Controversial turf moved from Rio Rancho to Expo New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The City of Albuquerque has moved the artificial turf it bought for the Duke City Gladiators. The Office of the Inspector General said city officials may have broken the law after using taxpayer money to buy the turf – and then installing it in Rio Rancho, not Albuquerque.
In an attempt to settle the issue, the city is moving the turf from the Rio Rancho Events Center to Expo New Mexico. City leaders insist they did nothing illegal.
The Inspector General report concluded earlier this year that it was a violation – a misuse of taxpayer money. The state attorney general confirmed to KOB 4 that their office also has an active investigation into what happened.
The turf is now rolled up in a storage building at Expo. City leaders announced Friday that they are giving it to the state for events at Tingley Coliseum.
This latest move raises even more questions about why the city spent more than $200,000 on the turf and how it will be involved in using it moving forward.
RESPONSE FROM THE CITY
City leaders said Friday that the plan, all along, was to have it at Expo New Mexico.
“Promise made, promise kept,” said Dave Simon, director of the city’s Parks and Recrecreation Department.
Simon said city crews moved the turf at the end of last month. They called the claims in the Inspector General report “reckless.”
“Unfortunately, I think the OIG was incredibly misinformed about some of the facts and circumstances around the indoor turf field,” Simon said.
The city is giving it to the state and expecting to get reimbursed.
KOB 4 asked, why didn’t they have it at Expo to begin with? Simon said the pandemic meant there wouldn’t be events there.
“The decision was made to, temporarily, under these COVID restrictions, temporarily locate the field to Rio Rancho,” he said.
So why not move it sooner?
“Well, I think it was natural that we needed to work out arrangements with Expo New Mexico, and this was a good time to move the field,” Simon said.
Simon said the city got something out of the deal too.
“The city received benefits, including visibility, benefits on the field,” Simon said. “We also had the field stored for free, maintained for free, and were able to use the field when we wanted.”
A rep said they used it for 14 sports events involving Albuquerque groups over the last year, and more than a thousand kids participated.
Now, with the move, the state can use the turf, and city leaders say they will partner with the state for some events. They are still working on details, but say there will be events for kids.
Tingley Coliseum holds many different kinds of events aside from the state fair – from rodeos to concerts. An Expo spokesperson said they’re using it more now than they were before COVID-19.
Next year, Expo is planning to ask state lawmakers for money for upgrades, like new seating.
NEXT FOR GLADIATORS?
With the move, the Gladiators don’t have a home field anymore. A team spokesperson told KOB 4 that they will announce what their plans will be soon.