Arena and more at the old Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad property

By Sean O’Hara
NMBW Staff

On the eve of Rio Rancho announcing plans to build a $41 million arena, Albuquerque city councilor Eric Griego threw his proposal into the mix by proposing to build an arena and more at the old Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad property.

Griego held a news conference Wednesday evening to announce that he will introduce a resolution at the Dec. 2 council meeting to acquire and redevelop the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad property.

The property is located within the Barelas Metropolitan Redevelopment Area just south of Coal Street. The bill calls for the city to buy the land or initiate a Metropolitan Redevelopment Condemnation Proceeding. Griego said any historic buildings on the site would be preserved.

“This is the beginning of a process and not the end and I hope to begin the process of talking. For some reason there hasn’t been an agreement of what this land should be used for,” Griego said.

Griego said the city would have to acquire up to 27 acres that would be ideal for a larger downtown arena, a digital film studio, transportation museum or Wheels Museum, exposition center and potential housing.

The city of Albuquerque would first have to acquire the privately held land and Griego proposes to use the $15 million that Mayor Martin Chavez’s administration made available for acquiring and improving the failed downtown arena earlier this year.

“We need to get an arena downtown and I think the railroad area is a fantastic site for it,” Griego said.

Efforts to re-develop the property have been stalled for several years and Griego hopes the city’s active involvement will ultimately result in an overall plan for the property.

Griego said the railyard land is far less expensive than the property the city previously wanted for the arena.

He said some of the land was at the center of a federal lawsuit by an Ohio developer against the non profit Urban Council of Albuquerque Inc.

Griego said he had not talked with the Mayor about his resolution but said he would. Griego has been working with the Governor, neighborhoods and interested private parties and investors to redevelop the site.

The Mayor recently set up a task force to find alternative sites for a new arena but Griego said he was unhappy with their timetable.

The city of Rio Rancho is expected to announce its plans to build a $41 million arena as part of a more than $100 million entertainment district which would include a new City Hall. The project would be built on a 160-acre site that the city is acquiring from the state and is located on Unser Boulevard and Paseo Del Vulcan.

The project will include 6,500-seat arena for sports, a multi-screen movie theater complex, retail store, a hotel, and restaurants. Officials are expected to announce their plans at 1:30 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn in Rio Rancho.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Pete Domenici announced Wednesday that the Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded $223,673 to Wheels Museum in Albuquerque which showcases remnants of the old Santa Fe railroad.

Wheels Museum will use the funds to continue the management and upkeep of the railway site. The Santa Fe Railroad was instrumental in the development of Albuquerque as a hub for commerce and industry as it served as the city’s leading employer. Twelve historic buildings remain at the old Santa Fe Railroad property.

“The railroad marked the beginning of Albuquerque as a commercial center and it is important for New Mexicans to revisit our past,” Domenici said in a news release.

‘Wheels Museum has done a great job maintaining this important landmark for Duke City and I am pleased to have secured this funding.”