LAS CRUCES – After enduring about $30 million in budget cuts over the past few years, New Mexico State University on Friday unveiled plans to lean heavily on public-private partnerships and long-term leases to fill its coffers. Some of those proposals were unveiled at a public meeting Friday morning at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.
“It’s exciting for us,” said Debra Hicks, chair of NMSU’s Board of Regents. “When we look at the budget, and shortfalls that we have in the state of New Mexico, and we look at investments that can be made that generate reoccurring revenue.”
NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers told the audience none of the investments being proposed are being made by the university, but rather “by people who believe in the vision and opportunities available.”
The development is being overseen by Aggie Development Inc., a corporation created in 2014 under the University Research Park and Economic Development Act to manage NMSU’s real estate and water assets, as well as create of public-private partnerships.
Scott Eschenbrenner, president and CEO of Aggie Development said plans for development have been in the works since last fall, and the entire project includes about 2,300 acres of university-owned land.
Phase I of the development project involves 36 acres of land east of I-25 near the intersection of University Avenue and Telshor Boulevard, where the New Mexico State Police office once stood.
The development would be called Aggie Uptown.
It will include 16 acres of commercial development, 20 acres to be used for medical offices, and an extension of Telshor Boulevard and Terrace Drive south into the new development.
Phase II includes mixed-use commercial development, research and academic program development, and the reconfiguration of the NMSU Golf Course from 18 holes to a nine-hole course, and the addition of a brand new 18-hole signature course.
Eschenbrenner unveiled plans for the new course, designed by acclaimed golf course designer Jim Engh, a four-time winner of the America’s Best New Golf Course Award. Engh is known for his tendency to minimize environmental impact, and Engh’s courses typically include less than 90 acres of grass to maintain, Eschenbrenner said.
Any expansion or reconfiguration to the golf course would have to be privately funded.
Phase II also would include the addition of a continuum-of-care, assisted living facility, 39 acres of residential development and an additional 29.9 acres for commercial use.
Phase III will explore institutional research development opportunities and a possible expansion of Sonoma Ranch Boulevard south of Dripping Springs Road.
Doña Ana County Commissioner Ben Rawson, whose district includes all of the proposed developments, attended Friday’s meeting. He said he is pleased NMSU is holding public meetings to share the development plans, but has one concern.
“Obviously, there’s a little bit of concern with no property tax revenue from these developments, and how that how that affects competition,” Rawson said. “We’ll see how the process goes, and I’m glad they’re seeking public input.”
Wayne Savage, executive director of Arrowhead Park, laid out a master plan for the southwest corner of the NMSU main campus. As the Arrowhead Park development expands, it is expected to include “walkable areas, water features and gathering spaces,” Savage said.
A new office space, called Arrowhead Place, will serve as the headquarters for Arrowhead Park and will provide offices for startups. It is expected to open in April 2018.
The Arrowhead Park master plan is broken out into five “districts,” Savage explained. These are innovation, research, a creative campus, retail and a “town center,” which Savage explained is critical to attracting innovators.
“This came about in looking at our peers in the university world and research park development,” Savage told the Sun-News. “More and more, in order to attract and retain the talent that is innovating, creating new technologies, and generating the kind of economic impact we are looking for, you have to create significant places, vibrant spaces.
Savage hopes to have approval from the Federal Highway Administration to create an Arrowhead Park exit on I-10. Doing so would transform Arrowhead Park, now tucked in a remote corner of the main campus, into a southern gateway to NMSU. After approval is granted, NMSU will have to find funding for the project.
Improving the mixed-use development of the south campus is similar to plans to revitalize downtown Las Cruces, development models for the Park Ridge Medical Center and the medical districts on the east side of town, Savage noted.
“I’m looking forward to that because I feel it will dramatically improve the demand for our land-use opportunities,” Savage said. “But we have a lot of work to do in the meantime.”
Improving the main campus
Glen Haubold, NMSU’s associate vice president for facilities and services, said a new 10-year master plan for the main campus is in the works. The plan will likely involve looking at infill projects, better utilizing open spaces and maximizing efficiency on the use of the university facilities.
“We really need to look at how we use space more efficiently,” Haubold said. “The biggest thing for us on campus is identifying opportunities to share. If we can begin to share classrooms and conference rooms, and schedule better, we’ll need fewer facilities. And if we have fewer facilities, I think it follows that we’ll have better facilities — because we can take better care of them, and make them state-of-the-art.”
Carruthers told the Sun-News scheduling software should help solve that.
“We invested in a software program called Ad Astra, which helps you assign classroom and boardroom space more efficiently,” Carruthers said. “We’ve owned it for five or six years, and we finally got people to understand we need to use it.”
Carruthers said Ad Astra is also helpful in an emergency evacuation scenario because it gives officials a more accurate idea of how many people are in a building.
“We have plenty of capacity,” Carruthers said. “We’ve just never had it organized very well.”
The new master plan will likely include efforts toward moving parking lots to the perimeters of campus, and better utilizing the spaces near the center of campus.
Andrea Tawney, vice president of University Advancement, said efforts are underway to renovate and replace D.W. Williams Hall, which houses the art department and the University Art Gallery. About $800,000 has been raised through private donations, and an additional $22.5 for the project is expected from the passage of General Obligation Bond C in this year’s general election. The passage of the bond will not increase residents’ property taxes, Tawney said.
To follow these projects as they develop, or to offer input, visit masterplan.nmsu.edu. To see a presentation from the meeting, with drawings and proposed ideas, visit this story at www.lcsun-news.com.