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Baseball stadium controversy now in voters’ hands

Decision must be made to renovate or start anew

City Council President Brad Winter said during a meeting at Johnson Center Thursday that the baseball stadium controversy has been rushed to a May 30 vote because of a premature lease decision.

Winter, who represents District Four in the far Northeast Heights, said because Mayor Jim Baca began negotiations with the Canadian Triple-A baseball team Calvary Cannons before he began negotiations on the stadium situation, the City Council was forced to make a quick decision.

He said Baca wanted to get another team in as quickly as possible because Albuquerque is a proven town where Triple-A teams can make money. But he said the owner’s group, which had offered the city an $850,000 annual lease for use of the Albuquerque Sports Stadium, reneged its offer when Baca said that the city could build a new stadium.

“They’re making threats because they want the new stadium, but they agreed on $850,000 when they were first talking until the mayor said, ‘Let’s wait because we can get this Downtown stadium,’ and then it changed their tune,” Winter said.

He said the Cannons will only pay $750,000 for a renovated stadium, but $850,000 for a new stadium and the lease agreement must be settled by May 31 or the deal is dead.

Winter said the major mistake was not addressing the business of a new stadium before beginning negotiations with teams. He said Baca was too eager to bring in a team, and now the city is paying the price by letting the owner’s group take over negotiations.

“We should have waited,” he said. “We were pushed and now have to hurry up and do something.”

Winter said the council wanted to give the vote to renovate the old stadium or build a new stadium anywhere in town to the public because of its controversial nature. He said both stadium proposals have pros and cons. He said he just wants the correct facts presented before the election, which is costing an additional $300,000, so people know what they are voting on.

He said the estimated cost for renovation of the old stadium is $25 million and building a new stadium will cost $35 million. He said the public will vote to approve $15 million of the funding, which will come from general obligation bonds, with the other funding coming from surcharges. He said a bill Gov. Gary Johnson recently passed would use a surcharge on baseball tickets, merchandise and refreshments to pay back a state loan that would fund the rest of the baseball stadium renovation or construction.

Winter said arguments for renovating the stadium include the view of the Sandia Mountains, freeway access and plenty of parking — but it won’t bring in new business. He said support for a new stadium comes down to the economic development factor because a new stadium would bring in new businesses.

One thing Winter wanted to clear up is that the question on the ballot does not state that the stadium must be built Downtown, although the mayor wants it there. He said one site is the open land beside Winrock Mall, 2100 Louisiana Blvd. N.E., but that still causes problems because neighborhoods staunchly fight against land development.

“It takes 11 acres to build a stadium, and we don’t know where we can use 11 acres,” he said.

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Winter said the easiest way to go would be to renovate the old stadium, but the City Council would ensure that either stadium would be open for community use.

The election is May 30, and if the voters do not approve the $15 million General Obligation Bonds, the project will die.

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