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NMSU development board approves hotel on campus

LAS CRUCES – New Mexico State University is moving forward with a plan to lease 2.5 acres of university land just west of the Las Cruces Convention Center for a 120-room hotel next to the Las Cruces Convention Center.

The plan, which has been in the works for some time, was presented by developer Prakash Sundaram with Total Management Systems of Albuquerque to the Aggie Development Inc. board Friday and received unanimous approval. TMS operates eight other hotels around New Mexico.

The university will receive either $80,000 annually or a percentage of the hotel’s gross revenue, whichever is greater, said Scott Eschenbrenner, president of Aggie Development. For a number of years, the university has worked to develop a third-party hotel property on campus for the benefit of the community and students. In 2014, the NMSU Board of Regents created Aggie Development to better manage and develop the university’s property assets. Last year, regents approved a land lease to pursue the hotel project. In addition to the hotel, Aggie Development continues to develop other properties near the Las Cruces campus, including a proposed residential development north of East University across from the Pan American Center.

The proposed four-story hotel would face East University Avenue and be adjacent to the convention center, a feature local economic developers and tourism officials have long sought to enable the convention center to attract more and larger events, especially business conferences. It will also incorporate pedestrian walkways to connect to the convention center and to access the Heritage Garden, currently being designed by the university as an educational and aesthetic space for people to learn the agricultural history of the university.

The contract, which has been signed by Aggie Development and is binding, will go before regents next week for review, said Chancellor Garrey Carruthers. While Friday’s vote took just seconds, it was made possible by years of effort.

“We’ve only been working on this seven, eight years,” Carruthers said after the deal was inked.

And it fulfills an expectation that the university would eventually engage in a process to build the hotel with a third party. In this case, Sundaram said his company works with both Hilton and Marriott chains, and the private investors believe going with a new prototype design in the Courtyard by Marriott chain that can be modified will align with the university’s overall architectural style, Carruthers said.

“There was an expectation when we leased the land for the convention center, the university would develop a hotel,” Carruthers said.

Earlier attempts included proposals to build the hotel near the golf course and another to build it east of the convention center, across Union Avenue. Both were deemed less attractive locations because the hotel needed to have easy and immediate access for people attending events at the convention center.

Philip San Filippo, executive director of the Las Cruces Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the facility will open up more opportunities for the city to attract visitors. Since the convention center opened, some 37,000 room nights have been lost because potential conventions were turned off by the fact the convention center didn’t have an adjacent hotel, he said.

The next step will involve permitting and for the university to have the land annexed into the city, allowing Las Cruces to collect gross receipts taxes on the earnings from the business. The university will also ask for annexation by the city of a parcel of land south of the convention center, allowing for more parking to be added and a potential expansion of the center to include more breakout and small meeting rooms.

Those, said San Filippo, are the only missing pieces in the convention center’s puzzle. Sundaram said the plans for the hotel include an indoor pool, which may be eliminated in favor of an outdoor pool, with the interior space used for meeting rooms.

The hotel will also work in conjunction with the university’s Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management Department to train students in every aspect of running a hotel, Sundaram said. He hopes to take NMSU students and offer employment in his other hotels as well as prepare them for work in any facility, he said.

“This will be a great economic benefit,” Sundaram said. “Gross receipts taxes (for the city) should be around $900,000 in the construction phase alone” and create 50 or so construction jobs.

Jason Gibbs may be reached at 575-541-5451, or @fjgwriteron Twitter.


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