The numbers are scary.
In the Downtown area bounded by the Rio Grande to the west, Interstate 25 to the east, Bridge to the south and Interstate 40 to the north, the retail vacancy rate is 16 percent – compared to the citywide rate of 7.6 percent – and the office vacancy rate is 29 percent.
Since 2003, the Downtown area has lost about 500,000 square feet of office tenants, equal to about 2,500 workers as some agencies and businesses have relocated.
“For lease” signs are ubiquitous. But customers aren’t.
A persistent decline in the number of people working Downtown means fewer people buying lunch or shopping after work. A reputation for crime – even though it has dropped in recent years – and weekend bar activity deter many people from going Downtown to shop, dine or attend events.
Parking is a perennial problem and until the city put a stop to it, some parking lot attendants were quick to boot vehicles. Hardly a draw to come to the area.
Trying to bring Downtown back to vibrancy has been an ongoing effort of various city administrations and the business community. And there have been some successes. Redevelopment projects like the lofts in old Albuquerque High School and a surge of new housing units mean more people are living in the Downtown area. Amenities like the Century 14 movie theater have chosen Downtown. The Albuquerque Convention Center is getting a $22 million face-lift, and a grocery store anchor for a mixed-use development is in the works.
Downtown boosters are looking forward to the developing tech cluster just east of the tracks. The University of New Mexico and the city are collaborating on the Innovate ABQ “brain hub” at the old First Baptist Church and the “Fat Pipe ABQ” information technology incubator is set to open across the street.
All that is promising. However, a comprehensive strategy is needed for stemming the worker drain and for attracting job creators to invest in the heart of the city. If the city actually considers a downtown important and wants one, it’s time to design a new welcome mat.
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.