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Inn at Rio Rancho to get new life as apartment complex

The Panorama Inn, as depicted on a postcard, about 50 years ago. File photo.

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Around since 1967, what is currently known as The Inn at Rio Rancho will see its days as a hotel end, according to its new owner, Tyler Gerard of Albuquerque.

The iconic Rio Rancho landmark, originally known as the Panorama Inn and the site of countless banquets, big-time announcements, future residents’ lodging, legislative Q&A’s and more, will remain a lodging site of sorts. Gerard told the Observer he’ll have 118 high-end apartments in the facility, which he also envisions having retail spaces and, hopefully, a coffee shop/restaurant open around the clock.

Before the remodel, yet to have a name, a land-use zoning amendment for the inn has to come before the city’s planning and zoning board, which will make a recommendation before the governing body makes a decision.

Gerard is confident P&Z will approve the amendment, and the governing body will follow its recommendation. Given that, Gerard said, he expects the project to be completed in one year.

Back in its heyday

Sheila Jane Furstenberg, who penned a history of Rio Rancho, noted it was the first inn on Albuquerque’s West Side. Guests enjoyed dancing and entertainment in The Galleon Lounge, and dined with a view of the mountains in the Vista Room.

“The Rio Rancho Inn played a vital role, introducing new residents to our city since the 1960s,” said Jerry Schalow, president and CEO of the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Many people in the community have fond memories of events there, and over the past decade, we have seen this once-vibrant hotel become dilapidated. Rio Rancho is in need of more options for visitors and a convention center worthy of Rio Rancho’s growing population.”

The inn is situated on a 23-acre site near the northwest corner of Sara Road and NM 528, which sees an estimated 60,000 vehicles pass through per day. It has been remodeled numerous times, including in 1999, 2004 and 2008.

A press release in January 2008 heralded the remodeled facility as the “only full-service property in Rio Rancho,” featuring “fully functional convention and meeting facilities along with 118 plush rooms.”

Arthur Han was the inn’s most recent previous owner; he said he bought it last September and sold it to Gerard on June 26.

A native of Iowa, Gerard said he now “absolutely (calls) Albuquerque and New Mexico my home.

“I am a real-estate investor — for seven years — I started off flipping properties; that turned into a partnership, New Mexico Capital Partners, and then moved into a commercial setting,” he said.

He said his 528 Development partnership “is not going to be a motel/hotel; it’ll be residential living with commercial space up front, restaurant and retail.

“The city seems to be behind the project,” he said, adding, “I tried buying the property a year ago.”

Among other plans Gerard has for the inn are upgrading the courtyard and pool.

“We’ll add a lot of features that apartments have — a high-end rec room and movie theater, add synthetic grass, add new trees that are less hard on the pool. Those (pine needles) just destroy that pool equipment,” he said.

Inside, Gerard said, “We took all the history and artwork off the walls, and we’ll have a feature wall that has all that to pay tribute to the city’s history.

“I can promise it’s going to be a breath of fresh air and brought back to life, different than people remember, but it’s going to make people proud,” he vowed. “I think the timing is right. The city is giving a push to be pro-business, and we have a shortage of apartments — and it’s getting worse every year.”

The apartment section is expected to have about 150 residents, he estimated.

“We’re hoping to attract young professionals,” he said.

As for an estimation of just one year for completion, Gerard said, “It’s more of a remodel than a tear-down, which is very exciting.”

More memories of the inn

Former mayor Tom Swisstack said places that were once cornerstones in Rio Rancho have begun disappearing.

In a nod to the inn’s history, Swisstack made his formal announcement to run for mayor in the fall of 2018 there.

“I think I picked the inn because that’s how I started my career, where I also had a lot of meetings,” he said. “I guess it was one of those quality-of-life places you could go and have a drink, lunch and have a discussion without a lot of interruption. … It served a lot of functions; it became a cornerstone for things happening.”

Swisstack and Noreen Scott, the former executive director of the now-defunct Rio Rancho Economic Development Corporation, credited the late Harald Mueller for taking the reins of the inn and running with them.

In 1986, Mueller and his wife bought the then-bankrupt Rio Rancho Inn, which they renovated, saw become successful and sold in 1998. Mueller, the first chairman of the city’s lodgers tax advisory board, began and organized Oktoberfest, from 1987-97.

Scott said she hadn’t known about the deterioration of the inn.

“That’s unfortunate. We put up a lot of clients, there — a lot of times, that was people’s first introduction to Rio Rancho. It was one of the only places we could hold larger events — big economic development, chamber stuff, chamber banquets,” she said.

“I think it was fun to meet folks there, to take clients there; most of the dinners were at the country club, but we’d take them to lunches (at the inn). That was always a great place to be.

“What we really need in the community right now is meeting space,” Scott said.

The Inn at Rio Rancho, circa 2020. Photo by Gary Herron.