By Dan McKay / Journal Staff Writer on Tue, Jul 24, 2012
It was the heart of Albuquerque when Babe Ruth smashed home runs for the Yankees, when families scraped by to survive the Great Depression, when soldiers returned from World War II.
But few New Mexicans in recent decades have been inside the Barelas rail yards site.
That would change under a plan Mayor Richard Berry’s administration is considering.
The idea, not yet sent to City Council, would involve sprucing up the old blacksmith shop so that it could be used as a community space for growers’ markets, car shows and other special events. There would be sidewalks, guardrails and fences allowing visitors to walk through other parts of the 27-acre site.
“This could be one of the really special places in America,” Berry said as he toured the rail yards last week.
Reviving the massive blacksmith shop — a brick building facing the Coal Avenue bridge — is expected to cost $500,000 to $750,000. The city has funding available from voter-approved bonds.
Making the place suitable for visitors would come in tandem with longer-term planning for what to do with the site. A series of community meetings are expected over the next year or so to craft a long-range plan for redeveloping the rail yards.
But Berry’s administration wants people to have access to the site even before the full redevelopment begins.
The initial $500,000 or more to get the building ready would include replacing some windows, fixing roof leaks and making other changes to bring it up to modern safety standards. It would have electricity.
Berry said he could envision opening the site every Saturday for growers’ markets or for weekly events with food trucks.
“This is a place where people are going to want to be,” he said.
Leba Freed, president of the nonprofit Wheels Museum, which is on site, said that reviving the blacksmith shop is a “magnificent idea.” It’s a perfect starting point for igniting interest in the overall site.
The rail yards were in full operation from about 1915 to into the early 1960s, and then slowly shut down.
“It’s the most important historic property in the state, in my opinion,” Freed said in an interview. “It’s where Albuquerque became a city.”
City Councilor Isaac Benton also likes the idea of tackling the blacksmith shop first.
“It’d be nice for citizens to be able to get on the site and at least look at the buildings from that vantage point,” Benton said.
The city bought the rail yards in 2007 for about $8.5 million, with a commitment that the redevelopment will eventually include some mixed-income housing and a permanent place for the Wheels Museum. The site lies just south of Downtown Albuquerque.
Samitaur Constructs, a California-based company, has been selected as master developer of the project.