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Route 66 center study sought

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Saying Bernalillo County has “missed a step” in the Route 66 Visitors Center planning process, one elected official has asked for a marketing study of the $12.2 million project before construction begins.

County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley recently introduced a resolution requiring that a third party consultant evaluate the “proposed uses for the Route 66 Visitors Center and to ascertain whether or not there is a current or future market” for them.

The resolution passed on a unanimous vote at the Oct. 29 meeting.

Evaluating the viability of a project is “something most businesses do,” O’Malley said, adding that it would inform the county as to the expected financial operating budget and maintenance required.

The facility, planned for West Central and 136th Street, is expected to include a museum, visitor center, event space, commercial kitchen and taproom. The county owns it, although the city of Albuquerque and the state have also provided funding.

The county commission in April selected the nonprofit West Central Community Development Group as the operator and manager, though there is no signed agreement yet.

“We’re responsible for operating it … if we own it,” O’Malley told the Journal in an interview. “What does that number look like? It would be great if there was strong volunteerism that would oversee some of those functions, but with any community facility, you cannot rely on that.”

Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada, who has advocated for the project with Albuquerque City Councilor Klarissa Peña, voted in favor of the evaluation, which the resolution said should be completed within 60 days. He said before the vote that the process has been different than normal county projects, and thanked O’Malley for her support and ensuring the county had the information to “make sure what we do is successful.”

“This is a big project,” he said. “It has many different elements.”

According to county documents, a master plan for the project from August 2018 included a first-phase 10,652-square-foot building and a second-phase 4,400-square-foot restaurant and commercial kitchen. The total cost for both was estimated at $8.2 million.

But the plan now includes a first-phase 21,500-square-foot building and estimated total price of $12.2 million.

The city, county and state have jointly contributed $8.3 million, more than $1 million of which has been spent on land and architectural services.

City voters approved another $1 million as part of $128.5 million general obligation bond package on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The budget also assumes getting another $3 million from the state and $1.5 million from the county.

The plans inspired a fiery discussion at the Oct. 7 Albuquerque City Council meeting, with Councilor Trudy Jones saying she was troubled by the lack of details regarding the property’s future management and what she said seems to be a growing facility.

Jones said recently she supports the county’s decision to do a study.

“I think that’s a very responsible thing … for a county commissioner when we are looking at this amount of money and a not well-defined project,” she said.

But Peña – who defended the center in the Oct. 7 meeting as a long-planned, community-driven project – attributed the 50% bump in cost from last year to the roughness of the early estimates. The building grew in size after going back to the community for further input, she said. Additions included a larger room for events and a commercial kitchen.

“It’s been a lot of twists and turns and trying to get it to where it’s going to be something that not only the West Side will have pride in but the entire city of Albuquerque,” Peña said last week.

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