Downtown Gets A Facelift

The City’s Plans For Renovation Start This Year

Joshua Lee
4 min read
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Downtown looks like a boxer’s broken-toothed smile at the end of a title bout. I could turn that into a pretty metaphor, probably: A battered smile, but a triumphant one, too. The truth is it’s more like the nervous grin of a fighter waiting for the judges to make a call. All those beautiful buildings slouching along the streets, hollowed out and forgotten by long-lost dreamers-turned-cynics. Vacuum the rugs to get back the deposit and sell the copper to China.

Which is where Mayor Berry is, too, come to think of it. Time’s running out for the big guy to make a real mark on our humble city’s history before his Era ends next year. The mad dash to the credits brings with it a frantic need to leave something of value behind, and while a host of plans are being bandied at varying levels of debate, it’s nice to hear about some that will definitely improve the place.

“92 weeks, 3 days, 7 hours and 47 minutes we have left in this administration—and I say that because I want to sprint across the finish line.” Gary Oppedahl, director of the Economic Development department looks at the clock while he calculates. He strikes me as one of those rare finds: a sincere politician who just wants to leave a successful community in his wake. We’ve met in his office at City Hall, overlooking some of the Downtown areas that will change within the coming years as part of a wide-scale renovation plan. “We’ve got this hole in the middle of our city called Downtown that everybody left. Well, let’s repurpose it and do it the right way for our future and the city’s future.” To that end, the city has four major renovations in different stages of development, some of which you’ll be seeing signs of this year.

The first change we discussed was the new Civic Plaza. In days past, the city discouraged people hanging out—a real shame, considering its spot in the heart of Albuquerque. “Now, we’re going to encourage people on the plaza all the time.” Bonds sold based on a boost in tourism revenue are being used to remake the fountain into a sustainable water spray and play park, similar to one in Ft. Worth, but not with the attached guards who keep all the kids out, Oppedahl assures me. And the play area will be completely sustainable, as part of the
2030 plan (an effort to make all new buildings, developments and major renovations carbon-neutral by 2030).

Another big move will be further upgrades on the Convention Center, including the installation of portable stands in the east wing that will convert it into an event arena, allowing the city to host concerts and sporting events. This not only means bigger shows for locals to enjoy, but a way to attract out-of-towners with full pockets. Big events equal big money for businesses in the area. And opting for upgrades to an existing site, instead of developing a new one from scratch is significantly easier on the city’s wallet, too.

Possibly the most ambitious project, though, is the One Central Entertainment District—a plan to roll out a living/playing/eating space over the currently dumpy parking lot on Central and First. This four-story hub will have apartments, a bowling alley, restaurants and commercial space. And 400 parking spots. “Until [ART] is in place, we have a short-term issue with parking,” Oppedahl tells me. One Central will help alleviate much of the stain. “But the cool part about it is it’s not going to look like a parking garage. The building and the apartments—the living spaces—will wrap around it. So it’s going to look cool, but we’ll still get some parking spaces out of it while we need them.” The plan is to hopefully break ground this summer.

Meaning we’ve all got some fun stuff headed our way, which is great, but even if you’re not interested in a spray park or concerts or bowling, just remember those three important words: money money money. No, it can’t buy everything, but it does help when you’re hungry and want a sandwich, and all of these changes will bring more and more of it back Downtown, where it’s needed. But if you’re still feeling that ABQ-centric fear of change, just remember that butterflies are the most prosperous insects with the best retirement plans and the highest credit ratings. Being a caterpillar sucks.
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