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Century-old building makes debut as new headquarters

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The historic Orpheum Building reopened its doors earlier in May. The building will serve as Homewise’s Albuquerque headquarters, while providing a hub for classes and other community events. (Courtesy of Homewise)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Orpheum Building in Albuquerque’s Barelas neighborhood has served many functions since being built to house a furniture store more than a century ago. It’s been a hotel, a dance hall and even a vaudeville theater.

And last week, it opened its doors as a headquarters and community gathering space for a community nonprofit looking to revitalize the neighborhood.

“We wanted to be in the center of one of the areas where we want to work,” said Elena Gonzales, director of Albuquerque operations for Homewise, a nonprofit that focuses on helping low- and middle-income residents buy and own homes.

Homewise works with residents in Santa Fe as well as Albuquerque, but the nonprofit’s Duke City operations outgrew the space it had been leasing a couple years ago, said Laura Altomare, chief communications officer for Homewise. Altomare said Homewise was attracted to Barelas, the wedge-shaped neighborhood south of downtown.

Gonzales said the neighborhood struggles with a lack of investment and a relatively low number of residents who own their homes. Homewise has done a lot of work in Barelas, buying and renovating abandoned homes that had become a magnet for crime and working with residents to refurbish their homes.

“With the community revitalization work that we’re doing, it’s the perfect place to be,” Gonzales said.

The Orpheum Building, located at 500 2nd St. SW, features 20 one-bedroom apartments and a space for theater productions and other community events. Still, Altomare said the building had languished before Homewise acquired it.

“It had historically really been a central hub of activity and economic development,” she said.

The nonprofit purchased the building for just over $1 million during the summer of 2017 and sunk another $2 million into restoring it to its former glory, according to Altomare. The theater space was refurbished with new equipment, including a new sound system, to better accommodate financial literacy classes and other community events. Homewise reconfigured the office space and built a new conference room, making an attempt to ensure the changes complemented the older architecture.

Additionally, the developers fitted the apartments with new heating and cooling systems, new appliances and a shared laundry room. Altomare said grants and donations made it possible to update the facilities without raising rent for tenants.

Alejandro Saavedra, board president for the Barelas Community Coalition, wrote in an email that the coalition has worked with Homewise on a number of redevelopment projects in the past. Saavedra said the community group appreciates Homewise’s effort to incorporate neighborhood feedback into its work.

With home prices on the rise in Barelas, Gonzales acknowledged that gentrification could change the neighborhood, something Homewise has attempted to battle by working to increase the rate of home ownership in their new community.

“A beautiful way to help stabilize the neighborhood and help avoid gentrification … is have people put their roots down,” she said.

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