Legislation could revamp New Mexico’s downtown areas, economic impact
A bill looking to revitalize New Mexico’s downtown areas is gathering bipartisan steam in the Roundhouse.
PETER RICE: The bill deals with a not incredibly interesting topic, but one that is very important called a "tax increment [finance] district." So, it would essentially allow cities and local governments around New Mexico to draw a line, if they haven't already, but draw a line around areas that are having a tough go of it––economically speaking. They would establish a tax baseline. Basically, whatever they've been collecting, that's off the table, but a percentage of the increase in tax over time would go to these legal creations called Metropolitan Redevelopment Areas (MRAs). MRAs have a pretty wide berth to spend freely and make deals in order to revitalize marginal areas, shall we say, or areas that have been having a tough time.
There's potentially a lot of money at stake here, over a long period of time, which is actually critical. You don't necessarily want to just dump a bunch of money on an area at once. But you do a little bit of money every year for 20 years, potentially, that could be a game changer. Not just in downtown Albuquerque, but in Santa Fe, Las Cruces, small towns like Las Vegas, anywhere where they're having some problems. This is a pretty commonly used tool around the country to get things back on track.
KUNM: If you take a stroll through downtown Albuquerque, I've noticed we're seeing businesses close up shop and go under for a variety of reasons, mainly due to the pandemic. Does it make sense to focus on the same development objectives as before the pandemic? Or do we need to change it up?
RICE: I suspect that people are moving towards changing it up a little bit. I mean, to go way back in history here, the first downtown development theory in Albuquerque, and basically everywhere else, was that you build fairly slowly and in a pretty dense fashion in a pretty small area. And then, World War II comes along, the automobile revolution comes along, and then we have the suburban model. And we make our downtowns not into whole holistic cities with a lot of people living there and doing business, but we make them into the central business districts where people come during the day and then leave at night.
A lot of people have never really liked that model since it came around after World War II. And I think there's renewed emphasis in this era of remote work, returning to that ideal where more people actually live downtown. That gives you a kind of built in customer base for economic activity and the sort of revitalization that tends to work.
KUNM: Can you elaborate a little bit on how this bill would help other downtown areas? Because, Albuquerque and their downtown is a lot different than Santa Fe's downtown or Las Cruces' downtown. How is this going to help other downtown areas revitalize and become more successful?
RICE: Sure. So what downtown Albuquerque and other downtown areas around the state have in common is that many of them have kind of fallen on hard times. But for a lot of reasons, right? The reason why downtown Las Vegas isn't doing so well is different from how downtown Albuquerque is going. So basically, the legal infrastructure to do revitalization is already there to make things very simple. What's not there is a funding stream, particularly one that lasts for, you know, a fair number of years and is somewhat insulated from the political process. Somewhat insulated from you know, whatever mayor has come along and really wants to revitalize downtown. It will happen after they're gone potentially, as they've written the bill.