County considering taking biz out of downtown

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Bernalillo County officials are thinking seriously of saying “good-bye” to downtown.

The idea of moving the county’s hundreds of employees out of the city’s core is gaining steam. While it could mean a more efficient county, it could deliver another blow to a downtown that’s suffering with lots of empty space.

“The county has been looking at consolidating for a long time,” Bernalillo County Commission Chairwoman Debbie O’Malley said.

Roughly 700 people work for the county, spread out across the heart of the city in about a half dozen buildings, from Union Square near Central and Broadway to the Assessor’s Office near 5th and Tijeras.

“It makes it very inconvenient sometimes for people, especially having meetings and people getting services for example the Assessor’s Office and the Treasurer’s Office,” O’Malley said.

A county spokesperson says they’ve hit a wall looking for a space downtown.

“We need to consider all the possibilities,” O’Malley said.

One of those possibilities is moving somewhere else in the city.

“There are a lot of properties available at a good price right now so we have to consider that.”

Not everyone is on board with that idea. In fact, one commissioner says the county needs to slow down and pump the brakes.

“This isn’t the right time for going forward with a new building,” Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson said

“People aren’t working the way they should, the economy is bumping along the bottom and taxes aren’t going up.”

Johnson says it’s too big of a gamble. If they ditch the old buildings, he says the county will still be stuck with them, sitting empty.

“Would it be the best thing for downtown, absolutely not,” Johnson said. “If we had somebody ready and willing to come into those buildings, it might be a different story.”

As is sits, the county owns 6 percent of the land downtown.

Todd Clarke with the Downtown Action Team says the area has a vacancy rate close to 25 percent.

If county employees left, it could affect the many businesses that rely on downtown workers to survive.

“I think there’s a good side a bad side to this,” Clarke said.

Clarke says even though the county’s departure would mean more lifeless buildings, it could also bring an opportunity for redevelopment.

“I think the best news that’s going to come out of this is we’re going to free up a lot of space to be freed up in the private sector,” Clarke said.

The county says they have their eyes on a few places, but couldn’t elaborate. They’re hoping to get something to commissioners by August.

Once a building is chosen, commissioners will take a vote on it. The county says they have no plans to build a new structure.

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