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What Next, Albuquerque?

Sixty-six years since newspaperman Ernie Pyle praised Albuquerque for framing the horizon in a glance, people who do not understand Albuquerque— along with some who do—are still posing questions about the city’s identity, personality, and ecology. What factors are making Albuquerque a bastion for the creative

class?How will the city reconcile its venerable history with the revitalization of the historic downtown? And what does a key player on the scene have to say?

Crystallizing the import of this moment between Albuquerque’s past and future was a fairly low-key if symbolic happening on a chilly February night. Between one day and the next, the La Posada sign on Second Street between Copper and Central was removed and replaced by a large black question mark, two stories high, on the roof of the hotel. This temporary art installation by Studio Hill Design seemed to phrase a visual interrogative that many are asking: What’s next for Albuquerque? (La Posada’s new owner, Gary Goodman, is remaking the property into a chic boutique hotel whose name change was to be announced as Trend was going to press.)

For Jonathan Rose, president of the real estate development concern Jonathan Rose Companies—with offices in New York City and Katonah, New York; New Haven, Connecticut; Denver; and Albuquerque—the answer to Albuquerque’s future is multifaceted. Rose offers, “You must ask the question, What is the right balance? And then allow the answer to evolve over time.” Rose, who has been involved in revitalizations of other American downtowns, including Denver’s, was invited in 2006 to participate in Albuquerque’s planning by the McCune Charitable Foundation, based in Santa Fe, which has funded the city’s renaissance for a decade.

A poet’s soul animates this developer of places who understands and in fact insists that thoughtful planning will honor both the ecology and human cultures of any given area. He applies the thought to Yonkers, New York, a suburb of Manhattan where, he says, a strong urban revitalization precedent lies in the restoration of the Saw Mill River—formerly buried under concrete and now being returned to the light of day. He also applies the idea to the current work of the Albuquerque branch of his company, Romero Rose. Along with SG Properties and the Supportive Housing Coalition, plus architects Dekker/ Perich/Sabatini, Treveston Elliott, Claudio Vigil, and OZ Architecture of Denver, Romero Rose is working on a multitiered project at the Alvarado Transportation Center. In every respect, the project meets the firm’s objectives of building highdensity, mixed-income, and mixed-use projects oriented to public transportation. Rose considers this very strategy part of urban “repair.”

The Romero Rose participation in Albuquerque currently includes phase-one planning of the Silver Gardens, workforce (affordable) housing that will be powered by photovoltaics, and Albuquerque Live/ Work Spaces, a flexible model based on Rose’s first development project in the state, Second Street Studios in Santa Fe, which he designed with Wayne Nichols.

After studying philosophy at Yale and landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, Rose began working in development in New York. Rose emphasizes that Second Street Studios was conceived as a project near public transportation and that now the advent of the Rail Runner linking the two cities applies: “It would be poetic justice to have a link between Second Street Studios and the Alvarado property in Albuquerque.”

Rose’s first encounter with New Mexico dates to his childhood: At 15, he spent a summer with the Cottonwood Gulch Foundation—“camping, excavating Pueblo ruins, and studying the ecology of the land.” Rose’s ideas for Albuquerque are to rebalance old neighborhoods and new development. He offers, “Currently [downtown] is overdominated by the Central Avenue bars.” He would like to see more and better housing, along with expanded boundaries of the Barelas neighborhood—a historic, working-class district that runs to the west of the Rio Grande.

While downtowns undergo such big changes, emerging arts organizations play a critical role in generating community support. Suzanne Sbarge, executive director of 516 ARTS on Central Avenue, recalls being invited by Rose and the McCune Foundation—a prime supporter of 516—to “make a beautiful proposal” for the flagship space that now is a downtown arts anchor. Sbarge explains that Rose is not like the developer stereotype many artists fear: “His combined interest in the environment, arts, culture, and development as interconnected entities is so important. Jonathan proves that [development] can be done with an integrated vision.”

So what are the real meanings of integration and Rose’s keyword of “balance,” applied to Albuquerque? One challenge is to increase density while being environmentally responsible, notes the developer. He cautions that even with upping density, it’s critical “to find pathways that are green that run through the city, so people can have a deeper contact with nature while being in an urban environment.”

Whether there’s an ancient stream buried under Albuquerque, as there is in Yonkers, Rose can’t say. Yet his voice is as important now in addressing the virtues of Albuquerque’s soul as Ernie Pyle’s was in 1942.