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Today in Dumb Municipal Investments



Like many cities, Albuquerque does not use common sense in downtown planning. Thus it has decided that this upgrade to its convention center is a good idea:

And $5 million would go towards a retractable, convertible-style arena in the east area of the convention center. The retractable arena would be able to seat up to 10,000 spectators.

What? Can anyone think of any events where a retractable arena holding up to 10,000 people would be used in Albuquerque? Basketball games, you say? Sure, that makes sense since that’s the drawing above. One problem: the University of New Mexico has The Pit. Renovated in 2009, it holds 15,000 people for basketball and 13,000 for concerts, were they theoretically to come through Albuquerque, the worst music city in the nation unless you are a metalhead.* So this new retractable arena seems totally unnecessary and irrelevant except that the city has decided it needs to bring people downtown and rather than provide a downtown that people want to go to naturally, it’s throwing money at pointless projects that will end up empty disasters. As is, the Albuquerque convention center is largely underused. Color me extremely skeptical that a gigantic new arena is what will attract all the conventions to the Land of Enchantment.

*Given Albuquerque’s size and rational halfway point between Phoenix and either Denver or Dallas, you would think that bands would play in Albuquerque. But they don’t because no one goes to shows there.

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  • Derelict

    Projects like this take on a life of their own. Once the idea gains any traction at all with a certain group of people, there is no argument that can dissuade them from implementing that idea. With cities and towns desperate to get some sort of life going downtown, building things like arenas and civic centers and convention centers starts to seem like a really good idea–if only because nobody seems to have any other ideas that the powers that be want to sign on to.

    So ABQ building this thing makes no sense whatsoever from a rational standpoint. But it makes all the sense in the world to city officials who can’t think of any other way to get traffic downtown to support (now-shuttered) store-front businesses.

    • sparks

      I live in Sacramento. There’s nothing you or Erik can tell me about this that I don’t already know. When the Kings (basketball) threatened to leave, I suggested locally that townspeople and even the city government chip in for the moving expenses. Unfortunately I haven’t any influence.

      • Denverite

        Hey — I’m probably going to be out in Cameron Park (and maybe Placerville) a bunch in 2016 Q1. Where’s the best place to stay out there?

        • J. Otto Pohl

          I can’t speak too much about hotels but Sacramento has the greatest collection of dive bars (most called clubs for some reason) in the world. I have listed a few below.

          Press Club
          Zebra Club
          Old Tavern
          Raven Club
          Old Ironsides
          Joe Marty’s
          The New Trio
          Torch Club
          Flame Club
          Monte Carlo

          • Hogan

            (most called clubs for some reason)

            Calling your dive bar a “dive bar” may not be the best way to bring in business.

            • J. Otto Pohl

              But, these places relied on a steady stream of regulars and you only had to go to them once to realize they were in fact dives.

          • sparks

            You missed a few, Otto. You realize many of those “dives” are ancient and even with that still paying propositions. It’s hard to go broke owning a decent neighborhood bar. Hipster bars go broke all the time.

            • J. Otto Pohl

              Of course I missed a lot. I just put down the ones that I used to frequent. Even then I missed some like the Pine Cove. Jerry, the owner of the Zebra Club, catered the booze at my first wedding at McKinley Park. The only one that is really ancient is Old Ironsides. My parents and uncle were at the opening of the Raven Club which was only in the 1970s.

              • sparks

                Besides Old Ironsides, the Torch Club, Flame Club, and Round Corner (you didn’t name it, but I will) are all older than I am, others I know were around as bars when I was a child, but have been renamed.

                • J. Otto Pohl

                  Yes, I used to occasionally drink at the Round Corner too. But, I left Sac in 2000 so the memory has faded. Old Ironsides claimed to be the oldest continually operating bar in the city and that only dated back to 1934. Obviously prohibition made operating through the 1920s difficult.

                • sparks

                  Yeah, many were repurposed. Socal’s was once a grocery store (I have a picture).

        • sparks

          In Cameron Park? That’s not even in the same county I’m in. I’ve been there a few times, it’s a lot like an exurb for people who hate cities and love driving since you’ll have to do a lot of it. I avoid places like that generally so I haven’t any good details.

          • Denverite

            In fact, one of the big issues I’m dealing with is whether that area is “rural” or “urban” for federal government purposes.

