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Wheels Says No Thanks to Railroad’s Dirt Offer

A Wheels museum official raises the battle cry, “remember the Alvarado” Hotel, in his continuing fight for the entire 27-acre historical site.

By Frank Zoretich
Albuquerque Tribune Reporter

The Wheels museum board of directors has decided to reject an offer by the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway to give the proposed $50 million transportation museum 12.2 acres of land at the old locomotive repair yard property south of Downtown.
Wheels, a private, non-profit group, has bid for the entire 27-acre site and its 27 buildings on the west side of the BNSF tracks — priced by the railroad for a cash-only purchase at $2.5 million.
“We may lose, but if we accept the offer we’ve lost the museum anyway,” said Joe Craig, vice-president of Wheels and chairman of its site-acquisition committee.
After negotiations at BNSF headquarters in Fort Worth this past week with Wheels representatives and a Dallas developer also bidding on the entire property, BNSF on Friday made what Craig called a “take-it-or-leave-it offer” to give the southern portion of the site to Wheels for the cost of an appraisal.
But Craig said the railroad has decided to sell the rest of the site and all the big buildings — plus an additional six acres — to Stuart Jones, the Dallas developer.
“What they’re offering us right now kills us,” said Craig.
The portion of the site that would go to Wheels “is non-viable for the museum,” he said, describing it as “dirt at the south end of the property” with a locomotive turntable in the middle that the railroad wants to continue to use.
One large building would be included, Craig said — a 21,000-square-foot structure that he said has been used by the railroad to store pesticides.
“We’re going to make a counter-offer,” Craig said after the board met late Friday afternoon. “We are going to continue to fight for those buildings. They are too important to the history of Albuquerque and to our city’s future to give to an out-of-town developer who could decide to tear them down.”
Details of the counter-offer — to be worded with the advice of Sam Bregman, the City Councilor who is also the attorney for Wheels — won’t be made public until Monday, Craig said.
“Nothing has been signed,” Jerry Jenkins, spokesman for BNSF, said Friday. He would not confirm Craig’s account of the railroad’s decision to split the property between Wheels and Jones.
“We want to do what’s best for the community,” Jenkins said.
If Jones does get the major portion of land and almost all of the buildings “it will be in the contract that he doesn’t tear them down,” Jenkins added.
“We met Jones in Fort Worth,” Craig said. “We asked him what his plans for the site were, and he said he doesn’t have any. He said he’ll have to do a study.”
Jones has not returned reporters’ phone calls. His intentions for the site have been described so far by the railroad only in general terms as “mixed-use development.”
Jenkins said BNSF hopes Wheels and Jones can find a way to work together.
“Ours has been a community effort all along,” Craig said. “We need assurance that Jones will work with the city and the Barelas neighborhood. We feel we have an obligation to save these historic buildings. We’re willing to work with Mr. Jones, but we’ve had no feedback from him. BNSF is going to give him all the buildings — and give us dirt. We would have to build a new building.
The buildings for the steam-locomotive repair yard were constructed between 1914 and 1925, he said.
In the 1920s, about 25 percent of the city’s workforce was employed at the repair yard. The railroad shut down the yard in 1970.
The old 35-bay roundhouse was demolished by the railroad in 1987, despite community efforts to save the building. The roundhouse’s turntable for locomotives remains and is still used several times a week to turn BNSF diesel locomotives.
“All I can say is, remember the Alvarado,” Craig said of the comment by Jenkins that the railroad would require Jones to save the old buildings.
“These are the guys who brought you the dirt parking lot where the Alvarado Hotel used to be,” he said of railroad officials. “We’ve been working, with community support, to create the Wheels museum for more than two years — and they’re trying to throw us a crumb.”

Events

New Lego exhibit at the Wheels Museum. View The New Mexico Lego Users Group has
partnered with WHEELS to have a beautiful Lego Train layout for children of all ages to enjoy. The exhibit will vary from season to season and we invite you to come see this new Lego train exhibit.

Do you have a few hours each month to help the Wheels Museum? Volunteers are needed so the Museum can be open more; run the model railroad trains, also help needed with events, marketing, fund raising. Call Leba Freed at (505) 243-6269.

Febuary 16, 11 am. Bob Bovee Long Steel Rails concert. This program for all ages presents songs and stories about the famous trains, rail workers, hobos, train wrecks and train robbers. Call or email Leba Freed for reservations at (505) 243-6269 or leba4@aol.com.

March 17, Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at WHEELS. Movie, tours, train ride and food celebration.

April 1, 1 pm. Doug Figgs and Badger. Back by popular demand. By reservations only (505) 243- 6269. Doug’s show was sold out last year, so call early! Donation: $10.00.

April 8, 11 am. “Historic Albuquerque” Ronn Perea will present old Albuquerque anecdotes including delightful stories about our beloved Alvarado Hotel and the politicians, actors and entertainers who stayed there. This is a free event but, of course, donations are always appreciated.

April 22, Wheels Museum Day trip to Rancho De Chimayo Restaurante, El Santuario de Chimayo and the Santa Fe Plaza. Call Leba or Janet at (505) 243-6269 for more information. The museum is a 501C3 non-profit community organization whose mission is to create a transportation museum at the downtown Albuquerque Steam Locomotive Repair Shops.

May 19-May 23, Train trip to the Grand Canyon. Only a few spaces left.Scheduled through Amtrak Vacations, call Leba or Janet at (505) 243-6269 for reservations and more information.