Talon News - Good Local News

By Jacque Ritchie



February 2, 2018


Mayor Sally Burbridge at the MRA Meeting

City of Aztec Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan

by Jacque Ritchie, TALON

Aztec residents have debated about how to revitalize downtown for years. One project that has been on and off the table for nearly 2 decades is the Aztec Arterial Route (AAR). The AAR is a 3.1 mile by-pass designed to detour semi-truck and oil/gas traffic from Hwy 550 at the Old Spanish Trail, south of town (across the highway from the Presidential Inn and Suites) and pick up again on 550 off Hwy 173 (Navajo Dam turn-off). The city has spent an estimated $4.5 million thus-far on Phase 1 a/b that paved 1.27 miles. The city estimates another $11-$12 million dollar price tag to complete the final 1.83 mile Phase 2 section. According to Aztec Director of Finance Kathy Lamb, construction on phase 2 is estimated to begin in the Spring of 2019 with an completion date of sometime in 2021. AAR funding is provided by federal, state and local sources with DOT acting as administering agency.

The arterial route has been the subject of spirited debate on both sides. Some insist the route will help transform historic downtown into a inviting pedestrian-friendly corridor where business can thrive. Others argue that the route will siphon off visitors who will bypass town, resulting in Aztec achieving true ghost town status, with tumbleweeds rolling down main street instead of tourists.

The fact remains, in recent months more than a dozen Aztec businesses have closed. Some have come and gone without much fanfare, others have hung in for years to finally succumb to economic elements. Do we blame the economy? Do businesses offer a quality product at a fair price? Are businesses marketed properly? No clear consensus presents. That's where Albuquerque based, Consensus Planning Inc. (CP) comes in.

On January 24-25, members of the team held a workshop followed by a public presentation to summarize their efforts thus-far. "We have been working on this project for a couple months now... we identify possible funding, we address land-use issues, do graphic urban design...using like projects," said CP Principal, Jacqueline Fishman. CP is a company that specializes in; urban design, landscape architecture and planning services.

CP has worked with the NM towns of Tucumcari, Roswell, Tularosa, Grants and Truth or Consequences. CP's job is to create a comprehensive, effective downtown Metropolitan Redevelopment Area (MRA) plan. Tucumcari City Manager Jared Langenegger said that the service provided their town was extremely valuable, "The MRA process itself is absolutely useful for our community going forward...I think an MRA is a very valuable tool for any small town."

Fishman explained, "We do the plan but they (the town) has to implement the plan, if they choose to. In most cases (implementation) can take several years."

Calling for 'Grassroots Economic Development' CP Principal Jim Stozier said, "Organization is key, it's all important...unfortunately it's also the most challenging element of the process." Strozier explained that the city and business/property owners are 'stakeholders', "They need to take take control of their own destiny...this (MRA plan) is not a panacea, there is no magic bullet."

Consensus Planning was hired by the city to do a study and submit the MRA plan. The group has gathered demographic information, (32.9 is the median age of Aztec residents) cultural/historical data, existing infrastructure information and other statistical information. They correlate data to create a written plan, with graphic designs and assist city leaders and small business owners in revitalization efforts. As part of the job CP also identifies possible funding sources that are available.

The city paid $50,000 to CP for their service. According to TALON sources, Aztec secured most of the fee from the state through the NM State Finance Authority and the city actually put up between, $2,000 and $4,000 from the General Utility Fund toward the cost.

Jewelry designer, Glenna Malcom, a member of the Feat of Clay artist co-op, says "I'd like to leave the door open when I'm at work, because it's more inviting ... but with the semis, the big trucks going by...the noise is incredible! It's so bad you can't have a conversation, you can't even hear the phone.."

On Thursday, CP identified what they referred to as; 'Opportunity Gaps' in Aztec. These are retail needs that people must travel outside of town to fill. The list included Restaurants, Pubs & Bars, General Merchandise, Clothing, Accessories, Sporting Goods, Hobby Shops, Book, Recorded Music, Performing Arts, Electronic, and Appliance stores.


Besides the ruins, outdoor activities, and the museum, they also identified positives such as a 'strong street face,' meaning the close placement of the downtown buildings to one another as a positive factor for foot traffic. PC also cited the success of Jack's Plastic Welding and Soaps on Main as examples of successful small scale manufacturing ventures that enjoy a thriving business. CP speakers addressed how to deal with zoning issues and manage the cost of bringing older buildings up to code for re-use. CP stressed that the completion of the AAR was key to implementation of downtown redevelopment. CP's objective is simple, "The goal is to transform downtown into the vibrant center of the city, attracting new investment, and becoming a fun attractive place to work, play, and visit."

CP will submit a more complete MRA Plan this April. At that time they will offer a second presentation for the public/city's consideration. The team members and city representatives welcome community input about the project, Ciy Community Development Director Saavadra said, "This is the time for citizens to shine! Indicate what you want to have happen. Your opinion on this is very important." Citizens are invited to take the Survey identifying and prioritizing proposed changes to downtown. Take the survey at the city's website.


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