            • sparks

              I wouldn’t call it rural. Not anymore. Not even 20 years ago. Rural is a bit further up El Dorado County toward the Sierras. Cameron Park is almost a suburb of Folsom by now. It just happens to be in the next county.

      • LeeEsq

        Sports teams are more than businesses, they are institutions that become part of a fabric of a place. People form fond memories across generations by going to particular games at particular stadiums. In baseball, more than a few teams have existed since before World War I. Its not really that weird that people are going to fight to keep an institution going.

        • The Dark God of Time

          Especially if paid for by OPM.

          • LeeEsq

            Considering how enthusiastic most of the electorate gets about these projects, people are paying it with their own money and doing so willingly.

    • Anonymous Troll

      It’s not a new arena. The building is already there. It’s already being used for a bunch of stuff, from indoor track and field events to western art and artifact sales shows.

      All that the $5 million will do is buy the retractable arena style seating – which will slightly improve the facility for certain events.

      That’s not a lot of money. There are at least a million people in the Abq metro area, and it’s going to be financed with bonds (probably revenue bonds, so the government won’t be on the hook for them), so if it marginally improves the use of the existing facility it’s worth doing.

      I’m a bit more concerned with the $15 million, 400 space parking facility. That seems like about $35,000 per parking space. Perhaps that’s reasonable, but it strikes me as expensive, and parking can be a problem downtown. Or maybe my arithmetic is wrong.

      • DW

        A rule of thumb I’ve heard for DC and its inner suburbs is 50K per garage parking space, so it’s not out of the question.

      • Pseudonym

        I was wondering what was meant by “retractable” arena. But the drawing looks like pretty bad seating for basketball compared to a dedicated arena.

    • JonH

      Like the minor-league baseball stadium going up in Hartford, and already eating itself with fuckups, delays, cost overruns, etc.

      • efgoldman

        Like the minor-league baseball stadium going up in Hartford, and already eating itself with fuckups, delays, cost overruns, etc.

        The Red Sox AAA team in Pawtucket RI (~55 minuted from Fenway) was independently owned, with their own perfectly good ballpark, until the late owner’s estate sold the team to the parent club. Larry Lucchino ( formerly President of the Red Sox) took it over and immediately announced that the team would move to a new ballpark in Providence on land cleared when a highway was relocated.
        Problem was, Providence didn’t particularly want it, the state won’t give its part of the land, Brown U which owns another part won’t sell (actually, asked more than they wanted to spend for the whole project) and here we are.
        Meanwhile the 60 or so home dates a year provide a lot of money to the city of Pawtucket, an old mill city with all the same problems as similar cities all over New England.
        Lucchino will probably get some FL city to bribe him with a new stadium and infinite tax breaks.

  • Richard Hershberger

    I particularly like that many of the seats are actually folding metal chairs. I understand that basketball fans consider these highly desirable when they are right up next to the court. This rendering, however, shows rows and rows of them, all on court level, which is to say that the view will be blocked for all but the front row.

    But even apart from this, the point is well taken that an undersized arena is automatically a white elephant. Baltimore has an arena in a great location downtown, just a couple of blocks from Camden Yards. It was built in the early 1960s and holds about 14,000. That was perfect in the 1960s for basketball and hockey. Now it is too small to interest any major team, so it hosts stuff like WWE and the circus and bull riding.

    • cs

      It sounds like the biggest problem with this project is the artist’s rendering. If this is inside a convention center, I’m pretty sure it isn’t meant to be a stadium for a basketball team, it is supposed to be a facility for cheerleading championships or national ping-pong tournaments or something.

      • Anonymous Troll

        Exactly. It’s a perfectly fine and sensible small project to make a small arena – already used for smaller events – a bit more usable.

        If there’s any basketball, it’ll be High School basketball championships. There’s already a perfectly fine arena for the University team (which is a big noise) as Erik points out. But for the State HS championships I could see it. The place is already used for indoor track and field.

        Calling it a ‘gigantic new arena’ , as the post does, is misleading. It’s not gigantic and it’s not a new arena. It’s new retractable seating in an existing arena.

  • keta

    I like that the artist has what looks like the Gadsden flag hanging next to the Stars and Stripes.

    And at first blush it looked like Vancouver Canucks fans were used to populate the stands. But then I realized they’re too animated.

    • Matt

      FWIW, I think that’s the NM flag.

      • keta

        Huh. The more you know…

        Thanks, all, for the correction.

    • eyerolld6

      That’s nothing like the Gadsen flag. It’s the state flag, with the Zia sun symbol in the middle.

    • It’s the perfect size for Trump rallies and like minded Tea party events. Also, a Mexican/Muslim detention center.

    • The Dark God of Time

      Except it’s the state flag of NM.

    • Emily68

      If I’d been the artist drawing the picture, I would have put more people in the stands.

  • Mudge

    A convergence…Temple University wants to build a stadium on campus (used 6 days a year)partially using state money. A dumb investment.


    And this quote “Not everyone is 100 percent behind the plan. Arthur Hochner, president of the faculty union, said it’s fine for the university to pursue a stadium, but it ought to treat its adjunct professors better. The university is opposing the adjuncts’ attempt to unionize.”

    • All sports stadium investments are bad ones for the public, but exclusively football stadiums are exceedingly stupid given how rarely they are used. At least a baseball stadium gets at least 81 days a year. An NFL stadium gets 10 and hopes it can attract a few other events if it doesn’t also host a MLS team.

      • CrunchyFrog

        I agree with you in general, but I’ll offer an opposite data point I encountered last summer while staying at the Santa Clara Marriott, which is maybe a mile from the new Levis Stadium. The manager told me that the hotel had for a long time had a problem with occupancy rates during weekends, as is common in the area. However, since the stadium was opened they’ve been at full occupancy on at least half of the weekends. Apparently this is one stadium that actually has been attracting concerts and other events (usually such events are talked about during the selling process, but don’t actually materialize). I gather that the years when only legacy bands could sell out football stadia are a thing of the past – now the Disney pop stars do as well.

        Now, this doesn’t mean that the city of Santa Clara isn’t still losing money on the deal. And this probably is an accident of where the stadium is located – in a somewhat-densely populated major city that has high demand on travel facilities during the week but virtually none on the weekends (tourists prefer San Fran, Marin, Monterrey, etc. to the San Jose area). Throw in the fact that they were able to share an existing parking lot with the Great America amusement park and are located on an existing light rail line with transit connections and it’s actually a surprisingly decent arrangement. Basically, all of the facilities needed to support the stadium were already in place and heavily underused on weekends.

        The only thing better – economically – would be to put two teams in the same building as was done in Newark. But I gather neither team was interested in sharing with the other.

        • The Dark God of Time

          Which is a pity, because the only thing marketed extensively to any tourists who find themselves in S.J. are things like the Winchester Mystery house.

          What you don’t hear about that it’s less than an hour by car from Santa Cruz, there are redwoods nearby as well, and the Alum Rock city park is a great place to explore with or without family members.

        • sparks

          Heh, the only reason I’d be in San Jose on a weekend was if I was lost or had to pull off the freeway to buy gas.

      • Denverite

        In addition to the Broncos, Mile High hosts Denver’s outdoor lacrosse team, the CU-CSU football game, the bigger high school classification championship games, and a number of charity events. Not that many concerts though (because most bands prefer Red Rocks), and the soccer team plays in a soccer-only stadium in a nearby burb.

        • CrunchyFrog

          In short, Mile High (like most such new football stadia) is vacant the vast majority of the time. The high school and lacrosse games can’t possibly bring in any profit to the stadium authority, but why not use the empty structure that’s just sitting there?

          I see on the web site that the Denver Outlaws lacrosse team once got 10k people to attend an all-star game, and that in 2012 they got 59k attendees for the whole season! Almost as much as a single Broncos home game.

          And the high school championships (5A, 4A, and 3A) can’t bring in more than 5K people for each.

          • Denverite

            Oh sure.

            Though I bet the 5A games often bring in a lot more than 5k. Especially when Cherry Creek is playing. It has close to 4k students all by itself, and that doesn’t count family members, interested people in the community, etc. Plus the other team and its fans.

            … yep, Post says a little less than 14k for the 2014 championship between Valor and Creek.

            • CrunchyFrog

              Would not have guessed that many – but obviously still doesn’t come close to justifying Mile High.

