I see Mayor Berry has announced a $30,000,000 renovation of the Convention Center. The web page touts $300 million in hospitality improvements all aimed at bringing out-of-towners to downtown Albuquerque. Good Luck.
The Road Is Closed
Downtown has been allowed to become a drinking district, complete with shut-down thoroughfares, police on horses and even in towers. Fridays and Saturdays no traffic is allowed on our Route 66 through downtown. Are beligerent young drunks wandering bar to bar? Is it safe there? How many people are partying all night on the Mother Road? Frankly, nobody knows except those that are partying. That’s because nobody can drive down there. The road is closed.
In other words, this weekend parade is unseen by anybody who isn’t a part of it.
No wonder that the Convention & Visitors Bureau, when highlighting local attractions, makes no mention that the Convention Center is only two blocks from the most famous stretch of roadway in the United States. Can anyone seriously imagine hundreds of conventioneers enjoying themselves on Central Ave.
Our Tightfisted Mayor
It is pretty amazing that our tightfisted mayor would spend $30 million on a Convention Center facelift without addressing the crazy and dangerous-feeling scene on Central Ave.
Just in case you think I’m exaggerating, look at all the storefront security gates that have been installed in so many downtown businesses. There are more sliding security fences downtown than anywhere else in town. You see, there are two kinds of businesses down there: daytime businesses (like stores and cafes) and nighttime businesses (like bars and “gentlemen’s” clubs).
Unfortunately, there is not enough business during the daytime to keep a lot of these concerns going...or at least to make it profitable enough to be worth doing. Most restaurants close early. With real estate so expensive downtown, that shouldn’t happen.
The news last week was that Nick’s Crossroads Cafe has closed citing family needs and retirement. I was not surprised. Nick’s, at the corner of Central and Fourth, was already closed when I went by there a couple of weeks ago. It was 6:00 PM on a Friday, primetime in the restaurant business. But there apparently was not enough business to keep it open at night. Down the street, Rooster’s Downtown Cafe was closed as well. By the way, all these pictures were taken late afternoon and early evening on a Friday.
Always Locked Up
Meanwhile, the bars start to open up after those other businesses close for the day. The proprietors of the daytime establishments close the sliding security panels and lock them up until the next morning. The last thing those proprietors want is to trust their stores to the impulsivity of a drunken crowd wandering the streets.
So, in essence, no matter what time of day or night half of downtown is ALWAYS locked up. You can’t run a downtown that way...an entertainment district yes, but not the downtown of the largest city in the state. No wonder we have trouble attracting conventioneers.
Curb to Curb
And no wonder that there are so many vacant storefronts and buildings in the downtown area. It seems like more buildings are empty than are occupied.
Because the downtown area has been largely given over to late night drinking, no $30,000,000 convention center facelift is going to fix it. No new apartment building can turn downtown into a destination for visitors. No new grocery store can rid Central Ave. of the weekend curb to curb pub crawlers.
I have a feeling that none of them want to do anything.
Maybe we SHOULD leave downtown alone. Who cares...except those of us who think $30,000,000 is a lot of dough to spend when the possibility of getting that money back is unlikely. What is more likely is that more daytime businesses will close. More stores will show us empty windows. More storefront security gates will be shuttered. What kind of future it that?
Unless a mayor or city council is willing to at least take a look at what downtown has become, nothing will ever get better down there. And that rasping clink you hear? Just the bones of an accordion security gate shutting its steel ribs for the last time.