Feb. 24—ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bernalillo County has wrapped construction on a new championship-quality sports field at Mesa del Sol, a venue where New Mexico United will practice this season and — if circumstances dictate — could potentially play some 2021 games.
United is scheduled to kick off its third season this spring and, under the state's current COVID-19 restriction framework, can only play games in Albuquerque when the metro area's virus measures improve enough to reach the "green" level. Even then, professional sports teams cannot have fans.
While New Mexico United owner Peter Trevisani said he feels confident Albuquerque is headed toward green and therefore local games, he said paying rental fees to play at Isotopes Park — where the team competed in 2019 — only makes financial sense if the club can fill it to about 30% capacity.
"I think we're really optimistic we'll be able to play this season with fans at Isotopes Park alongside the Isotopes (baseball team), but if not and we just need a place to play and to kick a ball basically, we would just do it there" at Mesa del Sol, Trevisani said Tuesday.
The county recently completed $1.4 million in upgrades at its Mesa del Sol recreational complex, including $800,000 for what it calls the "pro-practice/championship field."
The county and United this month signed a deal governing the soccer team's use of the new turfgrass field. It says United will use it primarily for training, but the arrangement also permits use for league matches and for events with spectators if they comply with the reigning public health orders.
The United Soccer League has not yet released this season's schedule, but Trevisani said he expects his club's first match in early May and the first home game in June.
United is preparing for many scenarios this season, and has an active agreement with the Isotopes to ensure that the baseball stadium is an option for 2021 games. Trevisani said the club could play a "home" game on the road if necessary, but would not conduct an entire season that way like it did in 2020.
"We're going to need to be able to play games at home this year and ideally with fans," he said.
Trevisani, a member of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's pandemic-related Economic Recovery Council, noted that the state could potentially change orders to permit fans at outdoor events. Last month, the governor's administration carved out an exemption for professional sports teams to practice locally, even at a point when it barred New Mexico college teams from doing the same.
United has not yet started practicing, but Trevisani said that should happen next month.
United's agreement for using the new field at Mesa del Sol requires the team to pay the county $74,370 in 2021, about a third of it in in-kind services and alternative compensation. Specifically, the club owes $48,000 in cash — paid in monthly installments — and must also work with the county on a seven-week summer soccer camp and let the county use the United name and logo to promote the camp, the sports complex and "county-related employee events."
The fees give the club priority scheduling rights for the field and the exclusive right to develop sponsorship opportunities on and around it.
In exchange for the fees, the county is required to maintain the field "at a level consistent with a professional soccer team training field," the agreement says.
County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada called it a "state-of-the-art Class A soccer field for the county as a whole," though United is the anchor tenant.
"We really have teamed up with our one, true big professional sports team, New Mexico United, and they now really feel welcomed and feel like the love is being reciprocated, because (they have) love for us and we're showing our love for them," he said during a commission meeting Tuesday.
The county is allowed to use the field six weekends during the year for other sports or youth events, limitations Trevisani said are intended to protect it.
"What it really can't be is a full-time YAFL football field, and a full-time United practice field; it's just not going to hold up," he said.
The county already has six other fields at the site and intends to add 25 more.
The city of Albuquerque is also planning a $3.5 million investment at the site for ancillary buildings around the championship field, such as locker rooms, concession areas and meeting rooms. A city spokesman said the goal is to begin work within the next 12 months.
The city and county are working on an agreement governing shared management of the facility, including scheduling decisions and maintenance responsibilities.