by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, March 31, 2011
Albuquerque may finally be coming out of its recession. That’s the belief of Forest City Covington, LLC, the force behind mega housing project Mesa del Sol. After a three-year delay in building the first phase, the company's finally broken ground.
“No one had anticipated the depth and breadth of the recession,” says Chris Anderson, Mesa del Sol’s vice president of development. The massive planned community will be planted directly west of Kirtland Air Force Base. Forest City originally wanted to start building residential units in early 2008, just as the nation was becoming aware of exactly how far-reaching its financial woes were.
“Like most people, we kind of hunkered down for a while,” he says, and took the time to re-evaluate the land plan, the state of the market and finances. In retrospect, he says it’s good they waited. “Honestly, I think we would have been rushing if we had moved forward in early ’08.”
On Monday, March 28, Forest City broke ground on the infrastructure—major roads, as well as sewer and water lines—that will take six to eight months to complete. Model houses come after that, which will be built over another three to six months. “So we’re a year away from actually selling homes,” Anderson says.
Once Mesa del Sol is finished with this first phase, there will be 250 units for sale. Anderson says the goal is for the project to be a cohesive community, not a sea of tract homes. Among other things, that means having different companies construct an assortment of designs. Four builders (three local businesses and national Pulte Homes) will make five models, ranging from duplexes to single-family homes. They will all meet the minimum energy star standards set by the federal government.
The average house size will be 1,800 to 2,000 square feet and will cost $200,000 to $225,000. They’ll also be alley-loaded, which means people will access their garages from the back of their homes, leaving more freedom for design up front. Anderson estimates the project will create 600 to 700 construction jobs alone.
He’s not at liberty to discuss how much this phase of the project will cost, since details are still being worked out, but it will be in the millions. Mesa del Sol has a reimbursement tax increment development district (TIDD) agreement with Albuquerque, which states that the city will pay back the company for building things the city would normally build itself, like basic infrastructure.
Chris Ramirez, director of communications for Albuquerque, says Mayor Richard Berry is highly supportive of the project. “We certainly hope that it will start an upward trend,” Ramirez says. “As a city, we’re ready for some movement as well.”
Mesa del Sol is confident the market is finally starting to turn around. “We think we’ve hit the bottom and are starting to trend up,” Anderson says. “No one is perfect at predicting the market, but trends are starting to move forward.”
With 9,000 acres and permission to build up to 37,500 homes, it’s a project that will take about 40 years to complete, Anderson estimates. This phase alone will span 40 acres, but it will include open space, parks and trails. “We’re a big advocate of the environment and getting people out of their cars.”