The City of Albuquerque's 25-year Plan; Kayaking is a High Priority

In the last few weeks, Mayor Berry has shed some light on his vision for Albuquerque 25 years from now.  In the Sunday, April 24th edition of the Albuquerque Journal mentioned some ideas for improvement, which includes ~ "$30 million for Rio Grande Enhancements." The vision, while still conceptual, suggest a number of kayaking activities. 

Mayor Berry and other from City Hall recently visited Oklahoma City, which in December 2009 approved a $65 million downtown revitalization project, and included a $25 million whitewater park. OKC's whitewater park is a major appeal to the tourism and travel to the area, and through rafting and international competitions, is a major driver of the local economy. Mayor Berry is especially interested in exposing more people to the river and water recreation projects, where people can get their feet wet, and experience the river in new, fun ways.

There's much more to the story. I'll keep this blog updated as more information becomes available.

See you on the river,
Kelly Gossett

What's your vision for Albuquerque?

See Mayor's Presentation

By Dan McKay
Copyright © 2011 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

        At City Hall these days, there's plenty of talk about wage cuts and hiring freezes.

        The word "fun" doesn't come up much.

        But fun, for lack of a better word, is exactly what Mayor Richard Berry wants people to start talking about.

        As in, wouldn't be it cool to play sand volleyball or other sports at Balloon Fiesta Park? How about building recreational baseball fields that match the dimensions of Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park? And, heck, you could put kayaks in a river canal, or at least construct scenic overlooks and boardwalks along the Rio Grande.

        These possibilities are all part of what Berry is calling "The Plan."

        He is meeting with children, seniors and others to help brainstorm ideas for what kind of Albuquerque people want to live in. Some of the potential projects might be considered off the wall — irrigators, no doubt, would want a say in whether anyone floats down a diversion ditch — but Berry says many of the ideas have succeeded elsewhere and are worth exploring, even if they can't be built immediately.

        "I want you to be thinking about game-changing projects," Berry told a group of eighth-graders last week. "Ever been on the Tram? That's the kind of project I'm talking about."

        Paying for it, of course, is a whole other debate. Berry envisions holding the line on government spending to generate bonding capacity for "quality-of-life" projects. Essentially, the city would return some of its property-tax revenue to its original purpose: funding big, one-time projects, rather than basic government operations.
        In some cases, tax-increment districts, the federal government or private companies could help provide funding.
        City councilors, so far, seem receptive to the concept.

        "This has to be a candid conversation" about what Albuquerque should look like in 25 years, Berry said.
        'Our plan as a community'

        Berry has developed a PowerPoint presentation going over some conceptual ideas to get people started.

        One of the first questions he was asked as a mayor, he points out, is whether the city ought to embark on a $350 million event center and hotel complex in Downtown Albuquerque. Now isn't the right time for that particular project, Berry said, but a series of smaller projects might work.

        His presentation to teenagers last week touched on ideas big and small. Potential projects include $30 million in scenic overlooks, boardwalks and other "enhancements" in the Rio Grande bosque; $45 million for a "bus rapid transit" system running down the middle of Central Avenue, from the Foothills to the far West Side; $25 million to start redeveloping the old Barelas rail yards; and $75 million in regional sports parks.

        Berry wants the community to come up with the ultimate ideas. The goal is to have a long-range plan that carries over from administration to administration, even if Berry isn't in office to see the projects built.

        He wants to select projects that trigger private investment or generate new economic activity. A world-class sports complex of basketball courts or baseball fields could draw tournaments involving out-of-town players, he said.

        Upgrading the Convention Center and Civic Plaza might draw more out-of-state business meetings. More tourists might visit the Rio Grande Zoo if there were an easier way to get there and back from Old Town.

        Don't worry about taking funding from stop signs and speed humps, the mayor said. The budget for those things will remain intact.

        Think about stuff "just to have fun," Berry told the teens.

        "It has to be our plan as a community," he said.

        Shift in city revenue

        Skepticism is sure to greet the mayor as he hits the streets. The city, for instance, doesn't own the state fairgrounds — where Berry broached the idea of an amusement park — and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District is a major player in how the river is used.

        Berry acknowledges some projects would require cooperating with other agencies or private groups.

        Similarly ambitious ideas have sometimes failed or been scaled back. City Hall, over the decades, has been no stranger to talk of building a Downtown arena or ballpark, a modern streetcar system to run down Central or a performing arts center.

        In 2006, Bernalillo County voters rejected a proposal for a quality-of-life sales tax to fund arts and cultural programs.

        But Berry, a Republican, doesn't anticipate raising taxes.

