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Central Avenue redux: Blighted stretches come back to life

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Formerly blighted and vacant stretches of Central Avenue are coming back to life, thanks to continuing investment by Albuquerque’s development community.

Transformation of Central Avenue is an ongoing, incremental process. In 2015, the Journal reported that an estimated 60 properties or more had undergone radical improvement in the previous decade, either through new construction or major renovations, for those looking to live, work or play along the avenue.

At that time, veteran developer Paul Silverman, whose company was behind the four-story Imperial Building Downtown, predicted that up to $2 billion would be invested in the corridor’s redevelopment over the following 20 years. “You’re basically going to see a new city built,” he said then and still asserts.

Sharing this vision of resuscitating the corridor, other development teams are thinking big, with hotels, apartments, eateries and breweries, and retail spaces.

David Silverman, left, and Paul Silverman are the father-son development team behind the Imperial Building and other projects in Albuquerque. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal )

“Our main focus is Downtown, because that’s where the most need is,” said Silverman of future projects now on the drawing boards. Silverman’s company, Geltmore LLC, said the success of those projects will be pegged to the controversial Albuquerque Rapid Transit. “It’s really going to rejuvenate Central, the oldest road in the town,” said Silverman, an unabashed fan of transit-oriented development. “The progress (along the ART route) already is amazing: new sidewalks, curbs, lighting and fiber optics.”

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He said future construction along Central will be on the order of four-to-six story structures and that rental housing and condos will fare the best. “I don’t think you could get enough housing into the pipeline fast enough” to serve demographic groups like baby boomers, “older millenials” and students.

The city has laid the cornerstone of Central’s revitalization at Innovate ABQ. The collaborative effort includes UNM, Albuquerque, Bernalillo County and various private entities to create an entrepreneurial hub Downtown, housing students, scientists and fledgling businesses in one spot. The first phase, the University of New Mexico Lobo Rainforest Building, officially opened in August. The $35 million mixed-use building is the first of various structures mapped out for the seven-acre campus. A month after opening, Innovate ABQ was awarded a $1 million grant for a business incubator at the old First Baptist Church at Central and Broadway, next door to the Lobo Rainforest building. The renovation project could begin next year.

The old First Baptist Church at Central and Broadway in Downtown will be renovated with a $1 million federal grant for the next phase of Innovate ABQ, (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Also nearing completion – or breaking ground soon – are several projects that blend elements of the live-work-and-play development approach. They include:

• El Vado Place, an $18 million project, including nearly $3 million from the city of Albuquerque, will open this fall after transforming a long-shuttered Route 66 motor lodge into a boutique motel, event center, amphitheater, the town’s second Ponderosa Brewing taproom and food pods. The site at 2500 Central Avenue SW had been fenced off for years, but in January, Palindrome Development, along with Albuquerque’s Family Housing Development Corp., began construction and restoration projects on the site, including relighting the historic El Vado Motel sign on Central.

The east building of El Vado Place at 2424 Central Avenue SW. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

El Vado Place also will offer market rate and affordable apartments on the upper floors as well as ground-level retail, said Rick Davis of Family Housing Development. Davis said El Vado Place’s location near the BioPark will create some much-needed buzz that he predicts will be popular with tourists and locals. “It’s going to make that whole particular area shine a lot better,” he said.

• A public-private partnership in the heart of Downtown called One Central. The $35 million mixed-use development at First and Central is targeting the millenial generation. The 1.28-acre project includes a massive parking garage and a six-story building with 66 apartments and 44,000 square feet of commercial space expected to be done in March. One Central’s Jerry Mosher built on land contributed by the city of Albuquerque, property that formerly housed a parking lot.

• Within spitting distance of Central, a development planned for Third and Lomas is in the planning stages, according to Scott Throckmorton of Argus Investment Realty. Back in April, an ownership group spearheaded by Argus acquired the old Bank of America building on Roma, which he is upgrading. Slated for development is a three-quarter acre surface parking lot, where Throckmorton envisions a multi-story development that will accommodate a fitness center and restaurants on the ground floor to capture the courthouse lunch and after-work crowds. Office space is planned for the second floor, and Throckmorton still is researching the viability of a residential component he earlier announced. Throckmorton said the development could be a $15-20 million project and will probably break ground in 2018.

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• The historic 505 Central, which recently opened. Architect Mark Baker, owner of the 58,000-square-foot building, said he has leased 21 of 34 apartments. The apartments range from 384 to 876 square feet and make up the top two floors of the three-story building at Fifth and Central. Rent is between $650 and $1,400, utilities included. Baker said most of the occupants are young professionals. Baker told the Journal he is in the final stages of negotiations for a restaurant and that two tech startup companies are bidding for the corner suite. Baker finalized his purchase from Roger Cox and Associates last November for $1.45 million. “I fell in love with the building as an architect,” Baker said. “And I felt a change of wind coming in Downtown and wanted to invest in the area, long term.”

Titan Development officials Josh Rogers, left, and Kurt Browning earlier this year detailed some of the features and amenities of The Highlands project taking shape near Central. (Steve Sinovic/Albuquerque Journal)

• Titan Development is moving forward with phase one of The Highlands, a $95 million mixed-use project along Central across from Presbyterian Hospital. The plan is to transform a down-at-the-heels area into a transit-oriented village with apartments fetching some of the city’s highest rents; a Marriott Springhill Suites Hotel; multiple retail establishments, and a food hall on par with those in larger cities. The 11-acre community is being developed in conjunction with Maestas Development Group. Phase one will be the 74-unit Broadstone Highlands, consisting of market-rate studio, one-and two-bedroom apartments. The second phase will bring more apartments along with retail and restaurant areas. Kurt Browning, Titan’s chief development officer, said construction crews are still doing site work, such as relocating utilities. “Hopefully, we will go vertical (on the apartments) in early 2018,” he said.

• Behind a chain-link fence, progress is being made in rebuilding a condominium complex destroyed by arson last winter just days before it was to be completed.

The Carlisle will be completed by the end of the year, with a furnished model open on Thanksgiving weekend and with move-ins by February, said developer Kenny Hinkes.

The Carlisle developer Kenny Hinkes, front left, was joined by development partners and general contractors Adam and Jason Harrington and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry (far left) at a ceremony when reconstruction began on the project after a fire. (Steve Sinovic/Albuquerque Journal)

“Half of the 34 units are pre-sold,” said Hinkes, who is partnering with HB Construction on the $9 million project. The unsold units range in price from $259,000 to $375,000.

“I think the Carlisle 2.0 is a much better project, ” said Hinkes.

Hinkes said urban redevelopment is not for the faint of heart. It takes vision and courage, he said of the infill projects now rising along Central, with its miles of strip shopping and cracked asphalt parking lots.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity for developers to develop quality spaces” along the corridor, including apartment and small retail spaces for things like coffee shops and dry cleaners.

He, too, believes the ART project will be a growth catalyst. “I think you’re going to see little clusters of new development around the ART stations,” he said.

Indeed, he’s considering other opportunities. “One at a time,” said Hinkes. “I’m a small guy” compared to other developers working in the area.

• Meeting the demands of downsizing baby boomers moving into projects like the Carlisle but who may still have a lot of stuff may be a bit of conundrum, but another Central Avenue developer has an answer: self-storage.

A building permit for $5.3 million has been filed with the city by applicant Pulse Ventures LLC to build a four-story, climate-controlled self-storage facility on a vacant lot at 4100 Central Avenue SE, nearing Morningside Drive. The applicant is connected to the development team behind the nearby Platinum Apartments. The plan is to build the 102,600-square-foot foot facility on the half-acre site.

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