Wednesday, March 01, 2006

ABQ Uptown

I'm not sure if anyone out there actually reads these but I apologize for going the entire month of February without a post. To my credit, I was out of the country for nearly two weeks. In the meantime, two big developments came about. The first being ABQ Uptown's website (finally), and the other being the planned Sierra Condominiums.

First, ABQ Uptown. Should I focus on the good or the bad first? I always complain about others saying things are never good enough as they are, but in this case I think this El Paso company dropped the ball by completely selling out to market interests instead of aiming for a truly progressive development. I'll begin with the facade along Louisiana Blvd. The entire length of it appears to be more like an alley instead of open and inviting. Next, the whole thing so far is one story! Now, what exactly is in the sector plan that allowed for urban development to be such a low density? It's Uptown for Pete's sake. The occupancy rate is at least 90%; why not build these things with offices and condos above the retail as was originally in the renderings? Did the NIMBY's do this? The area will never be viable nor create a critical mass without more housing. Even the proposed 200 units will never get anywhere near creating the necessary street life to make it a true live/work/play neighborhood. Let's call it what it really is: A suburban, feaux urban, upper class to upper-middle class consumer attraction.

Don't get me wrong, however, I'm actually fairly excited for the coming of retailers such as Pottery Barn and possibly Crate'n Barrel. It's businesses like these that act as indicators of how far our market has come. However, I'm a bit jealous that Uptown and the Northeast heights can get all these businesses while our downtown flounders amidst it's best recovery in history. Alas, I've got my fingers and toes crossed for Urban Outfitters to locate downtown.

Market numbers are never challenged apparently. Even with the number of houses selling at seemingly exhorbant prices in the Nob Hill, downtown, and Old Town areas, national chains still shun the area. I don't want to see a development a'la Uptown anywhere near downtown or UNM like they have in Salt Lake City with Gateway, but instead, I believe that the best mix of retail would include national and international stores such as HMV, Gap, Macy's, etc. acting as anchors spread out over an area filled in with local shopes such as Ruby Shoesday, Toad Road and art galleries. That is why it is important to bring density to Edo, downtown, Nob Hill, etc.

On that note, news is out that the developers of Aliso Nob Hill are moving ahead with a phase two to include nearly a dozen urban townhomes across from their highly successful phase I which is nearing completion. Furthermore, they are proposing a new development in the area called, "Sierra Condominiums" that is currently designed at 70 feet tall and with 60 or so units. Now, that's more intense than the Gold Avenue Lofts downtown. I agree that it will stand out like a sore thumb if not designed properly, but I also believe this to be necessary if we are to ever achieve the needed density to support a true form of mass transportation such as light rail. Again, I wish these developers would take a look at downtown but in the end, it all just contributes to Albuquerque one day containing one of America's greatest steets in Central Avenue. One day, it will be walkable and attractive from the Rio Grande and stretching to San Mateo. That would be like Chicago's Michigan Ave. except three times the length and much more funky. Champs-Elysees in Paris, Wenceslas Square in Prague and Freidrichstrasse in Berlin all come to mind when imagining what Central Ave. could one day be at full build out.

Wenceslas Square



brendan said...

hey Tim,
don't fret, I check your blog frequently and like it a lot.
Its definitely a shame that the uptown development is only one story, and I agree with you that we need some international and national chains like urban outfitters/gap/barnes and noble as anchors downtown/nob hill. When? and How? I think we need a new economy downtown to bring more residences and retail, whatever happened to the proposed film studio/production soundstage on first street?
Anyway, thanks for writing and keep it up, an urban albuquerque (higher density/walkable) is all I think about!

Phil said...

Tim - I also like the blog and check in frequently. Glad to see you posting again. I was born and raised in burque and am moving back this summer...every time I drive into town the first thing on my to-do list is a drive up central from the El Rey to Washington to see how the redevelopment is getting along.

So ABQ Uptown is just another fancy stripmall, huh? That's disappointing, but I thought it might end up that way...I've heard a few folks hypothesize there that the original higher-density rendering was part of a sort of bait-and-switch designed to get ABQ's vocal new urbanite crowd behind the project.

I disagree, mostly, about national chains least in the terms Brendan proposes. One or two big-ticket high-end national retailers like an Urban Outfitters or a Trader Joe's [WHY did they choose the Heights?] might well spark the kind of retail renaissance that you're envisioning. But something like a UO or a Gap would directly compete with the small, local retailers that are already in Nob Hill that are a big part of making it a special, interesting area that draws foot traffic. If it came, it would have to be a business that was unique to the city...there are already Gaps and Barnes & Nobles aplenty in the local shopping malls.

Oh, with regards to the film studio proposed for the Barelas railyard: my understanding is that that property is wrapped up in multiple lawsuits involving the current owners, so the potential investors decided to take a pass. A pity - those awesome buildings deserve something truly special and unique. The story I saw said the studio folks are still looking at Mesa del Sol, however.

Anyway, Tim - keep up the good work, and keep posting! I'm sure I'm only one of many enthusiastic readers.

Mr. Viddy said...

