LOCAL NEWS

Spaceport Welcome Center Grabs Three Agenda Items

By Kathleen Sloan

HERALD Reporter

Hans Townsend and Mike Kertesz gave presentations to the Truth or Consequences City Commission concerning the spaceport welcome center. Then, during executive session, the old fire station was on the agenda, which has been discussed as a possible welcome center.

No action was taken on the three agenda items, Tuesday, April 24, which was a regular city commission meeting.

Townsend, who has circulated a petition that asks city leaders to focus on downtown businesses and to prevent northern sprawl, gave a similar pitch to the commission.

He said if the spaceport welcome center, estimated to attract 200,000 visitors per year, locates on business route 25,
“across from Walmart, it really is a point of no return.” Townsend gave three examples of New Mexico towns that put gas stations, hotels and eateries near highway exits, which populations halved and downtowns withered.

Townsend suggested the city inform New Mexico Spaceport Authority “that this community is not in favor of a freeway location for the welcome center,” and that “the city is prepared to negotiate the use of property owned by the city.”

Townsend said such a proposal may prevent NMSA from issuing a request for proposals for welcome center land.

Townsend suggested three city-land locations: The “shutter factory, industrial park land” across from Louis Armijo Park; “land around the VA home close to the river;” and “the old fire station with various parcels around that site.”

A few weeks ago NMSA Executive Director Christine Anderson said both Hatch and Sierra County welcome center sites will be selected by RFP. Then the land will be leased to a developer – another RFP process. Both RFPs could take local businesses out of the equation and therefore ultimate profits.

Both Townsend and Kertesz reminded city commissioners that locals passed a gross receipts tax referendum because they had been promised a boost in the local economy through Visitors Centers, not welcome centers.

Hatch has stated, through Mayor Judd C. Nordyke and Jim Hayhoe that an RFP process takes control and negotiation off the table and is therefore unwelcome.

Commissioner Steve Green said he spoke with New Mexico Spaceport Authority Business Development Director Aaron Prescott, who said the RFP should be out mid-May.

Mike Kertesz, board member of Space Center Inc., essentially asked the city where their organization and the old fire hall project stands. The previous city commission approved a lease agreement contingent on City Attorney Jay Rubin’s review, but that was about six months ago and the project has been dormant.

Commissioner Jeff Richter and Mayor John Mulcahy said an engineering study showed about $250,000 to $350,000 worth of work is necessary to make the old fire hall acceptable. Both doubted that such an investment would ever gain a return.

Mulcahy said he too had spoken with Prescott, who said “not a dime” of NMSA money would go to the old fire hall renovation.

Mulcahy asked Kertesz to wait until the commission discussed the building and location in executive session for an answer.

According to Deputy City Clerk Judy Harris, who relayed information from City Clerk Mary Penner, no action was taken after executive session.

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