Can the city revitalize Farmington's downtown district?
Construction could begin on major project in 2018; local business owners react with mix of excitement and skepticism
FARMINGTON — The City of Farmington has some major changes planned for its downtown corridor, a six-block stretch of West Main Street, and local business owners are responding with a mix of excitement and skepticism.
The revitalization plan, which the city has been calling Complete Streets, is in its early stages of determining what must be done with the downtown’s infrastructure to make changes to the surface, according to Complete Streets Project Coordinator Sherry Roach.
“To do all the pretty stuff on the surface you have to make sure that all your stuff underground is done,” Roach said.
The plan involves major updates of the water and sewer systems, electrical infrastructure and storm management, according to City Manager Rob Mayes. The infrastructure upgrades will cost $3.4 million, though the city would have to do a majority of the upgrades soon, regardless of the revitalization plan, and has funding to finish the upgrades through Farmington Electrical Utility Service and Farmington Water and Wastewater Utilities funds.
Though the changes to downtown are largely conceptual at this point, the plan involves replacing the current four-lane thoroughfare with a two-lane road with roundabouts to slow vehicle traffic and with bike paths and expanded sidewalks to encourage pedestrian traffic. The plans will also likely include additional and more efficient parking.
John McNeill, a member of the Metropolitan Redevelopment Area board, said the changes aim to slow vehicle traffic down and create space for pedestrian traffic that would not only increase business downtown, but also create a greater sense of community on a street that is currently “just a thoroughfare, just a way to get through downtown — not a place to get to downtown and to stay there and to appreciate it.”
“We want it to be a place where you want to go to be there, not just to pass through it, but you have a reason for wanting to be there, whether it be entertainment, shopping, a place for events — you know, that kind of thing,” McNeill said. “We want it to be a real downtown.”
Many local business people and citizens are excited about the concept. Rod Hubble, who owns Rod Hubble Fine Art on the 200 block of West Main Street, said the revitalization plan reminds him of a different time.
“It would mean getting back to the old days when (downtown) was a destination for those of us who lived in Farmington,” Hubble said. “It was the place where you always came to do your shopping and meet your friends and have a burger or a Coke or an ice cream cone. Everything was here. Everything we needed was down here, and it was a lot of fun.”
Downtown’s economy fluctuates as the oil and gas industry booms and busts, but it really took a hit when the Animas Valley Mall opened in 1982 and in following years as retail development, generally in the form of big box and chain stores, sprawled to the east, Roach said.
“It just seemed like every time a new store was built, it seemed they just kept getting the property out there (on East Main). That’s where the property was,” Roach said.
Michael Bulloch, downtown coordinator with Farmington Downtown Association, said plans to revitalize downtown go way back, even as far back as the 1960s, but things haven’t lined up to get the ball rolling until now.
“I think we had the will, but we didn’t have the money, or we didn’t have that vision. One of those elements was missing at all times,” Bulloch said.
In 1997, the Downtown Association partnered with New Mexico Main Street program, a grassroots economic development program that works with support from the state to help local organizations create vibrant downtown districts. Bulloch said that partnership set the current plan in motion, spurring several studies and ideas for the revitalization project.
With support from local leadership and businesses — not to mention the financial ability through bond refinancing and the upcoming need for infrastructure upgrades — the plan has started coming to fruition. Roach said the revitalization plan should be finalized in the next year or so, and construction, which should take another year, should begin soon after the City Council approves final plans.
Many downtown business owners are concerned about the cost of construction to business, but Roach and Bulloch said the city has plans to help businesses make back-door and alley entrances usable and appealing for customers during construction.
But some downtown business owners are skeptical about how the changes will affect business after construction too, including Valerie Jordan, who owns Allstar T-Shirts and Trophies on the 300 block of West Main Street.
“I don’t know how much traffic that’s going to detour, and everybody’s going to take Broadway now instead of Main Street, and the only reason you’ll go down Main Street is if you’re going to a particular business,” Jordan said. “Now it’s kind of a thoroughfare and you have a lot of traffic that hopefully brings people in and they say, ‘Oh, there’s a store, there’s a store,’ and brings in people who may have not noticed you before. We’ll see which way it goes. If it helps or it hinders, I don’t know.”
Bev Taylor, who owns Artifacts Gallery on the east entrance of the downtown corridor, said that watching downtown go through booms and busts has been “a stab in the heart.” However, she said she’s optimistic for what the future could bring and expects downtown’s “anchor” businesses to come out on the other end of downtown’s growing pains.
“I don’t think things can get any deader than they are right now,” Taylor said. “The ones that are hanging on are the anchor stores who’ve been here, and we’re going to hang on. We’re still going to be here. The intermediate businesses will come and go, but we’ll still be here because that’s our life blood; that’s what we’re going to do. It would be nice if people got excited about the infill and wanted to fill it in with more little gift shops, maybe a book shop.”
Part of the plan’s goal is to make downtown a vibrant cultural hub, and the city is working on a $10 million renovation of the Farmington Civic Center to help create vibrancy in the downtown area, according to Mayes. Maria Espinoza, owner of Southwestern Novelties on the 200 block of West Main Street, said she hopes the plan can expand what people think of Farmington’s downtown.
“Everybody, when they say downtown, they’re just thinking on Orchard and Main Street and always forget this area too,” Espinoza said. “With the parking and everything (planned in the revitalization), it will be more like a downtown, not just the corner of Orchard and Main.”
More information about and regular updates on the project are available at the city’s website at www.fmtn.org/csc2017. Roach said the site requires a log-in, but as the site is designed to give local citizens’ information, so anyone can request the password from her or Bulloch to access the site.
Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621.