Old Town merchants hope construction doesn’t deter Balloon Fiesta tourists

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Balloon Fiesta is the peak season for merchants in Old Town, but this year some are holding out hope that tourists make it to them even with Albuquerque Rapid Transit construction still happening.

“I’m staying hopeful the tourists don’t know about the construction,” Marlene Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez is the owner of Old Town Pizza Parlor. She said during Balloon Fiesta it’s all hands on deck.

“It’s our busiest time of the year,” Rodriguez said. “I end up scheduling everyone for Balloon Fiesta.”

She’s not the only one.

“Typically, at this time last year our store was flooded,” Catherine Webster, owner of Catherine’s Cache, said. “This year, not yet.”

Webster and others said working through ART construction has been tough.

“We were told as the deadlines kept getting further and further that for sure, Balloon Fiesta, would be completely taken care of,” Webster said.

Meaning construction crews would have the area completely cleared by the first mass ascension that’s scheduled for Saturday, October 6.

Wednesday, crews were still filling in parts of the road and working on signals at the intersection of Rio Grande and Central. One of the main entrances into Old Town along Central Avenue, Romero Street, is even blocked off.

So when out-of-towners are calling, business owners can only tell them one thing.

“I’m here. I’m open, find a way to get to me,” Rodriguez said.

Business owners said it’s not just the construction at the intersection of Rio Grande and Central Avenue that concerns them, but now crews have extended construction barrels and cones all along Rio Grande, north of Central Avenue.

The city tells KRQE News 13 those cones have nothing to do with ART construction. They went up because of an emergency water line break. The city also said all those cones should be gone by Thursday, clearing up congestion along Rio Grande Boulevard.

ART spokesperson Joanie Griffin said as far as ART construction goes, don’t expect the entire area around Rio Grande and Central Avenue to be completely clear. She said the city plans to free up as much of the construction as possible to help traffic flow during Balloon Fiesta.

Griffin also said the city will send out a plan on Friday so that businesses in the area know what to expect.

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