There is no denying the halt in momentum COVID-19 has put on New Mexico United.
The state’s fledgling professional soccer team took USL Championship by storm last season at the gate, leading the 36-team league in average home attendance at Isotopes Park and clearly establishing a groundswell of public and political support for its rather ambitious and aggressive push for a soccer-specific stadium of its own within a couple years.
Majority owner Peter Trevisani and others even secured in February, through the help of several vocally supportive state lawmakers, $4.1 million in capital outlay money to get the ball rolling on a “Sport and Cultural Center.” It could come with a final price tag of about $100 million according to those behind the project who are seeking public funding for a large portion of it.
So, as lawmakers meet next week in a special session to try to pave a road out of pandemic-related financial crises for the state, are United’s stadium hopes dashed before they ever really got started?
Hardly, Trevisani said.
“The stadium is still moving forward,” Trevisani told the Journal in a recent interview, noting the initial capital outlay money allocated by the state was earmarked toward things like site feasibility analysis, economic impact surveys and even potentially securing land.
“We’re still working with the city on evaluating sites, even though we’re not sure exactly the timing. We still think we can move forward and do that evaluation. So when it’s the appropriate time to be talking about a stadium, we can be ready.”
Next week’s special session in Santa Fe won’t affect the money United has already secured from the state.
State Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, one of the four lawmakers primarily responsible for securing the $4.1 million for United, said that while he believes past capital outlay projects should be put under the microscope to help the economy, February’s allocation to United isn’t in jeopardy.
“As we work toward budget solvency in FY 2021, we’ll be looking at projects funded in 2019 and prior, specifically looking at projects that have been stalled,” Martinez said in an email.
Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, another lawmaker at the forefront of United securing the capital outlay money in February, said the stadium might have added importance now.
“The stadium is needed now more than ever and must be part of any revitalization plan,” Maestas said.
United currently subleases Isotopes Park from the Isotopes, who rent the stadium from the city of Albuquerque. The sublease was for three years, this being the second. The USL has strongly encouraged, though not specifically mandated, all new teams to have a soccer specific stadium within its first three years. But that, like most everything else, has been put on the backburner for now.
AS FOR THIS SEASON: The USL last week announced there will be a season with a tentative start date of July 11, but as of Friday no more specifics have been announced, including where games might be played or if there’s any resolution to the labor dispute with the player’s union about pay.
Closer to home, there are issues, too.
New Mexico currently hasn’t given the green light to large sporting events – with or without fans. Trevisani, ironically, is part of the group making such decisions.
Appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to her economic recovery council helping guide the re-opening of the state, Trevisani said his spot on the council in no way has given any advantages to United. He said he told the council from Day 1 he understood the team getting back on the field would be the “caboose” in terms of what got reopened amid the pandemic. But he does believe United can’t help drive the eventual recovery.
“I think one of the things that can help keep our economy going and can help be a catalyst for our economy and also build a bridge to a more normalized environment that we all want to get back to are public projects, and the stadium certainly would fall in is one of them,” Trevisani said.
Then there’s the news from last week that the Isotopes, facing the likelihood of no season in 2020, will by July 1 furlough the majority of its staff – staff that runs Isotopes Park and would be needed for United home matches.
“We’re prepared to come back and play the entire season without fans if needed,” Trevisani said earlier this month, before the Isotopes furlough news. “Even if that means we have to play more games on the road than we play in New Mexico, we’ll do that, too.”