Mayor makes his case for a new soccer stadium

At Isotopes park, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, left, along with some city councilors and New Mexico United owner Peter Trevisani, right, tell the crowd at the El Paso-United game Saturday night about plans to build a new soccer-specific stadium. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

It wasn’t a campaign rally.

But drums banged, flags were waving and hundreds of New Mexico United fans — many who had already been holding down for a couple hours another festive pregame tailgate party outside Isotopes Park — were screaming as Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller took the microphone from the third-year soccer team’s owner Peter Trevisani to deliver the news the team and its fans had been waiting to hear.

Upon receipt this past week of a 400-plus page feasibility analysis, the Mayor will send a resolution on Monday to City Council to get a bond proposal placed on the November ballot — on which he will also be on seeking re-election — for a new, publicly funded downtown soccer stadium with New Mexico United, a privately owned team, as the primary tenant.

The publicly financed project could cost an estimated $70 million before land acquisition costs.

“You all have earned a stadium,” Keller shouted to fans from the back of a pickup truck with his picture and one of Trevisani on all sides.

“So, New Mexicans and Burqueños, this can be our choice in November. And I know with the (team supporter’s group, the) Curse’s help, and with City Council’s help, we’re going to build a new home for the United right here in the Duke City.

“So we’re going to win tonight. And then that initiative is going to win in November. And then we’re going to keep on winning for New Mexico!”

Keller repeated his news during an on-field announcement at halftime of the United match it did not win, a scoreless draw vs. El Paso Locomotive, with at least four City Councilors standing with him on a night the pregame free fan giveaway was yellow hard hats. The club said it was a coincidental promotion planned long before it was known they’d be handed out on the night of a stadium construction project announcement.

Of course, there are more than a few things that have to happen still before the promise of a new downtown stadium is delivered. And while “multi-use” wasn’t used in the evening tailgate announcement, the term was used in the City’s news release sent out to media shortly thereafter, and a limited number of non-United events were mentioned in the feasibility study.

That news release also stated voters will be asked to approve a $50 million bond proposal for the stadium. The feasibility study cited the two preferred downtown locations for the proposed stadium.

State lawmakers have already earmarked about $9 million for the project over the past two legislative sessions, including $4 million from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham this past session.

The cost of the $400,000 analysis was paid for by state money secured in 2020.

What was clear Saturday, both in the pre-game announcement and one the Mayor gave at halftime to an announced United home crowd of 10,303 at Isotopes Park, is that there are still plenty of questions to be answered before this goes to the voters in November.

Mayor Q&A

Here are a few of the answers the Journal got from Keller and the city of Albuquerque’s Chief Operating Officer, Lawrence Rael, in an interview on Saturday night:

JOURNAL: Will taxes go up to pay for the stadium?

MAYOR KELLER: “No, we’ll be refinancing, expiring debt that we already have.”

• • •

JOURNAL: As has been reported by the Journal, the feasibility study identified four possible downtown locations and two “preferred” locations. Will the voters know the chosen location they will be voting on in November?

KELLER: “Because of the length of real estate transactions and so forth, we know it’ll hopefully be one of those four (locations), but we do know some of those lands have owners that may or may not want to sell. So we can’t be 100% sure about any location. That’s just the recommendations from the consultant.”

RAEL: “It would be premature to buy any property or make a final decision until the voters say yes because you need the revenues to build the stadium. And so until they say, yes, we’re right now just looking at all the sites making sure they work, and then waiting for the voters to make a decision.”

• • •

JOURNAL: Is there any conflict for the Mayor to be so publicly campaigning for a bond issue like this?

RAEL: “As an elected official he can. The rest of us who are basically government employees, all we can do is provide information. The elected officials — the Mayor and the Council — because of their status as elected officials, they can advocate.”

(NOTE: Rael and the rest of the City staff on hand Saturday with the Mayor for the pregame announcement and the halftime, on-field announcement were all wearing United jerseys.)

• • •

JOURNAL: What will the total funding be? State and City funds?

KELLER: “For most of it, but we’re open to a private/public partnership. We’re (the city) gonna make sure and fund the minimum amount required for a stadium. But if there’s additional extras — how big it is and how nice it is, that’ll depend on other funds or matching funds from other governments and possibly other folks involved in the stadium who may or may not be with the team (other possible private entities).”

• • •

JOURNAL: When might more details be made available to the public?

RAEL: “The consultants will be making a presentation at the council meeting on Aug. 2 to give more detail.”

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