Looking back on the 18 years I lived in Fringecrest—that pleasantly arcadian and very bourgeois bastion of El Duque’s progressive wing that includes the Parkland Hills neighborhood as well as part of the adjacent international district—I remember the early years best.
Millennial memories of the Blockbuster Video store on the corner of San Mateo and Kathryn reveal an adjacent commercial district that was lively and varied. The accompanying mental images of pre-2008 recession Albuquerque are difficult to displace for locals.
Zinn’s Bakery, a long time Albuquerque go-to for fresh bread, donuts and coffee was in this shopping center too. Back in the ’70s the strip mall also featured the popular Acoma Pets, a barber shop and an S&H Green Stamps redemption store. Nearby, the German restaurant, Gasthaus Europa, filled its tables nightly. Oh, and people also hung out in the neighborhood, walking around fearlessly at all hours, I am told.
In the early aughts, after the Blockbuster closed, a series of churches rented some of the store fronts that were left behind when businesses began to flee in the mid-’80s—as the malls in Burque’s uptown became ascendant.
But the only other tenant of note in that baroque period for demise and decline, an indoor flea-market sort of deal where they sold everything from fine furniture to Tootsie pops—which was, coincidentally, the last place I ever saw local cray-cool hot rod collector and sculptor Andy York alive—closed by 2010.
Then it seemed like the whole stretch on San Mateo, south from Central Avenue, began a rapid decay, an interregnum that lasted 7 years, through the Berry era. That period of governance, if you recall, featured an administration none too keen on re-development, but instead wanted new and grandiose projects to be the symbols of that man’s reign.
Obviously some members of the City Council were aware of what needed to happen in regards to owning and revisioning, repurposing really, the urban decay that had afflicted District 6. But the conservative financial values of the Berry Administration, in harmony with some right-leaning Councilors like Dan Lewis thwarted any real progress.
In that space of time, the Berry years, the edges of the neighborhood I called home continued to deteriorate. The convenience store on the corner of Kathyrn and San Mateo was seemed to be dangerous after dark. The Parkland Hills Shopping Center wasn’t the only sickly and abandoned property in the area, there were literally dozens of them between Zuni Boulevard and Gibson Boulevard. And on top of that, because of the shortage of patrol officers during the Berry administration, the police presence in the area was exceedingly low.
Those were givens about the neighborhood until the mayoral administration of Tim Keller was elected at the end of 2017. Keller’s team noticed and responded to the words of City Councilors who had been warning against this hard fade-out for years.
In particular, District 6 Councilor Pat Davis had a plan. It begins with a new substation at—you guessed it—the southeast corner of San Mateo and Kathryn.
Weekly Alibi chatted with Davis about this latest development; here’s a condensed version of that conversation about a neighborhood reborn, not so much Phoenix-like, but definitely Burque-like. If it all turns out well, I’ll miss the old ’hood after all.
Weekly Alibi: What are the plans to bring back the vitality of the neighborhood, particularly at the old site of the Parkland Hills Shopping Center?
Pat Davis: You know, when I took over as a City Councilor, one of the first things I did, at one of my first meetings with APD, we looked at the crime data for the city, across the city, across District 6. That was the number one area call for service in the southeast—it was Kathryn and San Mateo. The place had basically been abandoned. The developer, before the bust, [in 2008] had some big plans for the property. They kicked all of the small businesses out, but then the market fell apart.
How did the idea to re-develop Kathryn and San Mateo come up?
I went back and looked at the history of the area and we passed legislation to start citing them [the developer] for zoning violations. We needed to do that, the property had become severely delapidated. Then I went and re-scoped a bunch of city bond money, that allowed the city to buy the property from those developers. It was leftover funding dating back to Councilor [Martin] Heinrich. We had a bunch of money that was left over from various projects. We used that to buy the property. The way we came to the idea of a new police station was based on the fact that APD was in the process of planning a new station for the southeast, as we are planning to add 100 officers over there during the next 5 years. We need room for them. The current location is one of the oldest police buildings in the city. Currently it’s one of the smallest stations but with the highest number of officers attached to it.
How many callouts does that area get per year?
About 100,000 calls per year.
Probably more than that, but anyway, APD’s planners determined that a new station wouldn’t fit on the old lot, so they were preparing to wait 5 years for a $20 million grant in order to build a 2-story police station. Instead, we decided to put the money I had put together along with funds the project already had on the books, to re-develop that site, to build the new police station there, to build the facility around the concept of community policing. That’s very different than the atmosphere at the old station where you walk in and talk to cops behind a glass window. That was the initial thinking, anyway.
How did the process of envisioning the new police station proceed?
Since this is essentially about enacting a community policing initiative, we decided we needed community input. We needed to create a process to facilitate that input, because we saw from ART that the city doesn’t really have a formal process; we built a new process to take community input on the project. We worked with APD to look at community policing models around the country. That’s where we are right now, a year into the process. A design for the station has been developed, based on the input we had.
How are the design aspects lined up with community policing values and standards?
We did start this project under the former admistration. We held community meetings to ask people the question, “If you could build a police station from the ground up, what would you want in it?” One of the first meetings we held was with students at Van Buren Middle School. The first thing they told us was, “I don’t care what’s in the station, but can we have a park or a playground or a skate park next door to it, because I’ll feel safe to go there if you guys are there.” Those sorts of comments drove the process. What we have now is a year’s worth of community input from meetings.
Given those sorts of concerns what will the station look like?
Things that will be different include a community room in the station where neighborhood associations can meet. We’re taking “Coffee to a Cop” to a whole new level: We’ll have a coffee shop in the station.
So citizens can have a cup of joe and chat with an officer?
That’s right. It becomes a neighborhood hub of activity.
I dig that, that’s kinda cool ...
The other thing people will notice is an increase in the number of bicycle cops. The new station will have a “bike barn” to serve a cadre of officers on bikes. We envision allowing the kids in the neighborhood to use the tools there to work on their bikes, too. We tried to take the best ideas and practices and put them together. With this design and the services the new building will include, we want to advance the concept that the only time you go to the police station should not just be during a time of crisis, this place should already be a familiar, friendly place to the citizens of the neighborhood. It’s a safe place.
What’re the next steps?
We’ve recently hired 200 new officers who came in wanting to patrol on a bicycle. We’ve expanded the Block by Block [clean up program] to Nob Hill and UNM because the police shouldn’t be the only ones dealing with homelessness and its associated problems on the streets. Business owners said they wanted better police visibility. The real test will be building the station; it will show people that we’re serious about community policing, and establish a location where the process is totally visible, transparent, accessible. That’s on the way, within two years it will happen.