Monday, June 19, 2006

Things UNM

A couple weeks ago I posted an article/rant over at Duke City Fix about how the university and city have failed to work together to create and foster an environment that works in conjunction with the surrounding neighborhoods and the city's plan for urban development that invigorates the so-called "creative-class." An example I use is a lack of urban planning ability and skill along the university's periphery that, in effect, works to attract what the university believes it is fending off...transients. The university could easily build thousands of revenue generating student housing that, if designed correctly, could and would positively affect and create a stronger business presence in the area in the form of restaurants, clothing stores, etc.

Where I also see a great opportunity for benefits on both sides of the street, so-to-speak, deals with the proposed arena that the city is so desperately trying to push through. While I won't give my opinions as to why I believe it is something that our city needs to do, I do want to share an email that I sent to the mayor, governor, UNM president, Downtown Action Team, and Chris Leinberger, regarding the issue, as well as a response I received from Rudy Davalos.


I woke up this morning with the need to express my opinions about the new arena that the City of Albuquerque is proposing to build in the downtown CBD. In a recent article about the project in the Business Weekly, it was stated that the latest proposal was to include mixed uses such as a hotel, condos and retail. I feel as though the viability of the project has just increased two-fold because of this addition to the scope. However, I have a question regarding the size of the arena. I am aware that money has been spent to find out what size arena would be right for our region and it was determined that 10,000 seats would be the most economical. Again, "economical" is the word used to drive a civic project and here is where my problem lies and where I have questions about what possibilities have been considered.

First: Has it been determined what needs to be done and how much it would cost to renovate "The Pit" to bring it up to date? Second: For how long will a 10,000 seat arena be viable and what does that size do for the progression of professional sports in our city and state?

To my understanding, we will not be receiving another NCAA men's basketball tournament game for the next four years - at least. How can UNM and Albuquerque compete with universities and cities across the country who are able to play games and host tournaments in arenas such as the Quest Center in Omaha, Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Wisconsin's Kohl Center in Madison, among may others that have been built or are planned? These arenas provide the amenities that modern collegiate athletics require.

It appears to me that this is a rare, convenient opportunity to combine these interests to meet the demands of modern athletics and entertainment and to put forth the best possible effort as opposed to two "economical" solutions. With the start of the Rail Runner service, ongoing Rapid Ride, and our progressive downtown revitalization, every piece just seems to be in place to make this all happen. The loss of the "The Pit" would be sad, but so has the loss of history's finest sports venues from Chicago Stadium and Commisky Field, to Yankee Stadium (in coming years). I believe that combining this facility for professional uses and UNM to be the greatest solution upon which to build upon. I believe that it would be a greater benefit for the city, state, and university to sit down and have this discussion to determine what action might lead to the greatest solution.

In the meantime, I'll just attempt to picture our new arena with shops and restaurants filled all around downtown and a modern new NFL stadium right off I-25 next to our old palace, The Pit.

Your daydreaming 25 year old, returned to NM from college, waiting for his home to progress, and needing to get back to his work before his boss sees this long-winded email, encouraging progressive solutions, ABQ and NM cheerleader,

Tim Trujillo"

"Dear Tim,

I am responding to your email to President Caldera regarding the Downtown Arena and the PIT. Many people including the Governor, Legislators, UNM Regents and basketball fans across the state of New Mexico would like to see the PIT modernized, so that we can continue hosting NCAA tournaments for men and women and state tournaments for the boys and girls of New Mexico.

The cost would be in the $20 to $25 million dollar range. It would not enlarge the seating for the PIT but it would update the arena by adding new restrooms, food courts and expanding the concourse area, so that it would be more fan friendly. The NCAA favors awarding NCAA Tournaments to those cities that have on campus facilities, like ours.

The PIT is recognized as one of the top 20 sport venues in the world by Sports Illustrated and we should do everything possible to keep the tradition of the PIT in tact. We are not interested in playing UNM Basketball games in a city arena.


Rudy Davalos
Athletic Director
University of New Mexico"

Thanks Rudy. Thank you for all the years of hard work in helping to make the athletics department one of the finest in the conference. However, I beg to differ. First, a look at the locations for NCAA tournaments over the next few years shows a nearly 50-50 split between collegiate and civic arenas. Second, $20-$25 million dollars is the minimum required to bring it up to the bare minimum required for a fan friendly arena that meets todays codes. In the meantime, the cities of Des Moines and Madison, cities that shouldn't even be in our league, can host the event with much more class and style than we can because of memories from two decades ago that we can't let go of. Where is the vision? It's obviously not coming from the regents these days. Everyone knows that to bring the Pit up to snuff would require at least $75 million dollars, and even after then, it would be so different that it will hardly resemble itself with the addition of a new roof, new seating, a hangin scoreboard, and most of all, luxury boxes.

A new arena downtown would, for the same price as a complete renovation of the Pit, give the city a 15,000 seat arena capable of handling events of all sorts, as opposed to only basketball. And it could built to be expandable, so that when our city is ready in ten years or so, can accomodate major league sports. But that's just me.

In the meantime, I'll dream on....


Anonymous said...

Good stuff Tim. I agree in principle, but there is a certain amount of nostalgia associated with any landmark university facility, and I think tearing down the pit would face strong resistance from alumni and students.

I would also like to see the arena (if they build it) larger, or at least designed with expansion in mind. An NBA arena would need 15-20,000 seats.

Tim said...

I don't think tearing the Pit down is an option either. It would still be an asset that could be used for practice and for the high school tournaments, etc.

Philly said...

