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Sports Complex, Bike Trail, Boardwalk And White-Water Park Would Go to Voters


Albuquerque’s future could include white-water rafting at Balloon Fiesta Park.

No, really.

But if a slow-moving river is more your speed, you could head over to the Rio Grande bosque, where the city might build a riverfront boardwalk, patio and space for a restaurant.

Prefer riding your bicycle along Tramway? Well, City Hall could help with that, too, by completing a 50-mile loop around Albuquerque.

And for those who love traditional sports, Albuquerque might build a 35-acre complex of baseball and softball fields, complete with a fieldhouse that can host basketball and volleyball tournaments, too.

These four ideas are recommended for funding as part of Mayor Richard Berry’s “ABQ: The Plan” initiative, which aims to inject some fun into the city’s capital program while improving the city’s quality of life and boosting the economy.

The mayor will ask city councilors on Monday to approve putting the four projects — white-water rafting, the river boardwalk, a bike loop and the sportsplex — on the municipal ballot this fall. They would appear as one question that asks voters to support issuing up to $50 million in bonds.

“People are excited about getting back to how we’re going to invest in Albuquerque,” said Berry, who has been sponsoring public meetings to gather ideas.

Approval wouldn’t result in a tax increase. That’s because a slim majority of the City Council agreed earlier this year to set aside $3 million in the operating budget to support paying off the debt.

Not everyone’s happy about it, or supportive of the projects proposed so far.

City Councilor Debbie O’Malley said the idea of funding a white-water complex is “frivolous.” The ideas are being rushed, she said, in contrast to the years of study and debate that went into the Downtown event center proposal.

“We don’t know the financial viability of any of these projects today,” O’Malley said.

City Councilor Dan Lewis said he’s disappointed the Paseo del Norte and Interstate 25 interchange didn’t make the list. The project could be phased in, he said, even if there’s not enough “ABQ: The Plan” funds available to do all of it right away.

“I’m concerned about prioritizing fun projects … over critical projects that we desperately need,” Lewis said in an interview Thursday.

He said he’s not necessarily opposed to the white-water rafting, river boardwalk or bike loop projects and likes the sportsplex idea.

Even if voters approve the projects, there are likely to be challenges. Working in the bosque would require federal and Conservancy District approval, for example, and white-water rafting might involve tapping into nonpotable water used at the balloon park.

A 13-member committee helped select the projects, based on public comments. Berry has been holding public meetings since April — he had eight in one day, at one point — pitching ideas and seeking input on possibilities for “ABQ: The Plan.”

The city gathered questionnaires and other comments from participants. The focus was on projects that could be done fairly soon and promote job creation, among other priorities.

Bob Murphy, longtime business leader and executive director of the Economic Forum who served as chairman of the committee, said the boardwalk, patio and restaurant idea scored highly with the public.

Berry said the river would remain in its natural state, and the boardwalk would come at an already-built river crossing — the Central bridge near Tingley Beach.

“It’s about getting you closer to the water,” Berry said. “… The idea of bringing the river into our day-to-day lives was very popular.”

The boardwalk and related improvements could cost $7 million to $10 million, officials said.

Here’s a look at other proposed projects:

n The city could build a 35-acre sports complex, which could cost $20 million to $25 million. A location hasn’t been selected, though Mesa del Sol is one possibility.

There would be softball and baseball fields, along with basketball and volleyball courts. The hope would be to draw out-of-state players and tournaments to boost the local economy, along with providing first-class amenities to local residents.

A private operator would run the place and charge user fees, somewhat similar to how the city-owned Isotopes Park works. It could be offered to local residents for free during less-busy hours.

Berry envisions a 25,000-square-foot fieldhouse for the courts. He noted that the idea rated highly among middle-school students he talked to.

n A four- to six-acre white-water recreation and competition complex could be built at Balloon Fiesta Park, though the location isn’t settled. It would offer kayaking and rafting.

It would bring a unique recreational opportunity to the region, Berry said. “It has the potential to bring in tourism, new dollars, to the community,” he said.

The water could come from recycled, nonpotable water that’s used to irrigate the fields at Balloon Fiesta Park. The private operator of the complex would further treat the water, beyond what’s done for irrigation, Berry said.

It would increase the park’s water use about 10 percent, he said.

The cost would be about $8 million to $14 million.

n The city could complete a 50-mile bicycle loop around Albuquerque. It could feature kiosks and other improvements that encourage people to get around town on their bikes.

Supporters see it as something like the popular trail that runs along Tramway in the foothills.

The price would be flexible, perhaps about $3 million, depending on how much money is used by the other projects.