Route 66 News

Details from El Vado meeting

Highlights, quotes, etc. from the Albuquerque City Council meeting:

Richard Gonzales, the developer who bought El Vado last fall with the intention of tearing it down and replacing it with luxury townhouses, started his comments to the council with this gem:

I’m not prepared to make any presentation to you this evening, because I just found out a little after 1:30 today that you had this on the agenda.”

Perhaps Mr. Gonzales should read Route 66 News a little more often. We knew about it last week.

Incidentally, one of the councilors asked a woman at the meeting (I presume she was the city clerk but couldn’t confirm that) about whether Mr. Gonzales had been notified of the meeting. She said the meeting had been advertised in the Albuquerque Journal — as required by law — in January, and she had personally spoken with him on the phone and advised him that the landmarking issue was on the agenda for this meeting. A swing … and a miss.

Gonzales also tried to force one councilor to recuse himself because he had made a sketch proposing a way to save El Vado. The city attorney advised the councilor that this did not constitute a conflict unless he had a financial interest in the property, which he does not. Strike two.

Other great quotes from Gonzales’ testimony:

What’s the rush here? I’ve never applied for a demolition permit for this property. … Why does the public perceive me as an evil villain?

I dunno. Maybe it has something to do with that Oct. 13 Albuquerque Tribune article where you said:

It’s been a real eyesore for awhile. I’m sick of looking at it. … If I don’t get the zoning, that doesn’t stop the project. As far as demolishing it, nothing will prohibit me.

But maybe I’m just being paranoid. I guess it all depends on what your definition of “demolish” is.

Councilor Isaac Benton had the same reaction I did:

I fully respect your word, Mr. Gonzales, when you say you don’t want to tear it down, but … there were statements made, way back when, that you could tear it down.

Later in the meeting, Gonzales undermined his own claims of benevolence with this beauty:

I have no intent to demolish the El Vado until this issue is resolved, and even then I may not.

(Emphasis mine.)

Got that? You have my word that I won’t demolish El Vado … as long as you are lying down in front of my bulldozer.

More comments from Mr. Gonzales’ testimony:

Look at the El Vado for what it truly is.

… give it a fair hearing and understand the El Vado for what it is.

This is a valuable piece of property. Why are we treating it with such low regard?

Good question, Mr. Gonzales. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Gonzales also launched into his usual claims about the motel not being economically viable. Councilor Michael Cadigan called him out on that, asking him point-blank whether he’d had any experts study the property’s economic viability. Gonzales allowed that he hadn’t.

Councilor Don Harris invoked the name of the late, great Alvarado in his comments to Gonzales:

If we think about the Alvarado and other really special buildings in Albuquerque that are gone — once they’re gone, they’re gone.

In his defense, though, Gonzales did express a certain attachment to El Vado:

I respect that building. I understand more today than I did before. … My heart’s in this building. It’s not in politics. It’s not in other issues. It’s in the El Vado.

Of course, he then went on to add, “That’s where my investment is,” or something to that effect. Unfortunately, he was talking too fast for me to catch his exact verbiage, but the upshot was that he is attached to El Vado because he has money tied up in it. Touching, eh?

Ed Boles, preservation planner for the city of Albuquerque, explained why the city needs to take action to preserve El Vado. He noted that the city landmarks commission had unanimously voted in favor of giving El Vado city landmark status, and he explained to the council that El Vado’s presence on the National Register of Historic Places does not protect it from demolition, as Albuquerque has something like 16 Route 66 properties on the National Register, and two of them have been demolished since their listing.

One, La Mesa, was demolished because the city lacked legal grounds to deny a demolition permit, Boles said. He went on to call El Vado “far more important” than La Mesa.

Boles and another city staffer mentioned De Anza Motor Lodge, which the city purchased with the intent of finding a buyer willing to preserve it. The other city staffer said an offer is pending that would involve turning De Anza into what the staffer called a “boutique motel,” which he considered a “viable alternative” for El Vado as well.

Referring to De Anza and El Vado, Boles said:

If there are two must-keep motels in the city from its Route 66 heritage, it is probably those two.

Boles pointed out that El Vado is internationally known and draws tourists to Albuquerque.

There was also discussion of Kelly’s Brew Pub, located in the old Jones Motor Co. building. The building has been restored and is designated as a city landmark. The city staffer who had talked about De Anza also mentioned that the Jones Motor Co. building had housed several failed businesses before finally finding an owner willing to make the necessary investment to turn it into a viable business.

Councilor Ken Sanchez noted that Gonzales has a FOR SALE sign on El Vado and suggested the city might look into buying the motel in the interest of preserving both the building and Gonzales’ property rights.

Benton summed up the issue nicely:

The real question tonight is whether we consider this an important historic property that is worthy of preservation.

He also noted — and kudos to all of you who had a hand in this — that:

I’m sure you’ve all seen the countless e-mails from Route 66 aficionados asking to preserve it. … It’s a tough project, but it’s worth of preservation.

When the council opened the floor to public comments, a half-dozen supporters came forward to defend El Vado, including Kathy Duffy of Expo New Mexico, who spoke about El Vado’s value in the context of heritage tourism; Kaisa Barthuli of the National Park Service; and Richard Delgado of the New Mexico Route 66 Association.

All the speakers gave eloquent testimonies as to the historic value of El Vado. Barthuli’s comments comparing Albuquerque to other Route 66 communities were especially good:

Albuquerque is known nationally and internationally for its vintage assemblage of historic properties along Route 66. … It is the collection of historic motels in Albuquerque that in particular set it apart from other destinations along the route. … Other cities along Route 66 are not so lucky and are wishing they still had what Albuquerque has.

Benton added an amendment to the original bill giving El Vado landmark status. With the amendment, El Vado will not have city landmark status until June 1 — but between now and then, no demolition permits may be issued for the property, so it is protected in the interim. I didn’t fully understand the reason for the delay, but as long as El Vado is safe from the wrecking ball, I’m happy.

The measure passed 7-1.

Photos of El Vado can be found here.