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Bernalillo County approves negotiations for Alvarado Square purchase

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

Bernalillo County commissioners want to restart negotiations that could lead to moving county government out of City Hall and into a new Downtown home.

They voted 3-2 late Tuesday to authorize the county manager to negotiate a purchase of Alvarado Square, the eight-story building that once housed the Public Service Company of New Mexico. It’s at Fourth and Silver SW.

The asking price on the iconic building – built in 1980, spanning over Silver Avenue – has fallen to $6 million, down from $11 million. The total cost, however, is expected to reach $21 million because the county would have to complete renovations and acquire parking.

How to finance the purchase, and whether to grant final approval, will come back to the commission at a future meeting.

Restarting negotiations won approval on a party-line vote, with Democrats in favor.

Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, a Democrat, said it was too good to pass up the drop in asking price for a building the county has wanted for years. Consolidating offices now spread among a half dozen buildings Downtown could save money and improve efficiency, she said.

“I think we need to move forward,” O’Malley said.

Joining her in favor were Art De La Cruz and Maggie Hart Stebbins.

Republicans Wayne Johnson and Lonnie Talbert said it simply isn’t the right time to buy. The county is trying to trim tens of millions of dollars from next year’s budget, following investment losses and increased spending for the jail system.

The timing “looks pretty challenging,” Talbert said.

The county administration estimates it could sell the Downtown buildings it already owns for about $11 million. That includes selling its interest in City Hall, which it shares with Albuquerque’s municipal government and the water authority.

That would leave a net cost of around $10 million for a move to Alvarado Square, according to the county.

Talbert questioned whether the county could sell its buildings quickly and for what it needs to make the finances work.

The administration responded that buyers have expressed interest in the Rio Grande building, which now houses the assessor’s office; Union Square, the building that now has parks and other employees; and the old county courthouse, which has economic-development staff and a training center.

Alvarado Square has 282,000 square feet of space.