Briefing:
  • Group behind Hilton properties at Broadway and Central buys Hotel Andaluz
  • Duranes farm alleges racial bias in road access dispute with MRGCD
  • Bosque trail traffic was on the low side this year
Group behind Hilton properties at Broadway and Central buys Hotel Andaluz
The Andaluz was built in 1939, the first New Mexico hotel in native son Conrad Hilton's growing hospitality empire.
Legacy Development and Management, the firm behind the new Homewood Suites and Hilton Garden Inn at Central and Broadway, concluded the purchase of Hotel Andaluz earlier this month, expanding a portfolio that includes office space, retail, apartments, and other hotels in New Mexico, Washington state, and Canada.

"This makes five Hiltons in Albuquerque that we own," said Todd Walters, the group's vice president of operations. "We're big Hilton people."

Legacy intends to undertake a multi-million-dollar renovation of the property. While Walters said he couldn't go into details, he did allow that "we're going to improve this hotel significantly."

The move comes at a time when the Downtown core is not widely seen as an attractive investment opportunity. Besides ongoing issues with crime and homelessness, the pandemic-inspired rise of remote work and the very slow rebound of the convention and meetings business has kept foot traffic in the district to a minimum in recent years.

Walters framed the crime and homelessness problems as a major challenge and a drag on commercial activity. The Central underpass in particular is an intimidating deterrent for guests at their Central and Broadway property who would otherwise walk into the core, he said.

But "there's still business going on," Walters added. "It's a battle, but we feel that this was a good investment."

Hotel Andaluz was built in 1939 as a Hilton, but the company sold it in 1969 and subsequent owners in turn christened it the Hotel Plaza, the Hotel Bradford, and La Posada de Albuquerque. In 2005, businessman Gary Goodman bought the property and embarked on a $30 million renovation, turning it into the luxury-boutique operation it is today. In 2019, it rejoined the Hilton brand as a franchisee of its Curio Collection brand.
Duranes farm alleges racial bias in road access dispute with MRGCD
The crew at Ashokra Farm recently completed its first season at the Downtown Growers' Market. Ashokra Farm
A stone's throw from I-40 and the bosque trail, the small parking lot at the western end of Gabaldon Place serves mainly as a spot for runners and bikers from all over to start their outdoor adventures. But there is also a small dirt access road jutting off from the lot to the north (map). While it looks every bit like an unremarkable piece of public infrastructure, it has served in recent months as the flash point for an intense argument over farming, access to land, and race.

Ashokra Farms began leasing a small parcel of land along the access road on January 1, expanding a business that also works three other fields in the North Valley. Describing itself as "a group of queer [people of color] farm workers striving to create a farm that we are proud of," Ashokra sells produce at the Downtown Growers' Market, Old Town's Tiny Grocer, and La Montañita Food Co-op. From the beginning, the plan was to use that access road - part of which was blocked off with a gate - to get to the field.

The plan worked just fine until August 5, when the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which manages the access road, received a complaint about unauthorized traffic. A district employee went to investigate, looked through archival images on Google Street View, and determined that the road used to be fully blocked off with some bollards (supplementing the gate) that had apparently gone missing some years ago.

The Ashokra crew using the road to get to their fields amounted to unauthorized access, MRGCD CEO Jason Casuga told board members at an October meeting (video). The district subsequently replaced the long-missing bollards, something Casuga framed as repairing an act of vandalism and living up to the district's obligations under the joint powers agreement that sets out how the Albuquerque bosque - known formally as Rio Grande Valley State Park - is managed. 

Undeterred, Ashokra then applied for a special permit to obtain a key for the gate, but the district denied the application, citing a gate policy approved in 2020 that says the access is awarded only to farms that do not have a "viable alternative" to using a district road.

Much of the ensuing tension hinged on competing interpretations of the word "viable."

There is another way to get to the farm, and it involves traveling from Gabaldon down a private road, then navigating through an irrigation berm and three fences that keep a llama and some goats penned in, said Anita Adalja, one of the farmers at Ashokra. Add to that extra precautions to keep from tracking manure into the food-producing field and "it adds on 15 more minutes to our commute."

To the district, the alternate route is viable even with some extra time involved. But to Ashokra, that determination and the situation as a whole - particular the swiftness with which their access to the road was cut off - smacks of racism. During public testimony at the October board meeting, staffer Antonia Ruiz excoriated the district for "bias, lack of care, and lack of professionalism" and said she was aware of white male farmers elsewhere in the area who routinely use similar access roads. Ruiz also recommended that the board take anti-racism training.

Casuga acknowledged that unauthorized driving likely happens elsewhere on the district's 1,200-mile network of frequently ungated roads. But he maintained that this case was a simple matter of enforcing rules that were written long before Ashokra started farming in Duranes.

"They had legal access all the way to the property without needing to cross MRGCD right-of-way," he told the board. "This is not a new closure ... I believe that as the policy is written now, staff implemented the policy correctly."

For Adalja, the matter also demonstrates a lack of understanding of how small farms that grow a diverse array of vegetables actually function from day to day. The work is more labor-intensive than large and often mechanized single-crop operations, she said, meaning daily access to the field is critical. It is one of the points on which they have drawn outside support from the Downtown Growers' Market, which wrote a letter to the district asking that it "be a positive partner in forwarding the legacy of local agriculture in our community."

But MRGCD board member Joaquin Baca disputed that point, noting that large farms are actually something of an exception to the rule across the district.

"There are a whole lot of these small farms that are doing this," he said.

Access to ditch roads is a highly contentious business across the district. In some areas, there is a consensus for keeping unofficial vehicles out (which meshes nicely with the existing stringent regulations), but people on the next ditch over may take the opposite view. Sometimes, sharp opinions clash along a single ditch. Bringing some sense of streamlined consistency to the equation was the reason for the updated policy in the first place, Baca said.

As for Ashokra's particular access conundrum, Baca said he would be willing to sit down with them to discuss the matter and that when the gate policy is next updated he would like their input.

"We'll move forward and hopefully make it better," he said. 

That may, however, come too late for Ashokra, which is considering whether it can continue in Duranes under the unforeseen restrictions. The current impasse is "not sustainable," Adalja said. "We don't want to have to abandon our field."
Bosque trail traffic was on the low side this year
Fewer bicyclists and pedestrians used the bosque trail in the Tingley Beach area this year than last, according to counter data compiled by the Mid-Region Council of Governments. Over the seven months in which year-over-year data is available (some months are missing from last year) 2022  was behind 2021 in all but August.
The same pattern held at a counter placed near Montaño. Overall, about 3,000 fewer people used the trail there through October compared to the same period last year. The high water mark for trail usage in recent years was 2020, when thousands of extra people per month passed the counters as a way of passing time during the lockdown.
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