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Patching up commerce in ABQ

Manuel Guzman, a glazier with Glass on Wheels, removes the plywood boards from the windows of Lindy’s Diner in Downtown Albuquerque on Thursday. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The damage to Downtown businesses when a riot broke out after a peaceful protest last month was put at $200,000, and the city of Albuquerque is moving rapidly to provide funding to help affected businesses with repairs – mostly broken windows and graffiti – Mayor Tim Keller said in a Thursday news conference.

While Central Avenue through Downtown appears blighted because of all the boarded up windows, “half the board-ups you see were actually preventative,” and were installed with the help of the city after the initial violence, Keller said.

The city is already working with a contractor, Glass on Wheels, a local, minority-owned company, to do the glass replacement, Keller said. He gave no timeline for the completion of repairs, but he noted that businesses with windows that were boarded up preventively will soon be required to remove the boards or face code violations.

But coronavirus-related restrictions have had a far bigger effect on Downtown, he said.

Prior to the pandemic, the metrics for a financially healthy Downtown were all in place, including decreased building vacancy rates, new businesses, bustling foot traffic and improved public safety that incorporated community policing, with officers walking beats and riding bicycles.

The COVID-19 restrictions and public health measures put everything on hold, with the closures of large Downtown office buildings, small businesses, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, Keller said.

Also closed was the Albuquerque Convention Center, which is “a huge part of the Downtown economy,” he said. That closure alone “reduced the number of people Downtown by thousands every day.”

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A man walks past the boarded windows of the KiMo Theatre in Downtown Albuquerque as Mayor Tim Keller announces revitalization efforts and assistance to business owners following damage caused by rioters in early June. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Synthia Jaramillo, the city’s director of the Economic Development Department, said the city has supported businesses during the COVID-19 crisis with a number of measures, including waiving permit fees for sidewalk and patio seating for restaurants; waiving inspection fees on commercial swimming pools, restaurants, food trucks and growers markets; initiating a pilot project to allow temporary businesses to occupy vacant spaces Downtown; and providing some Downtown businesses with micro-business relief grants.

Keller also noted that the Route 66 corridor has been “disproportionally hurt, compared to other parts of the city,” initially because of Albuquerque Rapid Transit system construction and then the coronavirus.

“Our city is using part of the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) funding and other funding streams available to try to do revitalization and economic development up and down Route 66.”

Related to that, Jaramillo said the city recently issued a $500,000 request for proposals to partner with a marketing firm to develop a plan to promote Central Avenue as a destination for business and entertainment. City counselors originally announced such a proposed investment more than a year ago.

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