ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The biggest facility in the region that was shut down for more than a year reopened this week. Events like the NCAA Track and Field championships, Comic-Con, and more were canceled at the Albuquerque Convention Center last year because of the pandemic. Now, it is welcoming people back at a limited capacity with big plans to help boost tourism downtown.

A dance competition this weekend was the first event inside the Albuquerque Convention Center in more than a year. “We are really back to our normal battery of events,” general manager Jose Garcia said.

Garcia said their first event back was in Civic Plaza Wednesday for an Albuquerque Public Schools graduation. Then, there was a New Mexico United watch party Saturday night. Garcia said phones have been ringing off the hook this week with news of the state reopening more. “People are calling about holding dates, primarily July 1 and after because that is the anticipated full reopening,” Garcia said.

From March 2019 to March 2020, 450 events were scheduled here. For more than a year now, there hasn’t been any. “Zero,” Garcia said. “The doors have been locked, unfortunately.”

Mayor Tim Keller said the convention center is an economic driver for the city, bringing an average of 300,000 people through annually. “That is not only where folks come from all over the state of New Mexico for different things on Civic Plaza but also tourism,” Keller said. “The convention center is what drives all these hotels down here and many of the restaurants and so the convention center is key to resuscitating essentially the heart of Albuquerque.”

Garcia said 80% of their bookings decided to postpone instead of cancel, and they are already rebooked. They plan to bring conventions back as early as next month. They can accommodate up to 2,000 people under current capacity restrictions at some of their exhibit halls. “There is so much pent-up demand right now,” Garcia said. “Once we get to full reopening, I think conference will sell out, conference registration will sell out. People want to get out, they want to start networking, they want to mingle.”

Garcia said the event this weekend is the first of many events to come. Garcia said they had to lay off 35 people last year when the state shut down. He said as they build their event schedule, they will continue to bring employees back on.