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City leaders, staff need to get on same page


This is why we can’t have nice things.

That was essentially the claim made by local developer Randy McMillan after plans fell through for a special tax district to fund an upscale project on the old Las Cruces Country Club property off Main Street.

McMillan, who was working with Nebraska developer Zachary Weigert on the project, said it was city staff who first came to them with the idea of using a Tax Increment Development District (TIDD) to help finance the project.

Then, 18 months into planning, city leaders began making insulting accusations, causing Weigert to reconsider plans to develop here, McMillan said.

“There are communities that are business friendly and embrace people like Zach, and that’s where he will go,” McMillan said during a recent radio interview. “And frankly, it’s that attitude that is why this state is 49th or 50th in every good category and first or second in every bad category.”

TIDDs are a way to spark growth in designated areas by allowing tax money generated in that area to remain there. A TIDD for downtown Las Cruces was used to help fund construction of Plaza de Las Cruces and the conversion of Church and Water streets.

Those were public projects. This proposal was to use money generated by the TIDD to benefit a private development.

I’m not sure that’s what the TIDD was intended for, and I think it’s probably a good thing that this one was stopped. But, it’s not a good thing if city staff are pitching proposals that city leaders don’t support or understand.

Mayor Ken Miyagishima said he only recently learned that the TIDD would include bonds. Council members Kansandra Gandra and Gill Sorg also said that issue was never made clear to them. Weigert said bonds were always part of the proposal.

Weigert said he’s not sure what to do now. He said the plans aren’t economically feasible without the TIDD, which seems odd if it’s true that the city came to them with the idea first. Certainly, plans must have been feasible without the TIDD at one time.

The problem, Weigert said, is that rents are too low in Las Cruces for the kind of upscale project he envisions.

For most of us, low rent is a good thing. If that is a prohibitive problem for your project, then your project was probably never right for us in the first place.

Weigert said one of his options now is to just sit on the land.

It’s been nearly nine years since the last duffer cursed a sliced tee shot at the old country club. What was a large, lush greenspace in the heart of town became overtaken by weeds during the ensuing years when the property was neglected.

When the country club shut down, several residents wanted the city to buy the land and convert it into a park. We were told that wasn’t economically feasible.

Then a developer from Nebraska comes along and wants to build upscale apartments that are more expensive than most of us can afford. That, apparently, isn’t going to be economically feasible either.

Letting the land sit may be an option for Weigert, but it shouldn’t be for us. City leaders and staff need to get on the same page and determine what will be feasible, then make it happen. That would be a good task for our new highly paid city manager, Ifo Pili.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.

Walt Rubel