Albuquerque’s 30-year-old neighbor to the northwest is too young to be having a midlife crisis, but it appears still young enough be going through some growing pains — mostly good ones.
Rio Rancho has struggled through the recession like many other U.S. cities and hasn’t been immune to the slow comeback still plaguing several New Mexico cities.
But what was once an area pegged as just an Albuquerque bedroom community has been making moves lately that have developers, brokers, planners and investors sitting up. And that could signal the beginning of an economic renaissance for the area.
There’s a new mayor in town, Gregg Hull, who hit the ground running after winning a runoff election last April. In his first “State of the City” address last week, Hull said one of his goals is “connectivity.”
Hull said he wants to make connections between the city and the development world more efficient, saying his staff is enthusiastic about working with investors, developers, builders, land owners and other stakeholders. “We’re dedicated to using a very important word: ‘yes.’ We’re instituting major changes in development services and customer services,” he said. Hull said he wants to connect with Albuquerque more too, as well as Rio Rancho’s neighbors in Bernalillo and Corrales.
Squarely on his radar, he said, is a major infill project — the completion of Westside Drive between NM 528 and Golf Course Road — connecting retail and development opportunities with the Cottonwood submarket and Albuquerque’s Westside.
“We should be living, working and shopping together, instead of boundaries. There should be more of a connectivity — a dynamic area that people want to come to,” he said.
One of Hull’s concerns, which others in the development community share, is Rio Rancho’s impact fees. A two-year moratorium expired September 22, and a new committee will figure out what to do next. During the moratorium, the city reduced its impact fees for residential construction by 50 percent and by 100 percent for commercial construction.
Albuquerque’s impact fees are 40 percent of the usual cost right now, rising to 60 percent next year. If Rio Rancho doesn’t make changes, its impact fees will be considerably higher than those in Albuquerque — some estimates say five times higher, depending on the project.
Meanwhile, many private-sector projects in the medical, residential, multifamily, restaurant and retail industries have blossomed over the last few years. Here’s a look at several that are changing the face of Rio Rancho.
1. SPRINGER PLAZA
WHERE: The northwest corner of Unser and Westside boulevards, adjacent to the Village at Rio Rancho.
WHAT IT IS: A future 7-acre mixed-use development with medical, retail, restaurant and office uses.
FACT: The development is part of a Springer5 Investments project via developer Jeanie Springer-Knight, who developed Unser Pavilion. Her father, Franz Springer, envisioned the Unser/Westside intersection’s potential before it was paved
2. THE VILLAGE AT RIO RANCHO
WHERE: East of Unser and north of Westside Blvd.
WHAT IT IS: A future mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented, retail-commercial, master-planned development. It is 65 acres and 400,000 square feet.
FACT: Beverly Hills, California-based Geringer Capital acquired the raw land in 2005. An arroyo that traversed the property to the south had to be rerouted.
3. PETROGLYPH MEDICAL PLAZA
WHERE: Southwest corner of Unser Blvd. and Westside Drive.
WHAT IT IS: 19 acres, 60,000 square feet of Class A medical, retail, restaurant and office space.
FACT: The future plaza, now marketed by ARGUS Investment Realty, will be very much driven by the success and expansion of the adjacent Presbyterian Rust Medical Center.
4. UNSER PAVILION
WHERE: Southwest corner of Unser Blvd. and Wellspring Ave.
WHAT IT IS: A 50,000-square-foot, 6.75-acre restaurant, retail and medical plaza that was 75 percent leased in 18 months. Phase II is now underway.
FACT: Tenants operating at the site include Subway, PRIME, WisePies and an Einstein Bros. Bagels franchise that is reporting higher activity and sales than the company’s Albuquerque locations.
5. PRESBYTERIAN RUST
WHERE: 2400 Unser Blvd. SE, at the southeast corner of Unser and Wellspring Boulevards.
WHAT IT IS: A full-service hospital that is undergoing an $80 million expansion, featuring a six-story patient tower with 120 beds.
FACT: Another on-site project is the $10.5 million, 51,000-square-foot Rio at Rust skilled health care facility, expected to be completed early next year.
6. Plaza at enchanted hills
WHERE: Southwest corner of Enchanted Hills Blvd. and NM 528.
WHAT IT IS: A 225,000-square-foot shopping center that has a slew of new tenants lined up, such as Bed Bath & Beyond, Michaels and T.J.Maxx. Almost $6 million in new construction for the tenants will start soon.
FACT: Pegasus Retail president Anthony Johnson, who is marketing the development, calls it one of the first “power centers” to be built in New Mexico in almost 10 years, other than strip malls.
7. THE NEIGHBORHOOD AT RIO RANCHO
WHERE: 900 Loma Colorado Blvd. NE, at the southeast corner of Northern and Loma Colorado boulevards.
WHAT IT IS: A $50 million continuing-care retirement community, with more than 200 units on 12 acres within Pulte Homes’ Loma Colorado community.
FACT: A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for October 16, and the project is expected to employ more than 100 people, with an annual payroll of $4 million to $5 million.
8. HME SPECIALISTS COMPLEX
WHERE: Located at 10801 Golf Course Road NW, on the edge of the Rio Rancho city limits.
