Redevelopment proposals for the fenced, derelict De Anza Motor Lodge site in east Nob Hill were submitted about a month ago but, under city policy, the proposals are the equivalent of sealed court documents until the Albuquerque Development Commission officially gets them in mid-March.
The policy to keep the proposals under wraps is based on state law restricting the public disclosure of competitive bids or proposals during the negotiation process.
As with any other redevelopment project on city-owned land – construction of the new Imperial Building in Downtown, for example, or the redevelopment of the El Vado Motel site west of Old Town – the potential De Anza redevelopment has generated a lot of interest in the neighborhood.
“We believe the De Anza is the bellwether for east Nob Hill and will be the catalyst for future development in the area,” said Robert Munro, co-owner of O’Neill’s Pub and Gioco sports bar across Central Avenue from the De Anza, as well as president of Nob Hill Main Street, a business group.
The issue for interested locals is that only one redevelopment group engaged the community to go over its proposal, he said, while “the others have not communicated or not communicated well with the Nob Hill Neighborhood Association, Nob Hill Main Street or Zuni Pueblo.”
Built in the 1930s during the Route 66 heyday, De Anza’s connection with Zuni Pueblo goes back to its early days and rare murals by a Zuni artist survive on the walls of a basement conference room. The National Park Service listed the De Anza in the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.
Munro said the lack of community engagement by other groups that submitted proposals has created “anxiety on the part of some board members of Nob Hill Main Street and the neighborhood association about unknown uses that might be proposed for the site.”
The proposals – the city won’t even say how many were submitted – are currently under review by an ad hoc committee, which will determine how well they mesh with the redevelopment criteria in the city’s request for proposals, or RFP, said associate city planning director Matthew Conrad in an email.
The ad hoc committee will typically pick two or three finalists to present their proposals to the Albuquerque Development Commission at a public hearing, he said. The commission picks the winner, confirmed by the City Council. If the commission’s decision is challenged, the appeal goes to the City Council.
The finalists in the De Anza redevelopment are tentatively scheduled to go to the redevelopment commission on March 19, Conrad said. The secrecy up until the commission’s public hearing is meant to prevent behind-the-scenes lobbying, he said.
“In an effort to preserve the integrity of the process, the Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency does not want members of the public or other proposers to review the proposals prior to the ADC hearing and then engage in ex parte communications with the ad hoc committee members or the ADC members,” Conrad said.
The policy of secrecy has led to recent criticism that the selection process was “not fair and open.”
The criticism came in an appeal by Albuquerque-based nonprofit NewLife Homes of the ADC’s selection of a rival proposal for the redevelopment of the 2.7-acre El Vado site, another Route 66-era motor court. NewLife Homes’ appeal was soundly rejected by city councilors last October.
“City-owned land is taxpayer funded, and needs to be given careful scrutiny and oversight,” NewLife Executive Director John Bloomfield told the Journal in an email at the time.
In order to document the potential for abuse at the time of NewLife’s appeal, Bloomfield sent the Journal a March 2003 special audit by the State Auditor’s Office. The audit contains harsh findings about the development commission and its support staff, ranging from a conflict of interest to violations of multiple city ordinances.
But the special audit is from a different time and a different administration. When contacted by the Journal last week, Bloomfield stood by his past public criticism but declined further comment.
NewLife Homes had a cameo role in one of the city’s several abortive attempts to redevelop De Anza – the first RFP was issued at the end of 2003, the same year the city purchased the property for $891,000 – when an ad hoc committee gave NewLife’s proposal the highest score in a subsequent RFP issued in early 2011.
The Albuquerque Development Commission picked another development group that had scored lower in meeting the city’s redevelopment criteria. Like others before it, that redevelopment attempt failed.
At an “Infill 101” workshop held in August by NAIOP, the commercial real estate development association, a group of commercial real estate pros outlined a hypothetical redevelopment plan for the De Anza that involved a mix of uses, including high-end apartments and a hotel, that would have cost close to $10 million.
One premise for the hypothetical plan was that the city donates the land. Even with the free land, the plan’s profit margin was described as “marginal.”
One change from past RFPs and the most recent one is that the city is no longer seeking the preservation of the entire De Anza site as it stands today – eight one- and two-story buildings with 36,718 square feet of space – but only the buildings fronting Central.
Allowing new construction at the back or north end of the site will open the way for a higher density play that might pay off for a redevelopment group, but it appears nothing is for sure.
What that redevelopment play might consist of – low-income housing, for instance, may not go down real well in Nob Hill – will remain a mystery until March at the earliest.