Mayor lays out plan to revitalize Downtown

The Albuquerque Rail Yards are the focus of Mayor Keller’s plans to create a tourist draw by activating a second building. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Calling himself the “promoter in chief” when it comes to touting Albuquerque as a good place to live, work, play and invest, Mayor Tim Keller hailed the contribution of the tourism industry to the local economy at the annual meeting of Visit Albuquerque on Tuesday.

But he also announced three new initiatives to make Downtown a safer, more attractive place for visitors.

“We rise and fall on Downtown,” Keller said.

Keller said he plans to open a police substation at the Alvarado Transportation Center this fall to help tackle the serious crime and homeless problems that have reached a crisis point. It will be staffed by an assistant chief and officers, plus crisis intervention team members who deal with behavioral health issues. Staffing numbers are pending, according to a spokeswoman for Keller.

In an effort to revitalize the historic rail yards, Keller said the city will begin remediation efforts this winter and will also sever the contract with California-based Samitaur Constructs, the master developer for the site. “We don’t want to wait another 10 years” to see this site redeveloped, he said.

Downtown businesses the past couple of years have said both issues have been top concerns, with employees and customers being assaulted and hassled. Many of those businesses have now limited access to their entrances due to unwelcome visitors.

In addition to fostering greater public safety Downtown, Keller also touched briefly on two projects aimed at breathing new life into the Downtown district: ramping up plans to reinvent the historic Albuquerque Rail Yards and finding a development partner to transform a city-owned parking lot into “an amenity where thousands can gather year-round.” Keller called the latter strategy “placemaking,” which is reinventing public spaces in cities.

More than 300 tourist and business professionals gathered at the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque to mark a strong year of marketing the city as a visitor, convention and sports destination. Visit Albuquerque officials said 347 conventions/meetings and sporting events were booked in the most current fiscal year, up 7.4 percent from 2017.

Another key metric year-over-year was a 13 percent rise in group tour nights booked.

Clicks are also on the upswing: The organization’s social media efforts continue to pay off with following up by 9.4 percent over 2017.

The upshot is that the hospitality industry “continues to be a bright spot” for the city, said Visit Albuquerque President and CEO Tania Armenta.

In an effort to revitalize the historic rail yards, Keller said the city will begin remediation efforts this winter and will also sever the contract with California-based Samitaur Constructs, the master developer for the site. “We don’t want to wait another 10 years” to see this site redeveloped, he said.

“This will be ours to own again,” said Keller of the rail yards, located south of Downtown between the Barelas and South Broadway neighborhoods. The city bought the site in 2007 for about $8.5 million. It consists of 18 surviving buildings erected between 1915 and 1925, shops that were one of four major maintenance facilities built by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.

The city has upgraded one building, the blacksmith shop, where the Rail Yards Market has taken place on weekends each summer since 2014. Keller said he was confident the city would be able to find the money to “activate a second building” to accommodate additional vendors and potentially be a big tourist draw.

In addition to highlighting a very successful fiscal year, Armenta and key members of her team also announced their plans for the future, including stronger collaborations with the city, the hospitality community and the organization’s more than 750 partners.

For the upcoming year, Visit Albuquerque will expand its leisure advertising markets and will now be in nine cities across the region – Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, Austin, El Paso, San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Denver.

The annual meeting was dedicated to the memory of Jennifer Riordan, an Albuquerque banking executive who died in April after an in-flight accident aboard a Southwest Airlines plane. Riordan was the vice president of community relations for Wells Fargo in New Mexico, where she worked on the company’s philanthropic endeavors.

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