Lights, Camera, Inaction: State’s shopping spree disappears

Larry Barker

A KRQE News 13 Investigation

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – “If you build it, he will come.” Perhaps that iconic line from the 1989 movie ‘Field of Dreams’ was the inspiration behind an obscure government project in Southwest Albuquerque. And even though the project sits in plain sight, don’t bother looking for it. You won’t find it.

It cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars to construct and equip the center. However, even before the paint was dry, state bureaucrats simply changed their minds and abandoned the project. Today, a suite of empty rooms stand as a long-forgotten testament to squandered tax dollars and reckless governmental extravagance.

“It was a waste of resources, and it was poorly planned,” says State Senator Pete Campos. “I don’t believe that there was enough research done in order to warrant the project,” Senator Campos said.

The ambitious enterprise was born 16 years ago at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC). Someone, no one seems to know who decided the state museum needed a television studio; not just any production facility but a fully equipped, state of the art television production complex. So in 2004, the State constructed a first-class facility complete with a soundproof studio, control room, edit suites, and even a green room.

Once the project was complete, the NHCC executives went on a shopping spree. They purchased studio lights, cameras, lenses, video switchers, tripods, batteries, computerized editing systems, monitors, microphones, amplifiers, reels of cables, and boxes of electronic do-dads.

However, shortly after the TV studio was finished, State officials shut it down. In fact, it never opened its doors. State officials spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment but didn’t hire people to run it. So the project was scrapped before it even began. That was 15 years ago. Today ask anyone at the National Hispanic Cultural Center about the television studio, and you’ll get blank stares.

“I don’t know what the original intent was,” the Museum’s former Director Alberto Cuessy said in a February interview.

The abandoned project is hidden away in a wing of the NHCC’s Performing Arts Building. At the end of a back hallway is a locked door. Inside, you find the remains of a television production complex that could have been but never was. Today, the space is used for storage. A remote-controlled overhead studio lighting system has been dark for years, and no one is sure how to turn on the sophisticated high-intensity lights. Stashed inside a locked storage closet are tens of thousands of dollars worth of outdated electronic equipment gathering dust. Some of the expensive gear bought 15 years ago sits unopened in original packing boxes.

“I don’t know what we can do with it today,” the Museum’s former Director, Alberto Cuessy, told KRQE News 13. While some of the studio equipment is in storage, most of it was discarded as ‘surplus property’ in 2015.

And it’s not just the television studio. The National Hispanic Cultural Center also built its very own radio station. Or at least taxpayers paid for one. “We do have a room in this building in the Visual Arts Building that was, I believe, intended for a radio station,” Alberto Cuessy said. “That space right now is currently vacant and has been vacant for as far as long as I’ve been here,” Cuessy said.

Today, you’ll have to use your imagination, but a large room in the NHCC’s Visual Arts Building, now used occasionally as a classroom, was supposed to be a soundproof radio studio. An adjacent room with a large picture window was designed to be the radio station’s control room. In 2005, state legislators appropriated $65,000 to purchase and install radio station equipment, including a $3,206 transformer. The transformer has since disappeared. “I don’t know where that is. I’ve asked my staff more recently, and… we can’t find a transformer or anything that looks like a transformer,” former NHCC Director Cuessy said.

Also missing is a $336 roof-top radio antenna tower purchased in 2008. “I do not know where that is today… we can’t find it,” Alberto Cuessy said in February. Some audio gear bought for the non-existent radio station was repurposed for occasional use by NHCC theater productions.

So why spend all that money on a State-owned television studio and radio station? Today, nobody remembers. Empty rooms and a storage closet full of obsolete electronic gear are all that’s left of a quarter of a million-dollar government project gone bust.

State Senator Pete Campos, who serves on the Legislative Finance Committee, calls it an unfortunate history lesson. “First of all, the money’s gone. Secondly, most of the equipment is gone. Thirdly, the project was never developed. So the way I characterize it today is that… it was a waste of money,” Senator Campos says. “We continue to do this, not only with (this) project, but it happens over and over.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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