'Live, work, play' : Journal Center moves toward mixed-use with first apartments - Albuquerque Journal

‘Live, work, play’ : Journal Center moves toward mixed-use with first apartments

The courtyard of the new Journal Center apartment complex. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Every weekday, thousands of workers in Journal Center leave the area after they clock out.

“Everything shuts down after five o’clock, and then on the weekends, it’s a ghost town,” said Josh Rogers, senior vice president at Titan Development.

But that may change in the coming months. In the decades since Journal Center opened in the 1980s, the office park has been a home to the business community. In December of this year, it will become a home in a more literal sense, as the center’s first apartment building, Allaso Journal Center, starts accepting residents.

Titan Development is wrapping up construction on the first of two planned housing developments in the area. A 158-unit apartment building should be open by the end of this year, Rogers said, and the company will break ground on a second residential building this year.

“My goal for the last 10 years was to bring residential buildings to Journal Center,” said Lowell Hare, president and CEO of the Journal Center Corp. “… I am thrilled and excited about it.”

Journal Center is central in Albuquerque, off two major freeways: PanAmerican and Paseo Del Norte. Hare estimates that about 10,000 people work in the park, which houses major employers like the New Mexico Cancer Center and U.S. Bank.

Journal Center Corp. and Journal Publishing Co. are both subsidiaries of Journal Enterprises Inc.

Evolving needs

Rogers said that Titan expects about 200 people to move into the first building starting in December. Between Titan’s two housing projects and other companies’ proposed developments, he said, there could be 1,000 apartment units in Journal Center in the next five years.

“You have the suburban office park that was really prevalent in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s,” Rogers said. “That was really great for what we used to think of the office park, right? Where everyone went to their single-family home and drove to their job, and then drove back.”

But many workers want something different now, Rogers said.

“I think over the last 20 years, that has fundamentally shifted to where people want to live closer to their workplace,” Rogers said. “And for Journal Center, you know, this being the catalytic project for turning over the Journal Center as a mixed-use destination where people can live, work and play.”

Hare said he thinks besides bringing in residents, employers will want to bring their businesses to Journal Center so their employees can have the option of living nearby.

“Employers, I think, are going to want to be here attracting employees,” Hare said.

Mixed-use developments have grown increasingly popular in the city, with Journal Center joining projects like El Vado Place and One Central. The developments mix retail and residential with an emphasis on walkability – Journal Center is close to several bike trails, including the North Diversion Channel Trail.

Retail impact

From left, Harrison Cisar, co-owner and manager of Marigold Cafe, rings up regular Bill Kurtz, right. (Chancey Bush/Journal)

With most customers leaving the office park at 5 p.m., many restaurants in the area have adjusted their hours accordingly. But, new housing means a new customer base – and potentially new hours for retail in the area.

Marcus Cassimus has owned Journal Center restaurant Hello Deli since 2003.

Currently, Hello Deli closes at 2:30 p.m. Beer taps sit unused behind the counter. The previous owner offered a happy hour but Cassimus said there’s little demand right now for dinner or drinks in the area.

After hours, Cassimus said, “There’s a mass migration – people want to leave the area.”

But, Rogers says that many restaurants in the area may increase their hours to accommodate full-time residents wanting to dine nearby after work or on weekends.

“I think they’ll have an opportunity to change their hours a little bit to have more patrons and just create that lively neighborhood feeling,” Rogers said.

Cassimus expects that the new apartment buildings will grow his customer base, and potentially justify extending the hours.

“I have a great dinner menu,” Cassimus said.

However, Cassimus isn’t convinced that many Journal Center workers will live in the area.

“I’m thinking maybe 20% will actually work here and live here,” Cassimus said.

And, he expects that some of the people who do work and live in the office park will go home for lunch, rather than dining out. But, he believes that the residential units will increase business on his already-busy weekends.

“My weekends are already exploding,” Cassimus said.

