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ABQ wants big ideas for small Downtown lot

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

The parking lot at First and Central, surrounded by railroad tracks and a bus stop, is easy to miss.

But that 1.75-acre chunk of city-owned land could emerge as a “premier entertainment hub” if city planners succeed in attracting redevelopment.

Proposed entertainment hub in Downtown AlbuquerqueThe city has given developers until Nov. 7 to propose how they would remake the property into a “21st century” attraction that includes diverse restaurants, retail and entertainment space.

As incentive, City Hall could provide the land cheaply and make available about $1.5 million to develop parking, if it’s needed to support the development.

The lot lies just across the railroad tracks from the First Baptist Church site, which is where the University of New Mexico and others are planning a business incubator and research headquarters, intended to attract entrepreneurs and students. It’s called Innovate ABQ.

Rebecca Velarde, Albuquerque’s redevelopment manager, said the goal is to create something that complements activity at the First Baptist site.

“We’re creating a corridor of vitality in this innovation district,” Velarde said in an interview. “We really feel like a mix of uses, an entertainment hub, would serve people at the Innovate ABQ site well, and they could play off of each other well.”

Mayor Richard Berry, who announced a request for proposals last month, said the project would be “a great step towards creating naturally occurring ‘collisions’ and a ‘beehive’ of collaboration.”

Others agree it’s a key site. The lot is north of Central, between First and the railroad tracks, a key entryway for the Downtown core.

But that also means any proposals for the land should be considered carefully, City Councilor Isaac Benton said.

“Certainly, to have something successful in that site would be important for Downtown,” he said.

Benton is an architect whose district includes the area.

The city’s request for proposals doesn’t set a lot of limits on what developers can propose, but the city does want the proposal to include special-event space outdoors, perhaps with a plaza or courtyard.

Proposals that feature workforce housing won’t be considered.

Generally, the request says, the city is looking for a “premier entertainment hub with 21st century amenities that fits seamlessly into the existing and proposed urban character.”

The redevelopment could include dining, retail, a market, a hotel and space for entertainment or special events. It should be pedestrian-friendly and have urban character, according to the RFP.

Todd Clarke, board chairman of the nonprofit Downtown Action Team, said the location puts the development at “the epicenter for Downtown” because it’s next to bus and train lines, Route 66 and other assets.

Across the street to the south is Albuquerque’s central bus station and a Rail Runner stop.

A variety of other improvements also have been proposed in the area. The city and Mid-Region Council of Governments have applied for $15 million in federal funding to build a walkway over the railroad tracks and improve other pedestrian connections, eliminating the dingy pedestrian tunnel now along Central under the tracks.

Velarde said the city won’t necessarily just “give away” the land to a developer. Instead, it will offer the land for “fair value” through a sale or lease. In the transaction, the city could consider the community value of eliminating blight, creating jobs and other social benefits, she said.

Most of the site is now a parking lot. But Copper Avenue also runs through it, creating a pedestrian island that has a bus stop.

The city encourages the developer proposals to “square off” the site so there’s a more traditional intersection.

“We’re looking for options,” Velarde said. “We’re really excited about this site.”