ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – It was a big investment and a major victory for the city of Albuquerque more than a decade ago.
An old blighted bar that was a thorn in a lot of neighbors’ sides came crumbling down. And as the Blue Spruce Lounge fell: a promise of new, better development in the Southeast Heights.
But more than 11 years later, neighbors say the property has become nothing more than an overgrown, litter-covered eyesore. They want to know why.
“It’s vacant and it looks awful,” said Patrick Garcia, a neighbor to the vacant property near Central Avenue and Louisiana Boulevard.
The property in question sits at the corner of Central and Alcazar. Many people have seen the property sitting vacant for years.
“They should do something with it,” said Gail Oliver, who lives nearby.
At one time, the city described the property as the Albuquerque’s “gateway” to the International District. However, neighbors today see something much different. The property’s barb-wire fence is lined with piles of trash, empty liquor bottles, homeless camp remnants and several overgrown Chinese Elm trees.
“Looks sort of unkempt,” said Lena Curtin, who walks by the property frequently on her trip to work.
“I question that all the time,” Garcia said. “It needs help, it really does.”
While neighbors say the property is still a problem, city leaders admit the mess shouldn’t be there.
“I consider that a problem that exists that shouldn’t exist,” said Rey Garduño, president of the Albuquerque City Council and representative of the district where the property sits.
“It’s important for us to do whatever we possibly can moving forward,” said Gilbert Montaño, chief of staff for Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry.
Back in 2004, many neighbors and even city leaders were happy to see the old property turn into a vacant lot. The Blue Spruce had become a hotbed for drunken violence. Shortly before the bar was closed, Albuquerque police investigated a rape and a suspicious death in the parking lot after a body was found in the dumpster.
Neighbors remember the problems.
“Just drugs all over the place,” Garcia said. “People fighting all of the time, and it was just really bad.”
City Demolition & Promises
Under a newly created ordinance in 2004, the city spent $1.05 million to buy the property and demolish the building. KRQE News 13 archive video even shows former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez taking a sledge hammer to the building.
After the demolition, the city made promises of new development to neighbors. An original request for proposals shows the city welcomed ideas for new apartment, retail, commercial space, offices and restaurants. The city even invested money in dressing up the area with wider sidewalks and public art.
However, 11 years later, many neighbors think the city has bailed on them.
“There’s still, there’s a lot of problems up here,” Garcia said.
Montaño said: “I think every neighbor, and I think developers and those in the business are frustrated with the time lapse and the time delay.”
The city blames the delay on the developer that they partnered with a decade ago, Limary Investments, LLC. That company is run by the same people who own the Talin Market across the street. The city swapped the Blue Spruce Lounge property with the developer in exchange for four small residential lots and a promise that the Blue Spruce lot would be developed.
The city says the recession kept Limary Investments from building out.
“There was an economic downturn certainly during those years, so there had to be a couple of other amendments to that development plan,” Montaño said.
Documents show that the city extended Limary Investments’ deadline to build the project by six years. The developer never built anything.
News 13 tried multiple times to reach Victor Limary, the principal for Limary Investments. He did not return a telephone call or a message News 13 left at Limary’s business.
A letter sent to the city in 2010 confirms that Limary Investments was struggling with the “economic climate” while trying to develop the property.
The city has seen similar delays at properties along Central, including the De Anza Motel near Nob Hill, and El Vado Motel near Old Town. Despite the delays, the city says it needs to be in the business of helping turn neighborhoods around.
“Ultimately the city should and does have responsibility not just to the property, but to the surrounding residents along that property,” Montaño said.
Future Development Ahead?
Now, the city is looking to break the deal with the developer. The city’s new plan is to get the former Blue Spruce Lounge property back. According to the mayor’s office, that process should wrap up sometime in the near future. However, it could be a while before anything happens on the property.
“For that, I feel bad,” said Councilor Garduño, who’s set to retire from the council in November.
Garduño says he recognizes that the recession has caused a delay for the property. However, he says it shouldn’t be an excuse for a lack of action on the project.
“We should have had something in place where we could have moved forward and made good with our word,” Garduño said. “As long as things languish, you know, the public doesn’t look like or doesn’t feel like we’re doing anything, and I don’t blame them for feeling that way.”
The mayor’s office says it will try to finish the job before a change in administration. Berry says he will not seek re-election once his term is complete.
“It’s a sprint now, we have two years and we’re going to be sprinting to the finish line,” Montaño said.
News 13 asked Montaño if he felt the project was a priority for the Berry administration.
“It’s a priority, absolutely a priority, I think as much as this property, just about every single vacant piece of land along Central is a priority,” he said.
City officials say when they get the property back, they’ll ask developers again to submit new ideas to build on the land through another request for proposals.
As part of the deal, the city says it will likely trade back a few of the four small residential lots it took from Limary Investments for the Blue Spruce Lounge property. Out of those four lots the city took control of, the city says it has “conveyed” two lots at 318 Louisiana SE to the Keschet Dance Company, which sold them to a Buddhist temple. The other two lots at 316 and 320 Alcazar Street SE remain in the city’s control as unimproved lots.