fogg’s Fine Jewelry, PNM (across from the KIMO) the Sunshine, KIMO, State and the El Ray movie theaters, just to mention a few.
The original Albuquerque Convention Center was built in the late 1960’s as was the old 5 story Frank Horan City Hall building and the 4 story downtown main police station were built and still stand on property that was condemned in the name of “urban renewal”. To the north of the original convention center was built the “Hilton Double Tree” hotel, 201 Marquette, NW, built in 1975, to serve the convention center and the “semi-circular” architecture portion of the hotel was supposedly inspired by “hot air” balloons and originally painted in various colors.
During urban renewal, many residential areas downtown were demolished and replaced by office buildings and it had an impact on retail businesses along Central Downtown. It was not until the early 1980’s that the City-County Government Center, 11 story building located at 1 Civic Plaza west of the plaza and located between the Frank Horan City Hall building and the old District Courthouse was erected.
Urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970’s gutted or demolished many historic and government buildings in downtown Albuquerque and included:
The Alvarado hotel at 1st and Central was demolished in 1970.
The Franciscan Hotel at 5th and Central was demolished in 1972.
A Parking lot replaced the Franciscan Hotel and the city’s Alvarado Transportation Center was built where the Alvarado Hotel one stood.
The demolition of the Franciscan Hotel and the Alvarado Hotel and restaurant contributed significantly to the demise of the downtown area.
In the early to mid-1980’s, the City Council attempted to revitalize Downtown as a place to go with the multimillion dollar “Festival Market Place”. The Festival Market place was intended to be a large entertainment venue where civic plaza now sits and nearby areas.
“Concerned Citizens” of Albuquerque mounted a voter initiative to put it on the ballot that killed the festival market place. After the demise of the Festival Market Place at the polls, the City Council exerted itself even further with Downtown revitalization by pushing the expansion of the Albuquerque Convention Center with the major addition of an east wing and a parking structure. The 21 story Hyatte Regency and 22 story Albuquerque Plaza complex, which opened in 1990, were built in part with city bonding to coincide with the convention center expansion.
From 1985 to 1989, the Albuquerque City Council continued with efforts to try to revitalize in part Downtown Albuquerque. In 1987, the City Council enacted the 10-year quarter cent “Quality of Life” tax which included funding for a Performing Arts Center, the Children’s Science Museum, the Botanical Gardens, the Albuquerque Aquarium and the Balloon Museum and the acquisition of critical open space in the Sandia foothills.
The Children’s Science Museum, the Botanical Gardens, the Albuquerque Aquarium and the Balloon Museum were all constructed. The performing arts center was originally proposed to be built at a cost of $60 million and was to be built on the city vacant land located directly north of Civic Plaza in an effort to revitalize downtown.
From 1990 to 1994, downtown revitalization took the form of trying to build a new baseball stadium in the area of Broadway and Lomas to again revitalize the area and bring people to downtown. Relocating the baseball stadium failed and the old baseball park for the “Dukes” baseball team was leveled and rebuilt calling it a “remodeling” and the stadium was renamed “Isotopes Park” after the city was able to lure another professional baseball team.
The BioPark, with the Rio Grande Zoo, aquarium and botanical gardens, is the number one tourist attraction in the State of New Mexico. During the 2015 municipal election, Albuquerque voters approved with an overwhelming majority the voter petition drive initiative to increase the gross receipts tax for the BioPark. The tax will raise $255 million dollars over 15 years for the BioPark.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Make no mistake, the “Downtown Central” area must and can be revitalized because of its historical significance and being a part of historic Route 66. Downtown Albuquerque is the sole of the city because of the history it represents and it must be respected and preserved.
There has been a very large number of multi-story apartments and condos developed directly south of Central between 1st Street and 6th Street within the past 10 years along with the Silver Street “grocery store” in one of the developments.
The residential developments are Downtown’s biggest hope yet for Downtown revitalization because it will sustain vibrant downtown activity, where people can live, raise a family and work and play which is the “walkable city” concept. The Albuquerque High School condos and the Lobo Rainforest Building and Innovate Albuquerque development across the street at Broadway and Central will no doubt help with Downtown revitalization.
The “One Central” development located at 1st Street and Central, which is now opened, is a public-private mixed-use development, including at least 39,000 square feet of commercial space with an entertainment tenant initially described as an upscale bowling alley with at least two other retail or restaurant tenants, 60 residential units and a 429-space parking garage.
Downtown Central dodged a fatal bullet when the decision was made not to run the ART Bus project and by pass the area entirely.
BRANDING AN “OLD DOWNTOWN” TO “DOWNTOWN ROUTE 66”
The City should explore reinventing and changing the branding of the Downtown Albuquerque Central with an emphasis on historical Route 66. Storefronts on Central between 10th Street on the West and the railroad tracks on the East could be easily transformed with facades reflecting the Downtown of its Route 66 heyday.
An arts or entertainment district development that will expand further the new entertainment complex on 1st and Central should be explored. The efforts to revitalize the Rail Yards need to continue, but at a quicker pace and be tied into downtown redevelopment efforts with a transportation component, perhaps a very small trolley system reminiscent of what existed at one time downtown in the middle of central.
The building of an entertainment venue for 10,000 to 15,000 people such as the civic auditorium with another dome type facility needs to be explored and placed West of the convention center.
The number one tourist attraction in the State of New Mexico is the Bio-Park. The City needs to expedite expansion and repairs to the of the Bio-Park wherever it can with the upgrades and repairs to the facilities.
Old Town will always be a critical component of Downtown Revitalization and projects to enhance Old Town, including expansion of the Albuquerque Museum and Children’s museums should be developed. One project for the City to consider is acquire the “Romero Residence” on Old Town Plaza, convert it to a “Mayor’s Residence” to be used not for living but for City and ceremonial events.
Now that significant progress is being made with residential development in downtown, there is much optimism of what can be done business wise.
Links to related blog articles are here: