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Editorial: Rebuilding Rail Yards An Expensive Endeavor

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It’s tough to get up a head of steam behind yet another plan to make over Albuquerque’s dilapidated rail yard site in Barelas. But it’s there, and it isn’t going away — no matter how much we might wish it would.

Mayor Richard Berry is considering asking the City Council to spend $500,000 to $750,000 in available bond money to bring one building up to code and optimistically says the rail yard “could be one of the really special places in America.”

It could be. For sure it would be a very expensive, long-term endeavor. Estimates for just starting to redevelop the site were around $25 million last year when the project was floated to residents as part of Berry’s ABQ: The Plan. Sinking one-half to three-quarters of a million bucks into the old blacksmith shop would be a very modest first step on what is already an $8.5 million public investment in the land.

And it’s not a step most Albuquerque residents said they wanted to take when the mayor was shopping his Plan projects to the public last spring.

Restoring the rail yards was on the mayor’s potential wish list, along with turning the State Fairgrounds into a “Central Park”/equestrian center/amusement park ($40 million), sprucing up the Fourth Street pedestrian mall ($8 million), improving access from Old Town to the zoo, aquarium and other cultural sites ($15 million), and making Civic Plaza appealing with landscaping and craft/food booths ($12 million).

None of those projects made the final cut of a 13-member committee made up of business and community leaders, which considered questionnaires and other comments from the public and focused on projects that could be done fairly soon and would create jobs. Instead, the top four were adding white-water rafting at Balloon Fiesta Park, a riverfront boardwalk along the Rio Grande bosque, a 50-mile bike loop around the city and a 35-acre sports complex. Jump-starting the Paseo del Norte/I-25 rebuild wasn’t in the top four, and voters rejected it when combined with the sports complex. Berry will take another run at funding Paseo on the November ballot.

There are many fans of a rail yards project, and the city committed to redevelopment when it purchased the site in 2007. But in a struggling economy, with public dollars and perhaps public support scarce, this project requires a cautious start.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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