Hello Deli is located in the business park’s retail hub, Marketplace at Journal Center. Hare said that pre-pandemic, Marketplace was at 100% occupancy. During the pandemic, occupancy dropped to 50%, but has since increased to 80%. Hare said he thinks adding housing will benefit retail owners in the area.

Jean Bernstein, co-owner of Satellite Coffee, which opened a location in Journal Center in 2018, agrees.

“You know, the Journal Center has slowed down tremendously since the pandemic, and it still hasn’t come back up to snuff,” Bernstein said. “… I think it’s going to be great for business and for the area in general.”

Workers continue construction on the apartment building across the street from Marigold Cafe. (Chancey Bush/Journal)

Marigold Cafe is a newer addition to the Journal Center area; Harrison Cisar, co-owner of the cafe, opened the restaurant in late 2019.

“We love the location …” Cisar said. “… It brings in a lot of business. Especially during lunchtime, though our breakfast has started to pick up.”

Originally, Marigold Cafe was open for lunch and dinner. But low demand during the later hours and the fact that Cisar and his wife had just had a baby made the restaurant shift gears. Cisar developed a breakfast menu and cut the dinner hours.

He expects that the housing developments – one of which is just across the street from the cafe – will be good for business.

“You know, we’ve been anxiously anticipating when this project is finished,” Cisar said. “We know it’s gonna bring in more business, and we’re really excited for that.”

But Cisar isn’t certain he’ll be able to extend his hours. He’d like to reintroduce the dinner menu and add a second location, but he’s struggled with staffing.

“It just all comes down to staffing,” Cisar said. “You know, right now, everybody’s pretty much maxed out on hours as it is.

To increase the hours, Cisar estimates that he’d need five or six new employees.

“But, you know, everything takes time, and the future is unpredictable.” Cisar said. “…For the time being, you know, we’ll just continue to be breakfast, lunch, and you know, I’m sure … things will be getting better.”

Marigold Cafe is located next to Cabela’s, a sporting goods and outdoor supply store that moved into Journal Center in 2017. The location – the only Cabela’s franchise in New Mexico – will also be Cabela’s last store built according to Hare.

Hare said that the addition of Cabela’s was meant to drive other retailers to move into the area. But, it’s “gone a little slower than we thought it would,” Hare said.

“Cabela’s has been successful, but it hasn’t brought as much retail as we expected,” Hare said.

Housing need

Rogers said that the new residential unit helps fill a desperate need for apartments in Albuquerque. In early 2022, Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies reported in its State of the Nation’s Housing report that Albuquerque’s rents increased 18% year over year – six percent higher than the national average.

“That is not a healthy situation for a housing market,” Rogers said. “It creates a real cost burden to the tenants that shows an incredible lack of supply in the market.”

Compared to similarly sized cities, he continued, Albuquerque has struggled to keep up with housing demand.

“2019, we delivered 58 units (Class A apartments). 2020, we delivered 148. 2021, we delivered 200 – for a population of 900,000,” Rogers said. “The reality is, that a city like Colorado Springs has been averaging between 1,600 and 2,200 units a year. We’re 10% of that. … Rents are going to continue to up because there’s such an incredible scarcity of apartments in Albuquerque.”

Journal Center specifically is located in one of the most desirable areas of Albuquerque – the Northeast Heights. The office park, Rogers said, is one of just a few pieces of vacant land left in the area.

“There’s very limited vacant land available in the Northeast Heights of Albuquerque. It’s getting more and more scarce every year,” Rogers said. ” … The reality is that that land is going to become more and more scarce over the next 15 years and we might not have any sites left.”

Many office parks around the country have incorporated housing projects in the past decades.

“All office parks have residential units now,” Hare said.

Although, according to Hare, housing projects cost more to build than office spaces he said he thinks diversifying Journal Center is worth it.

“It’s going to pay off in the long term,” Hare said.

 

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