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Commission recommends Topgolf package

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Guests playing Topgolf in Naperville, IL (Courtesy: Topgolf)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After about three hours of deliberations, members of the Albuquerque Development Commission on Wednesday voted to recommend that the City Council adopt a $2.6 million economic development package to help Topgolf build a $39 million restaurant/indoor golf entertainment complex at the former Beach Waterpark at the southwest corner of Montaño NE and Interstate 25.

The commission also adopted several changes to the proposed “project participation agreement” and had some things to say to city leaders about future proposals.

The recommended agreement includes $400,000 — changed from $500,000 as originally proposed — of city general fund money unspent from the fiscal 2018 budget. The proposal also includes the city reimbursing 30 percent — changed from 50 percent — of incremental city gross receipts tax revenue, up to $1.8 million, to assist the site developer with costs of land, building or infrastructure.

And it supported appropriating $326,000 from city transportation infrastructure tax revenue for improvements to Culture Road, which leads to the project. Legally dedicated gross receipts taxes are exempt.

And clawbacks now include a requirement for Topgolf to have 123 full-time employees by Jan. 1, 2021, and maintain at least 111 full-time employees through 10 years of operations.

But commissioners were still questioning the high amount of money the city is spending for every new job created.

“I would suggest that the commission express our concern about the cost per job,” Commission Chairman Sherman McCorkle said. “As part of that concern, we recommend to the City Council and the administration that they address going forward some sort of formula on cost per job. Without guidance, it’s very difficult to understand that this is at the highest end of that.”

Deirdre Firth, deputy director of the city’s Economic Development Department, told commissioners the cost per job for this project was around $21,675. Past projects using Local Economic Development Act funds averaged around $3,000 per job, she said.

McCorkle also said the council and administration should provide clarity to the commission if they wish to spend LEDA funds for non-economic base jobs in the future.

According to criteria from the city’s Economic Development Department, high-tech, manufacturing and creative economy jobs tend to be considered economic base jobs, while retail, call center and service jobs tend not to be. The economic base jobs usually pay much higher salaries and attract other jobs, while retail jobs usually pay lower salaries and do not attract other jobs.

Drew Snyder, representing Albuquerque Investors, said he was looking forward to the meeting on Monday, at which city councilors are expected to consider an ordinance finalizing the project.

“We’ve been working on this for a year, so we’re looking forward to Monday,” Snyder said.

The City Council has long supported the project, while Mayor Tim Keller’s administration has expressed concern over the types of jobs, lack of strong clawbacks protecting taxpayers and limited growth potential near the site.

Synthia Jaramillo, director of the city’s Economic Development Department, said she was pleased that the ADC rejected the proposal submitted by the developer and added additional protections for taxpayers.

“This is not about whether or not we want Topgolf,” she said. “We’re still not convinced that it makes sense to give away almost $3 million for this project.”

In addition to the 123 full-time jobs, Topgolf officials have said they would create 227 part-time positions. Most jobs are expected to pay from about $8 an hour to $12 an hour, according to an information sheet from the city.

Once operating, the center expects to generate $13 million to $16 million in annual taxable gross receipts.

During its meeting last month, the commission delayed making a recommendation to the City Council, sending the parties — the council, the city’s Economic Development Department, Topgolf and site developer Albuquerque Investors LLC — back to the drawing board to renegotiate the “project participation agreement” to better comply with LEDA requirements.

The City Council passed a resolution earlier this month reinforcing its support, while Keller has expressed reservations, telling the Journal last month that he couldn’t justify $3 million for this project in this location.

Bernalillo County has already given initial approval to the idea of spending an additional $1.75 million in public money to help pay for the project.

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