One-on-one with Mayor Keller: Transforming the International District
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — To this day, a lot of people still call the International District the “War Zone.” It’s a reputation that’s hard to shake.
The area has high crime rates and has been historically underfunded but Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller says he wants to change that and how people view that part of town – using the very community he hopes to help.
Keller sat down with KOB 4 to talk about ongoing and future projects across Albuquerque, including the International District.
Keller says the biggest challenges in the International District are public safety and homelessness which he says impacts economic development. To combat that, several community centers and a police substation are either open or under construction in the area.
“What we’re showing is that we’re committed to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in public investment to this community,” Keller said.
Keller says it’s a priority to revamp the International District.
“It’s a huge signal that we are investing in our underserved and our older, traditional neighborhoods. And one of the complaints I heard when I came into office was that the city had not been doing that,” Keller said.
Keller hopes new investments will turn the area’s reputation around – like the Trumbull Child Devlopment Center that opened recently and the Loma Linda Community Center which is under construction.
“These are centers that were drastically in need of updating, I think the last time they had really been fixed up was in the 80s, about 30 years ago. And so they’re missing all sorts of amenities that people care about now, whether it’s computer rooms or better activity space, but also some basic things like they’re dark and dingy,” Keller said.
But it’s not just community centers on the way.
“We’re building a new police facility at Phil Chacon. That police station is getting redone. Our headquarters for the Albuquerque Community Safety Department are gonna be right here in the International District,” Keller said. “We built the largest new library, our state’s seen in a decade right here in the International District.”
Keller says the city has also added more lights and trees and repaved all of the streets. But as the city creates these projects, businesses like Walmart, CVS, Dollar Tree, Allsup’s and Walgreens have all left just within this year, creating a food desert for the community. Mayor Keller says he’s excited to work with incoming Councilor Nichole Rogers on the issue.
“There’s not a lot of grocery stores in this community. We’re very excited to work with a councilor to use some of the funding that the county and the city and the state put together to try and provide some sort of food option in this area that’s healthy,” Keller said. That project could be in the works for next year.
The projects, which the mayor says came from the community, that are currently underway should be done within a year to 18 months. The funding from these projects does involve taxpayer money but Keller says it’s combined with federal, state, county, and city money so the price for residents can be lower.
INVESTING IN UNDERSERVED NEIGHBORHOODS
The Albuquerque City Council and Mayor Tim Keller have changed the way city funds are distributed. Instead of dividing it equally across nine districts, city leaders are using equity.
“The idea is we should invest in the communities that need it the most,” Keller said. “So that’s why you see the council and my administration prioritizing our historic and underserved neighborhoods.”
Some of those investments include community centers, an APD substation, and more.
“Even the Westgate Community Center out in the southwest mesa, the new fire station that we’re building out there, these are all communities that had been largely ignored for decades,” Keller said. “So we’re playing catch up, but after six years, it’s really starting to show.”
The community centers under renovation, like Loma Linda in the International District or new ones like Santa Barbara-Martineztown, are either low-cost or free.
“All of our programs are basically free,” Keller said. “Sometimes there might be an annual $5 registration fee, something like that. All our multi-gen centers and senior centers also serve amazing lunch and breakfast that’s very popular.”
The mayor says there are also more specialty programs on the way.
“In East San Jose, we’re redoing the boxing facility, which is actually a huge deal for our youth,” Keller said. “So that’s going to be a brand new $7 million boxing gym.”
As these projects are in the works, Keller says some are going to take longer than others.
“Our first batch of ideas looks like we’re gonna be able to finish in the next year, year and a half… but we also know there are large ones that I would also want to see happen, especially out in the northwest part of the city by Cibola,” Keller said. “That’s supposed to be, it’s supposed to be a library and a multi-gen center and a swimming pool. I mean, it will take decades.”