You wouldn’t buy a house without knowing where it was going to be built.
So it’s no surprise asking Albuquerque taxpayers to approve a $50 million bond for a soccer stadium without saying where it will go is proving a bit problematic. As one Albuquerque resident aptly put it in public comments, it’s “putting the cart waaaay before the horse.”
Standing in the back of a pickup truck at Isotopes Park last month with New Mexico United fans wearing giveaway plastic yellow hardhats, drums banging and flags waving, Mayor Tim Keller announced he was sending a resolution to the City Council for a publicly funded Downtown soccer stadium with New Mexico United as the primary tenant. The City Council is scheduled to vote Monday whether to send the bond question to voters to decide on Nov. 2.
The renewed push for a soccer stadium comes after a Denver-based consulting firm hired by the city assessed four sites in the greater Downtown area – the Rail Yards, Second Street/Iron, Coal/Broadway, and Interstate 40/12th Street. The 356-page feasibility analysis only looked at the larger Downtown area, then identified Second Street/Iron and Coal/Broadway as the two “preferred” sites.
The 10,000-12,000-seat multipurpose stadium would cost between $65 million and $70 million before land acquisition costs.
Outside the campaign-like atmosphere of Isotopes Park where United has played its first seasons, the pushback has been stunning, with critics outnumbering supporters in 90 or so written comments to the City Council by about a 13 to 1 margin.
Some said a publicly funded Downtown stadium would displace lower-income residents while enriching a select few people. One detractor called the proposal “a handout for private industry that adds no value to lives of the everyday people who make up the community.” Others said the minor-league soccer team should use an existing public venue like city-owned Isotopes Park or University Stadium or pay for its own stadium. Many said the city has far more pressing concerns.
This doesn’t prove there is no support. A few wrote in favor, highlighting the associated construction activity. When New Mexico United texted its fans asking them to let councilors know of their support, more than 900 forwarded the form letter in the first two days asking councilors to put the stadium on the ballot, according to the soccer organization.
But the critical reaction has raised concerns with City Councilor Brook Bassan – one of two city councilors co-sponsoring the legislation to send the question to voters. Bassan feels an election is the best way to settle the issue – she’s right. But city leaders and other fans of the plan should also be concerned.
City officials said they wouldn’t pick a location until voters approve the bonds. It’s a backward sequence the city should reconsider. After all, real estate agents say it’s all about location.
The difficulty of rallying support for projects at undetermined locations is a lesson one would think city leaders would have learned after years of discussions over the proposed location of a large homeless shelter. It wasn’t until the city finally settled on the purchase of the former Lovelace hospital on Gibson SE in April that the Gateway Center project picked up momentum and plausibility.
New Mexico United brings a lot of excitement and unity to the Albuquerque area. The club plans to put skin in the game with a public-private partnership similar to the Isotopes, who have both paid rent and made improvements to the ballpark. But remember the ‘Topes play around 70 home games in a season; United plays 16 (plus 2 preseason).
And taxpayers deserve more than vague proposals like booking weddings (really?) to fill out a new stadium’s calendar and coffers. Voters deserve to know what they’re voting on – starting with stadium location and continuing with prospective co-tenants and return on investment. There’s a big difference between a lakefront home and one overlooking a landfill.
And city taxpayers deserve to know what they’re actually mortgaging before investing $50 million.
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.