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ABQ’s new homeless shelter?

The Crowne Plaza hotel, near the Big I, is on the market, and some Albuquerque city councilors say the city should evaluate it for a homeless shelter. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque has floated several potential locations for its new centralized homeless shelter, including the University of New Mexico’s North campus and the Interstate 40-Second Street area.

But a few city councilors say there is another option worth considering: the Crowne Plaza hotel near the Big I interchange.

The property has 450 guest rooms spanning the 12-story Crowne Plaza-branded tower and the neighboring three-story Fairfield Inn. The two, Menaul and University boulevards, are currently packaged for sale. The asking price is $16 million, according to Jim Chynoweth of CBRE Albuquerque, the real estate brokerage firm listing the property.

The city has $14 million available for the shelter, thanks to voter-approved general obligation bonds. Albuquerque officials have also been lobbying the state Legislature for an additional $14 million for the project, which Mayor Tim Keller’s administration has dubbed the “Gateway Center.”

The Gateway Center is billed as a replacement for the city’s existing shelter on the far West Side. It could accommodate an estimated 300 people per night and help link clients to services and resources needed to find permanent housing. Officials say it would stay open 24/7 and serve all populations.

City Councilor Diane Gibson said Chynoweth recently presented the Crowne Plaza property as a potential site for the shelter. She said she thinks the city should consider it, noting that many people who are homeless already congregate in the vicinity.

“The businesses along there all the way from University east are struggling with people who are maybe panhandling, maybe littering around the bus stops, around their parking lots, and they really want to see these folks helped,” said Gibson, who represents the area. “They want the homeless population over there to get the services they need, health as well as housing, and I want to help the city do what we need to do to help these businesses and the population all over Albuquerque.”

Chynoweth declined to comment when asked if he is marketing the hotel as a possible shelter site.

“The buyer of the property can do with it what they’d like,” he said.

He added that the hotel has ongoing obligations so any potential use change would not occur for “a while,” though he could not be more specific.

Keller’s administration did not include the Crowne Plaza – a onetime Hilton and present home to the high-end steakhouse Ranchers Club of New Mexico – as a formal option during a public meeting and recent online community survey. But mayoral spokeswoman Jessie Damazyn said Monday that the hotel was considered and will be included on a forthcoming site ranking list. She has said the mayor intends to discuss sites with the City Council during a meeting next month.

The most-discussed possibilities thus far include vacant UNM land north of Lomas and east of Interstate 25, the Interstate 40/Second Street area and the former Lovelace hospital on Gibson.

But resistance has begun mounting over the UNM location, with some university officials warning that a homeless shelter could adversely affect campus safety and enrollment.

City Councilor Trudy Jones said she does not want to see the Gateway Center on UNM land. But she is enthusiastic about the Crowne Plaza location, which is about a mile to the north. She said it is easily accessible and has other built-in advantages.

“We have a starting point; we have beds in place; we have properties with some of the amenities we would have to pay to add, like, the kitchens, the meeting rooms, the different facilities. … A remodel on this, assuming it is structurally sound, you’d get far more bang for our buck,” she said.

But City Council President Pat Davis said Monday that a hotel-style shelter is a bad idea. The housekeeping associated with individual rooms can significantly add to the long-term operational costs, he said.

“I think we ought to be really careful we don’t jump into something that would require future city leaders to have to pay for something that isn’t necessary,” he said.

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