Demonstrators object to stadium plans on the eve of the election
The city votes on the bond issue today
Stop the Stadium rally attendees march along 4th St. past the Bernalillo County building on Monday, Nov. 1. (Photo by Shelby Kleinhans for Source NM)
The bond asking Albuquerque voters to support $50 million in tax money so a minor league soccer team can build a limited-use stadium may or not pass.
One thing it didn’t pass is the sniff test for Yvette Villegas. She says she smelled the dirt and voted no. The 18-year-old, whose December birthday just left her out of the 2020 presidential election, said her first ballot as an adult was proudly cast during early voting was against the municipal bond.
“It’s like they’re trying to delete a part of history, like, what made Albuquerque, Albuquerque,” she said. “This is the beginning. This is what Albuquerque stemmed from.”
Villegas, a 4th-generation Barales resident, spoke to a crowd filled with people that said no to the stadium. Their yellow and black signs opposing the bond matched the colors for the New Mexico United soccer team that finished its season just days ago in the USL Championship, a division II professional league under Major League Soccer that is considered the highest soccer league in the United States.
The group marched into Downtown Albuquerque from Fourth Street and Barelas Road, blocks away from where the city of Albuquerque has proposed a possible stadium site for the team if the bond passes.
New Mexico United played the last game of the season a few miles away from the march at the Rio Grande Credit Union Field at Isotopes Park, where the team shares a stadium with the city’s minor league baseball team. United won its final game in front of a home crowd 12-10-10, just shy of a playoff berth.
Fortunately for United, the bond issue cannot end in a tie. Owners will either have taxpayer money to begin operations to build the stadium or start from scratch with $8 million already appropriated by the state Legislature. In a letter, team owners committed $10 million if the bond is approved. It’s unclear what happens to those funds if the bond does not pass.
Organizers at the rally on Monday promised they will continue to fight against the possibility of the stadium being built in Barelas. They said even if the bond fails, they’re committed to preventing faster gentrification in the area, because they understand team owners want to desperately build in Barelas as part of Downtown revitalization plans.
Not everyone that voted no on the bond and participated in the rally was focused on gentrification or agreed with that sentiment.
Steve Lujan spoke from his front yard, next door to the house his great-grandparents built as he watched the crowd gather for the rally at Triangle Park. He wants to see money go to support homeless communities that live and seek resources in his neighborhood.
“If we’re going to take risks, we need to take risks to help the homeless. We need stations at different parts of the city where people can take a shower, where they can regroup, where they can use a bathroom,” he said. “Our city is not going to get better until we do that. Even if it has the best stadium in the world. And the best soccer team. It doesn’t matter because all these people walk in the streets all night long.”
He said he thinks private investors should pay for the stadium fully and is even willing to support a stadium in Barelas if that’s the case moving forward.
“The soccer team wants us to take the risk for their financial loan, basically,” he said. “If it were so good, take their own risk, you know, let them pay for it. And yes, we’ll jump in and support them.”
He is also sure civic leaders will push the stadium forward in his neighborhood regardless of community opposition, he said, bond or no bond.
“I’m going to tell you one thing: Even though it’s going to be voted down the city people are going to step it down our throats,” Lujan said. “You wait. I predict it.”
This reality leaves the younger Barelas community members like first-time voter Villegas to maintain the activist spirit ignited by United’s stadium plans.
“We’re not going to be silenced. This is the heart of the city right here,” Villegas said. “I’ll keep fighting for what’s right. You know, I don’t want our community to be gentrified. We’ve already been gentrified before. We can’t just keep letting this happen.”
While she acknowledged that United has done good to promote soccer to the New Mexico community and built a positive fan experience, it is still not enough when other issues like poverty, homelessness, crime and child welfare are more pressing.
“A lot of us can’t afford to go to things like that, you know what I mean? When I was a kid, I was in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. And that’s the only way I ever got to do anything,” she said. “I think it’s important that we focus on our youth and use that money to help them get out of that so they can be somebody in this world and not just end up like our parents, you know, like generational curses. We got to break those.”
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