City may make pitch for more baseball fields - Albuquerque Journal

City may make pitch for more baseball fields

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

City Council President Dan Lewis has watched plenty of Albuquerque families travel to baseball tournaments in Arizona, Colorado and Texas.

But a $21 million project going before city councilors this month aims to reverse that practice.

The council is discussing whether to set aside money in next year’s operating budget to help build a complex of five baseball and softball fields on the West Side, near the new Albuquerque Public Schools football stadium.

The goal is to draw “baseball families” to New Mexico for tournaments and offer a competitive place to play for local teams.

The council already has authorized up to $13 million for the project. At issue now is whether to add another $8 million – a move that supporters say would help ensure the complex is in good position to draw teams from across the region.

“In Albuquerque,” Lewis said, “you’ve got kids going to Phoenix. We’re going to be able to attract more tournaments to Albuquerque where it’s 90 degrees instead of 115 in June.”

Mayor Richard Berry is proposing about $1.5 million in next year’s budget go toward annual payments on $18 million in bonds issued for new capital projects.

Under the plan supported by Lewis and Berry, about $8 million of the $18 million in new bonding capacity would go toward the baseball and softball complex. A firm proposal for the remaining $10 million hasn’t surfaced yet, though councilors have discussed the possibility of building or upgrading swimming pools.

It’s all part of Berry’s push to move more of Albuquerque’s spending into big capital projects rather than basic operations – a reversal of the trend from before he took office in 2009. Otherwise, the $1.5 million would be available for employee salaries, public services or other basic operations.

Adding money for the baseball project, Berry said, would make it a “world-class facility.”

“I’m absolutely in favor of it,” he said.

Approval of Berry’s budget proposal would mean the city has shifted $7.5 million in annual spending from operations back to capital projects.

a00_jd_05may_Baseball-Complex‘A real destination’

The $21 million sports complex would feature five fields that could be used for baseball or softball. The fences, bases and mound could be moved around to accommodate either sport, Lewis said.

The surface would be artificial turf, reducing water costs and providing better drainage when it rains.

A building would house concessions, restrooms, meeting space, umpire lockers and a viewing area.

It would be big enough to attract 50 teams at a time to play over a four-day period, supporters say. Showcase tournaments that attract scouts from major-league and college teams are common in baseball. Players use the events as a chance to demonstrate their skills and play high-level competition.

The Albuquerque complex would sit on about 40 acres of land already owned by the city. Another 40 acres would remain available for future expansion – perhaps for smaller baseball fields for younger players or space for other sports, such as volleyball, basketball and soccer.

The location is near Interstate 40 and 118th Street, adjacent to the new APS football stadium.

“It’s going to be a real destination for families to go and get involved in sports,” said Councilor Ken Sanchez, who supports the baseball complex.

It would take about 15 years to pay off the $21 million baseball complex.

Not a new idea

Investing in sports tourism isn’t a new idea for Albuquerque. Mayor Berry supported a $50 million ballot measure in 2011 that would have dedicated half of the money to a regional sports complex, the other half to the Paseo del Norte interchange at I-25.

Voters rejected the idea. A subsequent bond issue – focusing only on Paseo del Norte – won approval the following year.

The 2011 sports complex was to have baseball and softball fields and a field house for basketball and volleyball. A private company would have operated the place and charged fees to people who used it.

Lewis said the new baseball complex makes sense now, especially given that the city has already addressed other critical needs, such as the rebuilding of Paseo and I-25.

“It’s obviously a whole different issue,” he said.

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