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Railyard near Barelas loses media shop

By Mike Tumolillo

February 3, 2006

It could be take two for a digital media production facility planned for construction on the site of the old Santa Fe Railway yards.

The facility will be built somewhere else, maybe the Mesa del Sol development in southern Albuquerque, said Ed Casebier, president of Forth Worth’s Renaissance Development Co. Inc., the managing member of a local company that owns the 27-acre railyard site.

“We’re going through some replanning of how we will use the property or if we will retain it,” he said. “Right now, we’re probably leaning toward returning it to industrial use. We may just sell it.”

Nick Smerigan, director of acquisitions for Pacifica Ventures, a firm involved in the digital media facility project, said a confidentiality agreement barred him from commenting on the facility’s fate.

However, he said the railyard is “not abandoned.”

At one point, the production facility was to include sound stages, digital insert stages, a construction mill, a food service area and space for child care. It was to employ between 300 and 500 people. Projects it could tackle included TV shows, films, medical imaging technologies and virtual reality.

Casebier said plans for the railyard site would be reviewed over the next 30 days. On the list of possibilities is a mixed-use development of stores, residences and office space. Industrial and commercial development is also possible.

Turning the site into a conference center – an abandoned plan that might be revived – appeals to Cathy Garcia, president of the association for the nearby Barelas neighborhood.

“A quick flashy solution, i.e., the studios, was really not the trick,” she said. “We need to have a deeper look at things. There needs to be some realistic possibilities that have depth.”

But any development needs to respect the railyard’s history, she said.

“There are so many people here – you talk about the railyards and . . . it’s almost like a religion to them,” she said. “They say, `The whistle would blow in the morning to start work; we knew what time it was. They blew the whistle at noon; we knew it was lunchtime. They blew the whistle at night, and we knew when our family workers were going to come home.’ “

“You hear that time and time again,” she said. “It’s almost like this neighborhood was built around the railway project.”

Even if the studio goes to Mesa del Sol, it would still be a gain for the city, said Fred Mondragón, director of the city’s office of economic development.

“We really wanted them to come Downtown, but we’re pleased they’re coming to Albuquerque and they’re still going to be within the city limits of Albuquerque,” he said. “The mayor’s excited we’re getting film studios.”

Other partners in the digital media facility project could not be reached or were unable to comment on the facility’s next step.