Workshop part of city's efforts to develop MRA plan

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AZTEC — Aztec community members who attended a two-day workshop this week offered input on revitalizing downtown and its surrounding area.

The workshop was part of the city's efforts to develop a Metropolitan Redevelopment Area plan. The city has contracted with Consensus Planning out of Albuquerque to complete the plan.

The MRA is a portion of the city that was designated in 2015 and includes downtown, the government complex and some of the surrounding neighborhoods. While it includes Minium Park, it does not include Safeway.

Jackie Fishman, a principal at Consensus Planning, said the MRA is a unique economic development tool that allows for the city to partner with private business owners for certain downtown revitalization projects without violating the state anti-donation clause. The draft MRA plan should be completed by April.

The workshop took place inside a now-vacant building at 109 S. Main Ave. in downtown Aztec. Following the workshops, Consensus Planning presented some of the results to the community during a public meeting Thursday evening at the same vacant building.

Various maps were taped to mirrors on the walls and blank pads set up on easels offered people a chance to provide comments on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in downtown Aztec. People were also able to place dots on a map of the area indicating areas they consider assets to downtown. They could also place dots at places that need physical improvements or at locations that offer opportunities for revitalization.

The intersection of Main Avenue and Chaco Street was identified as a place that needs physical improvements because it has a left-turn light but no left-turn lane. Many people also feel that an old, fenced-off gas station at the south end of the downtown corridor needs to be transformed into a new business.

The meetings also touched on economic opportunities for new businesses in the area.

During the Thursday evening meeting, representatives from Consensus Planning said their site visits and analysis of market trends show there is a more than $586,000 gap between the demand for consumer products and the amount available in downtown Aztec.

"The gap means that people are going to other geographic areas to buy that stuff," Fishman said. 

She said it is not a large gap, but does show that there is room for expanding the retail market downtown.

Charlene Johnson, a planner for Consensus Planning, said two of the more successful businesses downtown are small-scale manufacturing businesses, Jack's Plastic Welding and Soaps on Main. She said small-scale manufacturing, including breweries, could provide economic opportunities in downtown. Johnson said small-scale manufacturing often employs more people than other downtown businesses.

Jim Strozier, a principal at Consensus Planning, said the buildings like 109 S. Main Ave. that have a back portion, a front area and an upstairs area are good for small-scale manufacturing businesses. He said a bike shop could do its mechanic work in the back and welcome customers in front.

Other ideas discussed during the meeting included gateway signage, an archway sign at the entrance to the plaza, reconfiguring the plaza to make it more of a community space, refurbishing the sign at the historic Aztec Theater and making it safer for pedestrians to cross the street.

Toward the end of the meeting, Consensus Planning presented three options for reconfiguring Main Avenue once the East Aztec Arterial Route is complete. All three options called for decreasing the number of lanes from four to two.

The three options presented included widening sidewalks, creating a median or installing protected bike lanes.

The three sketches are not final plans and are ideas for what could happen, according to Strozier.

"They're just to get the community thinking about Main Street in a different way," Strozier said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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