Briefing:
  • As the city and business leaders mull options for Downtown finance and development district, a deadline looms
  • Former Little Red Hamburger Hut reopens as cannabis store, with wellness boutique planned in 2023
  • Lam's Chinese Restaurant, longtime fixture of West Central, closes
As the city and business leaders mull options for Downtown finance and development district, a deadline looms
Over the summer, the city put out a new take on an old idea: Creating some kind of public entity covering the Downtown core that could raise its own money and supercharge redevelopment efforts - potentially nudging into life all sorts of new housing and commercial space where once there had only been vacant buildings or surface parking lots. 

The proposal didn't exactly get blaring headlines in the broader Downtown Forward Plan, appearing only in very general terms at the bottom of page 15. But if implemented, its impact could be substantial and long-lasting. The plan noted that the city's main redevelopment agency was presently not the force it could be, collecting "less than 10 percent of revenues compared to redevelopment agencies in peer cities."

That was in June. Four months later, the city and business leaders are still trying to sort out the details of what exactly the legal structure would look like, and that is no easy task. Among the options to choose from are business improvement districts, which generally levy an extra tax of some sort within their borders, and tax increment development districts, which don't raise taxes but do take a large portion of local tax revenue increases generated over time as property values and gross receipts collections go up. There are also public improvement districts, which focus on issuing debt, paying for various infrastructure projects, then paying it all back through an extra property tax.

The city is even considering a variation on the theme called a "transformational metropolitan redevelopment area," which would combine elements of a tax increment district with the ability to buy and sell property, Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency Director Terry Brunner said. 

"It's giving the MRA special capabilities using TIDD money," he said. "This is really common in other states."

(For any of those options, where exactly to draw the border is, of course, another decision with major implications for the political and financial situation.)

Whatever choice - or mix-and-match - is ultimately settled on, it's looking like some key decisions will have to be made in the next few weeks. The transformational TIDD idea would require approval from the state legislature, so the city must nail down details on that by about mid-December, Brunner said.

The business community, meanwhile, is also sorting through the options, said Terri Cole, the president of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. She favors a business improvement district but said much would depend on how exactly the assessment that funds it works. Such districts can in theory charge by the square foot, by the business, or by the type of business - to name just a few options.

"We have to get everybody on the same page," Cole said.

Looming over the discussions, meanwhile, is one property owner who is famous in the rarefied world of Downtown tax district negotiations: Jim Long, the Sawmill developer who is also behind such city center landmarks as the Albuquerque Plaza Building (the core's tallest) and the adjacent Clyde Hotel (formerly the Hyatt Regency). Long maneuvered to stop the last attempt at a Downtown business improvement district, which effectively dissolved about a decade ago, but he does appear to be in the loop this go around.

"This is in the early stages of discussion, so at this point, I am unable to fully comment," he told DAN. "That being said, a [tax increment development district] is an interesting idea and could make a great deal of sense. A [business improvement district] is more problematic due to the many issues that led to the termination of the prior BID."
Former Little Red Hamburger Hut reopens as cannabis store, with wellness boutique planned in 2023 
Before and after: The store at Fifteenth and Mountian has also gotten a makeover in the last year.
Following an extensive renovation project that spanned roughly 18 months, the brother-sister team that purchased the former Little Red Hamburger Hut on Mountain Road last year has opened the first of two small businesses that will locate there.

Sawmill Sweet Leaf, a cannabis microbusiness, opened a little over a week ago at the east side of the building. It is the brainchild of Cloud Duran, who before moving back to New Mexico was the owner of a Seattle area cantina that served New Mexican food.

(Microbusinesses differ from mainstream cannabis operations in that they must stick to one location and deal with no more than 200 plants at any given time, among other rules.) 

The plan is to open the west half of the building next summer for a separate business called Flora Wellness, which will sell CBD and natural plant medicine products, owner and Downtown Neighborhoods resident Sabrina Coulie said.

"In the evening - after store hours - I would like to offer yoga, dance, tai chi, and have timeslots available for community activities such as neighborhood association events," she said.
Lam's Chinese Restaurant, longtime fixture of West Central, closes
Someone put boards over the windows a few weeks ago.
Lam's Chinese Restaurant, a decades-old West Central fixture, appears to have closed for good. The building has been boarded up for weeks and attempts to reach the owners by phone and through its website have not been successful.

The .37-acre property is up for sale (pending, as of last week) and was most recently listed for $550,000. Austin Tidwell, one of the brokers arranging the sale, said he did not know the status of the restaurant's owners. The structure itself could be either salvaged or demolished, he added.

"We've left that open to the next operator," he said.

Both earlier this year and last, the restaurant declined to cooperate for a profile in DAN.

The building was once home to an A & W Root Beer Drive-in and still retains the classic "pilgrim hat" look. It is not clear when it was originally built, but advertisements for car hops and "fountain girls" like this one first started appearing in Albuquerque newspapers in 1955:
Downtown Albuquerque News covers Downtown, Old Town, and surrounding neighborhoods. 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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