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 property.
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 and running.
“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 topics discussed.
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 otherwise.” cked0 L