By Kathleen Sloan
The IDEAS Group rolled out their concepts for the “Visitor’s Experience,” which included the anticipated Welcome Centers for Hatch and Truth or Consequences at the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board’s meeting on Feb. 7.
At the most recent NMSA meeting, held Wednesday, March 28, held at Hatch City Offices, the $13.5 million budget for the Visitors’ Experience was cut to $10.5 million, in order to pay for the runway extension, covered in a separate article in this week’s edition.
NMSA Business Operations Manager Aaron Prescott tried to correct misconceptions about the Welcome Centers. He said the Hatch and Truth or Consequences centers are allotted $1.7 million each, pointing out that under NMSA Executive Director Steve Landeene, only $500,000 for each had been budgeted.
The visitors’ tour, as stated Feb. 7, will take between 4-1/2 and five hours with 30 minutes to be spent at the north or south Welcome Center.
Prescott said, “Inside will not be a glorified bus terminal. There will be a large media display, a Spherical Magic Planet –I don’t know if you know what that is, but you should look it up online– ticketing and badging, merchandise, boarding and a regional trailhead, which will promote the local area. There will be light grab-and-go food. There will be an outdoor gathering space with a nice vista. It will be a special events venue. There will be bathrooms. There will be staging for busses and equipment. Five or six workers will be employees of operations, which we call crew members.”
Inside, the visitor will be able to make booking arrangements for regional destinations, view media screens featuring regional attractions. At the regional trailhead, “people can build an itinerary, buy tickets and concierge services – people knowledgeable about the area. What does each community want to feature?” asked Prescott.
Prescott said NMSA Board member David Buchholtz was analyzing the gross receipts tax implications. At the last meeting, the board asked NMSA staff for such an analysis after being questioned by the public. If the land is owned by the Bureau of Land Management, for example, how would that affect GRT?
Buchholtz later said his law partner had done the GRT analysis, “pro bono.” The Herald has requested a copy, but has not received it yet.
Prescott emphasized, “Is the community ready for 200,000 visitors?”
Prescott acknowledged that the budget had been cut, but that the Visitors’ Experience should not be too affected because, “IDEAS is looking to source out as much of the work as possible.”
Prescott then described a complex Request for Proposals process that will accompany this out-sourcing.
Land for the Welcome Centers, “will be acquired via RFP. They will be purchased on a deferred basis – assignable to a developer through the construction RFP,” said Prescott.
Prescott gave the following list:
–Content, Show, Exhibits, Media, Fit-Out
–Land Purchase RFP
•Assignable to third party
•Build-to-suit (based on IDEAS specs)
•Developer funds construction
•NMSA assigns Land Purchase agreement to Developer
–NMSA leases facilities from Developer
Prescott said that Hatch’s Exit 41 site, which had gained that community’s consensus, has proven to be too costly. Utilities must be extended under the river and across the interstate, costing about $2 million. Therefore an RFP for the Hatch site will be issued.
During public comment, Mike Kertesz asked, “What’s plan B if the RFP process fails?”
Prescott said, “We have gotten multiple entities expressing interest on each RFP.”
Several members of the public said the 3,000- to 3,300-square foot Welcome Centers were too small.
Prescott responded, “They are designed for expansion.” He also said that’s why the parcel size is large and commands a vista, to accommodate expansion and other developmental interest. “The iconic structure requires space,” said Prescott, and will serve as an advertisement.
The IDEAS Group, said Prescott, in their vast experience, say the building should not be too big or small. “We don’t want it empty 80 percent of the time.”
Jim Hayhoe of Spaceport America Consultants said he had been advocating for the Hatch Welcome Center since 2006. He said the Hatch committee has been meeting with NMSA, and is still trying to “continue that dialogue. I’m not sure if dialogue can continue once the RFP is issued.”
No action was taken by the NMSA Board on the proposed RFP process.