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Albuquerque continues to grow into one of the Southwest's most dynamic cities, and Downtown continues its renaissance, morphing from a somewhat dicey yet bland district of office buildings and run-down remnants of its Route 66-era heyday into a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood of upscale condos, historic residential blocks, funky shops, world-class art galleries, hip if somewhat rowdy nightclubs, increasingly sophisticated restaurants, and even a couple of smartly rehabbed hotel conversions.
During the four or five decades following World War II, Albuquerque, like many American cities, witnessed the death of its Downtown. In the 1920s and '30s, it had been a bona fide retail and entertainment district and mixed-use neighborhood. But through the 1950s and '60s, demographic patterns shifted. Middle- and upper-income residents moved farther from Downtown, and Albuquerque sprawled, with much of the city taking on the almost suburban appearance that prevails today. By the 1980s, most people had stopped shopping and playing Downtown, and most of the largely abandoned blocks were razed in favor of office towers and parking garages. Into the late '90s, Downtown was an empty and occasionally unsafe streetscape on weekends and after 6 pm.
Fast-forward to the present. Many U.S. cities have experienced Downtown renaissances, and the traditional recipe has been to anchor the neighborhood with a sports-and-entertainment complex, a few cultural attractions, and a slew of high-profile shopping and restaurant franchises. Albuquerque's Downtown planners have largely shunned this quick-fix approach. Local developers have attracted independently owned shops, restaurants, and nightclubs and converted former schools and manufacturing buildings into residential lofts and condos. The Spanish-colonial-style Alvarado Transportation Center—designed after the old Fred Harvey-run Alvarado Hotel that once stood here—with car rentals, a taxi stand, Greyhound, Amtrak, and local city buses, is a bustling enterprise. The transportation center is also the hub for the state's immensely popular Rail Runner Express commuter service.
Downtown's transformation has been gradual, and there's plenty of work left, but people have begun to notice. Visitors now wander along Central and Gold avenues, appreciating the architectural and neon holdouts from the area's retro roots, checking out the numerous galleries, bars, and restaurants, walking over to the restored KiMo Theatre or the snazzy 14-screen movie palace. You're no longer warned to stay off Downtown streets at night. It's exciting to watch this neighborhood come back to life.
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