This afternoon, Governor Bill Richardson spent an hour or so at a community meeting organized and emceed by State Senator-elect Tim Keller, to hear community input about the New Mexico State Fair and what should be included in future plans for the site.
Several hundred people were present for the meeting, which was held at the new African-American Cultural Center on the State Fairgrounds, right after Gov. Richardson dedicated the brand-new facility.
Stories have circulated for some time now that the Albuquerque Downs racetrack and casino will be moved to Moriarty, that the State Fair itself may be relocated to another location, and that the existing Tingley Coliseum and horse facilities might be razed. This afternoon was the perfect opportunity for equestrians, 4H members, neighborhood associations, and local business leaders to express their concerns to the governor.
Early on in the meeting, emcee Tim Keller asked for all those who wanted the State Fair to remain at its current location to raise their hands. Immediately, what seemed like every hand in the room shot high in the air. But not so fast! When Keller asked for those who wanted the State Fair to move to raise their hands, it became apparent that we did not have unanimity after all... one lone hand went up on that side of the issue!
- Wanting the State Fair relocated, Mr. Basil Akers spoke up for converting the current State Fairgrounds location into what he termed an "innovation center."
Then the other side began to present its case.
- State senator Shannon Robinson pointed out that the State Legislature had twice studied the costs of moving the Fair, and found it "totally inconceivable to duplicate the facilities with modern money." He also pointed out that the State Fair owns the license to race horses at this site, and that, when the Albuquerque Downs applied for a gaming license it listed all the state fair facilities in the application. He maintained that the NM State Fair owns the gambling machines, and that when the Downs move to Moriarty, the Fair will have the right to run its own races and apply for the gambling machines as well.
Horse and livestock enthusiasts were pretty unanimous in their views:
- Chase McCall, a 4H leader who has been involved with 4H since childhood spoke up on behalf of NM 4H clubs. "Not only the State Fair, but other equestrian events have been part of us for 70 years... We're here to stay," he maintained. He was supported by another 4H leader and parent who stressed that the Tingley Colisuem facility is unequaled anywhere, and that "you can't know what this means to us." The two were supported by dozens of other 4-H club members and leaders.
- Elsie Scholenbarger, a prominent member of the Albuquerque horse community, averred, "The State Fair is our tradition," and pointed out that "everyone but one gentlemen wants it to stay as it is!" Scholenbarger noted that the proposed equestrian facility at Mesa del Sol is not an adequate substitute, as the existing facilities could not be replaced for 100 million dollars. She finished, to loud applause, with the statement, "This is our facility. It belongs to us!"
- Gary Dearth, a prominent local member of the Arabian Horse Association, pointed out that, across the U.S. more and more state fairgrounds have been going the route of becoming "multi-use facilities," as has been proposed for ours, but that, invariably, these new multi-use facilities are not horse and livestock friendly. He also noted that the National Arabian Horse Show brought in 10-20 million dollars a year into the local economy, until the event was "stolen" by Tulsa, and drew thundering approval when he maintained that we "should work to steal it back!
- A manager for the New Mexico Quarter Horse Association shows pointed out that if Tingley Coliseum could be kept a "dirt-in" facility, it would make it financially feasible for many more horse and livestock events to rent the venue. As it is, with dirt having to be hauled in for flooring for each show, the costs are prohibitive for smaller groups.
- A Bernalillo County 4-H agent informed the governor that the many, many out-of-staters who participated in the State Fair competitions love our current facility, and insist that New Mexico's is the state fair they most want to compete in.
- One of the questions Mr. Keller had originally asked regarded creating more "green space" in the fairgrounds area, leading one participant to quip that the horse and livestock uses were thoroughly "roganic" and quite "green!"
Local community and business leaders seemed to be all of the same mind as well:
- Mary Ann Weems, who presents the yearly Weems Artfest, insisted, on behalf of all the art shows that are staged at the fairgrounds, that if the fair is moved, it will lose all the participating art shows.
- Another gentleman who said he was in the process of staging his 11th show pointed out that if the state is concerned, as had been indicated, with adding income from the fairgrounds, a first move should be to "take care of the exhibitors you have now." He said that his event was completely maxed out in the Manuel Lujan Bulding, and so were others, and opined that many more exhibitors could provide much more revenue if the facilities were enhanced.
- A representative from the District 6 Coalition made all aware that all members of the association say that the State Fair should stay, and that they like having equestrian events included. The President of the South Side Neighborhood Association also voiced support, and stressed the importance of keeping the dialogue with local neighborhood associations open.
- Joe Shelton, of the Ballut Abyad Shrine, which sponsors the Shriners Circus, emphasized the importance of the State Fairgrounds providing an inexpensive entertainment venue for such events as the circus.
Moderator Tim Keller asked participants what should be done with Tingley Coliseum and the Downs, assuming that the racetrack and casino do move to Moriarty. In addition to the suggestion of making Tingley a "dirt-in" facility, whose use is isolated to horse and livestock events, a couple of other suggestions were forthcoming. A representative of the Duke City Derby suggested using Tingley as a location for Women's Alternative Sports events. Another suggestion was to use the current track space for a soccer stadium, with the state soccer championships located there, and in hopes of perhaps luring a professional soccer team to Albuquerque.
Besides Mr. Robinson, several other legislators were also present at the meeting, and voiced their support:
- State Senator Cisco McSorley was vehement that "It's always special interests that want to move the Fairgrounds. The people want to keep it where it is."
- Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton noted the importance of keeping Tingley Coliseum, saying, "If we don't have Tingley, we really don't have the Fair."
- Representative Al Park also voiced his support, and an Albuquerque City Councilor who was present offered to help in any way as well.
Governor Richardson's Conclusions:
After hearing all the views expressed, Governor Richardson said that he was able to reach at least two definite conclusions:
- That the community does not want the State Fair to move. He then promised that, "The State Fair will not move... at least not while I'm governor!"
- That the existing facilities definitely do need upgrading and replenishment.
The governor then said that there was a third item that he had to express, although he knew it would be very unpopular. He said the the State Fair Commission has decided to move the race track to Moriarty. We can preserve the Fair itself, but the license has gone.
The question then remains of what to do with the Downs itself, and with Tingley Coliseum. With regard to Tingley, the governor expressed his sense that the people do not want Tingley torn down, but rather renovated and upgraded, and to include an equestrian center. He closed by encouraging participants to continue to talk with the State Fair commissioners, who were present and were introduced, and also with state representatives and senators.