ByAlaina Mencinger / Journal Staff Writer
Last week, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller designated a stretch of Menaul between I-25 and the Diversion Canal as the city’s 22nd Metropolitan Redevelopment Area. For decades, the Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency has incentivized development in blighted areas that have been historically overlooked.
In the late 90s, Menaul was a hub for entertainment and tourism businesses, said Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency Director Terry Brunner. Hotels, especially, Brunner said, were dependent on traffic off of the “Big I” — the intersection of I-25 and I-40 — and when the freeway was reconstructed, those hotels lost visibility. Businesses started to flee the area, leaving behind vacant lots that attracted vandalism and other crime, Brunner said.
The Range Cafe, for example, closed its Menaul location in 2020 due to a mix of crime, decreased traffic from nearby hotels and pandemic stresses. The location has remained empty since; representatives from the MRA, the mayor, City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn and others celebrated the signing of the plan outside the boarded up restaurant.
But what does it mean to be a Metropolitan Redevelopment Area? And what’s the vision for a MRA Menaul?
This is an interview with MRA director Terry Brunner. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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AM: What’s the purpose of the MRA and the redevelopment areas?
TB: “The purpose is to address blighted and underinvested areas of the city. So we have 22 MRAs, and they’ve been identified over the years as places that investment and development have passed by. So, we designate those areas with the idea that we can attract more interest in redevelopment.”
AM: Why has this area been picked for redevelopment?
TB: “I think the movement started a few years ago. After the Big I was built, and the recession hit in 2008, you saw a lot of those hotels move away, and other businesses move away along that strip. It was kind of a popular entertainment area for a while in the 90s and early 2000s. And when those businesses started to move away, you had vacant buildings, vacant lots. And really, we had identified an area in the city that really needed some work and reinvestment.”
AM: So why now?
TB: “I think it’s become a bit of an eyesore, and people have noticed it. We’ve gotten interest from City Council, and from the local Menaul business community — you know, they’ve kind of become frustrated with what’s become of that street. They’ve been reaching out for the last couple years to try to see something take place. I think that’s why we see it now more than ever.”
AM: What are some of the obstacles to redevelopment that this area has historically faced?
TB: “I think the obstacles to redevelopment have been: lack of developer interest, some sort of vision for the area, and also the necessary investment funds to entice a business in there — or hotel or commercial use. Those are some of the things that have been lacking.”
AM: What are the specific blights in this area that MRA is looking at?
TB: “We specifically have some vacant lots that have been vacant for a long time. In particular, you have buildings like the former Range Cafe, the Village Inn, Little Anitas, that have been vacant for several years. Some of them are not in good shape, they’re not. They can’t be occupied, they’re not under use. So they become areas where people hang out, or crimes are committed or people vandalize those spots. … There’s a couple of pretty large vacant lots next to the diversion canal … as well that have been vacant for a while.”
AM: What would you like to see come into those lots?
TB: “We’d like to see some housing, possibly hotels, and mixed-use, and possibly some commercial areas. We’re also interested in renovating some hotels.”
AM: Have there been other plans for the area over the years?
TB: “Not really. I think that there’s been some miscellaneous plans around curbs and gutters and streetscapes — things like that, more infrastructure plans. Really nothing on the commercial front.
And unfortunately, it shows it. There doesn’t seem to be a real plan around the area to have consistent commercial development opportunities. There’s really just been a lack of attention to the area overall in the last 20 or so years.”
AM: You said before that there’s 22 areas of the city that the MRA is looking at. How do you measure the success of an MRA plan?
TB: “That’s tough. It’s 22 areas that have been designated over 40 plus years. And … in the past, very often, our MRA areas were declared to address a single problem, like a particular building in an area that people didn’t like, or a block.
But what we found over the years is that when we declare an area, we’ll only do a couple projects there over a couple of decades, which is really not fostering wholesale redevelopment. So what we’re looking at is trying to figure out a way to be a little bit more impactful in a little less time. So we have passed some legislation to allow us to conduct tax increment financing, for our MRA areas, which would provide a 20-year consistent revenue flow to reinvest into an area because unfortunately, in the past, we were really dependent on one-time funding for an MRA area. We’d struggle year to year to get funding. … So, with a more consistent funding stream over 20 years, tax increment financing can make us be a little bit more considerate and thoughtful about long term development of an area and not just conduct one off projects.”
AM: What kind of incentives does MRA offer?
TB: “When we declare an MRA area, we are able to provide a seven year property tax abatement for developments. We also have fee waivers for projects in those areas. And we, in some cases, can make a property contribution or a direct funding contribution to a project. So we do hopefully have some enticing incentives for folks that want to look at redevelopment in that area.”
AM: As far as the Menaul project, what would you say would look like success in that area?
TB: “Right off the bat, we’d like to see the city possibly purchase a couple of lots and make them available for redevelopment with some incentives. That could be some smaller housing projects. I think in the next few months, we’re going to really work hard to see if there’s any properties we can invest in. And then secondly, I think we’d love to start talking to developers about larger mixed-use developments, so we have some interest closer to the diversion canal on that front. I think that’s what successful looks like in a year or two, maybe two to three construction projects on that street.”
AM: It sounds like housing is kind of a first priority. As far as the neighborhood profile, is there a real shortage there?
TB: “There’s a shortage of housing in that area like there is across the city. We’d like to see more permanent residents in and around that area that can frequent retail establishments, and give it more of a community and neighborhood feel. So I don’t think there’s any problem with adding more hotel rooms, for instance, but I think if we can mix it up with some residential, that would be really helpful.
AM: How would you describe the overall vision for the area?
TB: “To see Menaul come alive again with bars, restaurants, retail, hotel rooms, apartments … just have a more vibrant area and kind of resuscitate it a bit.”
Home»Business»Part of Menaul has become the latest target for redevelopment. But what will that look like?