The Issue that Berry, Dinelli, & Heh Ignore: Downtown’s Locked Up Most of the Time

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).


Primetime
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.


Berry, Dinelli, and Heh
So Mayor Berry, Pete Dinelli, Paul Heh...where does downtown stand on your list of things you think need to be addressed?

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.

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Comment by Dave T. on September 17, 2013 at 10:55am

Most of those security gates weren't installed recently, but are left over from a seedier Downtown that was tenanted by the homeless, the drug dealers, and the street walkers. Office fronts were boarded up, smashed out, lined with garbage and used syringes. The gates remain because storefront owners believe in an ounce of prevention, as do most shop owners throughout Albuquerque. (I would like to draw your attention to the security gates and shutters that are used at the very upscale Q Shopping Center.)

Could it be better? Sure, I suppose we could close all the bars and remake downtown to look like Aspen, but you'd never make it stick. For better or worse, Albuquerque downtown is what it is. And based on the history, it's a sight better than what it once was.

Comment by once banned twice shy on September 17, 2013 at 10:58am

I agree with you Johnny, about downtown.  Back in the late 80's, the city and the Downtown Action Team, desperate to get SOME life downtown, embraced the bars and clubs opening up as a start--get the youngsters down there and maybe more would follow.  Unfortunately, they left their initiative at that, it seems--thereby turning Central into bar land at night.  As an oldster, I don't ever go downtown late, but I do understand that it is a bit dicey down there when the bars all close at the same time and discharge drunk folk out into the street.  However, one wonders if the police presence and the closed streets don't become a self-fulfilling prophecy--make it seem like "Fort Apache-The Bronx."

But two things, Johnny:  those security gates have been on some of those businesses for quite some years already.  And Rooster's has been closed for at least a couple of years.  Closed as in shut down. 

Comment by Phil_0 on September 17, 2013 at 1:47pm

OBTS hits the nail on the head...the over-the-top police presence on weekends creates the feeling of danger downtown far more than it mediates it. By my reckoning, the number of sleazy nightclubs pushing cheap drinks and an amped-up scene has crashed precipitiously in recent years: the bars on the corner of the 4th street mall are gone, the nightclub above Q Burger is gone, the sleazy place across from 516 Arts and Skip Maisel's is gone, etc., etc., etc. Here's what's turned up in their place: 3 all-ages music venues (Amped, Blackwater Music, and Warehouse 508), a hipster bar serving expensive import microbrews and hosting live indie rock and hip-hop shows (Sister), a microbrewery pizza joint with a game room (NYPD's back room), a gay club (Effex), several restaurants, and a place to take salsa lessons.

The amped-up drink-till-you-pass-out-or-get-in-a-fight set has lost all but two or three of their former haunts, and what's come in their wake cater to a much mellower vibe. Yet APD still blocks off the streets and congregates en masse every weekend, almost like a street gang waiting for a rumble. Is it any surprise that this over-the-top police presence scares people off? To me it seems like APD enjoyed the old downtown scene and found it exciting...an opportunity for some adrenaline and maybe a showdown. And now their nostalgia is keeping it alive even though the reality on the ground has substantially changed...

As far as Nick's is concerned, Johnny, they like most of the downtown eateries were always lunchtime places and never tried to cater to the evening/latenight crowd. Given the 1980s drinking scene OBTS remembers, that's no surprise. But even that's changing as the drink-and-party scene recedes and other more welcoming businesses stream in: NYPD and Q Burger are open late for dinner, as are Sushi King and Tucano's. The Asian Noodle Bar and Lindy's stay open late on weekends. NYPD is open past midnight on weekends and until 10 or 11 during the week. A new place called Adieux Cafe opened in the last two months below Effex, largely in order to serve creative, slightly upscale sandwiches and wraps to the evening and late-night crowds. Anatolia Doner Kebab (in the process of moving onto Central right next to Moloney's) has dinner hours as well.

My point, I guess, is that downtown has a much different and more diverse evening and late-night scene than it did even a couple years ago. I would be willing to wager it's a lot safer as well. But its image as a crazy party district lingers - in the form of security gates and older restaurants with no late-night hours - and continues to shape impressions of the area even for observant folks like you. APD's overscoped police response perpetuates the outdated image of downtown, grabbing media attention and distracting attention from all the good (or better, at least) things going on there.

Comment by shotsie on September 17, 2013 at 3:37pm

Good analysis, y'all! 

I've had friends visit from other cities and they comment on Albuquerque actually having a more/less lively downtown scene - most other downtown's are totally abandoned.

About that $30M spent on the convention center - I've listened to Mayor Berry and he explained that big time, brand new convention centers just don't pay back the mega-cost - companies are travel-cost conscious these days.  A little sprucing up, though, was in order - certainly new carpet and wall decor.  (Maybe we'll get back the chile festival...) 

