ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s a big, empty building in the heart of downtown, and it’s a costly one. Bernalillo County is finally pulling the plug on a prime piece of property commissioners say just isn’t paying for itself anymore.
It’s stark and uninviting on the outside, with dusty lockups on the inside. “We do lease this building to the movie industry for filming,” explained Tia Bland, Bernalillo County Communications Director.
The old Bernalillo County Regional Correctional Center has popped up as the backdrop for jail scenes in shows like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and Interrogation. But it’s mostly sat vacant for years.
The jail closed 16 years ago because it was old and overcrowded, and its inmates moved to a new jail on the west side.
The county commission agreed to house federal inmates there for a time. But that chapter in the building’s history also ended.
“It’s been vacant since about 2010,” Bland said. “That was the last time it was utilized as a jail.”
Bland said the occasional interest from Hollywood just isn’t paying the bills. “It’s kind of sporadic. It’s not really enough to justify keeping the building,” she explained.
Right now it costs roughly $85,000 a year to maintain the building, including electricity and insurance. Finally this year, the county commission approved $2.5 million to demolish the old jail.
The 43-year-old, four-story building is made of concrete, so repurposing it just isn’t feasible.
One thing the county has to consider before tearing down a building of this size is just how close it is to the Public Safety Center. “Really it’s a specialized kind of service to demolish a building in an urban area where there are tall buildings all around,” said Bland.
The county is now putting together a demolition plan. PNM also has a transformer in the old jail that supplies electricity to the building and the Public Safety building next door.
PNM is working on a plan to remove its transformer and keep power to the neighboring building, Bland explained. “Obviously that has to be done before any wrecking ball shows up,” she added.
Once the county solicits bids and selects someone for the job, the actual teardown could take place next spring. Right now Bland said the property is worth nothing with the building on it, but with the old jail gone the lot could be worth nearly $2 million.
So, what’ll become of the space?
The plan, for now, is to use it for county employee parking. When asked what she’d say to people who may not be thrilled to learn this building will be torn down for a parking lot, Bland responded, “Well basically, the county is meeting a need by creating a parking lot in the short term. There’s some homework that has to be done to consider what should be the next thing built on this property – if it’s determined that something will be built. So we want to be thoughtful about that.”
Longterm, plans for this property can change; a familiar story in the slow transformation of downtown Albuquerque.
In 2013 the county had a renovation assessment completed on the old jail. According to Bland, the study concluded it would cost $26 million to renovate the structure to be used as a detention facility. That figure is now estimated to be $32-$36 million. Turning it into anything other than a jail would cost even more than that.