Amid outcry from New Mexico United fans, the city of Albuquerque says it will consider how it can make a required safety upgrade at Isotopes Park a little less permanent.
City officials plan to spend $250,000 at the baseball park to extend netting from the far ends of each dugout to the foul poles down the left- and right-field lines. That’s due to new standards imposed on the Albuquerque Isotopes, a Triple-A baseball team and the master lease holder at the city-owned park, according to Lawrence Rael, the city’s chief operating officer.
But the stadium since last year also has been home to the New Mexico United soccer team, and United supporters say the netting will hurt the game day experience. They are pushing for a retractable setup so the netting will not separate players from fans during soccer matches. One online petition for retractable netting had nearly 500 signatures as of Friday evening.
United owner Peter Trevisani said that the team’s players like to jump into the stands after scoring goals and go into the crowd after games to sign autographs and take pictures. He said using non-retractable netting would be “baffling.”
“We want to create as few barriers as possible,” he said.
Rael told reporters late Friday that the city will examine whether a retractable or removable netting system would work at the ballpark and at what cost.
“We will explore whether or not there’s an opportunity to make the netting somewhat retractable so we can either raise it or lower it or take it down during the United games so the fan experience is much more enjoyable,” he said.
Rael emphasized that the city has supported United since its inception, noting that it is currently paying for the field’s conversion between baseball and soccer games – something that costs more than $300,000 per year. He said the city installed some camera equipment to aid with United game broadcasts.
The city is also lobbying the state Legislature for $500,000 to analyze the feasibility of a new stadium to permanently house United, which is to play its second season in the United Soccer League Championship division in 2020.
Rael said United has “informally” offered to help pay any new expenses associated with putting up and taking down new netting, and the city would spend the next few weeks analyzing the options with its contractor.
Trevisani said he is pleased that the city is considering alternatives.
“We are definitely anxious to work with the city and get the nets lowered,” he told the Journal in a text message Friday evening. “The city has been a great partner and we look forward to working with them.”
The city had planned to install the netting in late February or early March but may have some leeway, Rael said. The Isotopes’ home opener is April 14.
Isotopes general manager John Traub did not immediately respond to a Journal message for comment Friday.