That was the year Las Cruces was one of a handful of cities selected by the federal government for a new program to revitalize economically depressed sections in core areas of the city. We were awarded $2 million, which was enough to conduct a pretty thorough survey.
For several weeks, we had folks walking and driving and measuring and studying every aspect of the corridor from University Avenue into downtown. And, I have no doubt that they came up with a number of recommendations that, if implemented, would have breathed new life into that part of the city.
But the rules stipulated that the money could only be used for planning. A plan without funding is just an academic exercise. And so, in the 14 years since then El Paseo has continued to deteriorate, with more businesses in primary locations boarding up their windows.
Now, there may finally be funding for new investment on the way for not only El Paseo but also its twin brother to the east, Solano Drive.
The City Council is in the process of designating the El Paseo and Solano corridor as a Metropolitan Redevelopment Area, a tool provided by the Legislature more than a decade ago and used to great advantage in revitalizing downtown Las Cruces.
The designation provides two means for raising revenue for new investment. A Tax Increment Development District allows all gross receipts taxes collected within the district to stay in the district, including the portion that would go to the state. For that reason, it requires approval from the Legislature. A Tax Increment Finance District increases property taxes in the district, with the new money staying in the district.
The designation also allows loopholes to the state’s detestable Anti-Donation Clause, allowing cities to buy and sell land, such as the plot where Plaza de Las Cruces now sits, and make investments in private developments.
When I moved here in 2000, Church and Water streets were both one-way roads looping around a section of Main Street that had been closed off for a downtown mall that nobody liked. The Rio Grande Theatre had been shut down for 13 years. The federal courthouse was still in the design phase. And, there was a bank on the land where the plaza now sits.
It took a coordinated effort that included help from both the state and federal governments, but passage of the MRA provided a huge boost to downtown re-development, including funding to purchase the land and build the plaza.
The question is if the same support can be generated for an area of the city that is not as vital to the entire community. If businesses, residents and government all work together, the MRA is a tool that can make a real difference.
Walter Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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