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It was only a matter of time, and the New Mexico Scorpions, Albuquerque's pro hockey team, is leading the pack in exiting the deteriorating Tingley Coliseum. Hopefully, somebody will get the message.

The Scorpions announced today that they are terminating their contract to play home games in the aging coliseum on the dusty New Mexico State Fairgrounds. They will not play at all next season, but will begin the 2007 season in a state-of-the-art arena currently being built for them in Rio Rancho. This is a source of some embarrassment for the city of Albuquerque; you see, Rio Rancho was formerly a quiet suburb on the west side of the Rio Grande but -- as the home of the Intel processor plant -- has recently become one of the fastest-growing cities in the entire Southwest. And a source of numerous problems for it's parent city.

Numerous businesses have been defecting to the west side -- followed by many Albuquerque residents. When Albuquerque's mayor unsuccessfully tried to spearhead the construction of a new downtown arena last year, Rio Rancho was quick to announce plans for their own arena.

Since I'm a big fan of live music and other events that a decent large venue would bring to this city, I've followed all the developments with great interest. Apart from Tingley, the only other large indoor arena in town is the University Of New Mexico Arena (also known as "The Pit"). It's a very nice venue, but concerts are rarely held there -- in 1994, a scheduled Eric Clapton concert was moved to Arizona at the last minute because the head basketball coach demanded extra practice time for his team (and it's widely rumored that U2 concerts were planned here in both 1986 -- a multi-artist Amnesty International benefit show -- and 1987 -- supposedly, The Joshua Tree tour was to begin here -- were cancelled for similar reasons).

In the cold- and rainy-weather seasons, the only indoor alternative for major touring groups is Tingley Coliseum. (During the summers, we have the unpopular Journal Pavilion -- formerly the more-scenically-named Mesa del Sol -- way south of the airport -- and a growing number of small amphitheatres at various casinos as well as smaller theatres.)

Tingley just isn't a suitable venue for any event -- including the horse shows and rodeos held every year as part of Expo New Mexico. Built in 1957 (the first performers there were Roy Rogers and Dale Evans), the place looks -- and smells much older. It's basically a huge horse barn, with decades of manure permeating the air. The "seats" are long bleachers (beware of splinters!) that run the length of the sides (although a few seat-backs were added a few years ago). The floor is dirt (which is covered with the fake ice during hockey games). There are a few ancient concession stands with the standard fare you would find ten and more years ago; even little league baseball games have better grub! But worst of all, for a lover of live music like myself, is the terrible acoustics. I have yet to hear a band perform there that could make themselves sound good through the PA. I don't think it's possible.

The Scorpions cited the poor facilities at Tingley Coliseum as the main reason they are leaving. (The secondary reason is the refusal of the venue's management to make the team a priority in scheduling events there.)

If more promoters, etc. would refuse to use Tingley -- and join the exodus over to Rio Rancho -- perhaps the rest of our city planners will sit up and take notice. In these times, NOT having a state-of-the-art modern arena available in a city of our size is a major mistake. We are losing a lot of revenue that bringing in more touring events would contribute to our economy. The mayor was even going to donate his OWN land, but the councilmen shot down the idea. A new coliseum downtown would totally revitalize the area. But I won't hold my breath -- that was the same argument used when they wanted to bring professional baseball back to Albuquerque (but using the foundation of the old Sports Stadium south of UNM was a pretty sound idea financially).

Way to go, Scorpions. I hope something comes of it!