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Mayor touts ABQ developments to business community

Mayor Tim Keller showed this map of current or upcoming construction projects to two business groups last week. (Source: City of Albuquerque)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque is showing signs of growth – or so Mayor Tim Keller told two local business groups last week.

In separate but similar speeches before the Economic Forum of Albuquerque and the New Mexico chapter of NAIOP, the commercial real estate development association, Keller showed a map of significant current or future developments across the city.

“People tell me ‘I really don’t see a lot of new construction projects in Albuquerque,’ ” Keller said at the Economic Forum. “I’ve got to tell you, I’m not really sure that’s true.”

The mayor’s map shows the Sawmill Market; a forthcoming food hall just north of Old Town; the Rail Yards; the mixed-use Nuevo Atrisco project at Central and Unser NW; and planned hospital expansions by Presbyterian and the University of New Mexico, among others.

(Keller told both groups the projects on the map totalled about $500 million, though his office provided the Journal an amended version that boosted the total to $930 million – mostly by changing the price tag of the UNMH expansion to $400 million from $70 million, which a UNMH spokesman called a good “ballpark” figure.)

The mayor said his administration has worked with other public agencies, such as Bernalillo County, and the business community to help push developments forward and otherwise clear roadblocks.

“They come to us and say ‘We have this planning challenge’ or ‘We have this funding gap of like $500,000;’ this is where we’re saying ‘We’re just going to say yes.’ We’re not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Keller said at Economic Forum.

Asked for specific examples of how the city has advanced projects, the Mayor’s Office cited metropolitan redevelopment bonds for the Highlands project near Central and Interstate 25 and for its associated Marriott Springhill Suites hotel; funding and executing “needed roadway infrastructure improvements to help with safety and access” for the Sawmill Market, and lobbying the Legislature for $7.5 million for the Rail Yards project.

Lynne Andersen, president of NAIOP New Mexico, said it’s impossible to summarize developers’ overall experience with the Keller administration given the varying scopes of projects and their individual characteristics and challenges. She said she has heard both positive and negative feedback from constituents.

But Andersen said she agreed the administration has shown a willingness to move projects along.

“Bottom line is we all need to work together to make the city work, and there is a recognition of that – and was in the previous administration (also),” she said in an interview.

BYE-BYE, BERNIE: The city of Albuquerque is losing another department director.

Mayor Keller announced late Friday that Bernie Toon – head of the Transit Department – would step down at the end of August. Keller praised Toon in a written statement, though the news release did not cite a reason for his departure.

Bernie might have had one of the toughest jobs in City Hall, seeing our community through the challenges of (Albuquerque Rapid Transit) implementation, helping recoup $75 million from the federal government and getting our bus drivers well-deserved raises,” Keller said in a statement. “From rebuilding physical platforms to securing a fleet of specialized buses that could function in the corridor, Bernie’s talents were put to the test every day.”

It will be the second director departure this summer; Planning Director David Campbell recently left to become city manager in Rio Rancho.

Jessica Dyer: jdyer@abqjournal.com

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