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Downtown Albuquerque - Historic and Innovative

Downtown Albuquerque ©Jay Sinclair

ABQ365 Route 66 Blog Post PromoIf it's been a while since your last trip to Downtown Albuquerque, it's time to take another look and get caught up in the momentum of what is going on in this dynamic neighborhood. 

Albuquerque's downtown is the heart of the city. Although the original town site in Old Town marked the city's beginnings, Downtown grew up around the railroads, which provided a transportation and commerce hub. 

Due to a realignment of Route 66 in the 1930s, the famous road runs in an east-west direction through Nob Hill, Downtown, and Old Town. Then and now, the connection of these three key neighborhoods is an essential vein for residents and visitors alike.

The railroad still brings people into downtown at the Alvarado Transportation Center on the Rail Runner and AMTRAK trains, and the Albuquerque International Sunport is less than 10 minutes away, providing ease of access to this bustling hub in the city center.

One of the things that makes downtown Albuquerque so unique is that it doesn't look like every other city. Residents are proud of the vintage feel and history, alongside buildings that have been renovated with a modern twist. The city continues to make improvements, turning out creative ways to repurpose the vintage: from a previously run-down rail yard building that's now a hip weekend market, to a former high school building that is a centerpiece of a recently initiated innovation corridor.

Downtown Albuquerque ©Robert Reck

Completed Developments

Albuquerque Convention Center:
In an effort to give the Albuquerque Convention Center a look and feel that mirrors the city itself, the city completed a $23 million renovation of the complex in 2014. Improvements include: a new exterior façade, complete remodeling of the ballroom - including a new entertainment deck, massive windows with panoramic views and an updated atrium with an enormous welcoming fireplace. Additional upgrades include new flooring, wall and ceiling finishes, as well as LED lighting and a completely updated kitchen.

Civic Plaza:
The Convention Center's location allows its guests to easily explore all that downtown has to offer. Directly west of the Convention Center lies Civic Plaza, which regularly hosts the Downtown Growers Market on Wednesdays during warmer months. Albuquerque Food Trucks can also been found year-round on Civic Plaza for lunch on Tuesdays.

4th Street:
At the end of 2014, downtown 4th Street between Tijeras Avenue and Central Avenue was revamped from a pedestrian walkway into a 2 way street in order to readily connect Civic Plaza to other areas of Downtown. Before 1937, Route 66 ran through Albuquerque via present-day 4th Street. Now, the intersection of 4th Street and Central Ave marks the intersection of two different historic Route 66 paths.

Downtown Albuquerque ©Marble Street Studio

Focus on Innovation

Albuquerque's innovative business climate is very entrepreneur-friendly. Alongside the University of New Mexico, Sandia National Laboratories, and Kirtland Air Force Base, a burgeoning startup culture flourishes. Forward-thinking businesses and entrepreneurs gather at the heart of the city near Central and Broadway, while the "innovation corridor" expands along Central Avenue from Downtown all the way east to the University of New Mexico campus.

Innovation Central is an initiative to drive economic prosperity and modern business development in Albuquerque. It's a long-term strategic development project with the goal of drawing dynamic thinkers and entrepreneurs to the Rio Grande Valley. 

Exciting new ventures that are part of Innovation Central and downtown revitalization include:

  • Innovate ABQ will bring research and commercial labs, science and technology companies, educational programs, business services, support services, and commercial and retail businesses together with a business incubator in a way that allows people to work together as they wish and be an essential part of the community that is connected to UNM.
  • ABQid: This nonprofit provides a 90-day business accelerator program for startups and entrepreneurs, encouraging new businesses to rapidly ship ideas to market while receiving mentorship and guidance from sought-after local professionals.
  • CNM STEMulus Center: A branch of Central New Mexico Community College, this new downtown space is dedicated to science, technology, engineering, and math. Courses include accelerated bootcamps and entrepreneurial support.
  • Fat Pipe ABQ: This business incubator is located in the heart of the innovation corridor and hosts weekly entrepreneurial presentations as part of the Kauffman Foundation's One Million Cups initiative.
  • Keshet Ideas and Innovation Center: KIIC is a business resource center specifically for creative arts entrepreneurs. In addition to training and networking, there are also rehearsal and performance spaces available.
  • Lavu: Lavu is a point of sale (POS) software that was born as a tech startup in Albuquerque. Their company caters to food and hospitality clients internationally with HQ offices in downtown Albuquerque.
  • Levitated Toy Factory: Levitated is a digital fabrication startup, high-tech workshop, and private event space in downtown Albuquerque. It was started by one of the founders of and New Mexico native Jared Tarbell along with his wife Laurie Tarbell.
  • Verge: The Verge building provides a collaborative meeting space and caters to early stage, high-tech entrepreneurs. It also houses various venture capitol groups and headquarter offices for local startups.
  • WESST Albuquerque: This small business development organization provides financial capitol, training, and a state-of-the-art digital media studio with a special focus on incubating female-run businesses.

Downtown Albuquerque ©Naman Photography

Planned Developments

Route 66:
Downtown Albuquerque is home to one of the longest urban stretches of The Mother Road, and while the vintage aspects of Route 66 are beloved, the city is working to modernize the entire stretch, making it more pedestrian-friendly and functional.

Currently, there are plans in place to renovate some original Route 66 hotel properties, including the historic El Vado Motel and De Anza Motor Lodge properties. To really brighten things up, the Mayor and City Council are offering incentives to business owners who add neon lights and signage, to reignite the original Route 66 look and feel.

Downtown Entertainment District:
A new "entertainment district" is also in Downtown Albuquerque's future. Near the existing Century 14 movie theater at the intersection of Central Ave. and 1st Street, there is potential to develop a current parking lot into a commercial space for retailers and restaurants. Development proposals are currently being reviewed by city officials and a developer should be chosen in early 2015.

The Alvarado Transportation Center is also conveniently located across the street, as well as the CNM STEMulus Center, making this location central to the renewed interest and innovation taking place in the downtown neighborhood.

Bus Rapid Transit:
In conjunction with plans for the revitalization of historic Route 66 and Innovation Central efforts, the City of Albuquerque is looking at providing bus rapid transit service along Central Ave. This project, called Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART), will enhance transit service along this important east-west corridor.

The ART would service and connect Downtown, the University of New Mexico, Central New Mexico Community College, Presbyterian Hospital Downtown, Old Town, the ABQ BioPark and more. With advanced signal timing and a dedicated lane, the ART buses would easily be able to maneuver through traffic and save travelers time.

Additional Projects:

  • Construction started on Downtown's first grocery store, Silver Street Market, in early 2015. Development is slated for completion in the spring of 2016.
  • Various housing development projects downtown, through organizations such as Yes Housing and Anthea @ The Granite
  • Urban development of new pedestrian and bicycle paths, including a transformation of the Central Avenue underpass railway to be above ground 

More information on Downtown Albuquerque projects and developments here