Thursday, July 11, 2013

Alamogordo: Founders Park and a Side of Controversy

Founders Park, Alamogordo, New Mexico

Alamogordo's Founders' Park recognizes those who molded Alamogordo's early years. On the corner of White Sands Boulevard and 10th Street, the park is catty-corner from the Alamogordo Zoo.

Founders Park, Alamogordo, New Mexico

Founders Park, Alamogordo, New Mexico

Founders Park, Alamogordo, New Mexico

As in many communities, there is a constant tension in Alamogordo between progress - howsoever you choose to define progress - and preservation.

(In the movie, 180 Degrees South, one of the principals says: “People say you can’t go back but what happens if you get to the cliff and you take one step forward. Or you turn 180 degrees and take one step forward…. Which is progress?”)

Next to Founders Park is an historic (depending on how you define historic) building called the Plaza Pub. There has been considerable controversy about what to do with this building and its adjacent property.

This was the take in 2012 by a city commissioner, as printed in the Alamogordo Daily News:

The Plaza Pub at 10th Street and White Sands Boulevard has been the source of great contention and duress the past couple months. There is much misinformation -- and even disinformation -- in the community. I believe you should understand the truth.

The Plaza Pub was built in 1937 and is not the oldest or an original building in Alamogordo. The city has been approached by a real estate company that represents CVS pharmacy. They have offered $350,000 for the building. This is $33,500 more than its current appraised value. The potential project includes all of the properties from 10th to 11th streets, and from White Sands Boulevard to New York Avenue. It is the entire block.

Many property owners have been offered a price that is in excess of appraised value and have indicated they are willing to sell. I understand this to be the situation, however I cannot confirm it, nor do I pretend to speak for owners. The most notable holdout being the property that was once Gibson's (circa 1960).

CVS is considering taking the entire block and investing millions of dollars in Alamogordo. They would create 30 to 50 jobs along with downtown parking. ...

Remember the plan to turn New York from 10th to 9th streets into a covered, cobblestone, walking mall? Parking might make that possible.

The Plaza Pub was bought in December 2006 with New Mexico taxpayer dollars -- $299,214.23 to be exact. Taxpayer dollars meant that it had to be in government hands and could not be given away. Alamogordo, as the government entity, was saddled with it. New Mexico has a very strong anti-donation law and it applies in this case.

The Tularosa Basin Historical Society was given lease to take, repair and use this building. The cost of this lease, as required by the anti-donation law, was $2,000 per month. This payment could be made in legal tender or in-kind service. To my knowledge, the historical society had never made a payment or documented in-kind service. Alamogordo may well stand in violation of state law.

After the original capital outlay of taxpayer money, two additional outlays totaling $270, 494 were made available by the state in May 2007 and July 2008. Ten thousand dollars was spent for an asbestos/lead study. Bid tabulations for repair of the building from Lancon Inc. and White Sands Construction Inc. averaged $725,000 on Feb. 6, 2008. After a revised scope of work was issued, a low bid of 339,000 was received with $260,000 available in November 2008 -- a shortfall of $79,000. 

Community Development met with the apparent low bidder to discuss further revisions to scope of work to match available funding, but was unsuccessful.

During the period from November 2008 to May 2009, through the course of several meetings with TBHS representatives, it became clear that the city and TBHS were not in agreement on how to proceed with the available funding; the city advocated the use of available funds to re-roof the facility and secure the building while TBHS wanted to fully develop the building as a museum.

Does it make sense to put a quarter of a million taxpayer dollars into a public building before it is made rain tight? 

In June 2009, about the time I was elected to serve District 3, the issue was brought before the City Commission for direction. The City Commission indicated that staff should go forward with the funding available to make the facility weather tight and secure. As the fiscal agent, we needed to be first concerned with the general overall condition of the building -- starting with the roof. At that point, TBHS served notice that it was canceling the operating agreement for the museum between the city and itself, and canceling the insurance coverage on the Plaza Pub building.

In August 2009, Gov. Bill Richardson figured out that he and the Legislature were spending the state into bankruptcy. .....The city was put on notice by the state that grant funds were being flagged for reversion due to the state's financial situation. Further work on the project was not advised until a final decision was made on the availability of grant funds.

