City Council puts soccer money at Mesa del Sol

Plans to turn Mesa del Sol into a soccer mecca just received a multimillion-dollar boost.

The Albuquerque City Council voted to put its $3.5 million soccer project in the community south of the airport, complementing Bernalillo County’s recent $2 million commitment to the same site and advancing a larger vision for a national tournament-worthy venue.

The location off University Boulevard SE already boasts six fields used for soccer, cricket and youth football – including practice for the New Mexico United professional soccer team. The county will next month break ground on a seventh, championship-caliber field. But the county – which leases the land from the state – has a long-term plan for a 32-field, multisport facility.

“The overall concept of the complex is that it’s a large, nationally relevant facility that will benefit Albuquerque children in a lot of ways … and it will also have a significant impact on tourism,” said Jim Tilley, vice president of the Bernalillo County Youth Sports Commission.

Debbie Jo Almager, the county’s parks, recreation and open space director, said the current plan is to start with 10 new fields, something that will cost an estimated $4.87 million.

The county’s existing work at Mesa del Sol contributed to the city’s decision to invest there, too, City Councilor Pat Davis said.

“We didn’t pull that location out of the sky,” he said.

But the decision was not immediate.

When the council in October approved funding for a multipurpose soccer facility that could host youth competitions and practices for the New Mexico United, members did not agree on a location. Davis pushed for Mesa del Sol, while the late Ken Sanchez wanted it in the Interstate 40/98th Street area.

The council last week finally voted to spend the $3.5 million on a multi-use soccer facility and its associated fields, bleachers, concession area and locker rooms at Mesa del Sol. But the council at the same time agreed to put $1.5 million toward a future West Side project that will include an indoor sports facility and outdoor soccer fields. Davis said there is a clear need for facilities on both sides of the city, and that he and Sanchez had been working on the compromise before Sanchez’s death.

The council’s recent decision was welcomed by some local youth sports advocates who had pushed for additional public investment at Mesa del Sol. They contend its “shovel-ready” acreage presents the fastest path to a viable regional sports complex – something they say does not currently exist in the city.

“It just makes our reality hit sooner than it would for something on the West Side,” said Gloria Faber, executive director of New Mexico Youth Soccer, which has 6,300 registered members.

She added that the site’s location near the Albuquerque International Sunport and several hotels could make it a better magnet as the community bids to host regional and national tournaments.

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