Study: Don’t keep TWEF on ‘life support’
By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
At its Monday, Aug. 10, work session, the Las Cruces City Council got an update on the sponsorship policy being developed by city staff, including a recommendation not to take on The Whole Enchilada Fiesta as a city-sponsored event. The council also heard about White Sands Test Facility’s master plan update, including the facility’s impact on the local economy.
WHOLE ENCHILADA FIESTA
Las Cruces Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) Executive Director Philip San Filippo said a city-appointed committee took a careful look at the possibility of the city taking over sponsorship of The Whole Enchilada Fiesta (TWEF), which local restaurant owner Roberto Estrada and a group of volunteers started in 1980. Estrada told the TWEF board of directors in February that after 34 years, he would no longer be making the world’s largest red enchilada, which had been the festival’s signature event. TWEF board members decided later this year to discontinue the festival.
The city council adopted a resolution at its June 8 meeting to consider taking on the festival as a city-sponsored event and appointed a study committee. In preparing its report, San Filippo said the committee conducted interviews with members of TWEF board of directors, local residents and visitors; assessed the event’s revenue stream; and reviewed the event’s appeal to local residents and visitors.
The committee found that TWEF’s attendance, revenues, sponsorships and carnival revenues were all down in 2014 from the previous year, with revenues and sponsorships each down by more than 30 percent, San Filippo said. He also said the event was not generating overnight stays in Las Cruces, which he instead attributed to the TWEF softball tournament.
As a result of financial issues and the loss of key elements of the event, San Filippo said the committee could not recommend that the city take over sponsorship of TWEF.
San Filippo said the city owes a huge debt of gratitude to Estrada, TWEF board of directors and volunteers who put on the event for the past three-plus decades, and should find some way to recognize their contributions. He said the city also should find a way to keep alive TWEF’s traditions and its main goal of promoting the cultural heritage of southern New Mexico, perhaps through a collaboration with local groups and the reworking of an existing event.
The city should not keep TWEF “on life support,” said Councillor Ceil Levatino. “It was a great run of 34 years. It was a great success because it was a natural success. We need to let it go and move on.”
The council did not vote on the committee’s recommendations.
CITY SPONSORSHIP POLICY
San Filippo and a sponsorship policy development committee also has been tasked with drafting a sponsorship policy to govern requests made to the city for funding from groups and organizations putting on events in Las Cruces.
San Filippo said sponsorship funding comes from two sources: The city’s general fund pays for sponsorships of events that have a positive economic impact on the city and/or improve its quality of life, while lodgers tax funds pay for tourism-related events which generate room nights at local hotels and motels.
San Filippo said the CVB annually gets $75,000 to $80,000 in requests for sponsorships and usually funds about a third of that amount. City Manager Robert Garza said the city gets requests for $50,000 to $60,000 in sponsorships each year from its general fund.
As part of the sponsorship policy, San Filippo said the committee likely will recommend two annual application dates, a review process of 30 days or less and a clear message to all organizations that receive event sponsorship funds that city funding is not guaranteed from year to year and that it will not exceed a four-year funding cycle.
He said the committee also likely will include a recommendation that the city appoint a permanent committee to listen to sponsorship requests and make final selections so that there is a “standard way to look at everyone” and choices are not based on popularity or politics, he said.
San Filippo said the committee has struggled with a good definition of the term “quality of life” and how an event might contribute to it. Garza defined quality of life as “the things that are not economic development but are relating to the health of our community in some form.”
Councillor Gil Sorg said “quality of life does attract economic development.”
Councillor Nathan Small said quality of life “connects with the role of this council,” and said the city should help “nurture and support community- supported efforts.”
Councillor Miguel Silva said certain events that the city itself sponsors, including the Fourth of July parade, should be given separate consideration for funding. He also asked San Filippo for an assessment of festivals held in Las Cruces in the past five years to determine what has been economically viable. In addition to determining the best way to assess requests for event sponsorship, Silva said the city faces the challenge of determining how to help new festivals get started.
WHITE SANDS TEST FACILITY MASTER PLAN UPDATE
Matthew D. Kenner, facilities engineer and master planner for NASA Facilities Operations at White Sands Test Facility (WSTF), said WSTF is mandated to update its master plan every five years. He said work began on the update last October and a draft is expected to be presented to WSTF headquarters by the end of 2015 and a final version approved by 2016. WSTF is located on the city’s East Mesa.
Kenner said WSTF, which is part of the Johnson Space Center, was built in the 1960s to support NASA’s Apollo moon mission. Since then, it has provided testing and evaluation for the Space Shuttle (it also provided a landing facility for the third Space Shuttle mission in 1982), the International Space Station and NASA’s current Mars mission.
Today, Kenner said WSTF’s core capabilities are testing and analysis of rocket propulsion, oxygen systems, propellants and aerospace fluids, hypervelocity impact (protecting spacecraft from space debris traveling at 15,000 to 20,000 miles an hour) and composite pressure systems.
Kenner said WSTF provides employment to members of 569 families and has an annual payroll of $51 million. In FY 2014, he said the facility spent about $1.5 million on local purchases and contracts and about $700,000 in other parts of the state.
Kenner said the master plan update includes all six areas of WSTF and involves interviews with stakeholders; SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis; visual preference; building assessment; and consideration of historical and cultural issues, flood plains and benchmarking.