Tim I love your enthusiasm for Urban renewal in the great city of ABQ. I too am a huge proponent to UNM becoming for community freindly and wish UNM had more of an undergraduate housing that mixed into ABQ that created a district unique to ABQ.

In regards to your vision of the Lobos playing in a city arena:

UNM will never part from the PIT and that is just a fact. I wish UNM would have put alot more into the toal dollar amount that will be used to renovate the PIT. Because I agree with you that 20 million won't get UNM enough, or at least in my mind, bang for its buck. With increasing construction costs, that figure will continue to dwindle. I love the Lobos, and enjoy whole heartedly going to games in the PIT, and hope one day the PIT returns to it's former glory being modern and attractive. I so want the PIT to get a facelift that includes an architectual "sprucing" up, and indoor amenities of modern arenas that blend in what makes The PIT so great!

I'm sorry to say, like Rudy Davalos, I don't share your vision for UNM to play in city arena. But to help your cause, maybe you can plead your case with new A.D Pual Krebs. He is a good guy who has experience getting schools facilities.

For the record, years ago I hoped clearly that Isotopes Stadium be located Downtown. Its doing well in it's location now, but feel an arena of some sort would do wonders for DT ABQ. I wish ABQ would introduce plans for a larger scale plan that includes 15-20k in seats for the arena, that transforms the open eye sore along 1st and Central. Hotels and condos, with the right mix of restaraunts would be ideal.

But just like you Tim, I can only dream.


Mario said...


I couldn't agree with you more on all counts. I believe the Pit is completely obsolete and not worth the money to update. I understand nostalgia, as I had season tickets with my parents from age 7 - 18, then continued going as a student. I now only average 4 to 5 games a year. There are two reasons for that, I haven't liked the last two coaches we've hired nor the teams we've put together, and secondly because watching a game in a run down facility is not that appealing to me any longer. I have seen some of the arena that you've mentioned like Des Moines (much smaller than ABQ) and they are truly world class. I have written letters as you have to the mayor and president of UNM. We need an arena downtown and the Lobos should jump at the chance! If anyone doubts what a new arena can do for you look at Oklahoma City. They built their new arena and when Hurrican Katrina struck, the New Orleans Hornets played their this past season. The attendance was so great in OKC that the NBA is looking to expand their now. Had we had the facilities in place this could have been us, and considering basketball is so popular here that is not too far fetched! Anyhow, I too appreciate you ideas for making ABQ a much more urban, and overall great city.

K.M. Rodriguez said...

Something to consider when suggestion UNM use a city-owned arena.

NO matter how large the arena, UNM would PAY to use it. Sure UNM would make money on tickets, But it would lose a portion of that on rent and make no money at all on concessions, parking, etc.

From a money standpoint it wouldn't make much sense. It may help UNM get bigger names in (a nuetral court rather than the "Scary" Pit) but moving there totally just isn;t smart business option.

Other schools have sunk more than $25 million into facilities that have tradition (more tradition in some cases - Ohio State, Michigan, Cal, even Utah) rather than build new arenas or stadiums.

I don't see why UNM shouldn't. The Pit is unique. That kind of uniqueness is priceless. A new arena would have but a fraction of the uniqueness The Pit has.

Mario said...

K.M. You make a valid point on the money aspect for UNM. One thing to think of when talking about the other schools you mentioned are that those cities have other world class arenas/stadiums in their metropolitan areas for professional sports and entertainment purposes. When the NCAA Tournament is in Utah, it is not played at the schools arena but the Delta Center, home of the Utah Jazz, same for Cal, Michigan, and Ohio State. What I am advocating is a world class facility Downtown for future pro sports, concerts, The Native American Pow Wow, the Arabian Horse Show (which we lost to Tulsa), large conventions, and other events like these that have a significant impact on our local economy which the Pit is not capable of doing. UNM can then decide whether to play in the Pit or a new Downtown Arena. Lastly, a new Downtown arena will only help spur the kind of Downtown redevelopment so many of us have been hoping for.

Mario said...

One other note. In yesterday's Journal the new Athletic Director Paul Krebs is talking about lowering ticket prices for mens games to boost attendance (Granted this is more due to the fact that we are not winning as many games as we used to). But when Sports Illustrated ranked the Pit as the 20th best sports venue in the world that was in 2000, when opposing teams playing in the Pit could not hear themselves think! The Pit was probably the second hardest college arena to play in the 20th Century (which is what those rankings were for), today it ranks 21st nationally in average attendance, and the numbers have been dropping steadily for the past five years. If people cared so much for nostalgia then why aren't UNM Alumni and Students packing the Pit every night to get the Pit rocking as it did in years past? Once again, if the Lobos insist on staying there, then that is totally okay all they need is a winning program. But when the rankings from Sports Illustrated are done again, you can bet the Pit will not be in the top 100.

Tim said...

Thanks K.M. That is the single best argument I have received for keeping Lobo basketball in a UNM facility and one that I don't have an answer for. But I think it is definately a conversation that should be taking place between the City and UNM. I don't doubt that some deal could be worked out where the Lobos perhaps play some games in a city arena.

I attended Lobo games growing up as well, so I understand the attachment. But I will not be happy if the university comes back to the city or state asking for $75 million to upgrade the Pit to the level it needs to be. Not when the facility is useless to any event aside from basketball. A city facility serves a much larger purpose than an upgraded Pit. If we're talking about sharing funds, I'd have to vote for a civic arena getting those funds over the Pit. Now, if there's two hundred million bucks to go around, then that's a different story. But that won't happen.