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Older ABQ buildings get new life in apartment conversions

The old Albuquerque High School building at 312 Central NE is now The Lofts at Albuquerque High.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As Albuquerque marches onward with new construction on the West Side, some developers are looking to bring residents back to the heart of the city by redeveloping existing structures.

Like many other cities across the country, historic neighborhoods in Albuquerque like Downtown, Sawmill and the University of New Mexico area are seeing revitalization efforts through adaptive reuse in which older, often abandoned buildings in primarily urban areas are repurposed.

“While renovation and development are not new, I think it is fair to say that the market is embracing older rehabilitated space with new fervor,” said Ed McMahon, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C.

Ed McMahon

McMahon said the 2010s marked a boom in buildings being converted to apartments. Retail stores, hotels, schools and office buildings have now found new life as apartments or mixed-use buildings. Today, more than 240,000 apartments on the market nationwide are in converted buildings.

“I think that developers have begun to realize that older buildings have a tremendous amount of charm and character that are rarely equal to a lot of new buildings,” McMahon said.

Retail, hotel space

Albuquerque is no exception. Redevelopment in the city is fueled by recent strong demand for multifamily housing.

“The younger generation is interested, I think, more interested in renting than buying, at least at first. There’s not this initial rush to buy a house right when you graduate from college,” said developer and architect Mark Baker, whose work is largely focused on redevelopment in Albuquerque, particularly in the Downtown area. “The millennials are just a little bit less anchored to their properties in general.”

Mark Baker

Baker, who last week opened mixed-use food hall 505 Central Downtown, said bringing apartments to areas like Downtown through adaptive reuse can help create a more well-rounded neighborhood by balancing residential and commercial spaces while spurring economic activity with the increased foot traffic.

Even smaller spaces like strip office buildings are a part of the adaptive reuse trend.

Victor Wuamett

Victor Wuamett, owner of Full Service Realty, manages a few properties in Downtown and is in the process of converting an office building at 1020 Lomas NW into several smaller apartments. He said there is a need for high quality and affordable housing, both of which can be provided through adaptive reuse.

“It’s fun to take an old space and make it into something new,” Wuamett said.

Aside from office buildings and retail spaces, hotels also offer opportunities for adaptive reuse.

The hotel located at 2500 Carlisle NE has become an apartment complex.

In the Midtown area, the longtime hotel building at 2500 Carlisle NE – once the Hotel Cascada, more recently the Wyndham Albuquerque Hotel & Conference Center – is one of the latest to be converted into apartments. According to a building permit filed with the City of Albuquerque by Sangin Chopra, the complex is in the process of being redeveloped into the 146-unit BLVD 2500 apartment complex. The apartment’s website shows several units available for rent.

The Express Inn at 1020 Central SW may be redeveloped into a 67-unit apartment complex, city records said.

The Express Inn at 1020 Central NW may undergo a similar redevelopment by converting the motel into a 67-unit apartment complex, according to a building permit filed with the City of Albuquerque by Seldon XP01 LLC.

Greener, cheaper

The benefits of retrofitting older buildings into apartments extends beyond providing additional housing.

Adaptive reuse projects offer lower carbon footprints, can attract tourists and businesses and preserve the historic character of a city, according to McMahon. Renovating older buildings is often much greener because it uses less materials than demolishing a building and starting from scratch, he said.

“When you build in a city you don’t have to build all the infrastructure, the streets and the roads, and expand the utility systems, and build new schools and parks,” Baker said. “You already have those elements in place.”

This can also make the project cheaper.

The office building located at 1020 Lomas NW is being converted into apartments. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Baker said the impact fees for renovating an older building are almost zero compared to the high-impact fees associated with building a new suburb on the edge of the city.

“That’s a nice incentive to developers to look back inwards and recognize these neighborhoods, vacant lots, or even better, vacant buildings, that can be converted into housing, or (into) my favorite development, which is mixed-use,” he said.

Adaptive reuse can also help a city’s image with visitors. McMahon said tourists are often attracted to cities because of their unique charm which is often preserved through repurposing older buildings for new uses.

“The fact that Albuquerque is not like every other place gives it an advantage and so this is a trend that the city should look very closely at to give it an economic development advantage over other places,” he said.

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