• El Vado developer unveils early plans for taproom and housing at Rail Yards-adjacent property
  • All together now: Old Town's Yucca Art Gallery is thriving after 58 years
  • Sunport Boulevard extension to Broadway finishing soon
El Vado developer unveils early plans for taproom and housing at Rail Yards-adjacent property
The property was once home to the A & P bar.
More than sixty units of affordable rental housing plus small retail shops, including a taproom, are part of an early plan for a largely-vacant square block just a stone's throw away from the Rail Yards. Developer Chad Rennaker, who is most famous for his rejuvenation of El Vado, ran the idea by the Barelas Neighborhood Association at its December meeting, initiating a process of "dialogue and discussion" that he said he'd like to continue over the next six months.

Rennaker's company, Palindrome Communities LLC, owns the L-shaped parcel on the block bounded by Second, Santa Fe, Third, and Pacific - once home to the A & P Bar. The Second Avenue side of the project, however, would be the "natural face" of its commercial operations, he said.

"We really like to accommodate destination-oriented retail," Rennaker said, envisioning each business on the block drawing potential customers that might also be interested in the neighboring shops. Taproom outdoor seating, perhaps located behind the building, could be shared with small food purveyors he'd like to see operating in other retail spaces along Second.

The taproom itself would be a satellite of Sawmill's Ponderosa Brewery, he said, adding that he'd like the vibe to somewhat resemble El Vado Taproom.

The Second Street food purveyors would be located just south of the taproom, but he imagines "less intensive" retail, such as clothing shops, on Santa Fe to the west.

Currently, the view across Second from the future project mostly features acres of vacant land, largely-empty Rail Yards buildings, and a short stretch of the newly-completed Rail Trail. But that, of course, could all change in the coming years, particularly if the state legislature decides to spend heavily on the Rail Yards in its upcoming session and/or if the state ultimately decides to locate a film academy there. Any Rail Yards development is likely to enhance the commercial potential of Rennaker's development.

Most of the project's housing would consist of some 60 units of affordable one, two, and three-bedroom apartments to be located in two, three-story buildings on Third between Santa Fe and Pacific, Rennaker said. Palindrome would apply for federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program financing to help pay for the project.

It's not yet clear what variances and/or conditional use permits Palindrome would have to obtain to execute its plans. If any organized opposition to the project emerges, it would most likely pop up in public hearings that the city would hold before granting any such permissions. Objections to development of this sort typically center around traffic congestion, the blocking of views, noise, alcohol establishments, and especially in Barelas, gentrification.

Rennaker and the Barelas Neighborhood Association board scheduled a joint walk-through of the project site that will be open to the public. It is planned for Saturday, February 4, from 2 - 4 p.m. The formal process for nailing down funding for the project should begin next summer, Rennaker said, and should be completed early in 2024. Construction, he said, should begin in the fall of 2024.

—By David Lee
All together now: A cooperative art gallery in Old Town is thriving after 58 years
The artists who show their work at Old Town's Yucca Art Gallery focus intensely on their own individual art, but unlike most others in their field, they also reserve some of their creative energies for working together to run the larger collective business.

Yucca's organizational model is unusual though not unheard of in a city boasting dozens of places that sell art. Decisions get made at meetings, and members fill the management posts. Each artist gets an area in the gallery for exhibiting their work, and each takes a seven-hour shift on the sales floor once every five weeks.

At 58, they've got to be one of the oldest galleries in town.

Yucca is located in the Patio Market, across San Felipe from the southeast corner of the Plaza, the most recent of several Old Town addresses it has occupied throughout its history. Members have long assumed they're operating in a former carriage house, though Helmer said a customer recently reported that their great-grandparents built the structure and then proceeded to live in it themselves.

Either way, the gallery welcomes tourists visiting from around the United States and the world.

"You get to meet really interesting people," Yucca member Terri Helmer said. Among the highlights for her: chatting with visitors from the Netherlands and happily speaking with them the Dutch language she'd picked up while living in that country years ago.

The co-op was founded in 1964 by a group of about ten friends, Helmer said, and has since developed a careful process for vetting potential new members. One of Yucca's three curators interviews each applicant, evaluates samples of their work, and makes a recommendation to the members, who then interview the applicant at a business meeting.

While the majority of applicants are voted in, Helmer said, selectivity is crucial for an organization operated by 39 equal partners. On top of that, existing members need to ensure that potential newcomers temper their sales expectations.

