Visitor center now completed, but not yet unlocked - Albuquerque Journal

Visitor center now completed, but not yet unlocked

Pablo and Nichole Garcia donned vintage clothing at the ribbon-cutting for the Route 66 Visitor Center on Friday. The venue is set to open some time next year. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

The Route 66 Visitor Center is done. It’s just not ready for visitors yet.

City, county and state officials joined the community Friday afternoon for a ribbon-cutting and “preview celebration” at the new 21,000-square-foot building on West Central. Located atop Nine Mile Hill just outside of Albuquerque city limits, the venue is slated to open to the public some time next year with a museum, event space, taproom and amphitheater.

As they commemorated the end of construction Friday, supporters heralded the center as a game-changer for the area.

“Ever since I was a kid, it’s looked the same,” Bernalillo County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada said Friday of the desert surrounding the facility. “Well, today, that is going to change. From this point on, we want to see more opportunity for us who live here on the southwest mesa.”

The gathering featured live music and more than an hour of speeches, including from community members who described the center’s completion as the realization of a dream.

Geraldine Ulibarri, vice president of the nonprofit West Central Community Development Group board, said she remembers sitting around a “small little table” to think about such a project and is elated to see it actually completed.

“I’m so excited, I want to scream from the rooftop, and I feel like we are up here. Look at us up here – we’re higher than ever,” Ulibarri said, extolling views from the site.

WCCDG will manage the facility through a contract with the county.

WCCDG president Johnny Peña lauded the elected officials who made the center possible.

“They believed in our dream and, because they believed, that’s how we’re all standing here today,” said Peña, whose wife, Albuquerque City Councilor Klarissa Peña, helped bring the project to fruition.

The center was constructed with city, county and state funds. Together, they have put $13.1 million toward the project.

Initially pitched as a self-sustaining venue that would bring in enough rental and other revenue to cover its operations, the facility will launch with taxpayer support. Bernalillo County is prepared to pay WCCDG $500,000 per year, half of which will come from the city.

WCCDG Executive Director Luis Hernandez said the organization would spend the next few months curating the venue’s museum – which he said will feature auto racing and lowrider memorabilia, old signs and more – and finalizing a contract with a third party to oversee the event space and taproom.

He said he believes the center is capable of eventually supporting itself.

“Whether that’s three years or five years or 10 years (to achieve self-sufficiency), I don’t know. It all depends on how popular Route 66 really is,” he said, adding that he’s encouraged by the level of interest he’s already seeing. “We’re getting communication from all over the U.S. and abroad about the center.”

A classic car show was part of the festivities as area residents celebrated the Route 66 Visitor Center on Friday. The 21,000-square-foot building sits on West (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

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