ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – An unusual building is part of a growing list in downtown Albuquerque that will be getting new life — and hopefully pumping more life into downtown. If you walk to the corner of 7th and Copper, the dilapidated old building on the block might not catch your eye. It’s an old convent that was left vacant and in disrepair.

“So this property here was the St. Mary’s Convent, which was built in the early 50s. And it acted as a convent for many years,” says Mark Baker, developer, and owner of Villa Agave. It’s now boarded up and falling apart. But Baker sees a much different future here: “Now we’re gonna turn it into downtown apartments.”

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Baker’s three-and-a-half-million-dollar proposal for the old convent was approved by the city’s Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency Thursday. The city will chip in almost half a million dollars in subsidies and tax breaks to help turn it into the Villa Agave apartments Baker is building.

“Every downtown needs housing. Today, especially post-COVID with people working more from home, our downtowns are going to be more about people living downtown, and people having entertainment downtown. A lot more mixed and less focus on it exclusively being a business district,” says Karen Iverson, manager of the Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency.

“Recently there’s been a large increase in the cost of construction. We’ve seen this inflation—material prices are going up. Labor prices are going up. And so this funding from the city is going to help us get across the finish line,” Baker says. The Villa Agave will be home to 15 apartments. It’ll be the latest project in a two-decade-old effort to bring down the downtown population up to 5,000 people by 2025.

“Downtown does need some help. And every bit helps and I really do think that downtowns are critical to the success of a city. Young people are drawn to cities with downtowns. We can keep our young people in the state, and possibly attract new people here,” Baker says.

Locals in the area tell News 13 they are on board with the idea of giving buildings—like the old convent—a makeover. “I think it’s a great idea as long as they maintain the integrity of the outside structure,” says Albuquerque resident Dan Schneider.

Baker says they’ve already begun some demolitions here, and they hope to move forward with the developments next week. They hope to have the apartments completed by early 2023.

Baker and his company are also behind the other population downtown renovation. The company did the 505 Central projects. The long-vacant office building at Fifth and Central is now home to a popular food hall—along with 34 lofts on the upper floors.