Inside the Capitol

Thursday, July 10, 2008

7-23 What To Do With the State Fairgrounds?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Now that the State Fair is losing its race track, what should we do with the extra space?
It appears more certain every day that The Downs at Albuquerque soon will become The Downs at Moriarty. The state Racing Commission has approved the transfer of license. All that remains is acceptance by some pueblos.
That leaves the eastern third of the fairgrounds up for grabs. What should New Mexico do with that big chunk of urban property? The possibilities are endless and Gov. Bill Richardson is open to all suggestions.
Possible uses could involve just the former horse track and casino facilities. They could include the worn out Tingley Coliseum, which is surrounded by the track facility on three sides. Or it could encompass the entire state fairgrounds.
Moving the State Fair has been discussed at times. When it was built 70 years ago, it was east of town. Now it is in the middle of Albuquerque, an urban setting that isn't always comfortable for the fair or for surrounding neighborhoods.
Moriarty has been suggested as a new location. That's where the horse track is moving and there is plenty of room for the fairgrounds too. To boot, it's cowboy country.
The Mesa del Sol planned community being developed by the state and a private company, also has been discussed. It is just south of Albuquerque and closer to its restaurants, hotels and residents who would patronize it.
Some of the State Fair buildings are receiving major renovations, which provides a reason for the fair to stay put but the governor says it doesn't preclude a move.
Possible uses of the land that have been mentioned include a state of the art exhibit center, a world class arena, mixed residential-commercial, an Albuquerque state office complex, or a community green space.
Also on the table is exchanging all or part of the fairgrounds for land elsewhere.
Albuquerqueans would like to see a big arena, world class, of course, located where the track and Tingley Coliseum are now. Duke City voters turned down a ballot measure for a downtown arena they would have to finance. But having the state build one for them would be just great.
And then there are the neighbors of the fairgrounds. Since the fairgrounds were built out in the country in 1938, it is safe to assume that none of the neighbors lived there at the time.
But just as with people who buy near airports, they are incensed about the impact of the fairgrounds on their lives. So they are likely to favor having state taxpayers build them a nice park on the vacated land.
The idea of state funds to benefit Albuquerque is not new. The $400 million RailRunner commuter train has no local contribution, which Spaceport America in southern New Mexico does.
There already is a fair amount of competition for any arenas or exhibit halls the state would build. Rio Rancho built an arena while Albuquerque was talking about it and stole the hockey franchise away. Several casinos in the area also have built major convention facilities.
As would be expected, Gov. Richardson is looking to go big time with the fairgrounds redevelopment. He is seeking ideas and information from developers and other interested companies, consortiums, associations, firms and/or individuals.
The governor suggests that a public-private partnership is the arrangement he would like to see. Last year, he used a similar arrangement to build a terminal for the RailRunner at the state Transportation Department headquarters.
The successful bidder agreed to build a new department headquarters building in return for residential and business rights on the remainder of the property.
The governor ended up having to pull the plug on the arrangement after complaints about the bid going to a major donor and the revelation that people were involved with the Transportation Department on the project who had been indicted in the Bernalillo County Courthouse scandal.
WED, 7-23-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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