Gentrification convo raises questions about who is speaking out against the stadium

Opposition to New Mexico United stadium bond grows as a second organized group emerges

By: - October 29, 2021 6:16 am

Anna Lee Desaulniers, one of the founding members of Stop the Stadium, introduces Antonio Villegas Thursday at Joseph J. Baca Plaza in Barelas. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

An effort to build a stadium for the New Mexico United soccer team has pitted local residents against each other. Some of the disagreement is about who gets to authentically represent the area and have a say in the future of the city’s historic neighborhoods, already coping with gentrification, a drug epidemic, a housing crisis and a deadly pandemic.

Do you have to be a Barelas or South Broadway resident to speak out publicly? Do you have to live in Albuquerque? Do you have to be a soccer fan?

All of these questions have become top of mind in debates around the city government’s effort to borrow $50 million and pay it back using sales tax revenue to help buy a stadium to be operated by United, the popular minor league team. The New Mexico Legislature has provided about $8 million that will go toward the stadium, and United pledged $10 million toward the end of September.

Residents say new soccer stadium will raise rents and expand policing in Albuquerque

University of New Mexico psychology student Antonio Villegas doesn’t live in Barelas, but his family has for four generations. He grew up going to the Barelas Community Center and attended Dolores Gonzales Elementary School.

“I grew up in this area, although I don’t live here now. I have aunties, uncles, and my own grandmother who still live here,” Villegas said at a Thursday evening news conference in Barelas organized by Stop the Stadium. “So I still see this neighborhood and this community as my own.”

Villegas was furious, he said, when he went to the polls and found out he can’t vote on any of the city’s bond issues or the mayor’s race, because he lives in the South Valley just outside city limits and part of Bernalillo County.

“Right now is not the time to build a stadium,” Villegas said. “Be it the gentrification that may take place after that stadium comes in, or simply the money can be used in better places. Also, I know many people from this community who do not want a stadium in their backyards.”

Elizabeth Farrington was born and raised in South Broadway, the other neighborhood slated as a possible location for the stadium. She said many of her neighbors agree that the community doesn’t need a soccer stadium.

Barelas and South Broadway residents listen to Ruby Blue Cruz speak against the stadium proposal Thursday, Oct. 28. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

“There are more pressing issues that plague our community, like homelessness, food insecurity, addiction and low quality of education,” Farrington said.

The Barelas Neighborhood Association, upon learning about the neighborhood being one of the two “preferred” sites for the stadium, met with representatives from the city, the state and the team and convinced them to commit to a Community Benefits Agreement in the event the bond issue passes.

Villegas supports incumbent Mayor Tim Keller and many of his proposals but said the money proposed for the stadium would be better spent on affordable housing. Many houses in the area, he said, are being bought up by large companies. He and his mother rent their home in the South Valley from a company based in Atlanta.

It's up to us, the people, to stand up for this community. It's not up to the politicians. It’s up to us.

– Antonio Villegas

Residents and volunteers have been canvassing Barelas, South Broadway, San Jose, Martineztown and Wells Park neighborhoods since September and have spoken to 3,000 people, organizer Anna Lee Desaulniers said Thursday.

Residents “overwhelmingly oppose this stadium,” Desaulniers said but are being “drowned out” by advertisements bought by the team’s private owners. Regardless of the money spent in messaging or the volume, the latest polls forecast the stadium bond sinking when election results are tallied.

Lisa Padilla, the president of the Barelas Neighborhood Association, is in favor of the stadium and has characterized opponents as outsiders with no long-term interest in the well-being of Burqueños.

“I’m not saying that any of these people aren’t entitled to their opinion. It’s absolutely fine to have an opinion, but for them to represent themselves as representatives of the neighborhood is inaccurate and unfair, because we are actually the elected officials,” Padilla said in an interview on Monday, Oct. 25. ”You have to be elected to be on the neighborhood association board. So it is kind of a misrepresentation of themselves.”