        City Hall has trimmed its workforce and should be able to grow at a smaller rate, he said. As the economy improves, the city could start to rededicate more of its property tax revenue to one-time projects, Berry contends.

        Over the past 10 years, the city has moved about $36 million of its annual property taxing authority over to basic government operations. That money used to be dedicated to construction projects.

        Switching that money back to capital projects should be feasible at some point, Berry said, providing revenue for projects outlined in a new, long-range community plan. Even just a $12 million shift in annual revenue could provide the capacity for $150 million in project financing, he said.

        Some revenue could come through TIDDs, or Tax Increment Development Districts, he said. Essentially, a share of an area's tax revenue growth would be dedicated to capital projects. This idea is already in place for the Mesa del Sol development near the airport, for example.

        The federal government provides funding for mass transit projects, Berry pointed out.

        Private money would help, too. There's a company that operates baseball fields matching big league dimensions, Berry said. The city might build a field, for instance, but have a private group operate it, similar to the use of Isotopes Park for Triple-A baseball.

        Input from everyone

        Berry is already meeting to ask people for ideas. On Tuesday, he invited student leaders from middle schools to listen to his presentation. He distributed questionnaires and asked the teens to gather opinions from their classmates, their parents, their friends.

        "I'm 48 years old," Berry told them. "Maybe I'm missing the mark on some of these things."

        "This is me as a mayor saying, 'You guys are the boss.' "

        Deborah Witter, a 13-year-old from Our Lady of Assumption Catholic School and Church, listened attentively to Berry's presentation. Afterward, she said Albuquerque could use some outdoor places for students to study together. Such a gathering spot might improve grades and provide a chance for older kids to help younger ones, she said.

        "I think (the mayor) really wants us to be involved in it," Witter said.

        A lot of her classmates, she said, "will think it's really cool."

        Mikhaela Smith, a 14-year-old who goes to the 21st Century Public Academy, said she would like to see the old Winrock mall redeveloped, perhaps as an outdoor mall, as she's heard other people suggest.

        The mayor's talk "was really good," she said. "He made me feel like he really cares about the community and wants to accomplish something together."

        City Council President Don Harris said Berry's talk went over well with neighborhood leaders in his district, where the audience was older and fairly conservative.

        "That was a pretty tough crowd, and they seemed to like it," Harris said.

        As for his own opinion of Berry's plan, Harris said that "overall, what I really like about it is he's looking long term and getting community buy-in, and he's specifically looking past his own administration."

        Mayors, Harris said, often focus only on what can be accomplished within their four-year terms.

        Berry, for his part, says he wants to talk to everyone from eighth-graders to octogenarians.

        "Now is the perfect time," Berry said. "Cities that don't plan go backwards."

        A few ideas in 'ABQ: The Plan'

        • State Fairgrounds and Expo New Mexico, $40 million: Consider building a "Central Park" of Albuquerque, year-round equestrian center or permanent amusement park.

        • Convention Center face-lift, $55 million: Improve the Convention Center to attract more convention business and other meetings.

        • Fourth Street Mall, $8 million: Help revitalize Downtown by sprucing up the pedestrian mall along Fourth Street, just south of Civic Plaza.

        • ABQ Culture Loop, $15 million: Make it easier to get from Old Town to the Rio Grande Zoo, Albuquerque Aquarium and other cultural destinations.

        • Regional Sports Parks, $75 million: Construct sports complexes or field houses at Mesa del Sol, 98th Street and Balloon Fiesta Park to draw out-of-state tournaments and offer more local recreational opportunities.

        • Bike Loop, $15 million: Finish and improve a 50-mile bicycle, running and hiking loop circling Albuquerque.

        • Paseo del Norte and I-25, $30 million: Contribute money to start reconstruction of the Paseo and Interstate 25 interchange, making it easier for people to commute and get across the city.

        • Rio Grande Enhancements, $30 million: Add scenic overlooks and boardwalks to bring more people into the bosque. Perhaps allow kayaking in canals by the river or attract restaurants along the river.

        • Bus Rapid Transit, $45 million: Build a new transit system of express buses that run down the middle of Central Avenue, from Tramway to 98th. Possibly add a dedicated lane for buses only.

        • Civic Plaza, $12 million: Add vegetation and shade, build booths for crafts fairs and food sales, to make it more hospitable for visitors.

        • Barelas Rail Yards, $25 million: Start redeveloping the old rail yard site and buildings.

        Learn more

        Visit to view Mayor Richard Berry's slide-by-slide presentation of "ABQ: The Plan." The document, which is still in draft form, is posted on the "As Seen in the Newspaper" and City Hall blogs. City officials say they will post a final draft and seek public comments by next month.


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