Albuquerque moves ahead with Rail Yards cleanup

Rubble and glass lie across the length of the machine shop, the largest building on the Yard’s property. Photo by Justine Lopez / NM News Port

The City of Albuquerque will begin cleanup of the Downtown Rail Yards to prepare the space for redevelopment. The Albuquerque Development Commission voted to terminate the current contract with Samitaur Constructs after the 27.3 acre property sat undeveloped for nearly three years.                   

The city originally began working with Samitaur Constructs in 2012 and spent two years developing a master plan for the space. Before re-development work was scheduled to begin, the space needed to be cleaned of pollutants. Toxins still linger in the buildings and the soil.

Samitaur’s concept design from its 2014 Master Plan. Courtesy Photo

According to the previous master plan for the site, above ground fuel tanks that held petroleum leaked into the soil north of the Blacksmith Shop. Groundwater contamination is limited to that area. Other hazardous materials on site includes lead contamination caused by sandblasting and windows that contain an asbestos glaze.

“Remediation is so important,” said Planning Department Public Information Officer, Carmelina Hart. “No one was taking the responsibility of cleaning the space.”

Mayor Tim Keller’s administration plans to take on the cleaning task to make way for redevelopment. Remediation will begin south of the blacksmith shop and move north. The blacksmith shop, which houses the Rail Yards Market, is the only building on the property that has been remediated. Some of the remaining buildings will receive roof repairs and utility installations while some smaller or obsolete buildings will be demolished to improve access. Building demolition is set to begin early next year. The city has spent $1.5 million on developments so far.

There is no current master plan for the property now that the city broke ties with Samitaur, however, creating a space that is representative of the community is still a priority.

“Mayor Keller came in and really wanted to create placemaking and create a community hub,” Hart said. “There is an original master plan but we’re moving forward with some new ideas.”

Planning Department Public Information Officer Carmelina Hart works collaboratively with others in the Economic Development Department to set the Rail Yards project in motion. Photo by Justine Lopez / NM News Port

Planning ideas include emphasizing the cultural and historical value of the site, this could include building attractions like museums. The city is also looking to connect the area via its transportation network, creating faster links between downtown, Nob Hill and the Sawmill district.

City planners refer to this approach as “placemaking” with the community’s interests in mind. Placemaking is a planning process that involves collaboration between the city and the community to shape public spaces. The process is outlined by Mayor Tim Keller in his vision for the city’s economic development.

Robert Vigil is a lifetime resident of the Barelas Neighborhood and a church deacon. He expressed hope that the city’s Rail Yards redevelopment would revitalize the local area. The Barelas neighborhood lies west of the Rail Yards and is one of Albuquerque’s oldest neighborhoods. During the 1880’s the neighborhood prospered with the arrival of the railway but experienced a series of financial setbacks as automobile use took off, and I-25 was constructed.

“We died a little bit as a community, economically,” Vigil said.  

Vigil is also a member of the Barelas Community Coalition, a non-profit organization that seeks to provide economic opportunities for the neighborhood and limit the effects of gentrification. Vigil said he would like to see the new Rail Yards provide a lot of small business opportunities and not fall to the wayside like it has in previous years.

“What we’re trying to find is just the right partnership for our community… and the community on the other side of the tracks” Vigil said. “When you do that it’s just good clean development.”

Rail Yards assistant market manager Amy Jones agreed nearby neighborhoods are important to the project.

The Barelas, South Broadway and San Jose communities especially have a stake in the future of the Rail Yards and should have strong voices in the re-development.” Jones said.

More information about the previous master plans for the Rail Yards and the timeline for development can be found on the city’s website.

Justine Lopez is a freelance reporter at the New Mexico News Port. She can be contacted at jmlopez1215@unm.edu or on Twitter @justine_lopez95.