ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Ann Kroeter smiles when she looks at the grass field that sits south of her condominium complex.
“You know, we could be standing on parking lot right now with hundreds of cars,” she said. “We are so happy it’s not.”
The grass field is part of the city’s new 22-acre Vista del Norte sports park on the northeast corner of Vista del Norte and Osuna. The city held a ribbon cutting for the park Wednesday afternoon. Kroeter was at the event to literally see a ribbon put on an almost, decades-long effort by the neighborhood to get a park there.
Kroeter is the president the Rancho Mirage Condominiums Homeowners Association and has lived in her condo community for 10 years. In 2006, Walmart proposed building a 184,000 square-foot supercenter where the park is now and neighbors joined forces to fight the proposal.
County Commissioner chair Debbie O’Malley, who was a city councilor at the time, said at the event Wednesday that the city eventually rejected the proposal, with one concern being traffic flow. She said neighbors came up with their own proposal and suggested preserving the property as open space, pointing out that the vacant lot was a popular spot for balloon landings. Seeing its value to the annual Balloon Fiesta and the community, O’Malley introduced a resolution to set aside funding for the purchase of the land.
“It took years for this day to come and now the timing couldn’t be more perfect,” O’Malley said in a news release. “Working with the Vista del Norte Alliance of Neighborhoods and the Alameda North Valley Association in preserving this open space is as important to me today as it was when we started the project back in 2008.”
The park includes a grassy area for football and soccer as well as a dirt field to provide a safe-landing zone for balloons. The city plans to eventually put in a play area and an access point from Osuna Road.
Mayor Richard Berry told the crowd of city officials and neighborhood representatives at the ribbon cutting that supporting the fiesta was important for the city, making the $3.8 million project worth the investment.
“We now have a great big, green welcome mat for balloonists,” said Mayor Richard Berry. “In terms of economic impact, it (the balloon fiesta) is the same as if we had the Super Bowl in town every two years.”
Richard Hix, president of the Vista del Norte Alliance of Neighborhoods, said neighbors are glad the land was protected from large-scale development.
“This is pretty awesome,” he said. “It’s exactly what we had envisioned.”