ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - The state fair commission voted narrowly to approve the lease for The Downs at Albuquerque Racino.
From the beginning neighbors have not been happy with what they said was a rushed and secretive process in which EXPO New Mexico went about seeking proposals for the space currently occupied by The Downs Racino on the state fairgrounds.
"It was an extremely sad situation for the people of New Mexico, the process that was pursued in this whole RFP was extremely flawed, was not transparent," said David Vogel a neighbor who opposes the lease.
On Monday they say their claims were reinforced.
The state fair commission was supposed to be meeting to discuss the proposed 25 year lease that includes the building of a brand new $20-million casino a little closer to Louisiana and Central.
Then in a surprising move, Commissioner Kennedy introduced a motion to vote on the lease.
Not all commissioners were on board with that.
"So we can take the vote now and disregard the public and disregard a stack of actions taken against the downs from the state gaming board? We can ignore the advice of the LFC?" asked Commissioner Rode.
In the end the three commissioners opposed to voting on the lease Monday were out voted and in a narrow 4-3 vote on the lease the motion carried.
Commissioner's Sanchez, Kennedy, Goff and Bitsui voted in favor of the lease.
Commissioner's Rode, Roybal and Smith voted against the lease.
The approval of the lease did not sit well with everyone.
"We have a railroad happening with the state fair commission, there are state fair commissioners who were not being railroaded but unfortunately there were not enough of them," Vogel said.
EXPO New Mexico said the claims of backroom deals and lack of transparency during this process are simply not true adding that it was as transparent as it could be while still following state procurement code.
EXPO said that The Downs proposed lease beat out the only other bidder, Laguna Development Corporation, which runs the tribal Route 66 Casino.
When News 13 asked EXPO if this deal was a good deal for EXPO and the state a spokesperson said yes.
"It's a much better deal than the state fair has now and it does ensure longtime viability in that we have a tenant for a period of 25 years," Michael Henningsen said.
Others disagree though.
Senator Tim Keller, D Albuquerque sent News 13 a statement via email that reads,
"Today's actions by the state fair commission to approve the Downs 25 year land-deal at our fairgrounds represents a huge missed opportunity to create a true pride point for our city and state. My constituents from surrounding areas and I are deeply disappointed that despite all past troubles and challenges outlined in the Audit, the commission voted to perpetuate the status quo at Expo NM."
Right now the Downs pays $2 million a year in rent.
The new lease would up that to almost $2 million in a few years; it also requires the Racino to pay for its own utilities and maintenance.
The Downs would like to have the new casino built within a year.
A spokesman for Governor Martinez sent News 13 the following statement after the vote Monday.
"Unlike the previous administration, Governor Martinez went above and beyond the requirements of the law and insisted that this lease be competitively bid and that it be open to all interested tenants, not just Racinos.
Governor Martinez will review the lease very carefully at the Board of Finance to ensure it is the best possible deal for the state and has strict enforcement requirements that will protect the long-term solvency of the state fair, because she is not willing to fund the Fair by making cuts to education or Medicaid."
The lease still has to be approved by the state board of finance.
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