Portales downtown renovation shows progress

By Karl Terry: Freedom Newspapers

Revitalization plans for downtown Portales have shown recent progress, and parties involved in several projects say the next 12-18 months could bring big changes.

Plans by the Portales MainStreet organization and the city of Portales to refurbish the historic Yam Movie Palace on Main Street are coming together quickly as the final piece of the $723,000 project’s funding was officially releasedlast week.

Another project to be remodeled and reopened, the former Portales Inn hotel is also gathering steam, according to local developer Larry Combs. His study of the project has advanced to the point of having preliminary designs.

“Next year at this time, downtown is going to look a lot different,” said Greg Erf, who chairs MainStreet’s committee for the redevelopment of the Yam. “It’ll be good.”

Yam Movie Palace
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., announced Thursday $198,000 in funding the senator secured last fall through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was released for the Yam project.

“The restoration of the Yam Movie Palace is an exciting step in the revitalization of the Portales business district,” Bingaman said in a news release. “This theater is an important part of the community and these funds will help keep it around for future generations.”

According to Jeremy Sturm, MainStreet executive director and community development director for the city of Portales, the architectural firm TK Architects International was chosen by MainStreet. Sturm said the firm specializes in theaters.

Sturm expects the preliminary design phase to take 90 days and an additional 60-90 days for approval and final construction documents. If construction starts by April, it could be completed before the end of 2007.

Besides the HUD funding, the project garnered a $400,000 state Legislature appropriation as well as a $125,000 MainStreet grant from the state.

“We’re ready to get started,” Erf said. “We’ve been working on this for about five years. We want to turn it into a downtown gem.”

Erf says the concept the committee has is to create a facility with a stage, flat floor and moveable seating for up to 300. He envisions community and dinner theater, concerts, documentary and art movies, and space for events such as club functions, wedding dinners or reunions.

He said the important thing is to preserve the historic structure and make it into a facility that’s useful for the community.

According to Bingaman’s press release, the Yam opened in 1930 as a movie theater and was closed in 1954.

“Our focus with MainStreet is to try and create some activities downtown,” Erf said. “We’ve got to bring people downtown a couple times a week.”

Courthouse square redesign
Also in the planning stages is a project that would redesign the courthouse square. It proposes to change the parking and landscaping on the square to provide a more inviting and pedestrian-friendly space, according to Sturm.

Sturm said the project is funded through a $125,000 legislative appropriation and $299,000 in federal money. He also told Freedom Newspapers the project was bid earlier this summer and the sole bid was rejected because it was too high. Plans are to rebid the project after the first of the year, a time Sturm feels may produce more interest.

Sturm also said the city is sponsoring a transportation study to look into the need for a bypass or other options to relieve truck traffic.

Casa de Portales
The hotel redevelopment project Combs is working on has been christened by the developer as Casa de Portales. Combs, too, has opted for specialty architectural services. He has contracted with Jose Zelaya of Albuquerque, who was previously with the state’s MainStreet design team.

Zelaya’s preliminary drawings depict a mission styling without making substantial changes to the exterior of the building. Combs said the design would preserve about 75 percent of the building’s existing brick.