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City Council agrees to back proposed Topgolf complex

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque city councilors on Monday unanimously gave their OK to a resolution supporting a proposed economic development project that would include $2.7 million in financial incentives for Topgolf, a sports and entertainment complex, to build a venue at the former Beach Waterpark site.

As part of the resolution, councilors approved an amendment that would provide $500,000 from the city’s fiscal 2018 general fund, instead of Local Economic Development Act funds, as originally proposed, to provide economic development assistance for land, building or infrastructure at the proposed Interstate 25 and Montaño Road site.

Councilor Diane Gibson said she sponsored the amendment as a compromise with Mayor Tim Keller’s administration.

“It was one of the things that made the mayor nervous about this project,” Gibson said. “In order to be good partners with the administration, we found the $500,000 elsewhere.”

Councilors were forced to postpone final action on an ordinance for the project, however, as the proposal still lies in the hands of the Albuquerque Development Commission, which voted on Thursday to defer action to allow parties to renegotiate the project participation agreement to better comply with Local Economic Development Act requirements.

The commission, which serves as an advisory body to the City Council for approval of project plans, is expected to hold a special meeting to make a final recommendation before the council’s next meeting on June 18.

Negotiations are continuing between the parties of the proposed project – the City Council, the city’s Economic Development Department, Topgolf and Albuquerque Investors LLC, the site developer – to come to terms on a proposed project participation agreement before the development commission meets.

Councilors at Monday evening’s meeting heard from several speakers – all in favor of the project – as well as from Drew Snyder, representing Albuquerque Investors, and Tanner Micheli, Topgolf’s director of real estate development.

Council President Ken Sanchez told the Journal he was optimistic and positive about the proposed project.

“I thought the resolution was important to show that the council does support this initiative, and, in good faith, (show) the individuals at Topgolf and the representatives that we are serious about getting this in Albuquerque,” Sanchez said. “It’s a piece of property that has been vacant for 14 years. This would be the ideal venue for that type of development.”

According to the proposed ordinance, in addition to the $500,000 in city general fund money, the city would also contribute up to $1.8 million in incremental city gross receipts tax revenue to assist the site developer with costs of land, building or infrastructure, as well as $326,000 appropriated from city’s capital improvement program.

However, Keller administration officials have expressed concern that the proposed ordinance does not contain rules and standards usually required in LEDA projects.

According to city economic development officials, the proposed project participation agreement with the Dallas-based company was negotiated without the input of the city’s Economic Development Department.

Additionally, the proposed ordinance contains no clawback clauses or requirements for Topgolf to create or maintain jobs.

Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair told councilors that negotiations between the parties have “righted the ship” in some areas, but issues of disagreement still exist on the merits of the project.

“It’s not economic-based jobs in the sense that it doesn’t necessarily create exports,” Nair said. “We can have that disagreement from time to time. We’re always going to stand behind what we consider to be our core economic platform of supporting locally grown businesses. When we have so many businesses struggling out there, especially along the (Albuquerque Rapid Transit) corridor, the idea of financing this project to this extent is not in keeping with our values.”

It was not clear late Monday how the change of funding sources for the $500,000 would affect negotiations on the project participation agreement.

Micheli told councilors the company expects to create around 350 full- and part-time operational jobs with an estimated annual payroll of $3.5 million to $4.5 million.

Once open, the business expects to generate around $13 million to $16 million in annual taxable gross receipts. The business features point-scoring games in which customers use microchipped balls that instantly score themselves. Players are shown the accuracy and distance of their shots on a TV screen in their hitting bay.

Snyder told councilors they hope to begin construction late this year or early 2019.