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Las Cruces leaders to determine if reviving film fest is possible

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LAS CRUCES — Just like movie directors the Las Cruces City Council called “action” Tuesday.

The seven-member council unanimously agreed to allow staff members to conduct an assessment that will determine if now defunct White Sands International Film Festival can be revived.

“This is just the start of the assessment process,” said David Dollahon, director of the city’s Community and Cultural Services Department. “City staff will return with results at a later date.”

But, unlike the council, Las Crucen Juli Stephenson is saying “Cut.”

“The festival has struggled in recent years to secure funding through community sponsors, and turnout has been low for screenings of independent films,” said Stephenson, in a post on the Sun-News’ Facebook page. “…It sounds like a money pit to me. I’d rather have my tax dollars used for events that break even, at the very least.

“Since these are independent films, and film (and) creative media is taught at NMSU, perhaps the university would be a better idea for an organization to take over the event.”

But at the very least, city government will explore its options for taking over the film festival. Organizers of the White Sands International Film Festival said earlier this month the event was ending after seven years. It began in Alamogordo in March 2008 but moved to Las Cruces a year later. It was created to showcases narrative and documentary films, and to support the work of Hispanic and New Mexico filmmakers.

“The reason I like this is because there was a certain amount of momentum from the previous film festival,” Mayor Ken Miyagishima said. “I would support changing the name (to the Las Cruces International Film Festival). I think doing that would help open up the possibility of attracting more sponsors.”

Some council members were concerned about too much of a city investment in conducting the assessment, which will be coordinated by the Las Cruces Convention and Visitors Bureau. But Dollahon said city resources will be relied on.

“We are assuming this can be done by the Convention and Visitors Bureau,” Dollahon said. “Our intent is to study it with in-house staff. Our anticipated costs, right now, are all expected to be absorbed in house. We need to be prudent.”

That was enough to garner Councilor Nathan Small’s support.

“It’s a great idea,” Small said. “I look forward to the feedback.”

Councilor Ceil Levatino added the potential for taking over the film festival has some appeal.

“This could be a real interesting addition to our inventory of events we already offer,” Levatino said. “I love the idea.”

Housing complex

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the council unanimously pledged $200,000 in city funds that could lead to an additional 60 apartments that would be available to homeless and low-income residents. The $200,000 is the most the city has made available since the Stone Mountain housing development at the southwest corner of Missouri Avenue and Espina Street was opened almost 10 years ago.

“The city is pledging $200,000 to join the Mesilla Valley Housing Authority (MVHA) in their application for the Low Income Housing Tax Credits,” City Manager Robert Garza said. “We will be contributing the funding to the project as part of a local (governmental) match to help the MVHA get more points in their application for the tax credits.”

Garza added the tax credits will help reduce the overall cost of the proposed project by eliminating tax debt that has to be added to the long term cost of the project.

“It is a competitive process where developers of projects like this apply and bring project partners to the table,” Garza said. “Each element of the application includes points toward making each project more attractive than the competition. Having a local government sponsor and provide a match is a huge indication of community support.”

Jan Lauterbach, housing development coordinator for the city, said the proposed project would involve building 40 apartments at 1300 and 1320 Pecos St. and refurbishing 20 apartments at 1310 Pecos St.

Lauterbach added the apartments would be one-, two- and three-bedroom units.

“I think the project scope and needs coupled with the project development team and support from City Council make this an attractive project that should get a reasonable consideration from those charged with rating the applications,” Garza said. “There is a very large need for properties within this target cost range and that alone brings the value this project brings to our city to a very high level.”

City officials could learn by April if the project can go forward. If approved, construction could begin as soon as the spring of 2016.

“It would be a nice attraction to that whole area,” Miyagishima said.

Steve Ramirez can be reached at 575-541-5452.


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