On Thursday, November 16, the Albuquerque Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) approved the proposal for a privately funded multi-use stadium at Balloon Fiesta Park which is City owned land. The vote was 8 to 1 for approval. The EPC is required to consider the environmental impacts to surrounding areas of such major construction projects and must take in such factors as lighting, noise, traffic and parking.
On November 20, the Albuquerque City Council is scheduled to vote on the lease agreement at its regularly scheduled meeting which will be held at City Hall council chambers beginning at 5 p.m. The Council orginally scheduled final approval of the lease last month but decided to defer the to deliberate futher and allow the EPC to take action and make its recommendations.
United officials said the EPC vote was a step toward gaining final Albuquerque City Council approval for the stadium project. Councilors last month deferred a decision in order to get questions answered and “feel more comfortable” with the proposed lease agreement. United Director of Communications David Wiese-Carl said this:
“Hopefully the EPC review answers some of those questions. … We feel like this was a big, big step. …
Wiese-Carl also said meetings with neighborhood residents and Balloon Fiesta officials will continue if the project is approved and said this once the leas is approved:
“That’s when the fun part begins in terms of designing the stadium and making it something everyone can be proud of. … Even if the City Council passes the proposal, our work with the neighborhoods and community members is not done. It’s just getting started.”
United Owner/President/CEO Peter Trevisani for his part said the club has been meeting with neighbors, Balloon Fiesta and city officials to build consensus on the project and minimize potential environmental and neighborhood issues. He said the EPC’s vote is a reflection of those meetings. Trevisani said this in a statement:
“The Commission’s recognition of that hard work is an indication that this project truly serves all of New Mexico.”
The link to quoted news source material is here:
TERMS AND CONDTIONS OF LEASE
The Unites New Mexico lease was negotiated by the Keller Administration It’s a take it or leave it approval without negotiation of terms the City Council may want. If the lease is approved by the City Council, construction for the new stadium can begin within 90 days.
The lease term will be for an initial period of 30 years with the option to renew and extensions for two 15-year terms which means the lease could be for a full 60 years.
The lease agreement contains the following terms and conditions:
- Seven acres of land, which is currently for parking at the park, will be leased by United New Mexico for $35,000 a year with a 2% rent increase each year.
- United will pay the city 10% of revenue from parking fees it charges.
- United New Mexico must initially invest at least $30 million of private funds to design and build the stadium.
- The city is obligated under the lease to build certain features that remain open to the public during Balloon Fiesta, including shade areas and public restrooms.
- United will not be allowed to host games during the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
- The planned stadium will not interfere with ballooning in the area.
- The city will be able to use the stadium 10 days a year for free.
- United would retain all other revenues generated from the stadium, and from naming rights, sponsorships, advertising, tickets, merchandise, games and other events, while taking on all costs to operate the stadium and parking at all times. United would pay its own utility costs. The city would get its own box or cabana or a specialized seating area.
- At the end of the lease, New Mexico United is obligated to sell the stadium for $1 to the city of Albuquerque, unless the lease is extended by mutual agreement.
Last month, a spokesperson for New Mexico United said details about the design, size or cost are yet to be determined. The city will not be involved with the stadium design.
At the September 29 press conference announcing the lease, Mayor Tim Keller said this:
“We’re using state money, federal money, and existing money that we had to do the utilities, the earthwork, the electrical work that it takes to put in the stadium. … We mostly had to do that anyway because we want to do those improvements at the Balloon Fiesta that have to do with Vendors Row. … Now it’s real. And, now, it’s also mostly out of my hands. …
This is going to be a private stadium, and so what we have allowed for in the lease agreement is roughly ten days where the city can use it for city events. … We have also built into this lease agreement, by request, that it be used and available for soccer championships. … [The lease] also means bathrooms. …We might actually have permanent bathrooms at Balloon Fiesta Park.”
On October 2, in an interview with the Albuquerque Journal, Trevisani said United has not finalized plans for a potential Balloon Fiesta Park stadium, including its initial size and even whether the playing surface would be grass or artificial turf. Trevisani said this:
“I think the City Council has been great along the way. … I’m not a politician, but I truly believe they want to make Albuquerque the best version of itself possible. This is not a red-blue issue — it’s not even a red-green issue. This is about building a stadium with private funding that makes the city better. I think it’s a win-win.”
On other issues in an Albuquerque Journal interview relating to the stadium, Trevisani said this:
HIGH SCHOOL SOCCER GAMES AT THE STADIUM:
“We want to have high school games. There are things in (the lease agreement) that call for that, things that benefit United and things that benefit the city and Balloon Fiesta Park, including us not playing games during Balloon Fiesta and hosting high school games at the stadium.”
