Democratic State Sen. Katy Duhigg announced her opposition Tuesday to a $50 million bond issue for a pro soccer stadium in her hometown of Albuquerque.
“I’m voting no,” Duhigg wrote on her Facebook page.
State Rep. Joy Garratt is still listening to arguments about public funding for a stadium, which would be the home field of the New Mexico United.
“I’ve held off voting early to study the proposal,” said Garratt, D-Albuquerque. “I love the soccer team. The spirit is terrific. But what does the project actually cost?”
House Majority Leader Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, is an enthusiastic supporter of building a 12,000-seat soccer stadium with mostly public money. He helped persuade state lawmakers to allocate $9 million in public works funding during the last two years as a start for a stadium linked to a cultural center. The money can go toward site selection, land acquisition and brick-and-mortar expenses.
“It’s a multiuse facility that would house other businesses — coffee shops, restaurants, maybe an arts collective. It should be accessible to all of us,” Martínez said.
All three of the lawmakers are sure to support Mayor Tim Keller in his bid for a second term. The fact that they aren’t all backing the stadium proposal Keller endorsed is one sign the bond issue is in trouble.
A more concrete indicator was a recent poll commissioned by The Paper, an Albuquerque weekly. It showed 59 percent of 793 likely voters opposed the stadium bond issue. Twenty-three percent supported it and 17 percent were undecided.
The poll numbers are evidence the public is thinking more clearly than Keller and the Albuquerque City Council, which voted 7-2 to place the bond issue on the November ballot.
Albuquerque is awash in problems, most notably crime. A soccer stadium is a frill in a city that broke its yearly record for homicides — in August.
As with campaigns for publicly funded stadiums across America, the team that would benefit is funding a political action committee and spending liberally on advertising.
New Mexico United’s PAC says the stadium would generate 500 construction jobs. That might be true, but those jobs will end soon enough.
Debt payments on the stadium would last for 20 years. The city of Albuquerque estimated the cost of principal and interest at $3.2 million annually.
After the construction phase, the team’s pitch means another 280 full-time jobs would come with the new venue. It now plays its matches at the Isotopes baseball park.
New Mexico United lists 29 players on its roster, plus a coaching staff of eight. Another 26 people are employed in the team’s front office.
The new stadium would have to create more than 200 other jobs to reach its promised total. New Mexico United wants to land a women’s soccer team for Albuquerque as one means of increasing employment and stadium use.
Martínez says he envisions many of the other new jobs as spinoffs from stadium business.
“We don’t have a huge private employer downtown now,” he said. “Bringing in 12,000 people a couple times a month would be a big gain” for businesses he envisions as part of the stadium complex.
Martínez allows that dedicating more state money to the project is possible.
“We do have quite a bit of capacity now with capital outlay and general fund money,” he said.
Capital outlay is the term state lawmakers use for public works funding they control for their districts. The Albuquerque delegation could pool its money for stadium costs, as it did with the $9 million allotted to get a stadium project underway.
Taking money from the general fund for a stadium in Albuquerque would be controversial and probably difficult. Legislators from other cities might balk.
New Mexico United’s upfront financial commitment to the stadium would be $10 million for construction costs. It also has proposed paying $800,000 a year in rent to the city and at least $100,000 annually from concession sales and other stadium revenues.
The stadium would be publicly owned, meaning it wouldn’t generate any property taxes for the city.
Projections are just that. The skeptic in me remembers countless other professional stadiums where costs were lowballed and revenues didn’t trickle down to the hospitality industry.
Duhigg also has doubts about spending public money on a soccer stadium in a city with so many other needs. She wasn’t keen on being mentioned in this column, even after publicly saying she would vote against the stadium bond issue.
“This is not a fight I am looking to get involved in in any official capacity,” she wrote me in a message.
There’s nothing wrong with New Mexico United coveting a stadium where it would be the primary tenant.
In turn, there’s nothing wrong with wary taxpayers expecting the team to pay for its place of business.