"You're not just going to come in and hang your stuff and become a millionaire," she said.

Yucca artists have a few things in common despite belonging to a profession characterized by the uniqueness of each of its members.

"Almost all of us are retired," she said, and doing "something they always wanted to do."

Around the U.S., enough artists join co-op galleries to keep them in business in many locales, but the challenges of co-ops seem to ensure that conventional galleries will always far outnumber them.

One blog aimed at artists called Creatives and Business says the advantages of co-ops include their potential for fostering mutual support, the cost-sharing that can enable ill-paid creatives to establish a quality facility, and the opportunity co-ops provide for new artists to gain exposure for a modest expenditure of time and money.

The RedDot art marketing blog, on the other hand, outlines some disadvantages of co-ops, including the chance of glaringly wide variations in the quality of art on display, the potential for one person's works to get lost among those of dozens of others, and the human relations problems that can arise in group-run organizations.

Spend some quality time in the Yucca gallery and you'll just scratch the surface of the many ways there are to make art. Terri Helmer's way is glass fusing, bonding together different types and colors of glass by heating them in a kiln. Helmer also handles publicity and outreach for the cooperative.

"In 2000, I took a fusing class, and it was all over," Helmer said. She begins by arranging pieces of glass to produce a result she has in mind, but inside the kiln, things don't always work out according to plan.

"Glass has a mind of its own," she said, and that's part of its allure for her.

Long employed in information technology for Bernalillo County - but with a persistent attraction to art always lingering on her mind - Tatulli Komogorova one day found herself with a serious illness requiring long-term rest at home. She began to feel antsy and started dabbling in what she called "intuitive painting."

"I fell in love, and I can't stop painting," Komogorova said. Now she applies oils or acrylics to canvas after canvas, using a pallet knife. She does still lifes, landscapes, nudes, and works that could be termed expressionistic or symbolic, she said.

A relatively new member of the cooperative, Komogorova said, "I like the way people organize things here. There's a community feeling."

When working shifts on the sales floor, she said she aims to appreciate everyone who comes in, whether or not they buy something. Yucca has regular customers who live locally along with its tourist clientele, she said.

Before D.L. Horton threw herself into art, she worked as a press photographer for newspapers and wire services. Years of this burned her out, Horton said, and she began devoting herself to art full-time. She rents a studio in the Sunshine Building on Second and Central.

"That gives me a place where I go to work. I'm a lot more productive that way," Horton said. In addition to selling at Yucca, she also takes her work to juried art fairs, which she is glad to see starting up again after their pandemic shutdown.

Horton also fuses glass. That means using a kiln, and she said she appreciates the digital controls on hers because they allow her to regulate the heating and cooling precisely, a necessity for success in that art.

Glass "tends to blow up," she said, if not handled just right. 

"I do like to experiment," Barbara Fajardo said. "I tend to get bored easily."

Fajardo has had plenty of material to experiment with, having lived a life immersed in art since early childhood. Her father was an artist, and her family operated an art supply store in Albuquerque. 

Polymer clay has been Fajardo's medium of choice in recent years. This artificial clay, which can be sculpted easily and then hardened in an oven, has long been regarded as a handicraft material only, but in recent years polymer clay works have been appearing in museums

Ever experimenting, Fajardo has been working recently in watercolor painting, she said, and she recommends it highly.

"Everybody should do that," she said. "Get yourself some paper and some watercolors, and that's all you need."

But in Old Town at least, the group is making it work and paying the bills. Currently, Helmer said, it manages this by charging each member a $60 monthly rent for their display space and keeping 15 percent of each sale.

"There's a perception that artists have no business acumen," Horton said, but "we do know how to stay in business."

"We seem to be thriving coming out of the pandemic," Helmer added.

Organizationally, Fajardo said, a cooperative is not about what one person wants, and diplomacy and teamwork are essential.

"We support each other in good times and bad," she said. "It feels like a family to me."

—By David Lee
Sunport Boulevard extension to Broadway finishing soon
This rendering (full resolution here), which looks toward the southwest, shows I-25 at the lower left-hand corner. Rather than dead-ending at the exit ramp on the west side, Sunport Boulevard will extend down the hill to Broadway, which can be seen in the upper-right-hand corner. Bernalillo County spokesman Larry Gallegos told DAN last month that the project was over two-thirds done and that "substantial competition" was expected by March.
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