ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The City of Albuquerque announced Wednesday the official closure of Coronado Park. During a press conference, Mayor Tim Keller reiterated that the decision to close the park came about because the risk to the public had become too great.

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The Albuquerque Police Department says they expect closing the park to make the neighborhood safer. They say the park had become a den of drug dealing, sex trafficking, and extortion. The Valley Commander pointed to Tuesday’s arrest of Joseph Garcia who is accused of shooting and killing Andrew Aguilar in June.

Police say Garcia had proclaimed himself the mayor of the park and they believe he shot Aguilar because Aguilar would not pay him rent to camp there. “Now they’re less likely to be preyed upon because they’re not in one centralized area where someone can come in and claim it’s their stake and claim it’s their town and make rules for these people,” said Lt. Nick Wheeler, Albuquerque Police Department.

The mayor announced the park would be closed three weeks ago. “We’ve been providing intensive outreach and notices and service offerings in this park for almost 20 days since that announcement,” said Mayor Keller. He added that every person in the park was offered services several times and many had taken advantage of those services. The mayor says when city crews arrived to close the park, 30 to 40 people were still living there. That’s down from about 100 when the closure was announced three weeks ago.

Carol Pierce, Director of Family and Community Services for the city, said that the work to get Coronado Park closed and get people connected to resources was a collaboration between the city and its partners. “..We are so proud at the community that, as of today, 50 people are now connected to that next step,” she said.

The decision has drawn mixed reactions and even a petition from the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. They were calling on the city to delay the closure. For now, the park will remain fenced off with extra APD patrols to keep people out.

As to what is next planned for that area, Mayor Keller said they have identified three long-term options including public safety uses. “That fire station has long been needed expansion and training area [sic] as well as housing. So, on the front burner, which we do have funding for, is to frankly build some supportive housing here,” he said.

Wednesday’s press conference included people from the Albuquerque Community Safety Department, the Albuquerque Police Department, the Family and Community Services Department, and the Parks and Recreation Department.