• City pitches improvements to Washington Middle School Park
  • Coronado Park shelter would require adjacent land
  • What's up with the long-abandoned billboard on the I-40 bike path?
Notes on the Virus
This evening's meeting of the Sawmill Area Neighborhood Association has been canceled due to coronavirus concerns. Also canceled: The March 31 annual meeting of the Wells Park Neighborhood Association.
Washington Middle School Park, with its all-too-isolated northwest corner, may get a dog-friendly overhaul
The satellite view of Washington Middle School Park, at the corner of Park Ave. and 10th.
Washington Middle School Park has much to recommend it: Benches, a children's play area, an unusually thick tree canopy, lots of grass, and even a kind of mini-amphitheater. 

One thing it's lacking: streams of people to keep an eye on the place. 

"As a consequence of being underutilized there are occasionally overnighters," says Christopher Frechette, a member of the Raynolds Addition Neighborhood Association board. Also: "With regularity needles are found in that park."

The northwest corner of the park, in particular, seems to attract more than its share of problems as well.

It's an all-too-common story in greater Downtown parks, one the city has lately been trying to address by "activating" them with special programs such as movie nights. But the neighborhood association has been working on the problem for a couple of years now, and group discussions have trended toward another solution: Turning part of the park into an off-leash dog area.

The idea is that dog owners and their best friends - generally an all-hours crowd - would come to the dog park and help others feel safer there and in the larger park area.

A couple of weeks ago, two top city parks officials presented some initial ideas and drawings about the arrangement to the neighborhood association. Designs ranged from turning the entire park into a dog area to just the northern half or just the western half, and rough price estimates ranged from $200,000-$230,000.

But although they were happy to present some initial mockups, the city is not actually a fan of that option. David Flores, the assistant director of the Parks Department, said they tend to result in dead grass and reduce the lifespan of surrounding trees. He also noted that the area is already doing pretty well for dog parks. (The list of city dog parks includes Rio Grande Triangle Park in Barelas, Coronado Dog Park in Wells Park, and - just up the hill from Downtown - Roosevelt Park, which is unfenced.)

Flores pitched the idea of installing better playground equipment, putting a nature play area in the isolated northwest corner, and possibly putting a fence with time locks around the whole park, an idea that is estimated to cost roughly $500,000. 

Parks Director Dave Simon, who also attended the meeting, said funding sources could include state capital outlays, city bonds, or special "set-aside" funds from city councilors.

Nothing, however, was decided at that meeting. The next step will be for the neighborhood to hold more discussions then get back to the city, Frechette said.
If built at Coronado Park, a shelter would require adjacent land
A Bernalillo County map of property boundaries shows five parcels directly to the left of Coronado Park. Records indicate that a trust owns the bottom three, while an LLC called 2040 Enterprises owns the top two. (The red line is an unrelated marker.)
The idea of building a shelter at Coronado Park doesn't have many fans. Wells Park residents are generally opposed, as is City Councilor Isaac Benton. Mayor Tim Keller doesn't like the idea either. He prefers to locate the shelter on some land near UNM (though the university just nixed that option on Friday) or at an old hospital building on Gibson. 

But the Coronado idea at least has one clear advantage, articulated by Keller at last week's meeting of the Wells Park Neighborhood Association: "The one upside that is real is that we own that land," Keller said. "This is the one site that we actually control." 

But it turns out that the advantage is not so cut and dried. The city may own the park, but that itself is not enough land for a shelter. The project would require either purchasing adjacent lots to the west, taking over Third Street and Coronado Dog Park, or some combination of the two

The city will need to investigate whether Coronado Park's adjacent property owners would be interested in selling their land to accommodate the project, according to Lisa Huval, the city's point person on homelessness. (She made those remarks to the recent annual meeting of the Downtown Neighborhoods Association.)

The five abutting lots are owned by two different parties - a trust and an LLC called 2020 Enterprises, according to Bernalillo County property records.

In a recently-published report, the city estimates the cost to acquire land for a shelter at Coronado Park at $600,000, with the total project cashing in at $12.7 million. It also estimates the time to complete the project at 33 months (nearly three years) as opposed to 23 months for the UNM parcel, with both land acquisition and general construction taking longer at Coronado.

With the UNM option gone, however, the city is investigating another possible site near Gibson and San Mateo. Keller said the building, a former hospital, seems to be in better shape than initially feared.

"We were very pleasantly surprised," Keller said, adding, "we need a couple of months to understand the real way to make [the location] work."
Long-abandoned billboard along bike path used to be visible from I-40
The billboard (look for a red object through trees at the right) is just off the bike path on the south side of I-40 in West Old Town, north of Bike In Coffee. 
Despite passing the spot many times, we only recently noticed a long-abandoned billboard just off the bike path on the south side of I-40. It is an incongruous sight indeed: Trees have grown in front to the point where you can hardly see it, but even if they weren't there, the presumably intended audience on I-40 couldn't see it anyway on account of the wall. 

What's going on? We asked Lanny Tonning, the co-owner of nearby Bike In Coffee and a long-time resident, to shed some light on the situation. He says the billboard dates back till at least the mid-1980s. Here is his response, lightly edited for length and clarity:

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth (and before the I-40 upgrade around 1999), there were no sound walls. Just a small guard rail along the shoulder. So, the billboard was quite visible from the freeway. It was for a motel on Fourth just north of what is now the Tractor Brewery. They contracted with our former next-door neighbor for its placement (many neighbors ago).

Anyhow, after the sound walls went up the billboard was masked and useless (but taggers liked it). The motel went away but the sign stayed. I guess no one needed the materials or wanted to take the time to remove it. We had a sign company offer us money to put a tall sign back there but we declined.
Downtown Albuquerque News covers greater Downtown, which we generally define as the area created by I-40, the Rio Grande, and the railroad tracks. We publish weekdays except for federal holidays. If someone forwarded DAN to you, please consider subscribing. To subscribe, contact us, submit a letter to the editor, or learn more about what we do, click here. If you ever run into technical trouble receiving DAN, click here.
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