By Hayley Estrada and Steven DeAnda / NM News Port
Marissa Gomez can barely remember the days when she and her friends were able to practice at the Los Altos Park without the fear of being bothered by dozens of people living out of shopping carts.
“It is really upsetting to see the softball diamonds I used to compete on are taken over and almost ruined today,” said Gomez.
But she’s hopeful now that the city of Albuquerque has announced upcoming improvements.
“I am excited to see how the upgrades will increase tourism to the park I grew up in,” Gomez said.
Los Altos Park is in line to receive $10.5 million to rebuild and update the park. It’s one of several locations included in last month’s multi-million dollar sports-tourism package proposed by Mayor Tim Keller.
On Oct.7, City Council approved spending $30.5 million to support the plan. The proposal is focused on increasing capacity of several recreational sites across the city in order to attract more people and host major events in the future.
The city is planning on refinancing the existing Lodgers Tax bond program to fund the $30 million in spending. These tax dollars are required to be focused on tourism and the city plans on renewing the bonds at a lower interest rate later this year.
The project partly stems from Albuquerque’s experience hosting the National Senior Games back in June. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said that by reconstructing and rebuilding some major locations throughout the city, Albuquerque will have more opportunities to host more major events.
“We saw a huge investment from the Senior Games, an estimated $30 million,” Keller said, “but we also understood better of where the gaps are to have future tournaments and future similar programs.”
The plan for Los Altos Park calls for more fencing, lights, and security. The city would also update all four softball fields, expanding each field to regulation size, add a fifth field and build a new BMX pump track.
“This park has been sliding down and withering for the past 10 years,” Albuquerque City Councilor Diane Gibson said. “By improving this facility, we’ll increase our ability to attract more athletes and their families to spend their money at our hotels, restaurants, shops and improve facilities for our own residents and surrounding neighborhoods.”
Sports tourism package includes $3 million to help NM United
While the largest share of funds would be used at Los Altos Park, the proposal also includes $3 million to create a multi-use soccer complex that could host middle and high school sports championships and replace New Mexico United’s current practice facility.
Keller said a high-quality soccer field with stands and other facilities would be used by the New Mexico Athletic Association to hold its statewide school championships.
The new soccer complex would serve as a permanent practice field for Albuquerque’s brand new professional USL soccer club, NM United, giving them a place to have their own locker rooms and a professional-grade field. The team currently practices at the Dr. E. A. Swede Scholer Regional Recreation Complex which is located near the Isleta Amphitheater.
“I think that Albuquerque has the opportunity to become a great tourism city and this plan sounds like a perfect way to start, we live in a beautiful city and there are so many great things to see here.” — Marissa Gomez
A wide assortment of improvements funded by a tax on lodging
The proposal also includes:
- $2.5 million to replace the City’s 16-year-old indoor track by partnering with the University of New Mexico Track & Field Program.
- $2 million to create a connecting trail between Downtown Albuquerque and the Innovation District.
- $3 million to upgrade the Convention Center infrastructure, adding outdoor message boards, create larger public meeting rooms and potentially increasing the capacity of the Kiva Auditorium.
- $2.5 million to acquire and preserve open space landing zones for hot air balloons across the city.
- $1 million to upgrade Isotopes Park by designing full base netting and more concession stands for all activities hosted at the park.
- $3 million for improvements at the city’s Westside baseball complex such as a new fields and shade structure.
- $500,000 to design a Northwest Mesa gateway entrance and access to the Petroglyph National Monument
“I think that Albuquerque has the opportunity to become a great tourism city and this plan sounds like a perfect way to start, we live in a beautiful city and there are so many great things to see here,” Gomez said.
A new indoor running track would allow the city to host multiple indoor track and field events at the local, collegiate, and professional levels.
The multi-use trail downtown would make it easier for residents, students and visitors to access areas such as Civic Plaza and the Convention Center. The connecting trail will be a safer and direct path for people to access downtown Albuquerque.
The Isotopes Park upgrades would include field improvements to provide for an easier transition from baseball to other uses, including other sports like soccer as well as concerts. The money will also be spent on adding more protective netting to the field to shield baseball fans.
As part of City Council’s approval of Mayor Keller’s plan, the council members are seeking more input from from the Lodgers Tax Advisory Board and hospitality industry.
The projects are still in the planning stage and a timeline for the proposed bond refinancing was not yet set. The city council is working with the Greater Albuquerque Hotel and Lodging Association and the Lodgers Tax Advisory Board to gather a projected date of when the process can begin.
Hayley Estrada is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. She can be reached on Twitter @Est3Hayley or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steven DeAnda is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. He can be reached on Twitter @stevendeanda15 or at email@example.com.