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Leaders cut ribbon for veterans service center

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By David Giuliani

While music blared from the annual fiesta from across the river, local leaders cut the ribbon on Saturday for a veterans service center on Douglas Avenue.

The center will be in the old armory, which was severely damaged in a fire in 1993 and has been sitting vacant ever since.  

According to a press release, the state appropriated $650,000 for the project three years ago. The city has been the fiscal agent for the money.

The center will be named after local native Miguel Encinias, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew hundreds of combat missions during World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

The two-story building will be ready for the public by August, officials say. More work needs to be done, including flooring. The air conditioner and water fountain were working Saturday — a relief for many who stood in the hot sun during the event.

Nearly 100 people attended the event, including many politicians. Republican gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez and Democratic lieutenant gubernatorial candidate were both on hand, as was U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M.

Local lawmakers attended, including state Reps. Thomas Garcia, D-Ocate, and Richard Vigil, D-Ribera, and state Sens. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, and Phil Griego, D-San Jose.

Mayor Alfonso Ortiz and all but one member of the City Council showed up; Councilwoman Tonita Gurule-Giron, who coaches a dance team, was at Plaza Park because of a team performance.

Former mayors Matt Martinez, Henry Sanchez and Tony Marquez were credited with helping the veterans project along; only Marquez, who has kept a low public profile since leaving the mayor’s office in March, didn’t attend.

Wearing an American flag shirt, Vietnam veteran Victor Cordova, who has played a key role in the project, said it’s been eight years in the making.

“This is just the beginning,” said Cordova, chairman of the Northern New Mexico Veterans Community Development Corporation, which has guided the project. “My concern is the veterans coming back. They’ve gone (to the Mideast) one, two, three times. They need our help. They need a place to come and call home. We want to do that for them.”

The building, which is next to the Las Vegas City Schools central office, is expected to include an office for the counseling of veterans, an office for the veterans service officer, a place where veterans can meet and have coffee, an education center and a curio shop.