Briefing:
  • Conventions and meetings, a Downtown area economic lifeblood, are still on a very slow rebound
  • Tent census finds no knock-on effect from Coronado closure
  • The August mini-library trek
Conventions and meetings, a Downtown area economic lifeblood, are still on a very slow rebound
By all accounts, Greater Downtown leisure travel is back, and in some cases better than ever. Local hotel occupancy this year has routinely exceeded or flirted with 2019 levels. Sunport traffic took a bit of a dive in June but in May was at 97 percent of what it was three years before. Some Old Town merchants are reporting that sales have even exceeded pre-pandemic figures (DAN, 7/21/22). And there is every reason to look forward to the fiftieth Balloon Fiesta coming in October.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that the convention and meeting business, which in the Before Times routinely brought hundreds of lanyard-wearing travelers (and often their expense accounts) to the Downtown core in particular, is still hurting pretty bad.

In May of 2019, a report compiled by Visit Albuquerque showed 195,081 room nights tied to conventions and meetings booked for that entire year. This past May, that number was just 100,843 - a 51 percent recovery. (Even the month of May can provide a good picture for an entire year because contracts for conventions and their associated blocks of hotel rooms are often signed years in advance.)

Things were even worse for events tied to the Albuquerque Convention Center, the Downtown core's marquee meetings complex. That room night recovery rate was only 42 percent.

It is certainly bad news for Downtown hotels, but also other merchants.

Conventions are "imperative to the livelihood of Downtown," said Nick Manole, who owns the building at Fourth and Central once home to Brixens, a beloved restaurant.

Attendees of those meetings are a special sort of tourist - often free-spending and also something of a captive audience.

"The locals here don't want to fight the parking," Manole added. "But the conventioneers here don't have a car and they just walk over."

The absence is very much noticed: "I haven't seen a good convention in three years," said Steve Vatoseow, the owner of Lindy's Diner (Fifth and Central).

The one bright spot for conventions citywide has been sports-related gatherings, which have achieved a roughly 60 percent recovery. That's thanks mainly to reduced COVID concerns around primarily outdoor events and the reality that they can't be held virtually anyway, said Tania Armenta, the Visit Albuquerque CEO.

But while Downtown in general and the convention center in particular can and certainly have hosted sporting events (not least at a seasonally-constructed indoor track), much of the local infrastructure isn't particularly geared up for it, especially relative to a metro area that includes a sprawling 22-field soccer complex, a brand-new facility with five baseball fields, and Balloon Fiesta Park. 

"The current situation has proved challenging for the city's hospitality community, particularly with regards to Downtown, and this reality is felt at destinations throughout the country," Armenta said. "Downtown was experiencing significant growth and revitalization leading up to 2020 and as is the case with so many other destinations, that progress experienced real setbacks."

But if the recovery is slower than tourism promoters and the Downtown hospitality sector would like, it is, at least, a recovery. One survey of conference center operators shows they expect things will indeed return to pre-pandemic levels, but only in 2024. Tourism Economics, an analytics firm followed by Visit Albuquerque, says much the same.

"The first thing that came back after [the peak of] COVID was the weekend personal travel," said Ellen Sinclair, a senior vice president of operations for Benchmark Pyramid, a hospitality management company, in "Meetings Today" magazine. "Now we're seeing that with groups. The group demand has skyrocketed. People want to get back together."
Tent census finds no knock-on effect from Coronado closure
When Coronado Park finally closed last Wednesday, some early anecdotal evidence quickly cropped up (here and here) that showed campers simply moving into surrounding neighborhoods - exactly the phenomenon that city officials had previously used to argue that the encampment should be left alone.

So far, however, it looks to be closer to a trickle than a flood.

Our regular monthly survey of tents pitched at area parks and along key streets and trails - conducted on Monday - showed zero tents at Coronado Park (including the still-open adjacent dog park) and seven tents elsewhere in the survey areas. The Coronado figure is, of course, a 100 percent decrease, but the figure for elsewhere actually represents one less tent than we spotted in July. It is also quite a bit lower than at the beginning of the year, when encampments of up to 14 tents could be spotted on the trail south of I-40 between Twelfth and Rio Grande alone.

Besides the Coronado numbers, the only major difference between this survey and previous ones came at First and I-40, which is a new pickup spot for the bus that goes to the city's main shelter on the Westside. There were about 20 people hanging out there in the shade of the freeway on Monday, something we haven't seen in previous regular visits. (There were no tents and it did not appear to be an encampment, but we'll keep an eye on it all the same.)

To be sure, none of this categorically means that the several dozen people the city evicted from Coronado Park last week haven't moved into any surrounding neighborhoods, but the census does suggest that they have not moved to the most likely camping spots in Wells Park, Sawmill, the Downtown core, or the Downtown Neighborhoods - at least not in large numbers.

The city reports that about 50 of the residents ultimately accepted some sort of help with housing or transport elsewhere, but the park previously had something on the order of 100 campers.

The park itself remained fenced off Monday, with city security officers stationed out front. Two of the trees on the south side of the park had been cut down, something officials said would likely happen given that many of them are dead. Several other still-standing trees also looked to be dead, including a few that have had nearly all of the bark at their bases stripped away.
Tomorrow's Downtown ECHO meeting reviews Albuquerque Community Safety, one year on
The meeting begins at 1 p.m. Details on how to join here.
The August mini-library trek
At Gabaldon and Spur (West Old Town), we found the Faulkner classic "As I Lay Dying," Ann Patchett's novel "Taft," and "Another Roadside Attraction" by Tom Robbins.
At Fifteenth and Lomas (Downtown Neighborhoods), the cycling memoir "Riding Outside the Lines," a novel about Great Depression-era Kansas called "The Persian Pickle Club," and "The French Gift," a novel set a few years later in World War II-era Paris.
At Fifteenth and Orchard (Downtown Neighborhoods), "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found," by Suketu Mehta, "Cape May," a novel about marriage and dangerous friends by Chip Cheek, and "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven," the collection of essays by Sherman Alexie.
At Fourth and Stover (Barelas), a couple of classics: Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" and "The Federalist Papers," an extensive series of commentaries on the constitution written by James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton.
The Main Library had just over 13,700 visits in July and 9,917 checkouts. It's a bit off from June, but still the second-best post-pandemic month we've seen.
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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