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Negotiations to buy rail yards pick up steam

By Peter Rice
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Albuquerque Tribune

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.


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.