As a pending new resident to Albuquerque I am always excited about the possibility of new development and projects which could help the local economy but I also wonder if many chains are avoiding Albuquerque due to the extremely high rates of violent crime. It seems as though every neighborhood in Albuquerque suffers from this.

Phil said...

Viddy - yeah, I'd sensed from your recent Duke City Fix posts that the crime was starting to sketch you out. I don't think you're really getting a balanced picture, however. ABQ may not be the safest city in the country but it certainly ain't the most dangerous, either. Check out:

if you haven't already...ABQ may make the top 25 overall, but we come in below a number of exciting, vibrant cities that are usually considered extremely desirable places to live.

I lived in ABQ from 1979 to 1993 and have spent at least two months there every year since (my job entails me spending the summer there). Though I have a car, walking, riding my bike, and taking the bus have always been my primary mode of transportation. I've never been robbed, attacked, threatened, or seriously harassed, even though my temporary digs have quite frequently been in very sketchy parts of town (even the dreaded Southeast Heights). By comparison, I've been a grad student here in Tucson for 6 1/2 years and have been held up at gunpoint once, had my bike stolen once, and had friends' cars broken into in front of my house twice (once within 15 minutes of arrival). During the same period, there have been two random shootings, two muggings, and at least three or four total clean-out burglaries among the 50 or so other students in my program. Just last week there were four armed robberies right in front of the U of Arizona campus in a single night. All this in neighborhoods that generally have a safer reputation than the area around UNM.

All I'm saying is that hype counts for a lot: many Burquenos like to play up the city's dangerous rep, either to make themselves feel tough or to discourage too much movement into the city. ABQ has its problems, sure, but much of its reptuation comes from this factor or is the legacy of a period in the 1980s when things really were a lot worse.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why people think that having more national chains move into Albuquerque is a good thing.

One of the reasons why I moved to Albuquerque is that it's one of the few places that still has some uniqueness to it. Everywhere else you go in the country, it's the same mix of national chains and personally I find it totally boring.

Having lived in places that have had unique districts change for the worse (Harvard Square in Boston, Coconut Grove in Miami, 4th Street in Berkeley) I've seen how vibrant districts have turned drab and boring after they've been overrun by chains. Once the chains move in areas quickly lose local flavor and end up looking like everywhere else. If the national chains start moving into places like Nob Hill, it doesn't take long for local business to come under tremendous presure. Locals can't compete with chains with deep pockets and landlords quickly realize they can get more rent out of Pottery Barn than they can from a place like Objects of Desire, Abode, Rock n Bill's Mercantile. Once Gap decides to open in Nob Hill, we'll see it change from what I think is a pretty interesting place to a place that is just like every other shopping district anywhere else in the country.

Anonymous said...

anonymous, i tend to agree. look at what happened to indie bookstores in ABQ after the chains moved in.

on the other hand, a big, relatively quirky, and relatively specialized retailer downtown might really get the retail ball rolling there, and i'm not sure there's a local retail operation with the resources to do it...

Tim said...

Mr Viddy, if violent crimes or vandalism per capita were any indication of good locations for business, surely Phoenix would be off everyone's list. This city is not nearly as violent as the news would like to make it out to be. As someone wrote over at Duke City Fix, most of the crime that does occur is between rival gangs or domestic. Rarely is it random.

As to the discussion of national chains. I completely agree that they drain the original qualities from a place, however, this city as of today has no gentrified areas whatsoever. It is natural for it to occur. Now, it is up to the citizens to determine at what rate or at what amount. Some argue that a chain store kills off mom and pop stores, Walmart is the best example. However, with retail, sometimes they work together and bring more traffic when put together as opposed to each alone. It really just depends on the scale.

I really think that seeing a big national retailer downtown could potentially be a draw for people who currently are not convinced downtown is for them. They have talked about Hastings and Urban Outfitters for some time. I don't think those two stores will do more than bring more people downtown...and maybe then people will see that there are some good places to eat and others stores to shop in that they just might get curious enough to check out.

a3ot said...

If this blog was updated more often I think it would have a huge draw.
With regards to the Aliso 2 project there is a Nob Hill Neighborhoods Association board meeting on Thursday the 9th starting at 6:30. The Aliso developers plan on giving a presentaion about the new units during the meeting.

I just happen to live right accross the street from the Aliso stage one project. Honestly, my wife and I are completely uninspired by their design with the little tiny windows facing the street and the large windows on the walls facing the other units. It is really quite creepy almost as if the people who are going to live there have no interest in the neighborhood and are only interested in looking in upon themselves at their four hundred thousand dollar homes. For people walking along Silver Ave their garage is all they see.

I went to the recent meeting at the highland senior center regarding the plans for the areas MRA. That was an entirely pointless afair with people mostly expressing their concern that these tall buildings will block out their solar rights. Of course the people complaining loudest were those living in the expensive Nob Hill ridgecrest region and not those living essentially along Central like myself.

Hopefully people will come to realize that these higher density areas do not endanger their small houses on large lots with abundant solar rights.

Anonymous said...

Well, ABQ Uptown has announced some tenants:

Including These Specialty Retailers:

Pottery Barn
Jared, The Galleria of Jewelry
Coldwater Creek
Jos. A. Banks
Elephant Bar Restaurant
Bravo Cucina Italiana

philly said...

