The University of New Mexico has abandoned plans to rename its renovated baseball stadium after donor Johnny Cope.
Instead, the ballpark will remain “Lobo Field” after completion of a $3.3 million renovation project. The project is to be considered today by the state Board of Finance, according to UNM officials.
The decision to reinstate the Lobo Field name comes after Gov. Susana Martinez warned the renovation would face opposition from the board if the field were named after Cope, a Hobbs businessman and top donor to former Gov. Bill Richardson. The renovation is to be funded with $2 million in state money, $1 million on behalf of Cope, and other private donations.
The Governor’s Office spoke out against the project, saying Cope has a negative “record” and implying concern over the businessman’s conviction of drug crimes in the mid-’80s.
“Somewhere during the process, we learned that (state approval) might not be smooth sailing,” Regent President Jack Fortner said. Since approving the renaming in May, the university had delayed asking the Board of Finance for final approval of the project.
Without Cope’s name, Fortner expects the Board of Finance will support the baseball field improvements.
The Governor’s Office agreed. Spokesman Scott Darnell said Martinez is “pleased” the stadium will not be named after Cope, and she looks forward to discussing the project.
Despite the debate over the field naming, Cope has not withdrawn his donation for the ballpark improvements, said Paul Krebs, vice president for athletics. “Johnny has indicated a willingness to continue to support the project,” he said.
Cope did not respond to an email request for comment Monday.
The stadium’s $3.3 million first phase will replace the field, dugouts, bullpens and fan seating. However, athletics officials are looking at improvements beyond those items, such as adding locker rooms, batting cages, a press box and fan concessions, at a tab of $12 million, Krebs has said. Regents in March approved the first phase, which will not use any university money.
If approved today, UNM plans to begin construction in November. The university originally planned to have the project completed before baseball season, which could have avoided a $50,000 fee to use Isotopes Park for home games. UNM now plans to play another season at the city-owned ballpark, Krebs said.
Board of Finance approval is required for any projects using state money. The $2 million was appropriated by Richardson in 2010 to kick start the field improvements. UNM has pledged to fund all other expenses using private donations.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal