A conceptual plan that is to be voted up or down by city commissioners at their Nov. 17 meeting could significantly influence the future economic development and expansion of Truth or Consequences.
T or C City Manager Bruce Swingle will likely ask the city commission at its Wednesday meeting to adopt the recommendations of the “Riverwalk” economic feasibility study, despite critical response to several of its previously disclosed development proposals.
Commissioned by the city in July 2019 and prepared at a cost of $60,000 by the Wilson & Company engineering firm, the study calls for a public investment of $12 million in outdoor recreational amenities on both sides of the Rio Grande, such as a campground, cafés and small shops, a four-mile bicycle loop, a playground and sports fields.
One third of the estimated cost would go toward the construction of a 46-foot-wide bridge spanning the river, possibly at either Ralph Edwards or Rotary parks. Accommodating vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists, the bridge would also serve as a conduit to bring water and wastewater services to the east bank to spur real estate development.
The role of private investment in creating new residential areas and businesses is contemplated, but not described or quantified in the study, perhaps because of public opposition to Wilson & Company’s preliminary concept of transforming Rotary Park into the Sierra County equivalent of San Antonio’s Riverwalk: a outdoor pedestrian mall lined with shops, restaurants, bars and even hotels.
Public input was sought at an open house last June and in a public survey enclosed in the city’s August utility bills. The majority of respondents expressed opposition to the riverfront’s commercial development and to a vehicular bridge, while supporting a pedestrian-only bridge and recreational enhancements within the broader “Study Area.”
The latest iteration of the study still includes unpopular concepts along with the popular. Logging in at 50 pages, it can be found beginning on page 165 of the commission’s Nov. 17 meeting packet, available on the city’s website. Although labeled a draft, the study is due this month for review by the New Mexico Finance Authority, which awarded the City of Truth or Consequences a $50,000 grant to help underwrite its preparation.
Among the recommended projects that the study argues “could support the community’s goal of growing its outdoor recreation economy” are:
• a $3.2 million bridge with two 12-foot-wide lanes to accommodate east-west vehicular traffic, flanked by a 10-foot-wide “path” on one side and a 10-foot-wide sidewalk on the other. Four possible sites for the bridge are marked on the Study Area map, but Wilson & Company’s first and second choices are for Ralph Edwards Park and Rotary Park, respectively.
• extension of city water and wastewater lines to the east bank of the river, which is “currently vacant because of the lack of utility connections,” the study observes. Although Wilson & Company note that the “type of development and infrastructure needed on the south side has yet to be determined,” the study recommends that the city spend an estimated $1.15 million to construct new utility transmission lines, using the bridge as a “support structure.”
• light commercial development (i.e., small restaurants and locally owned retail) on city-owned land marked as Circle 1 on the Study Area map. The study describes the location of this “one million square feet of developable land” as being south of Rotary Park and behind the Veterans Memorial Park and the New Mexico State Veterans’ Home. No estimated cost, as private dollars are anticipated to be attracted by public investments.
• a public campground with a restroom, picnic tables and grills and a new park with sports fields and a playground. Marked as Circle 3 on the Study Area map, these facilities are sited directly across the river from Ralph Edwards Park. Estimated cost: $356,310.
• a “recreation hub” marked as Circle 4 on the Study Area map and located near the tubing put-in point on State Highway 51. This area could accommodate such new outdoor activities as fishing, kayaking and horseback riding. Estimated cost: $1.6 million.
• a four-mile-long bicycle path beginning at Ralph Edwards Park and traveling via Riverside Road on to the new “recreation hub” before looping back to the new campground via Turtleback Road. (On the Study Area map, the path’s route is indicated by a solid black line labeled 5.) Estimated cost: $2.5 million.
The bike path is separate and apart, the study notes, from an east-bank hiking trail linking T or C and Williamsburg proposed by a citizen-led planning effort facilitated by the National Park Service. The Turtleback Trails project has been focused on identifying desirable “green” recreational developments, including a network of walking/hiking/biking paths on the east side of the river that would be reached by a new non-vehicular bridge.
Wilson & Company states in the study that it has taken into consideration residents’ concerns about how riverfront development will affect the “natural Hot Springs and the living ecosystem that surrounds them,” as well as for “existing river views and wildlife sanctuaries.” The study recommends that “additional environmental analysis should occur before any development begins.”
Residents who wish to comment on the Riverwalk study may do so in person during public comment at Wednesday’s city commission meeting. Or, before the end of the day tomorrow, Monday, Nov. 15, they may submit written comments via email to email@example.com, by fax at (575) 894-6690, or in person at the City Clerk’s Office, 505 Sims St.
The Nov. 17 meeting will be broadcast live on KCHS-FM 101.9.