City officials, architects host open house for downtown initiative
Reposted from the Las Cruces Sun-News on 12/6/2014
That’s what one city official said Saturday about the proposed downtown civic plaza, a $5.4 million revitalization project expected to break ground sometime next month.
“It’s going to be a game-changer,” said Andy Hume, the city downtown planning and development coordinator. “The plaza is going to be a place where people celebrate life, where people can get married or have a quinceañera or just eat lunch. But it’s also going to be a great event space for music and cultural performances. There’s a wide range of things that the plaza can and will be used for. It’s going to be the place to be.”
On Saturday, a group of city officials, including Hume, along with several architects and members of the Las Cruces Community Partners held a design open house at the Community Enterprise Center, 125 N. Main St., to answer questions and gather ideas and comments about the proposed plaza from the public.
According to Hume, the open house was part of an effort to drum up community input on the plaza’s design. The plaza’s concept was approved by the Las Cruces City Council earlier this year, but many design elements have yet to be finalized, he said, and Saturday’s event was held specifically to draw feedback on amenities.
About an hour into the open house, at least a dozen individuals had signed in and toured the display of renderings and proposed amenities.
After speaking with officials, many offered their own suggestions, including a recreational water feature called a “splash pad.” Others called for fewer streets, picnic tables, piñata poles and even a tunnel, among a host of other suggestions.
“The purpose of this is to bring all those design elements together and see which are maybe a little more popular,” Hume said. “With all of the input, we still have to stay true to the concept, which was approved by city council, and provide a good design.”
Lisa Willman, a Las Cruces resident, was one of the first visitors to offer her thoughts.
“I would like to see the plaza look more like a real Mexican plaza,” Willman said. “In Mexico, right now, they are taking all of the traffic out of plazas.”
Willman, a proponent for a “healthier” transportation system, said she was disappointed with the current plan.
Under the plan, a right-of-way would be added to re-establish Organ Avenue on the northern border of the proposed 1.3-acre plaza, which will be built between Griggs and Las Cruces avenues along Main Street and where Bank of the West’s drive-up facility currently stands. A new street, called St. Genevieve Street, would be built between Organ and Griggs avenues.
“Cars are almost the central feature of this plan,” Willman said.
Willman said she would like officials to consider her idea of constructing a traffic tunnel underneath Griggs Avenue, and then turning Griggs as well as the proposed Organ and St. Genevieve streets into 12-foot-wide walkways.
“Continuing to promote car traffic seems like something out of the ’50s,” she said.
In response, Tom Paul, a member of the LCCP, said that Stefanos Polyzoides, a prominent architect and author of “The Plazas of New Mexico” who is consulting the city on the plaza project, recommended the street additions.
“One of the things Stefanos says is that every successful plaza has four streets,” Paul said. “I was surprised myself, but he said, ‘You’ve got to have four streets.'”
Paul said all comments and criticisms were welcomed Saturday, because “we’re only going to get one chance to do this plaza, and we want to get it right.”
He added, “It’s not that we’re afraid to make decisions, it’s that we want to be sure we consider everything. That’s why this is open, so people can say, ‘Get rid of the streets or whatever.'”
Another Las Cruces resident, Olivia McDonald, said she hopes the plaza, after it’s built, “revives downtown the way it used to be.”
McDonald also gave a suggested name for the street named after the historic St. Genevieve church.
“I want to honor a community advocate, my mother Consuelo Lerma, who was the founder of Las Esperanzas Inc., (which) preserved the Mesquite historic district and the original downtown Las Cruces.”
Overall, McDonald said she was satisfied with the open house, saying, “I think it’s important to educate the community about what is being planned.”
Hume said all comments and suggestions will be compiled and sent to members of the city council for review. He said final decisions on design amenities would be made by the council in February.
Construction on the plaza and the new Organ Avenue will start in mid-spring 2015, Hume said.
“From that point, it’s going to be about 12 months — probably April 2016 — for a ribbon-cutting,” he said.
Hume said he will be accepting written suggestions until Dec. 15. Comments can be sent via email to AHume@las-cruces.org.