City Resolution Focuses on Need to Attract Spaceport Tourism Today and Tomorrow
By Tony A. Archuleta
After making slight modifications based on public input, the Truth or Consequences City Commission during a special meeting Friday, Sept. 26, adopted a resolution supporting the New Mexico Spaceport Authority’s earlier decision to secure a loan to build the Truth or Consequences-based Spaceport America Visitor Center.
The resolution also calls on the NMSA in general, Executive Director Christine Anderson in particular, to partner with the city in establishing an “interim Spaceport Information Hub.”
While the specifics of the proposal have yet to be released, City Manager Juan Fuentes, Mayor Pro-tem Steve Green and Commissioner Kathy Clark – the city commission-appointed spaceport taskforce – showed up at Wednesday’s, Sept. 24, NMSA meeting in Elephant Butte to make a preliminary pitch on behalf of an interim hub.
The principle aim is for the city, and all of Sierra County, to begin taking greater advantage of having the spaceport in its own backyard, and that begins with a visitor center experience, both short- and long-term.
Assuming the NMSA secures financing within a three- to six-month timeframe, construction of the visitor center at Hot Springs Retail Center near Walmart likely wouldn’t begin until 2015 with a late 2016 opening date.
During that same time, Virgin Galactic, the anchor tenant at the spaceport, is working to reach its next big milestone: getting its pioneering, fledgling space tourism venture to take full flight at the still very much futuristic-looking spaceport.
SpaceX also is expected to generate widespread interest at the spaceport with its vertical landing/launching rocket.
The spaceport tourism potential is huge locally, but so far the key word is ‘potential.’
During previous flagship occurrences at the spaceport, including the first vertical launch by UP Aerospace on a then mostly barren spaceport property desert landscape, the dedication of the runway in honor of then-Gov. Bill Richardson and the christening of the Gateway to Space terminal hanger facility, Truth or Consequences/Elephant Butte has largely served as an early-morning staging area for VIP and media registration and bussing to the spaceport.
City officials realize that having those visitors in town for however long is of economic value, but they are keen on establishing a more dynamic spaceport experience locally.
It is, however, one of many issues confronting Anderson and NMSA staff.
The dirt road leading north from the I-25 Upham exit to the spaceport – also known as the southern route – has been closed recently due to severe washouts, forcing Anderson and other spaceport daily commuters from Las Cruces to take the northern route, first from Truth or Consequences to Engle and then back south toward the spaceport.
It’s a 4-½ hour round-trip commute, Anderson noted at the NMSA meeting, and the $15 million paving project on the southern route can’t come soon enough for her, as well as the approximately 20 Virgin Galactic staff members working out of the company office in Las Cruces.
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