Which of these words is not like the others: art, science, history, ballooning? If you concluded that ballooning is a far more limited topic, well, that’s just one of the challenges facing the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum.
Debate at the City Council May 19 meeting centered on reducing funding for the balloon museum in view of the city’s budget crunch. The museum, with an attendance of 49,000 this year, is not drawing enough visitors to generate its own operating revenues as planned.
The 60,000-square-foot building designed by Design Collaborative Southwest (DCSW) is located near Paseo del Norte. Councilor Michael Cadigan, chair of the budget committee, said, “The location was a mistake, the size and elaborateness was a mistake, and the expense of heating and cooling the building was a mistake.”
Paul Smith, a former director of the Balloon Fiesta, said the museum had a significant increase in attendance this year. Supporter Richard Abruzzo said, “Ballooning is really our image.” Abruzzo said the Balloon Fiesta had a $100 million impact on the city.
Mayor Martin Chavez sent his own budget to the Council several weeks ago with $1,375,000 allocated for the museum. The Council’s budget bill allocated $500,000 less.
Councilor Debbie O’Malley moved an amendment to restore $100,000 of the funding along with an additional $200,000 depending on the museum’s own fundraising development plan. The amendment passed 6-2, with Cadigan and Councilor Isaac Benton opposed, Councilor Don Harris excused. O’Malley said the Balloon Fiesta itself does not contribute any money for the museum.
Benton referred to the location, far from the city’s other museums and tourist attractions, as “geographically challenged.” Councilor Rey Garduño said the city had to be careful not to “eviscerate” the facility.
Cadigan said the Council had been warning the museum for several years that it needed to increase its revenues. He said when he and family members visited, they were the only visitors in the building. He said the building could be closed a few days a week rather than continue its schedule of opening from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. six days a week.
In other changes, the Council budget restored 30 of the 225 vacant positions cut by the mayor’s budget and increased funding for transit and some city employees’ wages.
The budget redirected $1.3 million in Albuquerque Fire Department funding from a new facility to more operational support. The Council budget postponed a Westside animal adoption center for a year, cut economic development funds and eliminated a proposed teen anti-depression program.
The amended budget bill passed unanimously. Council President Brad Winter thanked Cadigan for his hard work.