Ideas swirl over revitalizing downtown’s Civic Plaza

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – No matter what the political makeup looks like, fixing up downtown has become a constant theme in Albuquerque.

While there are plans in motion all around to make things better, some wonder if anything is happening with the place in the middle of it all.

As construction continues on Albuquerque’s Convention Center and 4th Street sees crews working as well, some think it’s time to start looking at an overhaul for the sea of concrete that is Civic Plaza.

From the modern wow of Austin’s city hall with a green roof, to the classic grandeur of Denver’s city hall that’s reminiscent to federal buildings in Washington D.C., Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza serves as not just a government hub, but an inviting open space.

However, in Albuquerque, it’s no secret that the vast Civic Plaza and its bland city hall does not get the highest marks from many, including some city councilors.

“Old city hall says 1962 and new city hall says 1970, whatever it was,” said Isaac Benton, an Albuquerque City Councilor and professional architect.

“Civic Plaza itself says welcome to my garage,” chuckled Benton.

“Well it’s too big, there’s no shade and it’s more of an eyesore anymore,” said City Council President Ken Sanchez.

Pairing with recent renovations to fix up the courthouses downtown, contractors are now tearing out the city’s Fourth Street Mall to liven up the street and the Albuquerque Convention Center is getting a total makeover and new front street.

So what about Civic Plaza? It’s a big empty space that many people have wanted to change for years but have never been able to.

“It’s just kind of an odd space,” said Councilor Benton.

Even outsiders agree. Jeff Speck is a city planner who just analyzed downtown Albuquerque recently. With the analysis, he created a report about how to make the area more pedestrian and bicyclist friendly.

Speck says he agrees that Civic Plaza needs help. He points to the giant underground parking ramps that block sight lines and pedestrian access. He also says the vast size, lack of shade and greenery make it an uninviting place.

“Its design is not functional,” said Speck. “My main piece of advice is to not invest another dollar in it in its current form.”

As part of his report, Speck drew up what he calls a rough “abstract and conceptual idea” of what to do with Civic Plaza. Speck says the drawing came on his own and not as a specific request from anyone working with within the city.

Speck’s idea would split the plaza in two, giving half to a new building and half to a tree-lined park.

The idea now has some councilors thinking that Civic Plaza needs some kind of future plan.

“I think it’s vital, that’s the one critical piece that’s missing,” said Councilor Sanchez.

“Long term, it’s a conversation,” said Councilor Benton.

The mayor’s office says it agrees that Civic Plaza’s potential is untapped.

“It’s a shame,” said Gilbert Montaño, chief of staff for Mayor Richard J. Berry, speaking on the untapped potential of the area.

However, right now, Montaño says the mayor’s office is focused on cheap, smaller things like basketball hoops, more tables and shade rather than a total rebuild.

“We can work with what we have, it’s just a matter of using it right,” said Montaño.

Still, many think now is time to start thinking big.

“I think that would be a great community discussion,” said Councilor Benton.

The city has two other things it’s hoping will liven up Civic Plaza soon. First the Convention Center managers are now in charge of booking events for Civic Plaza. Second, the city will start bringing food trucks in front of the Convention Center.

News 13 also asked if there’s ever been any chatter about building a more attractive Albuquerque City Hall. Representatives from the mayor’s office say right now, there are no plans or any talk about the future of the building’s physical form.

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