HOW A STADIUM WOULD FIT INTO THE BALLOON FIESTA PARK AREA:
“Working with Balloon Fiesta has been amazing. We’ve found that working together can be collaborative. They’re lacking things like bathrooms and water hookups, which this will address. … We want the stadium to help the area develop in a way that’s respectful to the neighbors and businesses who are there now.”’
NATURAL GRASS VERSUS ARTIFICIAL TURF:
“My heart says grass, my wallet says turf. Everyone likes playing on grass, but there’s a balance to consider because we want to have women’s games and high school games and you can’t play on grass every day. There’s also the expense of watering to consider. We’ll probably make that decision as late in the process as possible.”
BRINGING A WOMEN’S PROFESSIONAL SOCCER TEAM TO ALBUQUERQUE:
“We have to bring forward a women’s team. Exactly what level that will be initially, we’ll see. But I know in my heart of hearts we will have a women’s team with New Mexico on its jerseys. We can’t have that now because of space and scheduling at Isotopes Park. A new stadium makes it possible.”
The link to the quoted news source is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The Albuquerque City Council approving the lease is absolutely crucial for the continued existence of the New Mexico United Soccer team in Albuquerque. The soccer team currently plays home matches at Isotopes Park under a sub-lease arrangement. That agreement runs through next season but will not serve as a long-term solution.
The USL Championship, the league in which United competes, has mandated that its franchises have permanent soccer-only stadium arrangements in place by 2026. Franchises unable to secure stadium deals will likely be relocated or forced to fold, as USLC member San Diego Loyal did at the end of the 2023 season.
The proposed lease is a classic public/private partnership that is often used and that can be a big win-win proposition and go along ways to build a facility the city actually needs that will enhance the city’s quality of life. The best example that already exists of such a facility is the Isotopes Park, a city owned facility rented to a professional sports team.
Ultimately, the City Council should approve the lease, but the question raised is should it be the current city council with 3 outgoing city councilors or the new council that will be sworn in on January 1 with 3 new city councilors? The regular 2023 municipal election to elect City Councilors for City Council Districts 2, 4, 6, and 8 was held on November 7, 2023. A runoff is now scheduled for December 12 between Progressive Democrat Nichole Rogers and Progressive Democrat Jeff Hoehn is scheduled for December 12. Three new city councilors will assume office on January 1, 2024. The current city council could once again defer the final vote on the lease until the new council is sworn in. Deferral until the new city council is sworn in would allow time to negotiate more additions and the needed changes to the lease. It is the new City Council that will have to deal with any problems associated with the lease, so it would be reasonable to let the new City Council vote on it.
The reason for further deferral is that there a few concerns that still need to be addressed in the lease by the City Council:
The lease is being presented to the city council as a take it or leave it proposition without allowing negotiation of additional terms the council may want under the lease as written. United will retain all revenues generated from use of the stadium for other types of events without clarification what those events would include, which presumably will include using it as an entertainment venue for concerts and entertainment events. There is no mention of securing city approval of other type of events or of other uses nor the stadium being allowed be “sub leased” to other tenants requiring city approval to generate income with the city sharing in the income from other events.
Although Mayor Keller claims the City will not fund the stadium’s construction, the City website states that “the State has provided capital to the City of Albuquerque for infrastructure improvements that will provide needed upgrades at Balloon Fiesta Park.” The stadium is not an upgrade to the park and the question that needs to be answered is can the funding be diverted to an unrelated construction project or facility? The lease should also contain specific provisions that the Soccer Team will assume any and all costs for future improvements or remodeling to the facility without any city funding.
The Keller Administration has yet to explain why Balloon Fiesta Park for the new Soccer Stadium. There are other city owned lands that could just as easily be used for the new soccer stadium. Good examples include the decommissioned south runway at the Sunport or an underutilized golf course.
Links to related blog articles are here:
On October 16 Lame Duck City Council Scheduled To Vote To Approve 30 To 60 Year Lease Of 7 Acres of Balloon Fiesta Park To New Mexico United Soccer Team To Build Privately Funded $30 Million Soccer Stadium; Concerns That Should Be Addressed By Council Before Approval
Mayor Keller Seeks City Council Approval Of 30 To 60 Year Lease Of 7 Acres of Balloon Fiesta Park To New Mexico United Soccer Team To Build Privately Funded $30 Million Soccer Stadium; Keller’s Rush Job For City Council Approval By A Lame Duck City Council; It’s Always About Keller’s Legacy Projects