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Rail Yards Project Not Fiscally Irresponsible

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The Journal’s criticism of the city’s handling of the Rail Yards project in its July 26 editorial “Rebuilding Rail Yards an Expensive Endeavor” is clearly uninformed on a number of counts.

First, we would remind the Journal and its readers that past proposals to redevelop the site came from private developers and were never realistic or supported by the community. Since purchasing the site in 2007, the city has undertaken a thoughtful and transparent process to guide redevelopment and historic preservation at the Rail Yards.

Mayor Richard Berry’s recent effort to develop a plan for public interim uses on the site is neither hasty nor fiscally irresponsible. It is, in fact, a logical next step in a very deliberate and well-thought-out process.

It is unfortunate that the Journal also doesn’t have its facts straight on both the origins of and support for the project. The city and community’s efforts to redevelop this historical and culturally important site started long before Berry included the Rail Yards in his “ABQ: The Plan.” Those efforts are overseen by an advisory board that includes the city administration, council and other elected representatives of the area, neighborhood groups and development experts. To state that investing in the Rail Yards is “not a step most Albuquerque residents said they wanted to take” is unsubstantiated and untrue.

While some components of “ABQ: The Plan” as a concept may not have gained traction, to suggest that this reflects on the public’s support for efforts to redevelop the Rail Yards is unfair. In fact, in 2011 when voters approved general obligation bonds for “Senior, Family, Community Center, and Community Enhancement Project Bonds,” one of the specific projects they were supporting was “Rail Yard Improvements & Renovations” (per City Council adopted resolution, R-11-183).

Another key point the Journal may have missed is that the Rail Yards, unlike the other projects that were part of “ABQ: The Plan,” is not a project that is expected to rely on extensive public funding. The redevelopment is to occur through a public-private partnership the city has formed with Samitaur Constructs, the California-based development company that was selected as the master developer of the site.

While there will undoubtedly, and appropriately, be public funds used to help realize the full adaptive reuse and preservation of the site, the expectation, explicitly made in the city’s request for proposals to select a master developer, is that a significant amount of private capital will be invested in the site.

We don’t disagree that decisions regarding the Rail Yards need to be made cautiously and that public funds need to be spent wisely. However, we take issue with the Journal using the Rail Yards project as a proxy for criticizing other efforts and their refusal to acknowledge that the city, in partnership with numerous community organizations such as ours, is responsibly working to make the Rail Yards an economic and cultural asset that benefits all of Albuquerque.

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