WHAT IT IS: A 3.5-acre, 37,000-square-foot expansion of the home medical equipment and supply company.
FACT: The complex is more proof of ancillary development resulting from the Presbyterian Rust project.
9. PRESBYTERIAN’S NEW CLINIC
WHERE: 3777 NM 528, northeast of the city near NM 550.
WHAT IT IS: A $5 million, 17,000-square-foot primary care clinic with 22 exam rooms and the ability to see 100 patients daily.
FACT: Scheduled to open October 6, the clinic will have an on-site lab, radiology services, a pharmacist technician and a behavioral health specialist.
10. BROADSTONE COTTONWOOD
WHERE: Located at 10800 Cibola Loop NW, near the Rio Rancho city limits.
WHAT IT IS: Under construction, it is a 254-unit multifamily development, a collaboration between Albuquerque’s Titan Development and Phoenix’s Alliance Residential.
FACT: Developers chose the location, in part, to service what they see as an underserved area near Presbyterian Rust. Preleasing is now underway.
By the numbers
Rio Rancho’s population ranking among New Mexico’s largest cities, after Las Cruces (No. 2) and Albuquerque (No. 1).
Number of residents living in the city limits.
Median household income.
Median age; 28.1% are under 18 and 7.2% under age 5.
Average number of residents per household.
Acres of land that compose Rio Rancho. Less than 20 percent is developed.
50; 200; 425
Estimated new jobs created by DHF Technical Products, Alliance Data and S&P Data LLC, respectively. DHF and S&P recently announced they would come to Rio Rancho. Alliance is adding to an existing workforce.
— Source: City of Rio Rancho
Bringing ‘restaurant row’ to Rio Rancho?
For many years, if you lived in Rio Rancho and wanted to go out to eat or go shopping, you went to Albuquerque. That’s likely still the case to some extent, depending on what kind of restaurant options or stores you’re looking for.
But Jeanie Springer-Knight seems to think things are changing, and if she has her way, things will continue to change.
Springer-Knight is the developer of Rio Rancho’s Unser Pavilion — part of the “Unser Gateway” that she says could one day rival Albuquerque’s well-known “restaurant row” in the North I-25 area. The development of the first phase of Unser Pavilion, at 50,000 square feet, was something of a risk. But Springer-Knight says she felt the time was right, largely because of the success of the nearby Presbyterian Rust Medical Center, which is now in the midst of a huge expansion. Rust not only employs hundreds, with more to come after the expansion, but also has spurred ancillary development near and along the corridor from Albuquerque’s border toward points north through Westside Drive and Wellspring Road.
Restaurant tenants already operating at Unser Pavilion include Subway, Einstein Bros. Bagels, WisePies Pizza and PRIME. WisePies and PRIME are concepts by well-known Los Ranchos restaurateur Michael Baird of Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse. In addition, there is a Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union and Jasmine Nails Day Spa.
The second phase of Unser Pavilion is underway now, and Springer-Knight said she’s hopeful for not only more medical tenants, but also more restaurants and retail. She said she has plans to develop Springer Plaza north of Unser Pavilion, adding even more food and shopping options.
Springer-Knight has also become a forceful voice in the Rio Rancho development community. She was instrumental in establishing a Rio Rancho arm of NAIOP New Mexico — the commercial real estate development association — with president Lynne Andersen. The group had its first Rio Rancho Roundtable meeting in March and was hoping to see a dozen people in attendance. The meeting was standing room only, with more than 50 people coming to hear about the latest Rio Rancho commercial real estate projects. It has held several well-attended meetings since.
Springer-Knight has also been integral in branding the stretch of Unser Blvd. into the Unser Gateway. It’s important, she and others say, as the city has begun in earnest to minimize the bureaucratic hurdles associated with launching new projects.
Momentum building toward residential projects, too
Rio Rancho’s residential projects slowed through the recession, as was the case for Albuquerque and other cities. But like its commercial projects, activity seems to be picking up.
The following residential projects are either in the works or are set to launch in the coming months.
On the southwest area of Golf Course Road and Southern Blvd., the project now has 2,500 occupied homes.
East of Unser and north of Northern Blvd., this is Rio Rancho’s newest housing development. The project is led by developer Bill Allen, the managing partner of BM2 LLC. Solcito is in a 51-lot first phase now, looking toward a total 182-home subdivision.
This master-planned community in far north Rio Rancho has 5,500 platted lots, 575 finished lots and 140 homes. Active builders at Mariposa include Sivage Homes and Twilight Homes.
About a mile south of City Center, the Stonegate and Cuesta el Este residential subdivisions were approved last year for 1,400 single-family residences, 300 attached units and 10 acres of related commercial land.
5. Lomas Encantadas
Located southwest of NM 528 and NM 550, the development has 250 homes, 250 finished lots and 1,800 platted lots. The active homebuilders on the site are Abrazo Homes and D.R. Horton.
6. Loma Colorado
Located south of Northern Blvd. and west of NM 528, Pulte Homes and RayLee Homes are the active builders in this Rio Rancho residential development. It includes 725 finished homes and 275 finished lots remaining. There are also 80 acres of commercial land.