By Peter Rice
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Advocates for redeveloping the 27-acre Santa Fe rail yards property on the east side of Barelas say the efforts look – once again – like they might be back on track.
Armed with a fresh appropriation of $3.3 million from the city and the state, the Wheels Museum and unnamed partners are negotiating to buy the property from other partners led by Ed Casebier, of the Fort Worth, Texas, firm Renaissance Development Co.
“We’re completely optimistic that we can do a magnificent project for New Mexico,” said Leba Freed, the president of the Wheels Museum.
Freed isn’t saying much about the negotiations – just that they’ve been happening for a few weeks.
Alan Clark, the museum’s executive director, said the parties haven’t settled on a purchase price yet.
“I think they’re pretty close to making a deal,” said City Councilor Isaac Benton, who helped arrange the latest round of city funding and lobbied for the state money. “There’s just been a lot of perseverance.”
The prospects have been considerably dimmer in the past. Failed, nearly finalized deals to buy the property stretch back to at least 2000. Negotiations have broken down. One owner, the Urban Council of Albuquerque, defaulted on its loan and became the target of $1 million lawsuit by a separate creditor.
Attempts to reach a representative of the council were unsuccessful. The organization’s phone has been disconnected.
Over the years, the questions of what to do with the rail yard property – and the historic repair shop buildings that sit on it – have been in the headlines. Ideas have included creating a series of Hollywood-ready sound stages, an events center, a boutique hotel – even a small wind farm.
But assuming the current negotiations are successful, Benton said a thorough master planning process complete with an independent economic analysis would set out a more concrete plan.
About the only idea that has stayed on the table all along is creating a permanent home for the Wheels Museum, which is now based in a small office. The proposed museum would tell the history of wheeled transportation.
Meanwhile, the neighborhood is looking forward to some revitalization.
“We definitely want the development,” said John Perrine, the acting chairman of the Barelas Neighborhood Association. “The attitude here is positive.”
Perrine did add, however, that something should be done to ensure that the neighborhood’s current residents aren’t gentrified out of their homes due to rising property values the development might create.
From the Roaring Õ20s through the end of World War II, the yard served as a maintenance center for steam locomotives. It slid into decline toward the end of the Korean War, when railways began converting from steam to less labor-intensive diesel engines.
At one point, Clark said, 25 percent of the people who got a paycheck in Albuquerque worked in the yards.