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Spaceport Visitor Center Plan Riles Hatch

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LAS CRUCES — A reworked Spaceport America plan for deciding where to build tourist centers in southern New Mexico has riled officials in the city of Hatch.

Mayor Judd Nordyke said village officials have no idea where the visitor center will be located after the state spaceport authority opted to field proposals from would-be sellers of land, instead of using site recommendations made by local advisory panels.

That throws a major wrench in Hatch officials’ hopes for a welcome center just off the Interstate 25 exit to their community, The Las Cruces Sun-News reported. Hatch recently at annexed land just off Interstate 25 where the village thought the planned tourist center would be located.

“We went to the trouble of annexing the area we thought they were going to put it,” Nordyke told the newspaper. “Now, we’ve got 600 acres of desert scrubland that’s basically within the city limits, but what the future holds? We have no idea.”

A major hurdle to placing the center on the west side of the interstate is the $2.5 million estimated cost of extending utilities, including water and wastewater, across the Rio Grande and interstate, Nordyke said. That’s money the village can’t afford, but because the owner of the prospective site had agreed to donate the land to the spaceport for free, the assumption was that the spaceport would be able to share the expense.

But spaceport funding is shrinking and New Mexico Spaceport Authority officials recently curtailed their budget for two welcome centers — one in the Hatch area and one in Truth or Consequences.

The budget curtailment and the fact spaceport officials weren’t willing to seek new funding elsewhere were partly behind a decision last week by spaceport authority board member Scott Krahling, also a county commissioner, to resign his board seat.

The visitor center budget about a year ago was $15 million, Krahling said. But the recent curtailment shrinks it to $10.5 million, according to spaceport authority records.

Spaceport officials have contended that, because of a creative financing route, the scope of the two welcome centers — essentially staging points for tourists taking buses to the spaceport — and the larger, on-site visitor center will not change, in spite of the cutback.

Krahling, however, advocated boosting the funding level to its former mark. Without that, “the board is forced to get creative with the funding of these projects and we will end up sacrificing their quality,” he wrote in an opinion piece for the Sun-News.

Spaceport officials have said some 200,000 visitors per year are expected to be attracted by Spaceport America.

The revised plan calls for the spaceport authority to field proposals from interested land sellers in order to select the two welcome center sites and from developers interested in financing the construction of the buildings, said spaceport authority Director Christine Anderson. The state will select the best proposals.

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