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Editorial: Study shows Rt. 66 center a boondoggle

So much for a self-sustainable visitors center the public is “waiting in line” for. And for supporting local small businesses in more than empty words at campaign time.

A new study by Denver-based Economic & Planning Systems Inc. of the planned West Central Route 66 Visitor Center at Central and 136th Street – a project Bernalillo County, Albuquerque and New Mexico have pumped millions of dollars into – shows it will run in the red for at least three years. If then it can book at least 100 large-scale paid events a year, it will still come up nearly $50,000 short of covering annual costs.

And while the $12.2 million project now includes a museum, gift shop, taproom, banquet room, large kitchen, amphitheater and parking lot designed for drive-in movies, nobody has said why it should be a government project rather than one led by private-sector folks with expertise in such enterprises.

County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada, a longtime proponent of the project, disputes much of the report’s findings and says “there is nothing up there but homes – tons of homes, tons of people who spend money, people who want to have events. … They want to do it on their side of town.”

Understood. But taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize that at a loss. The report points out comparable museum and cultural centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe average just 60 events a year, while privately owned, dedicated event centers like Noah’s of Albuquerque host 280 annually.

So why not go to the private sector? Why not explore public-private partnerships like cities do with successful youth sports venues? Why are taxpayers expected to build and run a center managed by a city councilor’s husband who believes it can be self-sustaining and operated by a lone part-time employee?

See where some expertise might come in handy?

This project smacks of the county’s thwarted attempt in 2007 to spend almost $500,000 to open a car wash on the taxpayers’ dime rather than support local business. The E&P report shows that, once again, officials need to come clean on accountability to the public who pay the bills.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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