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Editorial: ABQ needs E ticket today to keep tomorrow’s leaders

Pre-1982, an E ticket entitled the bearer to Disneyland’s newest, most advanced, and/or most popular rides and attractions. Post-2016, Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, university and business leaders need to devise their own version of an E ticket to attract and keep new, advanced and popular jobs that in turn will attract and keep qualified, educated employees in the Metro area.

City officials are on board, investing $1 million in broadband along Central Avenue; supplying land and a $17 million parking garage for a $40 million entertainment-based development at First and Central that would include a bowling alley, brewery, apartments, restaurant and concert space; and investing more than $100 million in federal and city money to install Albuquerque Rapid Transit to make moving up and down the corridor easier.

University of New Mexico officials have punched a ticket as well, breaking ground on the first Innovate ABQ building, a $35 million, 160,000-square-foot tech-transfer office and Innovation Academy at Central and Broadway.

The private sector is queued up, partnering on Innovate and ready to start construction not only at First and Central, but also on a 12.5-acre development a block north of Central and Interstate 25 near Presbyterian Hospital that will include two multifamily complexes, a hotel, and multiple retail sites and restaurants.

And then there’s Bernalillo County.

This week, the three Democrats on the County Commission might have slammed the brakes on the proposed mixed-use development at First and Central, which is supposed to create 300 permanent new jobs. What was an 80 percent exemption on property taxes and 100 percent break on gross receipts taxes for 30 years was cut in half, to 15 years.

Commissioners Debbie O’Malley, Art De La Cruz and Maggie Hart Stebbins decided that saving what a staff reports says works out to around $10,000 a year for 15 years in tax revenue was worth putting the entire project at risk. Developer Jerry Mosher says he isn’t sure the project can survive the amendment. O’Malley says if the whole plan hinges on the tax breaks, “I have to wonder about the business plan.”

What O’Malley misses is that solid development depends on certainty – making a deal and sticking to it. Making the switch can require many changes by the developer, including disclosure to investors.

And the Metro area has to wonder just how many jobs will the BernCo trio create with that $150K over 15 years they saved? Strike that, because if the project doesn’t happen, there is no tax revenue and Bernalillo County gets the same thing it is getting now.

Which is nothing.

Everyone else seems to agree that development that brings jobs, good jobs, are key to the Metro area’s economic future. The same week that O’Malley & Co. essentially said 300 permanent jobs don’t matter, the real estate site Apartment List confirmed the Albuquerque metropolitan area is steadily losing millennials, young adults age 18 to 35 who are the bread and butter of the future economy.

The data put the blame squarely on a lackluster job environment and shows the so-called brain drain is alive and well, with the area’s millennial population dropping by 1.6 percent from 2005 to 2015. Apartment List says its “renter surveys consistently show that local career opportunities are one of the most important factors to millennials” and the area’s drop in population matches its 6.4 percent drop in median income over that 10-year period.

Unfortunately, it’s not surprising that the three county commissioners would be holdouts to progress; they are the same ones who wasted voters’ time Nov. 8 by asking a nonbinding ballot question if there should be a vote somewhere down the line on the ART project – the one aired in 20-plus public hearings, approved by the City Council on a 7-2 bipartisan vote, already under construction and scheduled for completion next year.

De La Cruz, at least, deserves credit for not trying to kill the proposed 21-acre mixed-use Santolina development by denying it a TIDD; he voted with Republicans for the development southwest of I-40 and 118th Street. He was correct when he said, “We have to plan for the future. The notion that we’re not going to grow … is not realistic.”

_$ID/[No_paragraph_style]”>Unfortunately, he didn’t apply the same logic to the Downtown project.

It is past time for the Bernalillo County Commission to take a seat with the city, university and business community, and work to move the area economy forward – by investing in the built environment and by encouraging private-sector jobs.

The alternative ticket is a continued migration of smart, young job seekers and creators – and prospective county taxpayers.

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.

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