ABQuptown was one of the few large parcels of land in a urban setting in abq. Its dissappointing that the planning is low density.

Has anyone heard of a 20 story "Central Avenue COndominiums" that will be built on the existing Noon Day Ministires location?

Heres a link:


Tim said...

Philly, that is awesome! Thanks for sharing that. I was aware that Rob Dickson (AHS Lofts) is planning a midrise for that site but never any details. I'd be curious to know the source of this listing. WOW, 20 stories would be quite exciting.

juan carlos said...

i was born and raised here, and i now exist as a very small business owner/operator in the far NE Heights. there are so many small businesses that need a break from the overpricing of necessities, that national chains are responsible for!! or "consumerism". This "light rail" crapola is for idiots to blow tax dollars on yet another half-assed idea! We the people NEED a system that works! Busses, when there are enough for supply and DEMAND, could really get this city moving. All bus stops need to be placed in the middle of each block vs. @ the corners, where busses can retard traffic! Also, all bus stops must be designed to help traffic (indentations in the sidewalk, for all of them!), and make the seating areas CONDUSIVE TO THE WEATHER!!! For God's sakes, that right there says how a city cares for its people! Lastly, there needs to be enough busses so that people won't ever wait more than 15 min! I used to take the bus as a kid, and it really hasn't changed. I think a "magnetic rail system" is the best idea for many reasons. no emmissions! the energy it produces can easily light the streets/neighborhoods. if built compact/long/sleek, it would fit in the median of most high traffic streets, thus connecting our grid, including rio rancho/belen/possibly santa fe?! For Downtown, well its too bad that Martineztown/Baralles and other slummish neighborhoods still exist. That will ALWAYS be the reason that Downtown MAY never be as glorious as it could be. Yes we do need a bit more large PRODUCING companys here to provide more jobs for those who need to fix thier 'hoods, and influence others so the city can become alot more civil. I'm not for more police, at all. I believe people need to stick-up for themselves and thier businesses, with force! That impression can be big when it comes to fighting crime. Sorry to "rant" so much, this topic just sparked me up.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tim, maybe you should have stayed out of the city a while longer

Anonymous said...

Hey Tim. Just came upon this site trying to get more information on the ABQ Shops.Well I have been here for a 1 1/2 already, Albuquerque is a beautiful place, but we need stronger Dept stores and unique shops. I trully don't feel like seeing 5 Macy's everywhere i go!.I think we have so much potential for good stores! I think you are right about downtown, they should take a look and see how awsome it is for developing more shops and dept stores as well. The money is here, I mean i see people buying this houses for crazy amounts of money. I was looking at renting a loft and you can get cheaper ones in other bigger cities compare to here! ( lol lol) wich is crazy, if you think about it.
But, i do hope investers start taking a look in Albuquerque. I think its got alot to offer!
Great information from you..Keep up that good work..

Anonymous said...

Tim, I have read your comments and those of others and found them very interesting. Please keep it up.

In reference to the ABQ Uptown, I see it as a missed opportunity that makes no real urban statement nor engagement with the rest of the uptown area. Being sold to the public as an "Urban Lifestyle Center" first in its kind for the State, instead of setting a good precedent, architecturaly speaking, it feels as a poor copy of a Dallas-Houston suburban shopping center from 10 years ago. From the little inside info I have, the so called 200 DU loft style apartments will feel more like garden apartments with the construction quality of the Sawmill Lofts, designed by the same architect. The ABQ Uptown is an example of developers cutting corners for profit and architects concerned only with chasing the fee reagrdless of product, which, per my perception, is intensified by a public that can't tell the difference. I think the Albq. Journal should consider including in their columns a serious critic of architecture and urban planning.

As far as downtown and Edo is concerned, in order to have a sustainable urban lifestyle there needs to be more services and employment to support such life (not just enterntainment or retail shopping venues). I think there is more "loft" housing development taking place than it can be supported; having to drive away from downtown to the outskirts for convenience shopping and work is not much of urban life. Forget The Gap or local retailer, without the proper development balance, the downtown "loft" housing will just be another fad resulting in vacant new buildings; look at the occupancy rate of the Silver Lofts (which Infill Solutions sold the rest of the parcels to another developer) and the Gold Ave. Lofts.

Another interesting "loft" development project is the restoration of the Bell Trading Post at 1503 Central Ave., at the corner of Laguna Rd. This building was built in the 1940's as a jewerly factory and sat vacant in deterioration for almost 2 decades. Now it is being restored to up to 20 "flat" DU's, which with its proximity to Old Town should make it viable. Hopefully, this development along with the Hunning Castle Apartments and the new Agave Condominiumns, will inspire development from the Aquarium thru Downtown/Edo to Nob Hill and make Central Ave. the exciting corridor it can be.

Anonymous said...

albuquerque uptown is a disgusting place full of corporate chainstores you will find anywhere else in america. the so called lofts look like european subsidized housing and as for the city itself, it is just an angry place where folks don't know how to say hi anymore and for the ones who say albuquerque is world class, just get out of the state already !!!