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Downtown revitalization plans draws speculation, few praises

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A fter feedback from the Gallup community based off of a  steering committee that met six times over a six month span, a Metropolitan Redevelopment Area plan, or MRA, is entering its final planning stages.

The MRA was designed to retain the historical aspects of the city and at the same time provide for new and improved projects within downtown Gallup.

The final plans for the MRA, and “Gallup’s Arts and Cultural District” is one step closer to fruition as it was approved by the City Council on Dec.15 with a vote of 5-0.

The span of the Metropolitan Redevelopment Area does not stretch the entire length of Coal Avenue, only from Woodrow to Seventh Street.

However, the ultimate target within the bull’s eye is much smaller, from First to Fourth Street on Coal, though this mark is not isolated from the proximity of other businesses that inhabit the adjoining blocks.

Implementation of the top 27 projects, ranked by the community members at a November Open House meeting, were categorized by a timeline matrix that would give an idea as to when the projects would be completed such as short term (1-3 years), midterm (4-6 years) and long term (7-10 years).

For instance, at the top of the list of projects, a new state-of-art library is considered short term and therefore, completion could take up to one to three years and would merge the main branch with the Children’s Branch.

More projects include improvements to Coal Avenue and making it into an event street, pedestrian and signage improvements, and alleyway upgrades from First to Third Streets between Highway 66 and Aztec Avenue. An “event street” closes off the street to vehicles during special events.

With the thought in mind to cover this small area as a representation of the entire MRA, two Gallup Sun reporters covered opposite sides of Coal Ave. for the approximate two and a half block area on Dec. 28, asking questions about what the completion of these projects could mean for the businesses in this area.

North Side of Street

Some of the businesses did not know a lot about the MRA, although it has been highlighted in the print media for several months. Other owners knew more than the average citizen, especially Louie Bonaguidi, who is the president of Business Improvement District, and owner of Electric City Shoe Shop and other downtown shops. He also re-introduced Main Street back to Gallup after an absence of several years.

“Working in this area, day after day, sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees,” Bonaguidi said. “Change is good for some things, but not everything needs to be changed.

“This plan will allow the city more accessible funding through Community Development Block Grants,” he said.

He went on to discuss several individual projects: thumbs totally up for a new library; cautious approval of redesigned alleyways; and a disagreement with walkways under the railroad tracks.

“They talked about making this bicycle/pedestrian tunnel much longer than it needs to be, by several blocks. Don’t know what they plan on to keep water out of it when we get our heavy rains or big snows. Maybe the Corps of Engineers will come in and use the same pumps that didn’t work on Ninth and Maloney,” Bonaguidi laughed.

The Bonaguidi family has been in business downtown since 1924 and has a vast amount of experience with changes and the good or bad each carries with them.

But a negative remark or two aside, Bonaguidi did think that the sessions headed by Charlie Deans, created some good ideas.

Deans, a Land Planner from CommunityByDesign, who has over 25 years of experience in urban design, community planning and landscape analysis, said that he was hired by the City and based on the communities preferences, there was a total of 27 projects; however, it was narrowed down to six top projects that they would like to see the city implement.

“One of the steps in the process was really looking at opportunity sites,” Deans said. “We look at public ownership because those are usually the assets that are easiest to develop and revitalize whether it is a partnership, whether the city does it as public facilities, or whether it is a partnership with private developers.”

Theresa Guillen, with her husband Jerry, operates Maria’s Restaurant and has been there since 1982. Although neither knew a lot about the plans, Guillen was excited that the city might clean up the alleyway behind the small building.

John Matajcich of Gallup Service Mart, was less positive about this plan except for one minor problem he has experienced. Seems the city workers used dirt in the current alley and it has built up in certain areas, causing any excess water to run into his basement.

“It’s the transients and the visitors that cause the most problems,” said Matajcich, whose store is the headquarters for a number of local ladies that spend their free time ripping, stitching, and stripping as they create beautiful quilts.

“They dump their trash in the dumpsters and it is a total mess every Monday morning,” Matajcich said. “The city needs to have workers keeping it clean, just like they do the sidewalks around City Hall.”

South Side of the Street

Owner of Coal Street Pub, Ramon Chavez, has owned and operated his business for 10 years, and he is in support of the new MRA plan because he says anything that can beautify and make downtown Gallup better, should be done.

“If you could pull people off the interstate because out of all the thousands of people that passes by, to most of them, we are just a blink of an eye,” he said. “If we can say we have a downtown development or arts and cultural district and pull people off the interstate that would benefit everybody.”

He says signs should be put up on the interstate that advertise the new Gallup Arts and Cultural District once it is built so that people passing through can see what Gallup is all about.

“We have the best art and the most diversified art, for the last 100 years,” he said. “Sand paintings, jewelry, rugs, I mean everything. Everybody knows about the Indian Market in Santa Fe, where do you think they come from? Right here. Eighty percent of Santa Fe’s Indian Market comes from right here. Nobody knows about Gallup. Advertise us!”

Others were not so optimistic, such as business owner Bill Keeler of Gallup Jewelry and Pawn. Thirty years ago he opened up his business during the time that 75 percent of downtown Gallup was boarded up. He admits that there have been some vast improvements, like the bus station.

“I see things happening and not happening,” he said. “They (the city and civic groups like B.I.D., Main Street, and Chamber of Commerce) start but they do not finish. Another group of elected officials come in and they have new people come in, they don’t even own property downtown.”

What about parking issues that could arise from the anticipated influx of tourists that come strolling through Gallup once the MRA is complete?

Tiffany and Justin Benson, owners of the Gallup Coffee Company, have been open for seven months now, and both said they do not see parking as an issue.

“What I think would be a great idea, would be to put in angled parking,” Tiffany said. “It would alleviate the parallel parking issues, especially in a community that has big trucks. It is hard to fit in your standard parallel spot.”

The couple came out to visit Tiffany’s grandmother one year and they decided that they liked the area and wanted to open up a coffee shop.

When asked about the upcoming MRA plan being implemented, Justin replied that cleaning up Gallup and making it visually appealing would be a good place to start.

“I think the people themselves have to want to change things to change,” he said. “But I think that it is a useful tool and I think it is a good thing. But, I wouldn’t just count on people just sitting in city positions to change all of Gallup. I think that people need to change Gallup.”