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New hotel in Sunland Park could mark beginning of entertainment district

LAS CRUCES — Sunland Park businesses and officials are betting big that a hotel adjacent to Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino will pay off in the form of an eventual entertainment destination in southern Doña Ana County.

The $7 million expansion project will consist of a four-story boutique hotel with 79 rooms, a business center and fitness center with track-side views, all connected to the existing racetrack and casino via a sky bridge.

Developers say the hotel is the next step in a long-term plan to develop an entertainment district in the area.

“The hotel is a good opportunity for the city of Sunland Park, with the expectation it will attract new tourists to the area. And I think the overall expectation is that it should serve as a catalyst project to encourage development around that area,” said Javier Perea, Sunland Park mayor. “We do have Western Playland right across the street and a winery across the street. With people coming into the city, staying here, hopefully it will spur development of more restaurants and tourist-friendly locations.”

The current plans for the city have the surrounding area identified as an entertainment corridor.

“Bring in an amphitheater, more restaurants, a little shopping district — but the hotel plays largely into the whole scheme of an entertainment corridor,” the mayor said.

Ethan Linder, director of marketing for Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino, said the plan has been in the works for the last 12 months and was made possible by a land donation from Stan Fulton.

“The (land) owner, Stan Fulton, has always wanted Sunland Park to be more of a destination resort,” Linder said. “With that goal in mind, the first step is the hotel.”

The company hopes to break ground on the expansion in August, he said. The racetrack started construction in 1956 and opened in 1959, Linder said. The casino opened in 1999. The fact the existing facility has long roots in the community poised them to add the hotel, but some assistance was needed to pull the project together.

“Sunland Park is a racetrack and casino and does not, at this time, have an expertise in hotel” management, Linder said. The racetrack and casino “will focus on the core business and we partnered with a development group that has years of experience in hotel operation. We feel that will create a better atmosphere for our guests and allow both companies to do what they do best. Customers won’t notice a difference.”

In addition to providing overnight accommodations for guests of the racetrack and casino, future development could include additional spaces for conferences, concerts or other events.

“We are literally looking at everything to figure out what we can do to make it better and stand out so people, when they come here, can truly enjoy themselves,” Linder said. “We’ve talked about an expansion of entertainment, temporary stages, permanent stages or festival-type events. We constantly evaluate restaurants and try to understand what the dynamics in this area of the country would require to succeed. It’s all under a microscope at this time.”

Philip San Filippo, the executive director of the Las Cruces Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the hotel would not adversely impact hotel occupancy rates in Las Cruces and stands to benefit the entire county.

“I certainly think it will help south county. And anytime you have something in the area that develops as a new attraction, I think it will help El Paso and Las Cruces,” he said. “People may want to see that, stay at that hotel, and then go through White Sands, the Organ Mountains, get tickets for the spaceport … any time you have people spending time in the area there’s a real synergy that takes place. I think it’s good for southern New Mexico and will bring people in to southern New Mexico. That’s always good.”

Jason Gibbs may be reached at 575-541-5451.

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©2015 the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.)

Visit the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.) at www.lcsun-news.com

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