Walk out of the Hyatt Regency — one of Albuquerque’s fanciest hotels — and you’ll find empty storefronts.
Maybe some panhandlers. A few people milling about.
The Fourth Street mall isn’t the thriving urban environment Downtown boosters envisioned when it opened nearly 30 years ago.
Mayor Richard Berry’s administration hopes to change that with a $2 million proposal to reopen the corridor to one lane of vehicle traffic. It would have wide sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly information kiosks, outdoor lunch areas and vendors, city officials say.
“The Fourth Street mall area is kind of the front porch of the city of Albuquerque,” said Rob Perry, the city’s chief administrative officer.
Some aren’t optimistic the plan will work. Mayors and city councilors have talked for years about transforming the mall into a more inviting place.
Sabine Pasco and Bruno Barachin, owners of La Quiche Parisienne Bistro, say public safety and vandalism are real problems.
“You’re going to spend (the money) for nothing,” Barachin said of the proposal.
Potential customers are scared to enter the pedestrian mall, where their restaurant is located, they said. Bringing new people Downtown isn’t going to be fixed with just one thing, they said.
The Berry administration, for its part, says the city isn’t pursuing just one big fix to Downtown — such as a new event center or ballpark, ideas that have been discussed in the past.
Instead, it’s trying to improve Downtown “one bite at a time,” said Gilbert Montaño, Albuquerque’s deputy chief administrative officer. Other efforts are under way, too, such as the $20 million renovation of the Convention Center.
Perry said people looking to do business in Albuquerque often stay at the Hyatt, which stands at the northeast corner of the Fourth Street mall. That’s all the more reason to make the mall more attractive and inviting.
But would reopening it to traffic really change much? Supporters say even slow-moving traffic would bring extra eyes and activity to the area, making the mall feel less dark and secluded.
“For me, the idea is to get it active — to get people in there,” said Debbie Stover, executive director of the nonprofit Downtown Action Team.
A meandering, single lane of traffic would go northbound from Central to Tijeras, where the mall hits Civic Plaza. The city could close it off to vehicles regularly for special events or other purposes, Perry said.
City Councilor Isaac Benton, an architect, said he’s advocated reopening the street for sometime.
Right now, he said, “it seems to me it doesn’t work as a public space. … I’m just not a big believer in closing off our street grid. I think it’s better served when it’s a multipurpose facility.”
The pedestrian mall opened in 1984, after 14 years of arguing about its design.
Perry said he envisions kiosks on the mall showing information from local museums or the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau. A live webcam of the BioPark’s shark tank could be projected onto the side of the Century Link building, officials said, to promote other city amenities.
Bicycle rentals would be offered, allowing tourists to see other parts of the city if they want, Perry said.
The city would also like to create a pavilion, where Little League teams and other organizations could meet and hang banners. The idea is to bring people Downtown who wouldn’t otherwise go, Perry said.
A design meeting will be scheduled next month to talk about ideas with nearby business owners and residents, city officials said.
City Council approval would be needed to tap into federal grants already awarded to the city, Perry said. The council would also have to decommission the area as a park.
The city wouldn’t try to push the homeless or other “folks hanging around” out of the mall, Perry said. Instead, increased activity from shoppers, diners and others should make the place more inviting and safe, he said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal