GOOOOAAAL: EPC Votes 7-0, OKs United Stadium at Balloon Fiesta Park Again

Last week, after a hearing that lasted more than eight and a half hours (8:30 a.m. to past 5 p.m.) and included 117 participants on the Zoom call, the city of Albuquerque’s Environmental Planning Commission voted 7-0 on each of two changes that will put a United soccer stadium at Balloon Fiesta Park.

The changes to the Balloon Fiesta Park Master Development Plan and Site Development Plan for Subdivision replace a planned five- to six-story parking structure with the stadium on the east end of the park, remove a planned outdoor multi-use soundstage on the west end of the park, and reduce the height of the stadium as well as its lighting. The revised iteration of the stadium will in fact be 10 feet shorter than the nearby Balloon Museum and well below the existing high-voltage lines.

Well-known Albuquerqueans stepped up to advocate for the changes, including former Mayor Martin Chavez, who shared that Balloon Fiesta Park was built up under his administration and said the latest update is an important exercise in community building “of vital interest to us as a community.”

Sen. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, pointed out Albuquerque “is the largest city in the country without a stadium.”

Former state Auditor Brian Colón said the project is an opportunity to “invest in New Mexico and generations to come.”

And a former EPC chairman said the team has responded to residents’ worries and improved the plans to reduce the amount of light and sound that will affect nearby neighbors, has removed the multi-use soundstage “which is much more obtrusive,” and “has bent over backward” to accommodate concerns.

D’Val Westphal, the Chamber’s executive vice president for policy and programs, testified that:

“Since its inception in 2018, the New Mexico United soccer team has become both beloved by fans and an integral part of the community. This stadium project is a logical next step in the team making a lasting – and hefty financial – commitment to Albuquerque and its residents. And we see it as a win-win opportunity. Here are 5 reasons why:

1. It will improve the park so it can be better utilized year-round for everything from youth sports to special events to recreational opportunities.

2. The actual site of the stadium is a no-fly area for balloonists, the project will add 100 parking spaces, and the team has said matches will not interfere with Balloon Fiesta programming — so the city’s signature event comes out ahead.

3. The team has also said it will use a design and materials that buffer light and sound, as well as utilize the I-25 access road for traffic, to minimize effects on nearby neighborhoods.

4. In addition to financing the stadium itself, United will focus on local residents to both build and staff it.

5. The city will get $35,000 a year, 10% of parking revenues and the use of the stadium and its amenities during fiesta and other events.

“The United has proven to be a great partner, not just in energizing our community around soccer but in working with it on a state-of-the-art venue. The chance to have a private entity invest $30-$40 million in our city’s hardscape – especially in a manner this well-vetted that puts New Mexico jobs, residents and recreation first — does not come along every day. We need to seize it.”

Commissioners voted 7-0 to replace the parking garage with the stadium, and 7-0 to amend the site plan for the stadium. Appeals, which need to be filed within 15 days of the hearing (by April 26), would send the proposal back to the Land Use Hearing Officer. If an appeal isn’t filed, the Development Facilitation Team will have to ensure the final site plan matches what EPC approved in order for a building permit to be submitted.

To read more about the decision, and why the proposal was before the EPC again, check out the full  Albuquerque Journal story here.

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