Gateway Project

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Project strives to boost business

By Martin Salazar

City leaders and merchants are pushing for a gateway project that will welcome visitors and residents alike and help guide tourists to the city’s Old Town and downtown business districts.

The project would once again make University Avenue the main corridor through the city’s historic and commercial districts. It’s geared for those entering Las Vegas through Interstate 25’s 345 exit.

R.E. Laumbach, chairman of the Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation, calls it a curb appeal project.

“Your first impression of the town is what you see when you come into it,” said Laumbach. “I think this is going to be something that is going to enhance our appearance.”

The CCHP and the Las Vegas First Independent Alliance have thrown their support behind the gateway project, which would include landscaping and better signs to help guide tourists to Old Town and other districts from Exit 345 through University. The project also includes building an arch with the word “Welcome” over University  Avenue on Fifth Street. Trees would be planted, some sidewalks would be reconstructed in a brick pattern and benches would be installed.

Discussions are also underway to turn University into a one way running east to west from Grand to main street and to turn National into a one-way running west to east.

City Manager Timothy Dodge said that while he and the mayor would like to see University turned into a one-way for aesthetic reasons, no decisions have been made. Ultimately the decision will be based on a traffic study and on the needs of Highlands University, he said.

The city plans to hold public meetings on the project at 5:30 p.m. on  May 3 and May 10 at the City Council chambers on Grand Avenue.

“I think this is going to be something that makes a big impression to  tourists and our residents,” Mayor Alfonso Ortiz said recently when  pitching the project to New Mexico Highlands University regents.

Regents approved a motion last month expressing general support for the gateway project but withholding its formal endorsement until after public hearings are held on the project.

Though the landscaping and other aspects of the project would likely be done incrementally, Ortiz said he’d like to see the first phase of the project done by August.

Specifically, the gateway arch and the installation of banners directing people to Old Town and other districts could be done quickly, Dodge said. That phase of the project could be completed for about $100,000, and the city already has capital improvement funds to pay for it, he added.

Tito Chavez, of Tito’s Gallery, said that besides the  Las Vegas First Independent Alliance, MainStreet also supports the project.

“We’re really behind it,” Chavez  said. “We’re anxious to have people who come in that center entrance find their way to Old Town in a more  direct fashion than what is available now. I can hardly wait.”

Chavez said Old Town merchants hope the project brings in more business to their area.

“There are a lot of people in the community that are getting behind it, getting excited,” Dodge said.

Future phases of the project would include rehabilitating the old city hall on Sixth and University and turning it into an economic development center. That center would house the city’s Community Development Department, MainStreet, the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Corporation.

The old Safeway parking lot on Douglas, meanwhile would continue to be used as a parking area for downtown merchants and shoppers, but would also be used as a civic plaza for entertainment.

The gateway project is one of several being planned. Discussions are under way about building a new sports complex with softball fields across the street from the Mills shopping center where low income housing had previously been located.