              Cherry Creek is something else. Somehow that school district (richest in the state – 5 high schools, only one dominates) funnels all of their top athletes to the biggest school in the state and gets away with it. Even the Yankees in the 1950s didn’t dominate like that school does. I guess every state has a few of these, and of course in a state where public and private schools (who are not allowed to recruit or give athletic scholarships wink-wink-nudge-nudge-say-no-more) compete in the same conferences fairness is out the window anyway.

    • efgoldman

      A convergence…Temple University wants to build a stadium on campus (used 6 days a year)partially using state money. A dumb investment.

      OTOH, UMass has come to the realization (which everybody, and I mean everybody, knew would happen) that going division 1A in football, and moving a bunch of “home” games to Gillette Stadium, 110+ miles from the campus, was a monumentally stupid move. Hate to say I told you so….

      • This was possibly the stupidest decision in the history of college football. I really don’t know what UMass was thinking in moving to FBS, not to mention playing in Foxboro.

        • MAJeff

          “thinking” and university managers generally are not a compatible combination.

  • dauwhe

    One of the best musical experiences of my life was in Albuquerque, seeing Bobby Bradford at The Outpost (with Vinny Golia, William Jeffries, and the astounding Roberto Miguel Miranda). I met a fellow John Carter enthusiast at the concert, ended up going out to dinner with the band, scored a copy of JC’s very rare first album…

    • Yeah, The Outpost does a good job with jazz for a western city, or at least did when I lived there.

  • Denverite

    Given Albuquerque’s size and rational halfway point between Phoenix and either Denver or Dallas, you would think that bands would play in Albuquerque. But they don’t because no one goes to shows there.

    Does Santa Fe have a better music scene? I know a couple of people in Denver who go there for the opera because supposedly it’s better than Denver’s (I’m told), but I know nothing about the popular music scene.

    • Santa Fe has developed a slightly better scene over the years in the folk/country genres, but when I lived there it was largely pretty high end classical stuff which I don’t care about. But it’s not like touring bands stopped there much.

    • Honoré De Ballsack

      Does Santa Fe have a better music scene?

      Speaking as one who grew up in the area: for all intents and purposes, Santa Fe doesn’t, and never has had, ANY kind of music (or art, or any kind of cultural) “scene”– other than what’s aimed at wealthy tourists. The persistent misconception that it does have such is, to me, one of the odder illusions of college-educated America.

      • joe from Lowell

        I’ve heard the architectural character of the place is just great. They’ve preserved, and new development has been respectful of the context.

        • A lot of it is bullshit though. Santa Fe is as much a historical fantasyland of how white people see a Hispano/Indian past as any actual representation of what that past was like.

          Chris Wilson’s The Myth of Santa Fe is outstanding on this.

          • Yep. But don’t tell my neighbors.

          • CrunchyFrog

            How does Santa Fe compare to Taos in this regard?

            • Lee Rudolph

              Taos adds an extra, particularly infuriating, layer of Spirituality.

      • J. Otto Pohl

        Tucson had an awesome music scene at one time. I don’t know if it still does. But, this documentary on the Tucson music scene is pretty great.


        • JonH

          I believe Neko Case lived there for a while, and I think still goes there on occasion to record.

    • Your milage varies, I guess. But to me Santa Fe has an OK music scene these days — certainly better than Albuquerque. My wife is a semi-pro mandolin player and knows it pretty well. The main venues, as Erik says, are classical — the Santa Fe Opera House (which is gorgeous) and the Lensic Theater.

      Besides that, the Railyard (on the edge of downtown and walkable) has had a lot of good rock/blues acts every week in the summer. The city supports that with visitor tax money. Over the past couple of years, again aided by city money and some private organizations, there have been some good acts that play on Thursdays on the Plaza downtown in the summer. Not huge, but OK. I saw Peter Rowan there last summer, as one example, as well as Chris Thiele. The rock bands I don’t know about but they have a lot of regionally popular bands according to my wife. It’s actually a pretty fun scene if you find yourself in Santa Fe on a Thursday night in the summer. For both the Railyard and Plaza shows admission is free. It’s a good use of city visitor tax money, I think.

      Building a monstrosity like that in Albuquerque , though, is nuts.

  • KadeKo

    Hey, the Arizona Sundogs gotta move somewhere and make their old place a white elephant.

