Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Business owners and developers working in Nob Hill say they’re seeing light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, particularly in the eastern stretch of it after years of business closures and other struggles.
“I actually think that I’m seeing some green shoots,” Kurt Oelsner, board president of Nob Hill Main Street Inc., told the Journal.
The redevelopment of De Anza Motor Lodge, among the most iconic motels during the heyday of Route 66, into a 40-unit apartment complex and boutique hotel, has grabbed headlines.
Add a 102-unit complex, the upscale Broadstone Nob Hill, that is slated to break ground in the next few weeks on the site of the old Royal Inn at Montclaire and Central avenues.
And the new townhome development a block north of Central on Aliso has begun leasing to residents.
Together, this trio of developments are expected to bring around 200 new residents to Nob Hill. While that won’t bring back the shops and eateries forced to shutter, the remaining business owners are optimistic about a better future.
“I think people are getting a little bit tired of looking at Denver, looking at Dallas, looking at Phoenix and going ‘why not Albuquerque,'” Oelsner said.
Challenges then and now
Ebbs and flows in the popular Albuquerque neighborhood aren’t new.
Gerald Landgraf, principal at Nob Hill Development Corp., which owns the majority of the remaining historic motels along the strip of Route 66, said Nob Hill, particularly the eastern stretch, was in worse shape when the firm began acquiring the hotels in 2004. Another large-scale infrastructure project – the Big I, which was completed in 2002 – pulled traffic off of Central Avenue, to Nob Hill’s detriment, he said.
The most recent cycle of closures, which claimed businesses like Gallery One and Zacatecas, began around 18 months ago and has been linked to the seemingly never-ending implementation of Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, which required extensive construction along Central before substantial issues with the buses delayed the project again.
“It changed the chemistry of the neighborhood,” said Jean Bernstein, president and CEO of Flying Star Cafe, which opened its original location in Nob Hill more than 30 years ago.
Oelsner, who also owns ChocolateDude on Central NE, added that a mix of other factors, including a shortage of police in the area and throughout the city during the mayoral changeover, also contributed to closures over the past 18 months.
He added that east Nob Hill, which runs roughly from Carlisle Boulevard in the west to Washington Street, tends to face more challenges during slow periods. Compared to the much denser western half of Nob Hill, Oelsner said the east stretch suffers from a lot of vacant land and empty buildings, which can attract blight and create challenges for the businesses that set up shop. During street fairs, the area will be closed to cars without the volume of shops that justify the closure.
“You have vast areas that you’re blocking off, but there’s nothing there,” Oelsner said.
Still, the same elements that make it challenging for current businesses also make it appealing for developers.
Josh Rogers, director of multifamily housing for Titan Development, which is behind the Broadstone apartments, said there’s limited space for new apartments or condos west of Carlisle. Consequently, developers planning large projects are looking to the long-overlooked eastern stretch of the district.
“If you want to do something of considerable size, you have to move east,” Rogers said.
Projects on the way
Titan acquired the parcel that is slated to house Broadstone Nob Hill two summers ago, when it was still home to a rundown motel, he said. While housing developments at motels along Central like De Anza and El Vado have incorporated aspects of the historic motels, Rogers said Titan opted to demolish the old building and start from scratch.
“There’s only so many El Vados that can go into a market,” Rogers said.
The planned four-story building will add 102 one- and two-bedroom apartments along Central. Rogers said he expects the project to be completed by next fall, and he expects it to house more than 150 residents. The developers have not settled on a price point yet.
Meanwhile, the $9 million effort to restore the De Anza to its former glory began in 2017. David Peters, property manager for the De Anza, said the old motel had fallen into disrepair and had a feral cat problem when the project began.
“It just hadn’t been taken care of for years,” Peters said.
The developers retained two buildings on the property – including the building that once housed the Turquoise Cafe – while building a new 40-unit apartment complex and boutique hotel. Of the 40 units, Peters said 15 will be used for short- and long-term hotel stays. After delays in the construction, Peters said he now expects the new De Anza to let tenants begin moving in by mid-September.
The goal of the project is to re-establish the De Anza as a landmark by maintaining the property’s unique characteristics, including its iconic neon sign and touches of Zuni Pueblo history throughout, while adding amenities like a gym and a small movie room that make the development more enjoyable for tenants, he said.
“We wanted to be the benchmark for Nob Hill,” Peters said.
Next for Nob Hill
A few factors are driving Nob Hill’s renewed appeal to developers, according to Rogers. Many renters, including those on the younger side of the market, are looking for areas where they have access to a wide variety of local, authentic businesses without getting in their cars.
He noted that Nob Hill’s dense cluster of local businesses and relative walkability has kept it popular among renters despite the closures.
“People want to live in this neighborhood,” Rogers said.
For all the criticisms the ART project has received, Rogers said it was actually a factor in Titan’s decision to invest in the Central Avenue corridor. The timeline of the rapid transit bus situation played a role in why Titan held onto the motel property for years before developing it.
Rogers acknowledged that the new projects would not single-handedly change life in Nob Hill. Relative to other cities, he said Albuquerque is still building just a fraction of the multi-family units being constructed in comparable markets like Colorado Springs. The Duke City has a relative shortage of parcels that are desirable to developers, and some of those that are have onerous zoning restrictions, he said.
Even if it starts small, Rogers added that having more residents in Nob Hill would contribute to a more stable stream of customers for the restaurants and stores operating in the area. Having more people walking around ultimately makes other people feel safe in the neighborhood.
“You can’t have good, walkable areas without people living there,” Rogers said.