By Frank Zoretich
Albuquerque Tribune Reporter
Organizers of a transportation museum that would be the backdrop for a $70 million trade-show and exposition center appear close to buying the old locomotive repair yard in Downtown.
But whether Amtrak will be a major component of
the development as museum organizers discussed last fall is not clear. If
Albuquerque officials have their way, the train depot will be part of a new
transit hub being built along First Street south of Central.
The Urban Council and the Burlington Northern and
Santa Fe Railway plan to sign a contract in the next few days, the first step
toward the nonprofit corporation buying the 27-acre locomotive repair yard and
its historic buildings. The site, which museum backers have coveted for nearly
three years, is less than a mile south of the existing Amtrak station.
The deal would end a battle that began last fall
between the museum and Stuart Jones, a Dallas developer competing for the
The museum would pay the Fort Worth-based railroad
a $100,000 down payment. The railroad is giving the museum three more months to
come up with the rest of the $2.5 million asking price. If the museum finds the
money, the railroad will sell the property to the Urban Council, whose purpose
is to redevelop older areas in the city such as Barelas.
Railroad spokesman Jerry Jenkins said a few minor
clauses in the contract have to be ironed out.
“We’re working very diligently with the
museum and trying to secure a deal. We’re hoping they can secure the funding
and that the bugs, so to speak, in the contract can be worked out,”
Jenkins said Tuesday.
“We know it’s a good deal for the
community,” he said.
Joe Craig, vice president of the museum’s board of
directors and an Urban Council officer, said the museum will have to do an
environmental study of the site before it obtains financing.
“We’re thrilled. They’ve granted us the
extensions we needed. They’ve been fabulous people to work with,” Craig
said of the railroad.
“Once they saw the professional group we
brought in, they were very impressed. They are helping us provide the long-term
planning the railroad wanted for the site,” he said. Jones has met with
city officials but hasn’t talked publicly about his plans for the property.
The museum’s board of directors hired Ohio
historic preservationist Franklin Conaway last year to be the project’s interim
director. The Danter Co. of Columbus, Ohio, is doing a marketing study.
Conaway envisions a mixed-use development anchored
by a trade show and exposition center that would work with the city’s
convention center to draw larger shows and events. A brew pub, restaurants and
retail shops would fill the smaller buildings, and a new hotel would be built
on vacant land north of the shops, designed to resemble the historic Alvarado
that was torn down north of the rail yard in 1970.
“The project is meant to bring tens of
thousands of visitors to Albuquerque. But it will also be a place where the
citizens of Albuquerque can shop and enjoy a concert and participate in
Downtown life in a way they cannot do now,” Conaway said.
Conaway said it will cost $30 million to renovate
the old railroad shops, and another $40 million to get the entire complex up
“I want to stress this will be a private
investment project,” he said. “Because of the historic buildings on
site qualify for federal tax credits, it will be possible to attract major
private investment dollars.”
Conaway said it will take a year to finish
planning and another two years to put together a long-range financing package
that could have the center open in three years. Last fall, Conaway said a key
to making the project work would be convincing Amtrak to relocate its depot, so
passengers could get on and off trains in front of the expo center.
On Tuesday, Conaway said the Urban Council will
request meetings with city officials, Amtrak and others involved in planning
the city’s transportation center. The Amtrak station, parking and shuttles that
could whisk people between Downtown and the expo center will be among the
Lawrence Rael, the city’s chief administrative
officer, said he hasn’t spoken to Amtrak since Conaway’s plans became public.
“Amtrak has indicated in past discussions
with us that they are interested in going into the new facility being built by
the city,” Rael said. “We have been given no reason to think