New Mexico United lease approved during packed city council meeting
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – City councilors voted 7-2 to approve an agreement that is expected to lead to New Mexico United building a stadium at Balloon Fiesta Park.
The city’s Environmental Planning Commission approved a land-use agreement last week. Then, Monday night, it cleared the Albuquerque City Council.
New Mexico United is required to invest $30 million in the stadium. Officials say they have it and that the council approval was their final stamp of approval.
Only Councilors Brook Bassan and Renee Grout voted against the United approval
Councilors also unanimously approved funding to make the Westside Shelter more appealing, which will include an outdoor recreational space. The funding will come from bonds in 2021.
Councilors also approved a $2.4 billion solar facility. Maxeon is set to build it in Albuquerque after a nationwide search.
New Mexico United stadium lease proposal
The plan is to use seven acres of Balloon Fiesta Park to build a new multipurpose stadium. It would be located directly east of the launch field inside a parking lot.
Early renderings show the roughly 185,000-square-foot facility could house up to 11,000 people, which is slightly smaller than Isotopes Park where the team currently plays.
New Mexico United is expected to host 17 games a year but not during the Balloon Fiesta. City leaders say the stadium would be used for other events as well.
Officials say no taxpayers’ dollars will be used. The team is required to invest at least $30 million to construct the stadium. Meanwhile, city and state leaders are chipping in $13 million to pay for infrastructure upgrades at Balloon Fiesta Park.
Mayor Tim Keller and other city leaders are fully behind the project.
Opposition from balloonists
Some hot air balloon pilots aren’t sold just yet, and they’re concerned about how a new stadium will affect New Mexico’s biggest event of the year.
“The Balloon Fiesta is the single largest economic event in the state. Why would we even be thinking about messing with that when we have all kinds of options surrounding the Albuquerque metro area?” said Scott Appelman, president & CEO of Rainbow Ryders.
Appelman is the man behind Rainbow Ryders – Albuquerque’s largest balloon ride operator – and a major player during the annual Balloon Fiesta.
“This just really brings the challenge right in, you know, right inside our own park,” said Appelman.
Appelman says the Balloon Fiesta is already a challenging event to pull off, especially with record numbers of balloonists and visitors. He suspects adding a stadium into the mix will only bring new problems.
“I don’t understand, in a town that is already starved with parking and landing sites, why we’re doing this here? I’m just a little bit surprised,” Appelman said. “I personally believe that this will be one more nail in the coffin for what Fiesta looks like, compared to what it used to look like.”
City leaders say the proposed stadium will be located behind a set of power lines that already restrict balloon traffic. There are plans to add more parking.
But Appelman says those are just plans.
“I don’t see anything in concrete. I’ve seen site plans that have changed numerous times. I haven’t seen where any real agreements have been made with like, what is Balloon Fiesta Park gonna get?” Appelman said.
Above all, Appelman says he’s most concerned about the speed of the approval process.
“I understand this is privately funded. But why so fast? Makes me very suspicious, and quite frankly, I just don’t trust it.”
City leaders first announced the Balloon Fiesta Park stadium idea just eight months ago.
KOB 4 reached out to Balloon Fiesta organizers about the proposal. They did not comment before the vote.
Now, it is up to New Mexico United to develop the final plans for the stadium after councilors approved the 30-year agreement Monday.