Downtown resident files ethics complaint against Stop the Stadium

She and another vocal stadium fan, Downtown resident Joaquin Baca, have accused Stop the Stadium of “parachuting in” and misrepresenting themselves. This month, he filed an ethics complaint against the group for not properly registering with the city as opponents of the bond issue, in part because of his objection to some members’ association with the local chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

“They’re not from the neighborhood,” Baca said. He lives Downtown, though not right in Barelas, but says he’s engaged with the community associations and works on problems affecting the whole area. “I don’t mind that somebody comes in with their own thing, but they need to be transparent,” he said. “They need to follow the rules. They clearly aren’t.”

Padilla said the group’s rhetoric is inflammatory and “doesn’t always address the nature of the actual crux of the problem.”

“I wish we could impress on people just how opportunistic and savior-ish the rhetoric and behavior of (Stop the Stadium) is,” Padilla wrote in a text message on Wednesday.

It really bothers me that a sustainable, community-driven movement is being hijacked by people who will abandon the issue as soon as the measure is defeated.

– Lisa Padilla, president of the Barelas Neighborhood Association

Desaulniers, who was born and raised in Albuquerque, started the group in part because she could not find housing in September.

South Broadway resident and Stop the Stadium volunteer Elizabeth Farrington speaks Thursday at Joseph J. Baca Plaza in Barelas. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)
Elizabeth Farrington from the South Broadway neighborhood says many people in the area don’t think the community needs a soccer stadium. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

“I have been actually affected by this crisis, so … if I’m trying to save somebody, I’m trying to save myself,” she said. “These are my neighbors, and this is my hometown, and I’m going to fight against this obvious gentrification project that is at the expense of taxpayers, that is going to serve private interests. It’s absolutely not what we need, and anybody in touch with the community knows that.”

Another grassroots group in opposition

Opposition to the stadium is not limited to residents and volunteers within the orbit of the Stop the Stadium group.

The Historic Neighborhoods Alliance (HNA) is slated to hold a news conference today — Friday, Oct. 29 — to discuss how the stadium project is part of the city government’s historical and ongoing systemic racism in the planning and zoning of major development projects in working class communities of color.

Robert Nelson, a former City Council candidate and HNA member, said the group started organizing in the 1990s around the “pocket of poverty” that encompasses the Downtown, Barelas, Wells Park, South Broadway and San Jose neighborhoods. Since then, members have focused on a grant the city received many years ago for economic development, jobs and housing. More recently, they organized against racism in the city’s zoning codes adopted in 2017, he said.

The stadium is a class issue and a race issue, Nelson said, and HNA members see it as a gentrifying and displacing force for their community.

South Broadway and Barelas residents are telling HNA members that the city government is offering people checks  for their homes to make way for the stadium, Nelson said. That was confirmed on Thursday night when Chris Keller, managing editor of ABQ Business First — and no relation to the mayor — tweeted results of a public records request he filed showing that owners of at least 12 parcels near the intersection of 2nd Street and Iron Avenue received letters from the city showing interest in purchasing their property.

“That harkens back to the city of Albuquerque’s history with displacement,” Nelson said. In the 1970s, he said, the city government under the rubric of “urban renewal” displaced people from their homes in south Martineztown.

In its news release Thursday, the HNA said city officials have skipped community-based processes — including traffic and noise studies — for the massive stadium project. “The City of Albuquerque has a long history of siting development projects in the historic neighborhoods leading to displacement and discrimination in zoning practices, which perpetuates disparate public health impacts from the contamination of the air, water, and soil.”

Desaulniers said the Stop the Stadium won’t stop organizing even after the election, and Villegas agreed.

“I don’t want to stop here. I don’t want to stop at Stop the Stadium. I don’t want to stop at Nov. 2. I don’t want to stop when a mayor is elected,” Villegas said. “I want us to keep going. This movement can’t stop here. We need to keep pushing forward. We need to be the ones who fight for this, because we’re the only ones who can. We’re the only ones who understand our communities.”

Historic Neighborhood Association news conference

Friday, Oct. 29, 2021 at 4:30 p.m.

1005 Broadway SE

Stop the Stadium march

Monday, Nov. 1, 2021 at 5 p.m.

Joseph J. Baca Plaza at Fourth Street and Barelas Road

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.