The historical society had control of this building for three years, five (their lease) if they wanted it. I do not remember any fundraisers, donation drives or other means of trying to do anything with this building. If TBHS had worked with the city, or even considered putting in $80,000 for the revised scope of work in November 2008, we would not be having this conversation. 

In February 2012, the city refunded a quality of life General Obligation Bond at a reduced interest rate. The city offered to buy the old Ink Well or the old Public Defenders building for the Alamogordo Museum of History (as the Pub was to be known) to be operated by TBHS. We had $350,000 for the purchase of the building and $200,000 to renovate it. In retrospect, the anti-donation law may negate this.

I believed the old Public Defenders Building was the perfect place. This is the building directly south of the Founders Park across 10th Street from the pub. There is a large city-owned parking lot immediately to the south of this building. The city was planning to put money into rejuvenating this lot that would include some type of architectural wall or planters that someone would design and be pleasing in the Southwest flavor. This building has three sets of ADA bathrooms and a door that opens toward Founders Park.

The building is nearly 8,000 square feet, has room outside for historical displays. This would fix up Alamogordo, front and center, from Ninth to 10th streets and on White Sands Boulevard. We might have been able to get some people looking through Founders Park. 

... (Former) Commissioner Aaron Rance and I attend a meeting with Elisabeth Padilla and TBHS. They wanted no part of this plan and instead asked if they can take a year to get a $10,000 grant to study the structure of the pub.

Beginning in March to the present day, TBHS came to the commission requesting the time for the study grant. This request balloons to getting any and all grants possible to rejuvenate the pub. This request is approved by a 4 to 3 vote on the condition that the city will be able to accept offers on the building. TBHS decided that the commission gave them permission to list the building as a historical building, but we did not due of concern for doubling construction costs. The society is attempting it anyway.

CVS's offer for $350,000 -- $33,500 more than the September 2011 appraisal -- comes to the next commission meeting. The society came out in force to hiss and boo at any reasonable discussion. An Otero County commissioner came to our podium and called the Alamogordo City Commission "dirty and underhanded" because we had discussed the potential disposal of the pub in executive session, as is common practice with any land exchange, disposal or litigation. It was then brought to the next public meeting for discussion as an agenda item.

.... I am a businessman and I believe in economic development as the way to the future. I do not believe government should or can do everything. I do not believe Alamogordo should ask the state to do what we will not do for ourselves in a case of public want verses public need. 
If the society wants this, let them pull themselves up by their bootstraps and figure out how to do it without taxpayer money. There is at least one holdout (the old Gibson's property), therefore the society has their year. 

I suggest they use it. ....

And it looks as if the Tularosa Basin Historical Society has, indeed, used this last year, as per this April 2013 article in the Alamogordo Daily News:

... The TBHS hosted an "Open Door" reception Friday with a live and silent auction to raise funds to renovate the historical building.
The historical society recently qualified to receive $525,000 in capital-outlay funds from the state to renovate the Plaza Pub into a museum.
District 51 State Representative Yvette Herrell, helped the TBHS receive the funding from the state. "When I'm trying to allocate my capital-outlay money, I think of using the money in places where the most people will benefit from it," Yvette said.
Yvette said when the state considers funding projects, that the projects have to be considered shovel-ready. Yvette said the money the state provides has to either complete the project or bring it close to completion. "You might think that $525,000 sounds like a lot of money, but it's about half of what they (the TBHS) really need to get started here," Otero County District 3 Commissioner Ronny Rardin said.
Ronny said 100 percent of the money earned from the auction would go to restoring the building.
Many people in the community came out to show their support of the Plaza. ..
Josette worked to get the Plaza on the historical registry and accomplished doing so in June of last year. ....
"... roughly $35,000 was made from the auction before the time of the Daily News deadline. Heckert said when the museum is finished, it will serve as a cultural and historical hub for the city.
"This building is a treasure for our community," local citizen Sharon Hodges said. "It's in the pre-restoration stages, but you can see how beautiful this building is. You know it means a lot to a lot of people. I'm just so glad that the county stepped up to save it."

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