City is reluctant landlord for run-down properties

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The city of Albuquerque has purchased 11 large properties, to the tune of millions of dollars, leaving the city in a position it doesn’t really want to be in: accidental landlord.

For years, the city has been stuck with the properties, many of which are now choked with weeds, full of garbage and crumbling buildings.

“I think it was a good idea to buy the ones we did as examples of our community. But we don’t want to be in this practice for a long time,” said Michael Riordan, the city’s municipal development director.

In addition to the $14 million price tag for the buildings, the city has spent another million and change on maintenance and security.

In 2003, the city bought the De Anza Motor Lodge at Central and Washington for $890,000. Built in 1939, the motel was a hot spot along the old Route 66 through Albuquerque. It gave travelers a place to stop and play along the gateway to the American West.

But decades later, it became a den for drug dealers and prostitutes. It’s now a community eyesore.

“It makes me terribly sad to see it like this,” said Bob Turner the Nob Hill Main Street executive director whose non-profit focuses on revitalizing the area.

Since the city purchased the De Anza nearly a decade ago, it’s spent $125,000 each year to protect the historic property, specifically the 1950’s-era Zuni-painted murals in the basement.

Riordan concedes the security price is steep.

“We need someone on-site 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to ensure that no illegal activity is getting down into the murals,” he said.

The city bought a bunch of properties to save them from being infested with crime, falling into disarray — or from being torn down by private developers.

“Most of these are where the community comes to us and says: ‘This is becoming in disrepair, we don’t want it to be redeveloped into something that doesn’t represent us. City help us,'” Riordan said.

The city also snatched up the El Vado Motel on West Central, across from the Bio Park. It too was a Route 66 showpiece. Today it’s an abandoned, graffiti magnet.

Developers planned to demolish the aging relic, so the city stepped in with a $1.4 million dollar check. Since that purchase, it’s put another quarter-million dollars toward a new roof, stucco work and other fixes.

Taxpayers also are the landlords for the 27 acres of old, historic railyards in the South Valley — and a former restaurant and neighboring barbershop across from the Bio Park on West Central.

The city also owns the massive 6,800 square-foot national guard armory at Wyoming and Copper.

Fire stations 7 and 2 used to be on the front lines. Today, firefighters live and work in newer and more cost effective facilities. That leaves the old stations out of service and vacant until the city can find a buyer.

Using a state grant, the city also purchased two floors of the Rosenwald Building at Central and 3rd street Downtown. The price tag: $1.6 million dollars. The plan was to put a Holocaust Museum there. But organizers later changed their mind about moving in.

Another city purchase: the Flamenco building at Lomas and the railroad tracks. That one cost taxpayers $525,000.

The city inherited the old Armory at Wyoming and Copper from the federal government. Maintenance has cost the city $194,000 for boilers, heating and air conditioning and

And and an old red-brick house on the Southwest corner of 4th street cost another $230,000. At that property, fires have been set inside, windows have been broken out, and the building has suffered other damage. The city has spent $3,000 to board up doors and windows and to rent and repair a fence to keep people out.

The Armory was a freebie; the fire stations were already owned by the city.

But for the rest, taxpayers have shelled out $14 million to add the buildings to the city’s collection.  On top of the purchase prices, maintenance and security have cost the city another $1.4 million. Other costs are covered by the annual operating budget for maintenance and security.

City officials say they have a strategy for getting out of the landlord arrangement.

They hope to sell off the vacant inventory. And in the meantime, officials hope to tighten the financial belt.

At the De Anza, the city will nix the expensive security guards in favor of cheaper security cameras.

Cameras are also going up at the railyards too.

City officials are working on private partnerships to develop the properties. The El Vado is set to be turned into affordable housing. The barbershop and restaurant next door will become shops. The old Armory will be a Regional Traffic Management Center to coordinate traffic signals and message boards around town.

And a new bid is going out for the De Anza. Potential buyers got a a tour of the motel last week.

Some community leaders stand by the city’s decision to spending millions buying and maintaining these properties.

City Councilor Ken Sanchez told News 13: “It’s valuable to buy these properties… and it’s an excellent move to preserve history.”

He said It’s taken longer than expected to get the properties developed because of the recession.

Councilor Isaac Benton said buying the properties makes sense. And Councilor Dan Lewis said there can be an economic advantage to acquiring properties.

“That’s just the cost of  doing business and protecting history, preserving your history as a city,” said Turner of Nob Hill Main Street.

LIST OF LARGE VACANT CITY PROPERTIES:

  • Old Armory: Wyoming and Copper, 67,796 square feet. Some buildings on site are occupied and others are in design for Regional Traffic Management Center to coordinate traffic signals and message boards. Cost = $0 (inherited from Federal Government), Maintenance = $194k (boilers, HVAC, water supply)
  • Rosenwald Building: 2nd and 3rd floors, Central and 3rd, 21,750 square feet. Cost = $1.6 million (state grant)
  • Rail yard = 272,910 square feet, 27.3 acres, master planning effort ongoing. Cost = $8.5 million. Capital improvements = $1 million (Railyards Building, opened 2013.) Security = $20k per year, $45k capital security improvements in 2014 – for security system soon to go in.
  • De Anza Central and Washington in Nob Hill = 33,840 square feet (Proposed renovation project) Cost = $890k. Security = $125k per year. Property is out for RFP.
  • El Vado 2500 Central SW = 15,300 square feet. Proposed renovation project. Cost = $1.4 million. Maintenance = $130k in 2005 and $128.5k in 2013 for roof and stucco. Property is out for RFP.
  • Former Barbershop & parking lot: 2412 Central SW,1,550 square feet, soon to be affordable housing
  • Former Casa Grande Restaurant: 2424 Central SW, 4,303 square feet, soon to be affordable housing. Purchased barbershop, parking lot and restaurant for $890,000
  • Old Fire Station 2: 301 High Street SE, 3,200 square feet. The building will be sold or repurposed. Cost = $0, built by City
  • Old Fire Station 7: Central and 47th street NW, 4,000 square feet. The building will be sold or repurposed Cost = 0, built by City
  • Red brick house: 4th and Coal – 1,091 square feet. Cost = $229,290. Out for RFP. Maintenance: $1,000 for emergency door and wall build-ups; and another $1,800 for replacing fence pieces and rent in the last year.
  • Flamenco building: Lomas and the railroad tracks. Cost $525k

 

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