Grant for Rail Yards will requires city to have ‘skin in the game’ - Albuquerque Journal

Grant for Rail Yards will requires city to have ‘skin in the game’

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, left, talks with U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fleming after the announcement that the city would receive $1.2 million in federal funding for the development of the Rail Yards. (Scott Turner/Albuquerque Journal)

A $1.2 million federal grant to improve infrastructure at the Rail Yards in Albuquerque will require a similar match from the city, a member of the Trump administration said on Wednesday.

“It represents a significant buy-in from the community,” said John Fleming, assistant secretary of commerce for economic development, when announcing the grant to provide water, sewer, streetscape infrastructure and broadband internet to the facility that will house Central New Mexico Community College’s Film Production School of Excellence. “We love to see skin in the game. We find that these projects succeed when the city or community foundations match our investment.”

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said the city tried to get the private sector involved in addressing the areas that will be funded by the Department of Commerce Economic Development Association grant.

“No private company was going to invest in all of the infrastructure,” he said of a facility he said had long been neglected. “And they would tell us in all of these meetings, ‘When are you going to fix up the water, the plumbing and the electricity, and the security, and bring in broadband?’ We thought, ‘Wow, we thought that’s what you were going to do.’ … Finally, we decided we had to do this. In any way you look at it, the responsibility, for better or worse …. to restore a lot of these properties, the responsibility of building that infrastructure is in many ways the government’s.”

Keller and Fleming both believe the federal government and the city will get a return on their investments. The city is required to provide a $1.2 million match.

“We help shore up infrastructure so the private sector can come up and make things happen,” Fleming said. “This will be state of the art in terms of infrastructure … This is what private companies require before they invest their money to make things happen.”

The funding is expected to help create 316 jobs and generate $9 million in private investment, he said.

“We do believe if we can build out the infrastructure and make this a leaseable, occupied space that, it will be a huge economic benefit,” Keller said.

The mayor said the city’s commitment exceeded the matching amount required for the grant. City voters have already approved $5 million in general obligation bond funding for the project, and the state Legislature appropriated another $7.5 million.

“We got you about 10-to-1 in terms of matching,” the mayor said. “We’re not only partners, we’re with you 10 times over.”

A consultant this summer told the city the site needed an estimated $50 million to $80 million in infrastructure, environmental remediation and structural renovations. More federal funding could be available in the area since the Rail Yards are located near Tax Cuts and Jobs Act designated Opportunity Zones. Fleming said the project will help Albuquerque expand its film production sector and attract new retail, office, restaurant and hospitality businesses.

The 27-acre site has already been the site of film productions such as “Transformers” and “The Avengers” and has been used for the seasonal Rail Yards Market as well.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in a release that the grant can help open the door to diversifying the local economy.

“It is essential that we lay the groundwork for growth with investments that ensure New Mexico’s communities have the infrastructure they need to thrive,” the senator said.

His colleague in the Senate, Martin Heinrich, said it “has been an immense undertaking to find a new path forward and cement the Rail Yards’ new place as a premier location for New Mexico’s booming film industry.”

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