    And maybe the New Mexico Stars will join them.

    Seriously, I have a higher-than-normal appetite for minor league sport, but I know when to stop construction. I can’t find it now but I think the NYT had a great article on how the hell these things get built.

    • At least in Albuquerque, I believe it was last year that the AAA team (the Isotopes — now affiliated with the Rockies) paid off to the city the final installment on the loan they got to renovate the stadium. It was around 20 million as I recall. But baseball is a big deal there and attendance at games is generally good.

      We’ve got season tickets and go a lot. Nice stadium.

      • That is an excellent stadium. It is unfortunate that even if you live in Albuquerque you almost certainly have to drive there. But what’s in Albuquerque you can’t say that about?

        • Albuquerque is basically a giant strip mall with I-25 and I-40 meeting in the middle. Folks from SoCal love it — just like home.

      • KadeKo

        I don’t know about the gestation of the AAA-level stadia, but there’s only 30 of them, but I don’t think they’re built on spec.

        Counting the possibilities for housing the ECHL, CHL, PIFL, and CIF (just to name a few) the industry of building these indoor places does heavily resemble the strip mall and convention center construction industries.

        • Richard Hershberger

          AAA ballparks tend to have a capacity of around 10,000 to 15,000, though there are some outliers in both directions. AA parks run around 6,000 to 10,000, while the various sub-levels of A run around 4,000 to 7,000. That last is also the sweet zone for independent league parks. The upshot is that you will sometimes see a baseball park in the 4K – 7K range built on spec: even if an affiliated club isn’t in the cards, you have a decent shot at attracting an indie club. But yeah, you wouldn’t build an AAA-level park on spec. At most you might build a smaller park designed to be expandable.

          That being said, the ballpark funding extortion scheme extends to the minor league level. The Isotopes are unusual in only borrowing the money. The Padres a few years back wanted to move their AAA affiliate to Escondido. (Why Escondido? Because it is close to San Diego, and major league clubs like having a high minor club nearby. It is convenient for quick call-ups and rehab assignments.) The scheme fell through because government development funds fell through, and you don’t expect the Padres to build a minor league park on their own dime, do you? The AAA club ended up in El Paso.

      • Mike G

        I lived there in the late 70s and the baseball team (then it was the Dukes) was the biggest deal in town. They share the stadium with the UNM baseball team so it is well utilized.

        Albuquerque was a blah place to live; it was like an undistinguished slab of LA suburban sprawl dropped in the middle of nowhere. Everyone from somewhere else and many looking to move on, nobody seemed to care much about the place.

  • joe from Lowell

    $5 million would start a great loan pool for downtown businesses to improve their signage and facades. Or some traffic calming, or a thousand other things that might actually help the downtown.

  • Dilan Esper

    Monorail! Monorail! Monorail!

    Oh, and i love Albuquerque, by the way. Extremely underrated place to visit.

  • Morse Code for J

    Well, they already built the metropolitan courthouse. I’m sure the Aragons have a finger in this pie somehow. :)

  • DAS

    I guess this is the ”if you build it,they will come” school of urban planning?

  • Murc

    Convention centers can be big revenue enhancers; the BCC has brought a lot of money into Baltimore, the Javits expansion did a lot of work for NYC, and DCs expansion looks amazing.

    The problem is you need a plausible claim to profitability and attendance. The Javits is in lower Manhattan, which is kind of, you know, a desirable place to be. The BCC was part of a comprehensive inner harbor rebuild, at the end of a rail line linking to one of the biggest and busiest international airports in the country, with a plausible claim it could attract organizations and events that were being underserved by the DC and NoVa area. Likewise, the DC and Philly convention center builds were partly based on “what the fuck, BALTIMORE is hosting big events? Why the hell not us?”. DC recently managed to lure Baltimore’s biggest yearly convention away from it, a real body blow to Baltimore’s summer economy.

    I don’t know that Albuquerque has any claims to profitability along these lines.

    • skate

      I would not have called the area that the Javits is in a “desirable place to be” until quite recently.

      Midtown West used to be a wasteland. it’s only with all the money poured into the area in the past 10 years to develop Hudson Yards and extend the 7 train into the neighborhood that it’s become desirable. Oh, and kick in the money spent on the High Line too since that leads into the area.

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