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City Council overrides Keller’s Topgolf veto

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

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque city councilors on Monday voted 7-2 to override Mayor Tim Keller’s veto on a $2.6 million economic development package that would help Topgolf in constructing a $39 million restaurant/indoor golf entertainment complex at the site of the former Beach Waterpark at the southwest corner of Montaño NE and Interstate 25.

Councilors Don Harris and Brad Winter cast votes in opposition.

The council’s action was not a surprise, as the package for the Dallas-based company was approved by city councilors in June on an 8-1 vote. Harris cast the sole vote in opposition at that meeting.

The “project participation agreement” includes $400,000 of city general fund money unspent from the fiscal 2018 budget. The proposal also includes the city reimbursing 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.

An appropriation of $326,000 from the city transportation infrastructure tax to extend Culture Road from Montaño to Desert Surf Circle is also part of the package.

Legally dedicated gross receipts taxes are exempt.

Clawbacks include a requirement for the company to hire 132 full-time employees. It includes penalties if annual goals are not met.

The council heard from a variety of public speakers during Monday’s meeting, some expressing anger at the thought of the city spending money to subsidize an out-of-state corporation with 45 locations and growing – Topgolf opens a second Greater Miami location on Friday – while others expressed their support for the project.

Keller had called it a “raw deal for taxpayers,” in that it would bring low-wage, low-skill jobs and send the wrong signal that the city is prioritizing out-of-state companies over similar local efforts.

A statement made by Keller after Monday’s vote was of a conciliatory tone.

“From the beginning, we were pleased to welcome Topgolf to Albuquerque, but we felt that this deal missed the mark,” Keller said. “We believe in spirited public discussion, even when we agree to disagree. Our focus remains on using the tools in our toolbox to grow the local economy and create good-paying jobs. We continue to work with the council on a variety of initiatives under the steady leadership of Council President (Ken) Sanchez.”

Sanchez, co-sponsor of the Topgolf bill along with Councilor Diane Gibson, had expressed strong support for the project, stating that its financing, using a percentage of incremental county gross receipts tax revenue – Topgolf receives money from the city only if it generates extra or “incremental” revenue – is a first of a kind for the city and cannot be treated the way Local Economic Development Act projects have been treated in the past.

“The council has probably worked on this, probably, 12 months or longer on this initiative,” Sanchez said prior to the council vote. “I believe this will be a multi-generational facility that will attract young kids, millennials and senior citizens. But more importantly, this is a $40 million project coming to Albuquerque. We have worked diligently, working with the (Albuquerque Development Commission) through the process and also taking some of the recommendations from Mayor Keller to ensure that we are protecting the taxpayers of this community.”

Bernalillo County commissioners in June approved a $1.75 million economic development package for the project.

That agreement includes a $250,000 county Local Economic Development Act grant. The agreement also includes the county reimbursing 50 percent of incremental county gross receipts tax revenue, up to $1.5 million, to assist the site developer with costs of land, building or infrastructure.