If Covid is supposed to be slowing stadium spending, someone forgot to tell Albuquerque

If there’s one thing that’s given a boost to the stadium-building industry in the U.S., it’s the rapid growth of pro soccer, which is metastasizing franchises in a spree that’s somewhere between Ponzi scheme and dot-com bubble. While Major League Soccer is now up to 30 franchises, the second-tier United Soccer League already has 35 teams and plans for five more, and all those clubs have got to play games somewhere, and they would just die if it had to be in some old college football stadium or something, so, what are you going to do about this, city officials?

In the case of Albuquerque, home to the USL’s New Mexico United, the answer is apparently pay for a study of where to build a stadium before figuring out how to pay for one:

Mayor Tim Keller’s administration announced Friday it’s recommending a firm called the “Creative Arts Agency Icon” (CAAICON) to do a feasibility study for a proposed future multi-purpose soccer stadium…

The city hopes the feasibility study once and for all takes the guess work out of where to build the long-hyped venue.

“What I really want is a good answer, meaning here’s how much it will cost, here’s the available land, here’s how traffic could work, because we also know that if it is near a neighborhood or it is near businesses, they have an important role too,” Mayor Keller said at a news conference Friday. “Right now, everyone’s just discussing hypotheticals.”

Knowing how much a stadium would cost before setting out to build one is an important step, admittedly. So is how much the feasibility study would cost (KRQE reports that the city hasn’t agreed on a price yet with CAAICON, the entertainment industry behemoth founded by Michael Ovitz), and how much would be spent on a stadium or by whom — KQRE notes there’s “no clear estimate” on cost but that “in the past, state lawmakers have discussed the project as a possible public-private partnership.”

The idea of public funding for a new New Mexico United stadium has been kicking around since late last year, when the numbers being thrown around were $30 million in state money toward a $100 million stadium. Just before the pandemic hit, United’s owners stoked the fires with some crazy-ass stadium renderings featuring a giant robot Muffler Man kicking a soccer ball, and suggested incorporating art galleries into the stadium, because that’s a synergy whose time must surely be ripe.

What no one is much talking about is why New Mexicans are being asked to pay to build a new stadium for their two-year-old soccer team. Right now the club plays at the Albuquerque Isotopes‘ minor-league baseball stadium, which is less than ideal, but also not really the city’s problem — if Peter Trevisani, the investment fund manager, art installation funder, and CrossFit enthusiast who owns the soccer team, figured he needed a soccer-only stadium to make it work, maybe he should have thought of that before plunking down the $7 million franchise fee. (Though admittedly, potentially getting use of a $100 million stadium by just paying $7 million for the team plus some undetermined slice of stadium costs is exactly the kind of arbitrage you’d expect from an investment fund manager.)

Anyway, some local officials seem to think that a new soccer stadium is just what New Mexico needs to heal its now 12.7% unemployment rate. Here’s Democratic state representative Moe Maestas:

“There’s no better thing that a government can do in tough economic times than build things, you know, roads, bridges, sewer. I see this as similar in terms of being a public good.”

And here’s Trevisani himself back in June, shortly after he managed to get himself to the governor’s “economic recovery council”:

“I think one of the things that can help keep our economy going and can help be a catalyst for our economy and also build a bridge to a more normalized environment that we all want to get back to are public projects, and the stadium certainly would fall in is one of them,” Trevisani said.

A government-built soccer stadium is certainly a public project, and public spending is certainly one way to dig yourself out of an economic hole caused by feedback loops of nobody spending money because nobody has money because nobody is spending money. But there are all kinds of things the government can be spending money on, and unlike roads and bridges and sewer lines that can be used by everyone for free, a soccer stadium would be operated by a private sports franchise that would charge admission to get in. Also, I think soccer is just maybe less of an essential public good than not having raw sewage in the streets? I guess that’s the kind of thinking that’s keeping me off of the New Mexico economic recovery council — that, and not being one of the businessmen set to profit from New Mexico’s economic recovery spending. I knew there was synergy at work here somewhere.

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