ABQ officials say they’ll listen to local communities on how to redevelop closed Walmart

City continues to pursue purchase of land in the International District; future plans remain up in the air

By: - April 20, 2023 4:55 am
An old Walmart had boarded up doors and an empty parking lot.

Walmart en San Mateo y Zuni en el Distrito Internacional cerró el 10 de marzo. En la foto el 18 de abril de 2023. (Foto de Megan Gleason / Source NM)

Enrique Cardiel has lived in Albuquerque’s International District for 26 years. The Walmart in that neighborhood had been around for nearly four decades.

After the store’s closure last month, Cardiel watched his neighbors lose close access to basic necessities like food and medication.

That could change if the city of Albuquerque buys the Walmart space and sets up a facility that could provide those kinds of resources again.

Walmart announced the shutdown of its store in February, and it was unclear for a while if the city would actually pursue buying the space. But Ava Montoya, spokesperson for Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, said the city is definitely interested in snagging that space now.

The city recently got the funds to do so, too.

Earlier this month, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham approved over $1 billion in capital outlay funds for projects throughout New Mexico. Included in that was more than $1.9 million for the purchase of land near the Nob Hill area in Albuquerque.

A news release sent out on Monday from Keller’s office said those funds will be for the redevelopment of the closed Walmart spot.

Albuquerque looks to Santa Fe to help set up rules to purchase and redevelop Walmart property

More funding could also come with the recent passage of Senate Bill 251, which allows local governments to use sales tax revenue for construction or redevelopment projects in certain areas, with approval from the state finance officials and the Legislature. That goes into effect in July.

Although the city is interested in the property, Walmart is marketing it to all potential buyers, said Walmart spokesperson Lauren Willis.

There’s not a clear timeline yet on how long it’ll take Walmart to sell, or how much they will ask for the property.

Meanwhile, Montoya said the city is moving forward with a community engagement process on the planned redevelopment project, especially now that there’s funding set in stone to buy the property. She didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry from Source NM for further details on the engagement process.

Many of the officials advocating for the purchase have said community voices need to be central in the redevelopment. Keller said in a news release that officials want the redeveloped property to provide “critical access to food and other essentials” for people in the International District.

That aligns with what some residents have been calling for. Organizers in the area have said food hubs or resource programs could be helpful.

There’s a limited number of grocery options in the International District already, and many used the Walmart as an option for healthy food, according to the city.

It’s prevalent for areas like the International District that have low-income or communities of color living there to be food deserts — areas that lack accessible supermarkets or grocery stores.

Mainly people of color live in the International District. Nearly half the residents there live below the poverty line.

Cardiel said in addition to a grocery store, a pharmacy or retail space could also be helpful.

“There’s a continual kind of difficulty getting basic items,” he said. “It’s increasing. It’s not decreasing.”

Having something nearby that includes those kinds of resources could especially help people without access to transportation.

Cardiel said he’d like to see whatever opens up be a local business.

He said he watched other local businesses near the Walmart shut down, like the John Brooks Supermarket or the Fair ‘N’ Square Food Store, and he thinks those closures are directly because of the retail giant.

People aren’t necessarily upset that Walmart closed, he said, but rather they won’t have access to the basic resources the store provided anymore. The Walmart closure didn’t completely wipe anyone out, he added, but it’s made life a lot harder for people.

“I think the opportunity here is for the community to actively try to support more local businesses as opposed to big box stores,” he said.

Cardiel said he’s giving the city the benefit of the doubt that they’ll listen to what the community wants and needs.

What to do with the Walmart in ABQ’s International District?

He said some people don’t have that same faith in Albuquerque because the city hasn’t listened to everyone in the past on things like the Gateway Center or upgrades to Wilson Park.

To ensure the city listens, he said, the community has to make itself heard. A petition is in the works to highlight community needs, he added.

“I think the city will prioritize community voices if the community gets organized to make sure that happens,” he said.

It’ll likely take months or years for something new to get going in the Walmart space. While people wait, Cardiel said, they’ll still struggle with a lack of close resources, from healthy food to baby diapers to medication.

“It definitely is going to impact working-class people of color a lot harder than other folks,” he said.

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Megan Gleason
Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason is a journalist based in Albuquerque. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. Other work has appeared under the New Mexico Press Association as well as in the Independent, Gallup Sun and Silver City Daily Press.