I don't see where spending public funding on Central will do much - Johnnie doesn't offer any suggestions and I can't think of any that would be effective.  I would like to see the Red Line (bus) run later weekend hours between downtown, Nob Hill and Uptown instead of the Green Line, so, as the bar scene changes, the crowds have an off-the-road method of traveling between the locations.  That would be relatively cheap to implement.  That's my $30M worth of advise...

Comment by Dave T. on September 17, 2013 at 3:45pm

Good point shotsie, I'd also like to see an extension of the bus schedules and not just because I use them to commute. The problem with having late-night bus service comes from some of the rowdier patrons who don't seem to understand that Drunk and Disorderly on a bus is different from being Drunk and Disorderly at home. Our police force is stretched thin as it stands, and we should consider protecting our officers from the public, as well as protecting the public from APD.

As for the convention center, any passersby can see it's stucco cracking, and carpets that haven't been renovated in years. If Albuquerque wants to host events other than the Balloon Fiesta, we should probably spend some care in making our city an appealing place to visit.

Preferably for some reason other than Breaking Bad sightseeing tours. I'm sure it's a lovely show, but it does send rather the wrong message.

Comment by Julie Brokken on September 17, 2013 at 8:55pm

Better to have his attention on the downtown than the bosque... though the bosque is part of his 'evil' plan!

Comment by Izquierdo on September 17, 2013 at 9:54pm

There's nothing wrong with some hi-jinks in a downtown area, but you are right, the place is a nightmare to negotiate. Boulder, Colo., is, or was until last week, a perfect downtown where people can find a place to park and walk to attractive entertainment malls, outdoor restaurants, etc., and enjoy a free-wheeling, people watching evening. Parking is critical. Buses in, buses out are essential. Spending a lot of money for revamping should be a no-no, unless a good plan can be worked out. But what do I know. In six decades in Albuquerque and environs I have not spend a single evening in downtown although I have gone there to view movies at the Sunshine, State, Coronado, Kimo, and El Rey, worked swing shift at the newspaper on 7th and Silver for a decade and never had dinner within downtown. I generally went to Lionel's across from old Albuquerque High for a green chile burger.The last time I was there was to board the Rail Runner to Santa Fe for a meal. So you are on target, and should hold firm until, like Obama, you can get people who make the decisions to sit down and talk about it first. 

Comment by Eckleburg and Grumblecake on September 18, 2013 at 2:09am

Hey!  Since we moved away we've been pretty silent on the site, but I still always read the Johnny Mango stories.  Moving from ABQ to a medium city in France with a thriving downtown, I've been thinking about what is different here that is so successful for creating a healthy downtown compared to the US and our hometown ABQ.  Obviously density is a big issue. 

But the downtown here has tons of businesses that close and lock-up with big metal gates at precisely 7:00 pm.  At 7:01 all the restaurants open and stay open until 11 or midnight. Closer to 7 the restaurants act like restaraunts, but as you get later in the night, they serve more like cafe's, where you might go for wine or coffee rather than food (although food is still available the entire time.) Around 10 or so the bars open and stay open late (I'm old. I have no idea when they close - I can't stay up that late anymore).  

I think the problem is not the drinkers, it is that there are only drinkers.  Downtown could be awesome if they closed Central at 5:00 pm on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and let restaurants put tables and chairs in the middle of the street all night, and entice families to come out. The tables/chairs can be stacked/stored the rest of the time - all the restaurants in France are constantly setting out and putting away their outside seating and it is really no big deal. It would make some of the smaller storefronts a lot more viable because they can have much greater capacity on the key times by expanding their seating into the street. And with enough restaurants next to each other, people just go there as the default when they can't decide where to go on weekend nights. But, you have to let the restaurants serve alcohol at their tables in the streets, even without food. Or it won't work. You need to restaurants to be able to transition to be more like wine bars as the evening gets later or people won't stay after dinner.

Even families stay out late. We take our 4 and 6 year old to the bistros with us all the time, as does everyone else. We get (only) a beer or wine, the girls get an Orgina or Coke. And the presence of the kids calmes everyone else down. If it doesn't, the presence of mama-bear reactions from kids' mothers does. Lots of people replaces the need for police presence. There is almost never any police presence in the downtown here because there are so many families who give the stink eye to people getting out of hand. (I would keep the horse police though, because horses=awesome).

At least that is what I see here.  P.S. I would close Central in Nob Hill and the streets in Old Town plaza during the same times and have the downtown circulator bus (do they they still have that?) shuttle between them. And Nob Hill and Old Town should be able to serve alcohol at outside seating as well. 

Just my two cents (or centimes) about how it is setup here.

Comment by shotsie on September 18, 2013 at 12:20pm

E & G:  une question - ce que les gens en France posent des questions sur le cristal meth bleu lorsque vous dites que vous êtes de Albuquerque?

Comment by Izquierdo on September 18, 2013 at 6:45pm

 bleu crystal meth n'a jamais été un problème à Albuquerque, a?

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