Downtown plans pick up

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The heart of Albuquerque is still beating, but not as fast as it needs to.

“Successful cities have successful downtowns,” said Gilbert Montano, Mayor R.J. Berry’s chief of staff.

That’s part of why downtown Albuquerque has been the sight of big dreams and disappointments as city leaders have tried and tried to make downtown successful.

Albuquerque has a built-in disadvantage.

“As cities grow they tend to grow out and that’s what our typical policies have allowed,” said Michaele Pride, an architecture and urban planning professor at UNM. “This is one of our most dense areas but the activity on the street doesn’t reflect the mass and volume of building space.”

And with nearly 190 square miles of space, there’s been room to grow away from downtown. But Pride says a need for a more efficient infrastructure and use of resources is another reason why trying to better use downtown is vital.

Montano says there’s plenty of space to use. He calls Civic Plaza one of the city’s most under-utilitzed parks and acknowledges the Fourth Street Mall is in need of a big face lift.

But the good news is signs of change are either already here or in the works.

The Fourth Street Mall is set to get an overhaul over the summer. The plan is to open it up to more cars and hopefully, more business.

Albuquerque’s Convention Center is in the middle of a big renovation of its own.

Plans for Innovate ABQ, a collaboration between UNM, the city and the private sector, are moving forward at Central and Broadway. The Rail Yards are starting to come to life.

“I think we could approach a tipping point especially with all of these investments in the rail yards and in Innovate ABQ,” Pride said.

There’s new housing either already open or soon to open on Central and on Lead.

The city’s hoping to get a $15 million matching TIGER grant to overhaul the area near Central and the railroad tracks.

Even small changes, like inviting food trucks to Civic Plaza on Tuesdays or adding basketball hoops could make a big impact.

“Those little changes start to change the whole profile of downtown,” Pride said.

“Sometimes the simplest changes bear the greatest outcome,” Montano said.

One tricky obstacle is that the city’s population growth has leveled out in recent years as the economy’s struggled to recover.

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