A rendering of Margarita Hill, a new food hall set to be built in Rio Rancho near Rust Medical Center. (Courtesy of Roy Solomon)

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In the past 10 years, Albuquerque has gained almost half a dozen food halls, covering territory from Midtown to Downtown.

There haven’t been similar developments west of the Rio Grande. But now, there are two Rio Rancho food and retail hall projects in the works: Margarita Hill, which was announced earlier this year, and THE BLOCK, which breaks ground Wednesday.

THE BLOCK will combine food and retail in a container park made of 14 retired and refurbished shipping containers from Texas. The development is located at the shopping center the Plaza @ Enchanted Hills, which was developed in 2018 at 7817 Enchanted Hills NE. The plaza includes national chain stores like Ross Dress For Less, Michaels and TJ Maxx. Some 1.4 acres of the property were never built out – that vacant space will ultimately house THE BLOCK.

The property will include an open-air courtyard with picnic tables, a stage for performers and outdoor movies, and space for three food trucks.

“We just were thinking of something different to build there,” said Amy Goldfarb, vice president of asset management at TDA Investment Group, the developer and owner of the Plaza @ Enchanted Hills. “Retail has changed over the last couple of years, and we really wanted to bring something that the community could enjoy.”

The Rio Rancho lot where THE BLOCK container park will be as of next year. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

THE BLOCK will be able to house between 20 and 25 retailers in small spaces between 120 and 300 square feet. Goldfarb said she’s hoping local businesses will be able to take advantage of the smaller spaces to grow their businesses.

“Our hope is to be able to give small businesses a ‘way in’ to have some kind of space for their retail or their food,” Goldfarb said. “Maybe it’s not, like, a longer term lease, maybe just a couple of years – and definitely, it’s not the investment of renting thousands of square feet of space in a typical center.”

Roy Solomon, developer for Margarita Hill, Tin Can Alley and Green Jeans Farmery, said food halls help promote local businesses. Margarita Hill’s 10 retailers will all be local businesses, with Sadie’s of New Mexico as an anchor tenant.

“You open up a retail store now it could be a little scary just because there’s so many chains and so many big boxes and so many national branded places to go,” Solomon said. “I think that’s one thing food halls, I think in general, do is give people an opportunity to go to experience local.”

Goldfarb said she’s seen changing retail trends, especially in strip malls. Currently, there’s less demand for large retail spaces, Goldfarb said – most tenants would rather occupy smaller spots, which influenced the design for THE BLOCK.

“I think what I’ve seen is there’s not as much demand for the really big boxes,” Goldfarb said. “It seems like there’s a sweet spot of space size, so we’re just trying to roll with it and accommodate the demand in the market.”

Both THE BLOCK and Margarita Hill, which utilize repurposed shipping containers as a central part of their designs, are scheduled to open in mid-2023. Although Margarita Hill and THE BLOCK are both in Rio Rancho, they’re hardly next door; the two locations are over 10 miles away from each other.

“There’s a great future in that area (Rio Rancho),” Solomon said. “I mean, there’s lots of development going on, and lots of people moving out there … so the future is good.”