Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Gehry in Santa Fe?

I can't help but wonder who runs our local newspapers and why they never manage to break any real stories aside from their fraud investigations. I ran into a little article questioning the possibility that Frank Gehry could be involved in the railyard redevelopment project in Santa Fe. Sadly, this news comes via Denver. Denver is apparently more excited about this than all of northern New Mexico. Just reading the Denver Post on occasion reveals a greater connection between our neighbor city and the Mile High City. When will Albuquerque step up to the plate as a player instead of sitting on the bench?
Don't get me wrong, we're coming along, but we could use a few trophies on our bookshelf. I'm really not that lbig a fan of Gehry's work. However, his Bilboa museum is potentially the most beautiful building I have seen thus far in my travels. His shear name recognition is what people crave and now Santa Fe and Denver will potentially share this qualification(I'm looking for a better word here) with museums designed by top five architects. What makes it worse: we even have Antoine Predock as a local architect. Our assets make us so rich yet we fail to utilize them.
None-the-less, a Gehry would be an amazing addition to the region. I would ride the RailRunner up to Santa Fe many a weekend just to see it and show it off to guests.

Edit: I dug into local news sources a bit more and found an article in the Journal North newspaper regarding this project. That article mentions the possibility for the museum to be located somewhere between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. As much as I like the idea of this project being shared by the two cities, I see it as a waisted opportunity if done in this manner. Part of what makes the Guggenheim Bilbao museum so spectacular is the manner in which the building rises from the ground in an unassuming location along the riverfront in inner-city Bilbao. The project resulted in massive redevelopment in the area, creating an inviting inner city. Another item stated in the Journal was a price tag of $900 million for the museum in Bilbao. The actual cost was closer to $100 million US dollars. $50 million dollars toward this project could result in an amazing project of Santa Fe proportions. Also note the Journal article was dated after the Denver Post article.


Under construction:
BelVedere - 54 units
Silver Lofts phII - 27 units
Anasazi Downtown - 45 units
720 Roma - 9 units
Aliso phII (Nob Hill) - 13 units

Speaking of the 720 Roma condos, I hope the architect of this project puts out more urban space in the city. These units are compact, modern and downright classy. I'm really wishing I hadn't let go of my reservation. Keep it up Traveston.

Unknown status:
ABQ Downtown - arena/hotel/retail

In a recent NM Business Weekly, two articles made me all sorts of giddy upon reading.

First, UNM put out RFPs for vacant land along both Central and Lomas for mixed uses. An official of the university stated something to the effect of [UNM needs to increase housing options and improve campus life for students to create a better learning atmosphere]. They're also attempting to create "gateways" to the campus. The article mentions the surrounding neighborhoods' opinions that the university is a bad neighbor in the way that the school cuts itself off at the borders. It appears the school is finally taking steps to change all this. Hellelujah.

Also, Mr. Goodman, the developer we are providing an IRB to in order to renovate La Posada, has purchased nearly 50 acres near the new Rio Bravo RailRunner station in an effort to create what sounds like a giant new urban transit village. He also uses the term "gateway" to describe this projects relationship to the downtown area. The article states that the plan is for 667,000 square feet of residential space and 220,000 sq ft of retail space, followed by 110,000 sq ft of commercial space.

I think I'm really gonna love this city in 5-10 years. We could potentially go from one or two walkable village-like centers to multiple. The city's Great Streets Initiative could play a major role in developing these areas if it puts money into such efforts as opposed to lip service and repeated studies. The Initiative is being presented to the public on Thursday and Friday of this week:

Thursday April 26 from 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. (Presentations will take place at 3 and 6 p.m.)
Friday April 27 from 9:00 a.m. to noon.
Both Open House sessions will be held next door to Dillard’s Women’s store inside the Winrock Mall.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

New Census Numbers

From the Census Bureau (I'm too lazy to find the link so I'll just post data):

Metro area 2000 2006 growth %
Albuquerque 729,653 816,811 11.9%
Las Cruces 174,682 193,888 11.0%
Santa Fe 129,287 142,407 10.1%
Farmington 113,801 126,473 11.1%
Gallup 74,798 71,875 -3.9%

I really thought we were growing much more rapidly with our recent 1.8%-3.6% job growth the last couple of years. I guess the economy in 2001, 2002 and 2003 really had quite an affect. Even so, that's an average yearly gain of 14,526 people. From older numbers I have seen, the census used to show a population of 712,000 for the Albuquerque metro area in 2000. That would have given us an average annual growth of 17,469. It'll be interesting to see how much natural growth that is versus in-migration from out of state. Now if we could curb the brain drain we are currently witnessing, we could potentially see growth rates on par with Austin, Raleigh and the other big gainers of the decade. I don't support growth for the sake of growth, but it's an educated, mobile population that we are losing. I believe our ability to retain such a demographic is partially the key to correcting some of our shortcomings. I know that's a vague statement but I'll leave it at that for now.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

More Flats

Following up my brain drain post, and after extensive thought, I've decided that the key to creating this youthful synergy is the availability of denser rental units. The urban parts of the city have not seen new apartment units constructed since the redevelopment of Old Main and the tangent building at the Old Albuquerque High School Lofts. Since, the area has been infused with for-sale condos that have attracted an older, more well-heeled buyer. This has been the trend along Central Ave. from the nice, poorly placed units at San Pasqual to the contemporary units by Sheffield Partners in East Nob Hill.

Currently, the apartment market in the metro area shows well above 90% occupancy with rental rates rising. And with the need for rental rates above $1 a square foot in order to produce a rate of return that is attractive to developers, it would appear that the market is ready. Albuquerque High Lofts as well as the apartments along Coal in downtown are constantly filled and there are even waiting lists. So what's the holdup?

Now, if the city took a proactive role in downtown and set goals for housing in order to revitalize the CBD, would it be too much to ask for the city to purchase land for such development? Such an arrangement would assist the developer in making a profit as well as providing much needed affordable housing in the area where students, service workers and young professionals could live, work and play in the area.

Fortunately, there is hope in the form of the new developments being planning for the area surrounding the former Greyhound bus station near Silver and 2nd St. From what I understand, several architecture firms in town are designing several mixed-use projects for the area and at least one project is likely to contain over 100 affordable residential units in an energy-friendly building. These developments are currently being projected to start construction at the beginning of 2008. Let's hope by then the arena and hotel will be starting construction as well. The rapid infusion of $200-$400 million all within a few blocks is bound to revitalize popular opinion of downtown. In the meantime we get to watch the construction of BelVedere, Silver Lofts phase II and the 7-story Anasazi.