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Country Club building: Should it stay or should it go?


EDITOR’S NOTE: The Las Cruces Country Club clubhouse building, more than 90 years old, is facing demolition. Some historians are distraught at the thought of losing it, but as of this writing, no viable plan has emerged to save it. Below are excerpted comments from historic preservationist Jo Ruprecht, via a letter, and from developer Randy McMillan, via an interview with the Bulletin’s Mike Cook.

Dear Councillors (and interested others),

I hope the material I’ve sent about the Trost Clubhouse has been of interest to you. It has taken time given by several people to pull these items together.

Like a number of the places we’ve lost in Las Cruces, the Country Club was a part of the town’s cultural history. From its early days when the “greens” were patches of sculpted sand held in place from the wind by a topping of oil, to the closing of the Club more than eighty years later, this WAS some place, this was a part of how Las Cruces became a city rising from the desert sand.

All of it is gone now except for the Trost Clubhouse - the ballroom, the pool, the ponds to feed the irrigation system, and finally the deep-rooted trees that graced the property and are now scavenged for firewood. What remains after a decade of demolition by neglect is a distinctive structure that is in the way of a phantom development. I say phantom because the current owners have presented no plan despite our repeated requests.

The property has passed through several sets of developers since 2012. Robert Pofahl and the first group of investors had a plan that they showcased at an open house in 2014. The Clubhouse was a central element of that plan and was treated as a gem. But the group’s vision melted into bankruptcy.

A group led by Zachary Wiegert, an NFL veteran turned developer with many projects in Nebraska, had a plan for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) in which the Clubhouse initially remained intact. At the City’s suggestion, this group invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to present a Tax Increment Development District (TIDD) proposal for City approval. During preparation of the TIDD, a City engineer seems to have drawn a road through the location of the Clubhouse, perhaps unaware of the existing building.

When the TIDD came before City Council, it wasn’t approved. The Wiegert group pulled back, built Three Crosses Regional Hospital and the associated Medical Office Building, and seems to have moved on.

The Trost Clubhouse has been checked by two structural engineers and deemed safe and still sound. It stands much as it has stood for over ninety years with a view that begins with sunrise over the Organ Mountains and continues across the valley toward sunset. The Trost firm’s designs were known for the care with which buildings were oriented and landscaped. In spite of a notable fire in January 2016, incursions by some seeking shelter and by others in search of plunder, and years of disuse, the Trost Clubhouse survives.

In some of our discussions we’ve sought to make sense of this situation. A plan that isn’t offered. A road that can’t be moved yet hasn’t even been graded. A rush to demolish a building that’s sound, serviceable, and sits on a mere half-acre surrounded by over seventy acres of bare ground ready for immediate development.

Our best guess, the only idea that seems to make sense, is that the intent of the current owners is to raze the Trost Clubhouse and then flip the whole of the property and be rid of what has become beyond their abilities or inclinations. Personally, I’d place a bet on that being the end game here - demolish, flip, and be done. If that comes to pass, the community will have lost another marker of its past, while gaining nothing.

A group of citizens has been working to avoid demolition by reaching out to prospective buyers, by contacting structural movers, and while there has been some interest, so far we’ve been unable to secure firm commitments. Therefore, we are now working with Randy McMillan as principal representative of the owners/developers to allow for documentation of the building as it currently exists. Ideally this would involve what is termed a HABS/HAER process culminating in submission of a document package to the Library of Congress. We are having to modify that process due to very limited availability of state-recognized experts at this time.

We have also let Mr. McMillan know about our interest in salvaging some parts of the structure, including distinctive interior elements and possibly the facade. Three local people with experience in construction and historic buildings are actively working on plans to accomplish limited salvage.

To have some sort of “win” here for historic preservation we need money and time. We’ve set up a GoFundMe account and are also reaching out to the local community for help with the money question. The amount we need is minimally $1,000 per a request by Mr. McMillan as buy-in from the community for documentation costs. Equipment and personnel costs will go beyond that figure if we are allowed to try to save the facade.

We need the City’s help and Mr. McMillan’s grace to have the time we need. Throughout the decade since the beginning of this development saga, there have been only two visible constants - Mr. McMillan as a broker, and Ken Miyagishima as Mayor.

The citizens who have been working earnestly on finding a win-win for historic preservation AND for the owners of the property, have been at this for less than four months. We’ve made some noise and progressed in how we listen to and talk with the developers. We’ve learned a great many things.

Despite our efforts, no one has emerged with deep pockets and a shovel-ready project to breathe new life into the Trost Clubhouse. But, in some way, we’ve done more for this culturally significant building in a few months than others have done in a decade.

Here, finally, is MY ASK:

Is there some way now that you can help us by appealing to the grace of Mr. McMillan to postpone demolition until February 7th? That date would allow volunteers two weekends and the week in between to accomplish the tasks outlined above with some allowance for winter weather.

Jo Ruprecht, PhD, Las Cruces

Interview with Randy McMillan

By Mike Cook

“There’s a lot of people out there who want to save this building and I understand that,” Randy McMillan said in a Jan. 26 interview about the Las Cruces Country Club building that is located on land in northeast Las Cruces owned by McMillan and others who plan to demolish the building as part of the site’s commercial development.

“Ten years ago, that building was useable,” McMillan said. “It’s not now. It’s in such bad shape it would cost more to use it than you could ever rent or sell it for. Trash in that building is knee deep.”

Original development plans included utilizing the building, designed by El Paso architect Henry Trost in 1929, as an information center, McMillan said. However, damage to the building by trespassers, a collapsing roof and continued aging mean developers “don’t have a use for it,” he said.

“The plan at this point is to demolish the building,” he said. “The building has to come down.”

Developers have a demolition permit from the City of Las Cruces. McMillan did not give a specific date when demolition will take place.

The clubhouse is part of approximately 75 acres known as the Las Cruces County Club property in northeast Las Cruces. The Las Cruces City Council approved rezoning of the property last March to allow for commercial and residential development.

He said developers have delayed demolition for about three months, at a cost to them of about $1,000 a day, to give those who want to save the building the chance to do so.

“The mayor asked me if I would hold off and we did,” McMillan said. “We’ve been waiting close to 90 days for them to put together a plan. No one who wants to save that building has offered to pay one red center … to save that building,” he said.

“A half-dozen, self-appointed neighborhood association people” opposed development of the site when it was first proposed about 10 years ago, McMillan said. About 90 percent of the area’s residents were in favor of development, he said, and urged developers to “do something before all the trees are dead.”

“The ones that are the loudest about this are the ones that caused it,” McMillan said.

“We told the city, if you want a park there, make us an offer,” he said. The city offered $1 million, McMillan said, which was “significantly less” than developers’ investment in the property.

A decade later, the building contains “a foot of trash, bottles and human feces, and the ceilings are caving in. There’s no way to save it,” he said, and no one has proposed a plan to move the building to another site.

McMillan said developers hired an architect to do a three-dimensional drawing of the building so it could be reconstructed somewhere else. He also has provided copies of the original building plan.

“I’ve gone above and beyond,” said McMillan, who said he attended a dance in the country club building when he was in junior high. “I offered to give them the building. To help tear it down and move it. If that’s not enough, if people still want to blame me, so be it,” he said.