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Las Cruces discusses downtown rejuvenation

LAS CRUCES – The city wants to revitalize the corridor on El Paseo Road between downtown and University Avenue to include free shuttle service, lots of shops and restaurants and sidewalks with shady spots and leafy trees.

The funding source for such a redevelopment project is still unknown. The Las Cruces City Council discussed ways to fund the revitalization at a Monday work session.

The city received a $2 million grant about a decade ago to plan the redevelopment of the El Paseo Corridor. The resulting plan, called the El Paseo Corridor Community Blueprint, was adopted in 2012 after extensive public input.

The longstanding vision set forth in the blueprint seeks to increase foot traffic, retail shopping and dining and beautification along El Paseo, which currently features big box stores, fast food joints, vast parking lots and some abandoned properties.

Mayor Ken Miyagishima said when he was growing up, El Paseo was a signature business street. He said he envisions breathing life back into it. The mayor mentioned the El Paseo Corridor at his State of the City speech Feb. 19.

The blueprint mentions creating bike lanes on the road and encouraging affordable housing for low-income families or New Mexico State University students. It wants to make El Paseo a walkable street where residents can access shopping, museums, nightlife and brewpubs.

Central to the plan is a free shuttle that would run from the Las Cruces Convention Center near the NMSU campus to the downtown area. It would stop several times along El Paseo and South Main Street.

David Armijo, executive director of the South Central Regional Transit District, laid out some of the goals for the shuttle service.

Armijo said the shuttle should run with high frequency so that you can expect a bus every 15 minutes. He said the service should have an app so passengers can see the shuttle schedules in real time.

The city could opt for trolley buses to set the El Paseo service apart from the rest of the city’s transit fleet.

“Themed vehicles as a vision is something people can recognize,” Armijo said.

The blueprint prioritizes an environmentally friendly approach to the redevelopment. Armijo said the city could look at using shuttles or trolleys that run on clean energy.

Whether the shuttle service ends up as traditional buses or trolleys, a funding source is still uncertain. Miyagishima said an estimated cost to run the free shuttle service isn’t yet known.

Armijo said there’s many options – government and district funding, advertising in the buses or at bus stops and on benches, grant funding or state legislative support through capital expenditures.

The city will move forward by creating a task force to gather input from community stakeholders such as NMSU, business owners on El Paseo, nonprofits, Las Cruces Public Schools, councilors and city transit staff.

Councilors said it was imperative to include NMSU students in the conversation, since they’re poised to be one of the major beneficiaries of the plan. Students could use the shuttle service to quickly and freely travel to bars downtown and have a safe way to get back home at night.

District 3 Councilor Gabriel Vasquez said NMSU students should be included in the discussion to see if students would prefer a pickup spot other than the convention center.

“I would hate for the city to put something out for students that they’ll never use,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez said the impetus for the shuttle service working is first making El Paseo a desirable place to shop and eat.

District 6 Councilor Yvonne Flores echoed that sentiment, saying without a few good “destination points” on El Paseo, there won’t be an incentive to use the shuttle.

She said it can’t just be a shuttle to downtown, saying there’s not enough going on downtown to make it alluring to university students.

The city’s economic development department presented several options to fund revitalization and redevelopment along the corridor, including designating the area one or several special funding districts – a tax increment development district, public improvement district, business improvement district or a metropolitan redevelopment area.

Flores said the city needs to keep in mind that it shouldn’t just be NMSU students that are the main beneficiaries.

“We have to be thinking about connecting people in the city to the university,” Flores said.”It has to literally be a two-way street. Not just ‘let’s bring the students over downtown.'”

The task force will first discuss the logistics of the shuttle service such as pickup points and ridership, according to Miyagishima.

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