LAS CRUCES – Las Cruces City Council heard ideas from a committee to alleviate rot in parts of the city during a working session on November 8th.
The El Paseo-South Solano Corridor ad hoc committee, chaired by Gabe Vasquez, City Councilor Gabe Vasquez, met for 10 months between December 2020 and August 2021. Its final report and recommendations were sent to the council on Monday.
El Paseo Road redevelopment was revitalized when Mayor Ken Miyagishima mentioned it in his 2020 State of the City speech. One of the mayor’s main ideas was to set up a free trolley system to transport passengers between the New Mexico State University area and downtown along El Paseo.
Vasquez later advocated that the city include South Solano Drive, which is in his district, in the revitalization plans. Miyagishima, whose Farmers Insurance office is on Solano, has decided to back out of discussions and votes related to the redevelopment.
The ad hoc committee consisted of 16 members. District 2 councilor Tessa Abeyta Stuve acted as deputy chairwoman. District 4 councilor Johana Bencomo served on the committee along with 13 other community stakeholders, including Chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, Sharon Thomas, NMSU spokesperson Justin Bannister, and Las Cruces Public Schools deputy operations manager Gabe Jacquez .
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In addition, the committee drew up nine recommendations for the economic revitalization of the corridor areas. Some of these include designating the specific boundaries of the redevelopment area, initiating studies to designate Metropolitan Redevelopment Areas, assigning staff and resources to the community development department to oversee the redevelopment, and tracking grants, state and federal funding, or financial investment incentives.
The renovation of El Paseo is a long-term goal. A draft for the rejuvenation of the area was approved in 2012 after public contributions and envisaged the corridor with bike paths, affordable housing for low-income families or students, retail stores, museums, nightlife and breweries.
Vasquez, a critic of the city government’s sometimes slow pace, said he remembered reporting on the El Paseo Corridor Community Blueprint and community input process when he was business editor for the Las Cruces Bulletin about a decade ago. He was disappointed, he said, and not much has been done since then.
“What (the ad hoc committee report) really is is a blueprint for taking action,” Vasquez told Sun News. “Given the lack of assertiveness in the city after spending millions of dollars on this report, and how the condition of El Paseo has deteriorated during that time, I could not, in good conscience, create another task force to come up with another plan.”
The outgoing District 3 city council, to be replaced by Becki Graham in January while running for Congress, said it hoped the council would pass a resolution before the end of his term that would accept the ad hoc committee’s recommendations redevelop the district boundaries.
“I feel like we’re running out of time … on El Paseo,” said Vasquez. “It’s urban exodus. Urban exodus occurs in communities that have economically depressed areas, and it’s a ripple effect.”
Mayoress pro tempore Kasandra Gandara suggested that the city seek funding for the project during the upcoming state legislature while identifying other sources of funding.
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“I’ve already spoken to staff about the importance of this committee, this model, and how we’re recreating it for areas like West Picacho, which are also incredibly devastated,” said Bencomo.
Vasquez said he believes that setting the official boundaries is perhaps the most important thing the council can do as it will oblige the city to take the recommended action in this area.
Second, Vasquez said, MRA provisions within the chosen limits will be essential opportunities to do things like secure public funding and implement tax incentive programs.
Vasquez said one of the biggest challenges he sees to the success of the region’s redevelopment goals is accountability.
“Going forward, I also asked for a website to keep residents updated on the progress of this project,” said Vasquez. “It will be up to both the next city council and the staff to ensure that the wheels keep turning on this project.”
Vasquez said he has requested that the budget for the next year include funding the site and that a staff member be responsible for redevelopment goals.
Michael McDevitt is the city and county government reporter for Sun News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, [email protected] or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.