Can an old Albuquerque jail bring in new money?


It should be a prime piece of property in the heart of downtown. Instead, it’s collecting dust and costing taxpayers.

Now, there’s a new push to use Bernalillo County’s old jail to bring in some money.

“The building has been sitting empty for quite a number of years,” said Tom Thorpe, Bernalillo County Communication Services Administrator.

It has the cobwebs and the dusty floors to prove it.

The maze of cell doors and dimly lit hallways isn’t exactly inviting, and visitors have to be wary of doors shutting behind them.

“Yeah, I mean it’s a jail,” Thorpe said. “You walk into certain areas, the door will lock behind you.”

He walked KRQE News 13 through the old jail downtown on Roma Ave NW, across from the Albuquerque Police Department Headquarters.

It’s not a pretty sight, which is exactly what people like Alex Gianopoulos like about it.

“We like creepy and gross and ugly,” he said.

Gianopoulos is a film location scout.

“It’s a great place for filming, a great dump,” he said with a smile.

That’s a sentiment the county hopes to capitalize on, with a renewed push to market the building to filmmakers.

“From the county’s standpoint, any income off this building is a plus,” Thorpe said.

Anything to offset the at least $84,000 a year that the county says it is costing taxpayers to keep the lights on and pay for insurance for the empty building.

The jail closed 15 years ago because it was old and overcrowded.

While its inmates moved to a new jail on the west side, the Bernalillo County Commission approved a lease agreement with Cornell Corrections to house federal inmates at the old jail.

However, when that stopped seven years ago, it was back to the County quandary: How to find a new use for the old building?

Estimates in 2015 showed tearing it down could cost $2.5 million, while a renovation could cost ten times that amount.

KRQE News 13 asked about any long-term plans in the works for the building now.

“That’s still being discussed,” Thorpe answered.

While the County mulls it over, people in film have plenty of ideas for the place.

“This could be repurposed as a whole police station, as a jail, like, we could come up with a million ways to use this building,” Gianopoulos said.

He said almost every show he works on has a jail scene. In fact, he has actually worked at the old County jail with the film crew for “Breaking Bad.”

“It is a great filming location. It has a lot of what we call, ‘production value,’ in the business,” Gianopoulos said.

The County thinks so too.

“It’s already made, ready to go. Don’t have to move anybody out. Can only move in,” Thorpe said.

He said the County is drawing up paperwork for a contract that would detail restrictions, such as how many people can be inside and where in the building they can go.

“They can use the first floor area, which is offices, booking area, there are some holding cells. Then, we’re sitting on the third floor, which were the inmate housing areas, the pods,” Thorpe said.

The Interim Economic Development Director told KRQE News 13 that after an inspection to make sure the building was safe, the county invited location scouts to tour the old jail and it hopes to do more advertising to let production companies know this is an option.

“I was kind of under the impression that it was off limits for a while,” Gianopoulos said.

How much productions are willing to pay to rent it, varies.

“Depending on the movie and the size, anywhere between $500 and $5,000 per day,” he said.

That is probably not a steady source of revenue, but it is more than the building will bring in as long as it stays locked up like it is now.

The County said the land is worth nothing with the jail on it, but it’s worth $1.8 million if the jail is torn down first. However, as we mentioned, the demo costs could top $2 million.

A developer offered to buy the property in 2015 for $1,000. The plan was to turn it into an apartment complex with businesses and retail stores to help revitalize downtown.

The County declined the offer.

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