A 25-year deal for the Downs at Albuquerque
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In a 4-3 vote Monday (Nov. 21), the board of the State Fair approved a controversial 25-year agreement with the Downs at Albuquerque. The lease calls for the construction of a $20 million casino on the grounds of Expo New Mexico.
Just last month, the State Fair came under withering criticism at a meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee when a committee investigation reported the fair is financially insolvent and that years of fiscal mismanagement has resulted in the loss of $17 million in the last five years and the operation owes $1.9 million in insurance coverage.
“I think this 25-year lease is really going to preclude us from building something really special at the Fair Grounds,” state Sen. Tim Keller (D-Albuquerque) said after hearing of the vote.
Keller, who represents the district in which the fair is located, and some other lawmakers had been calling for postponing a final decision in light of the problems at the fair and the adjacent racino, preferring a one-year extension.
But the commissioners who voted in favor of the deal Monday said a new agreement had to be voted upon to keep revenue flowing. The previous lease was due to expire on Jan. 11 and Expo finances are heavily reliant on lease payments to pay off its debts.
The Downs at Albuquerque is owned by former Downs president Paul Blanchard and Louisiana businessmen Bill Windham and John S. Turner. Blanchard was a longtime political associate to former Gov. Bill Richardson – a Democrat — and in last year’s gubernatorial race interests associated with the Downs donated $70,000 to Susana Martinez – a Republican — and at least $50,000 to her Democratic rival Diane Denish.
“I know my constitutents aren’t giving any governor $50,000,” Keller said Monday. “So I think regardless whether it was Denish or we had the same stance with Richardson, who I think received like $300,000. So this is about influence and money in politics, which tends to be bi-partisan.”
Keller says the legislature does not have the final say over confirming the new lease agreement with the Downs, saying it now goes to the Department of Finance and Administration, which is expected to OK the project.
The proposed $20 million casino is expected to take up 52,000 square feet near the corner of Louisiana and Central.
Here’s more from Keller on Monday’s vote:
Posted under Capitol Report.
Tags: Bill Richardson, Diane Denish, Downs at Albuquerque, Legislative Finance Committee, New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration, New Mexico State Fair, Paul Blanchard, Susana Martinez, Tim Keller