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Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Fresh off a successful first season, the New Mexico United soccer team is looking for a place to call home.
An interim legislative committee will hear a pitch later this week for a new stadium in Albuquerque that would house New Mexico United and possibly a women’s professional soccer team.
While specific plans have not yet been rolled out, backers say they’re shooting for $30 million in state capital outlay funds to be appropriated during the upcoming session for the project, which could have a total price tag of $100 million.
Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said the stadium would be a publicly owned facility – similar to Isotopes Park – that could pay for itself within 20 years through ticket surcharges or other types of tax revenue.
“Hopefully we can harness the political will to build such a stadium, because in other cities (such projects) have had a tremendous impact,” Maestas told the Journal.
Peter Trevisani, the owner and president of New Mexico United, said he envisions the new stadium as a “cultural arts center” of sorts that could feature on-site hotel rooms and restaurants, and could be designed in collaboration with Meow Wolf, a Santa Fe arts collective.
He also said the team is now focused on its affiliation with United Soccer League, but he acknowledged interest in a possible move up to Major League Soccer, the United States’ top professional soccer league, at some point.
“We want to have a stadium that could grow to MLS down the road,” he told the Journal.
While a specific location for the new stadium has not been publicly identified, Trevisani said having it located in Downtown Albuquerque would be the “right place to be.”
A 2017 study commissioned by Albuquerque to examine the feasibility of building a 10,000-seat stadium identified three potential sites: Albuquerque’s Rail Yards, the Sawmill neighborhood near Interstate 40 and the intersection of Lomas and Broadway.
That study also estimated the cost of the stadium project at between $24.2 million and $45.8 million, a figure that does not include land acquisition and other expenses.
A winning season
New Mexico was awarded a United Soccer League expansion team in June 2018 and the team, later named New Mexico United, started play this year at Isotopes Park. The USL is the nation’s second-highest professional soccer level.
During this year’s inaugural season, which featured a winning record and a trip to the playoffs, New Mexico United led the 36-team USL with an average home attendance of 12,693, according to the online Soccer Stadium Digest.
The team also won support from state legislators and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, including in-person attendance and social media backing, that could come in handy at the Roundhouse.
However, the project could face skepticism from some New Mexico lawmakers, especially rural legislators who in the past have balked at big-ticket Albuquerque infrastructure projects.
House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington – a member of the interim Economic and Rural Development Committee, which is scheduled to discuss the stadium issue Thursday – said he would not object to the project if Albuquerque-area lawmakers were to pool their available capital outlay dollars to fund the project.
But he said many legislators, including some Democrats, would likely oppose using statewide capital outlay dollars that are usually spent on roads, dams and other bricks-and-mortar projects.
“I think with folks that live outside of Albuquerque, that would be a tough pill to swallow,” Montoya said Tuesday.
Maestas said the stadium plan would not merely be a boon for Albuquerque. He described it as a “statewide project that would have a positive benefit for the entire state.”
He also pointed out lawmakers authorized $925 million in public works spending – nearly half of it on statewide road improvements – during this year’s legislative session and could have a similar amount available next year due primarily to an ongoing oil drilling boom in southeast New Mexico.
New Mexico United’s desire for a soccer-specific stadium does not come as a surprise, as team officials have expressed interest in the idea before.
There is also a time element at play, as the team’s current lease with Isotopes Park, where the team played its home games this year, can only be extended through the 2021 season. And the United Soccer League has mandated that all expansion teams be in soccer-specific stadiums within three years, Trevisani said.
While it’s unclear where the additional funding for the stadium would come from, and whether any private funds might also be spent on the project, Albuquerque officials are expected to be closely involved.
The city’s chief operating officer, Lawrence Rael, will participate in Thursday’s hearing in the Roundhouse, and he’s expected to discuss his role in helping Albuquerque lure a new Triple-A minor league baseball team to town after the city’s previous team had left after the 2000 season.
“The group will be discussing best practices in developing a sports venue, and Mr. Rael will participate in the committee hearing to share possible paths forward based on his experience in the development of Isotopes Park,” city spokeswoman Jessie Damazyn said.
The anti-donation clause in the state Constitution forbids giving public funds to private parties, meaning the stadium could not expressly belong to New Mexico United if paid for with state dollars.
But a publicly owned stadium could represent a legal workaround that would also allow for other uses, including high school football games, Maestas said.
Trevisani said a new stadium could be a morale booster of sorts for New Mexico, which does not have any top-level professional sports teams.
“This stadium can represent the revitalization of Albuquerque and the vitality of New Mexico and how we view ourselves,” said Trevisani, who said the project could also catalyze growth and attract other businesses to the area.
“I think it could be a crown jewel for the state,” he added.