Friday, March 27, 2015
This column also recently appeared in the ABQ Free Press.
Tingley Coliseum--one of its most iconic structures--gradually decay into a dilapidated retro reminder of the 50's--attests to the deep freeze encasing our political and business leadership.
Tingley's slow-motion demise at NM Expo is not just a sentimental concern, it is costing the city real money. As much as $10 million was brought into town from the Arabian & Half-Arabian Youth National Championship Horse Show for its one week annual meet, but it has fled to Oklahoma City where $100 million in upgrades to that city's State Fair Park persuaded the group it was much easier to switch than to fight for a tolerable Tingley. Just prior to the Great Recession in 2006 an early warning shot was fired when the U.S. National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show--the larger version of the national youth show--pulled up stakes and caused a $20 million economic hit.
NM Expo officials presiding over Tingley's demise claim we can't compete with Oklahoma and its $100 million upgrade. But State Auditor Tim Keller recently reported there is now over $4.5 billion left unspent at over 700 various state agencies. Over half of that, he says, could legally be reallocated. There's $100 million staring us in the face.
What a showcase for the 21st century Tingley could be as it was for previous generations of New Mexicans. Horse shows, mega-concerts, major sporting events and trade shows are just a few of the events that could add sparkle to the dreariness that drapes Tingley and much of the area around the fairgrounds And then there's the attendance boost that would result at the annual state fair, a tradition that like Tingley is slipping away due to neglect.
Maybe New Mexico is burned out over the disappointing results of the Rail Runner and Spaceport and has grown cynical of thinking big. The trouble is our neighbors have not stopped.
Mayor Berry has this idea that has been lingering for years and not going much of anywhere. It's called ABQ The Plan. Part of its mission statement is to "invest in our future while honoring our past." Specific proposals include building a 50 mile activity loop for trails and bicycles. It seems rather fanciful in light of the city's continued economic stagnation and the loss of the prized Arabian horse shows but Berry continues to urge the city council to fund the effort.
Berry has an opportunity to switch gears and partner with the state and fellow Republican Susana Martinez by dedicating city bonding money to get the ball rolling on the rebuilding of Tingley, instead of the stalled ABQ The Plan. After all, Tingley Coliseum got its name from one of the most productive politicians in state history--Clyde Tingley--who served as both Albuquerque's mayor and as as a two-term governor. Those are the kind of footprints Berry and Martinez tunes should yearn to fill and it is how you "invest in our future while honoring the past."
It sounds easy enough but strangely these two Republicans have not partnered on much of anything and rarely appear together. Maybe it's because Berry has become radioactive as a result of the APD crisis. Whatever the reason, the two could use some prodding from the city's business community. As usual that wish comes with the usual caveat: Don't hold your breath.
So if Berry and Martinez are content staying behind the curtains, what about the nine Albuquerque city councilors? In a practice that dates from more economically flush days, each of them is awarded $1 million in city bond money every two years to spend in their districts as they wish with no strings attached. That's $9 million. If the councilors agreed to forgo only half that amount it would leave nearly $4.5 million for annual interest payments on bonds that could be used for the Tingley rebuild. With interest rates at historic lows, that $4.5 million could pay for the lion's share of the entire project.
When there's a will there'a a way. In the case of giving the city and state a world-class Tingley and the economic and quality of life benefits that come with it, there are multiple ways. Sadly, we seem to lack the will.
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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2014. Not for reproduction without permission of the author