A couple miles past Isleta Pueblo on northbound I-25, stands the less-than-dazzling attempt by the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB) to promote Old Town Albuquerque, the city's historical home. But you'll probably miss it if you're not paying attention.
Stuck in the middle of a string of billboards, ACVB's brilliance is in full force: "History and shopping? How great is that." Underneath in smaller print, "Old Town Albuquerque—www.itsatrip.org"
It's a trip? It must be a joke.
ACVB receives $4 million a year from the city. Originally established to market the Albuquerque Convention Center, at some point ACVB decided filling the center was a mission impossible and changed its job description to "marketing Albuquerque as a tourism destination."
How are they doing? If this sign is any indication, you've got to wonder if they could sell beer at a ballpark. But, given ACVB's seemingly endless sense of entitlement, they'd expect to keep their jobs even if they couldn't. (A perpetual drain—the city recently put the Convention Center's management out to bid but hasn't made ACVB compete for its contract.)
Ask Stella Naranjo, president of the Old Town Merchants Associations, her opinion on the ACVB billboard and you'll get a case study in defining deviancy downward.
Her thoughts on the current billboard bring to mind the restaurant patron who's relieved the object in his entrée is just a hair and not a cockroach.
"Well, we're happy we got that," says Naranjo. "It's kind of like, something is better than nothing. But I don't think the ad itself is all that effective. It's not much for what Old Town really needs."
Shouldn't the needs of a cultural gem like Old Town get priority from ACVB?
"I just don't think we're anywhere near the top of the list when it comes to them." Naranjo says. "I'm not exactly sure where we are. We definitely don't seem to be in the top area."
And you can't blame her for feeling that way. ACVB's official visitor's guide does little to highlight Old Town. The coverage is so anemic, the merchant's association buys their own ad to make up for it.
In other words, while city officials send millions to ACVB to purportedly market attractions like Old Town, the local merchants scrape their pennies together to purchase advertising in the ACVB visitors guide. ACVB gets paid coming and going. While they might not have Old Town or the Convention Center at the top of their list, when asked, "Red or Green?" it seems ACVB has a real appetite for the verde.
In December, ACVB hired Dale Lockett as their new president and CEO. The individual Lockett replaced received $118,000 a year but ACVB won't disclose Lockett's salary. A few years back, Lockett left the St. Louis Film Office under fire for failing to bring in any new films. So how's Lockett doing at his new job according to Naranjo?
"He's never met with us. When he first came on board I introduced myself and told him I was concerned about the issues of Old Town. He said he was interested but there's been no follow through."
Naranjo notes Lockett attended the annual merchants meeting in February but "spent most of his time at the back of the room talking to [Mayor] Marty Chavez. We're in a difficult situation in Old Town and need some help."
Naranjo may not know Lockett was in need of some help himself. The Chavez administration was hiring an employee to oversee the ACVB contract and, despite it being a fairly glaring conflict of interest, allowed Lockett to sit in on the interviews and help pick the person who will ride herd on ACVB's $4 million contract.
Councilor Debbie O'Malley represents the Old Town area and is quick to sympathize with Naranjo and other area business owners.
"We haven't done a very good job helping Old Town and that needs to change," she says. O'Malley and Councilor Eric Griego will meet with Naranjo this week to discuss her ACVB concerns, as well as other "TLC" needs for Old Town like better lighting, clean-up and pedestrian safety.
Also on Naranjo's list is replacement of a "Welcome to Old Town!" sign that once stood at a main entrance. "The city took the sign down four years ago for repairs and still hasn't put it back," says Naranjo in a final j'accuse.
Both O'Malley and Griego are bright councilors, so it's probably occurred to them that the money being wasted by ACVB on the I-25 billboard could go for a brand new sign—although Lockett & Co. might object. Then again, given ACVB's dismal performance at the Convention Center and (now) Old Town, should anyone really care if they do?