Briefing: 
  • Wells Park NA organizes against Coronado shelter as city pivots toward multiple smaller sites
  • Firestone Complete Auto Care, a Route 66 icon at Central and 7th, is closed
Wells Park Neighborhood Association organizes against Coronado shelter as the city changes strategy, seeking multiple smaller sites
Mayor Tim Keller and other elected officials will soon be taking delivery of a package of some 50 letters expressing opposition to an emergency homeless shelter in Coronado Park, the result of a flyer campaign organized by the Wells Park Neighborhood Association. Volunteers recently distributed a call to action seeking those letters to most of Wells Park, parts of the neighborhoods north of I-40, and to Martineztown, said Doreen McKnight, the Wells Park board president. (See the flyers here and here.)

"We felt like we needed to do this as soon as possible," McKnight said. "Our feeling and impression that we've been getting from the city is that they're moving full steam ahead and not being very transparent about it."

The city has been pursuing a new shelter at an as-yet-undecided location for months, and voters approved $14 million in funding for the project last fall. As of two months ago, three options remained: A UNM parking lot just northeast of Lomas and I-40 (an idea since rejected by the university), a former hospital on Gibson, and Coronado Park.  

The association's argument against using the park is that the neighborhood has already done more than its share in addressing the homelessness crisis since it is home to the HopeWorks day shelter, the forthcoming permanent supportive housing development Hope Village, and Healthcare for the Homeless. Placing additional facilities nearby, it reasons, would be unfair, especially if it involves taking over a beloved park already damaged by its use as a pickup spot for the city's Westside Emergency Shelter.

"This isn't about being anti-homeless," McKnight said. "If these types of services are more equitably distributed throughout the city then I think more attention will be given to the issue."

A new city strategy
The pressure campaign comes to fruition just as the city is shifting toward building multiple, smaller facilities instead of one big one. For months, officials had mostly spoken of and written about the shelter project in the singular form: "I really want it at the UNM site," Mayor Tim Keller told the Barelas Neighborhood Association in February. And on the possibility of a Coronado Park shelter: "I really don't want to put it there," he added.

The city even published one - and only one - sketch of what the shelter might look like, and elsewhere projected the potential number of beds at 300.  

But along the way, officials occasionally mentioned the possibility of building at multiple sites instead, a method some advocates, including Rock at NoonDay executive director Danny Whatley, argue reduces the impact on neighborhoods while providing a less intimidating residential atmosphere to people experiencing homelessness. (On the flip side, multiple sites can cost more in aggregate and finding a place to put them is still a challenge.) 

Now, it appears, the city is all in on the multiple site option.

Keller told reporters yesterday that UNM's recent decision not to hand over its parking lot - a site which promised a quicker buildout without taking over a park or renovating an old hospital with asbestos issues - changed the equation. He subsequently established an informal working group of city councilors, Bernalillo County commissioners, and officials from the UNM Health Sciences Center, and assigned them the task of hashing out the location question and other key details for multiple sites.

"Right now there's no 300-bed shelter on the table," Keller said.

Another possible factor in the shift: Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O'Malley, who represents Wells Park and much of greater Downtown. The city would like to get the county to chip in for the project, but O'Malley opposes the large centralized shelter model.

Despite being one of the targets of the letter-writing campaign, O'Malley said she has not encountered universal opposition to a shelter in Wells Park, and would be open to locating a smaller site or service center there if it is paired with amenities such as funding the buildout of a new park just north of the Wells Park Community Center.

"To say that there's strong opposition from the entire neighborhood - I don't see that," O'Malley said. But at the same time, "you just can't come in and put in a service and say 'see you later.' You've got to make improvements to the area."

City Councilor Isaac Benton, who has long opposed a large shelter at Coronado Park, could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

The outlook
In some ways, Keller's announcement turns the ongoing search for a shelter site on its head. As recently as November, the city was hoping to have a settled location by February, and switching from a full-steam-ahead-in-one-central location strategy to one where a working group sorts out the details could be a time-consuming business. The search process, Keller said, is also incorporating more sites than just the park and the old hospital, further complicating matters.

But the practical upshot for Coronado Park is this: As of today, the prospects for a big 300-bed shelter there look pretty dim. But between a mayor who kept that option open for months and a county commissioner willing to deal, the park could well end up being selected for some kind of facility.

"I think right now everything is on the table," Keller said.

That counts for the neighborhood association as well. 

"We will be pursuing legal remedies if they decide to move forward with Coronado Park," McKnight said.
Firestone Complete Auto Care, a Route 66 era icon and staple of Sunday evening gearhead festivities, closes up shop for good
TOP: The Firestone location at 701 Central, circa 1931. (Photo by Albuquerque Museum, The Brooks Collection - a gift from Channell Graham. PA1978.151.327) BOTTOM: Crews hauling off a sign on May 1. (Photo by Victoria Van Dame)
Firestone Complete Auto Care, a Route-66 era icon which tended to generations of motorists at 7th and Central, closed last week. On Friday, a crew using a crane and trailer even removed the sign that once spanned the sidewalk on the north side of the street.

The cause of the closure, fate of the employees, and destination of the sign were not immediately clear this week. In response to questions, Firestone parent company Bridgestone issued a statement saying the closure decision was due to "store performance" and made after a "thorough evaluation." Other Firestone locations in Albuquerque remain open.

The original opening date of the store isn't clear either. A photo from the Albuquerque Museum archive (see above) shows it open for business in 1931, but some social media commenters this week put the opening date at 1933. One guide to Route 66 landmarks lists it as 1929.

The shop will be missed both as a piece of history and as a friend to the motorists who gather for Central's Sunday night parade of classic cars and lowriders, according to John Romero, a member of the Drifters Car Club of New Mexico. The shop let the club stage its cars in the parking lot and thus provided a venue for members to socialize, troubleshoot, and make new friends. 

"New Mexicans have been going there for 87 years to purchase tires," Romero said. (He subscribes to the 1933 opening date.) "We hate to see any type of car company close - especially an icon. They're part of us and we're part of them."
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