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Wed July 31, 2013
DOWNTOWN SERIES: Part 1 - 'Going Downtown'
Andy Hume's office is in downtown Las Cruces.
But for him, downtown begins on his computer screen. Colored blocks and rows of numbers map out the central business district.
He's the senior planner for the city of Las Cruces.
"I’m not an architect, but I gotta know how a building is designed…not a civil engineer…it's one of the reasons why I like planning…bring them all together in order to have this fully-formed idea come out.”
The plan has been in place a number of years.
“This is where it all has to begin. Now this plan is almost ten years old.”
Hume believes one of the plan's biggest accomplishments was opening Main Street to traffic.
"That was a huge investment…. probably 6, 7 million dollars total investment…. just making it a very nice environment -- there was a significant investment."
If you drive down Main Street today, you'll see alleys alongside the street. Most of them are paved and have landscaping on both sides. Before Main Street opened to traffic, the street itself looked a lot like an alley. You certainly wouldn't find people there.
Mike Beckett, president of Coas Books, remembers what it was like when Main Street was only for pedestrians…he says it wasn't really memorable at all.
“You didn't really pay attention to the mall. It was dark, quiet…nothing was happening.”
He moved a branch of his bookstore to Main Street in 1991.
“Peaceful…but it didn't work.”
He explains the sort of conversations he had with visitors back then.
"I had a couple come in from Denmark or Germany…said where's your main street? And I said you're in it. And they said that's disappointing.”
But now, things are different.
“I’m more excited about the downtown right now than I’ve ever been.”
Even though Beckett doesn't live downtown, he says the area is the face of Las Cruces.
"…You don't have to live in it, but it gives the perception of what a community is"
For anyone living outside the central business district, that usually means driving in.
Parking is something the city knows a lot about. It owns a majority of the lots in the district. Hume tells me just over one-fifth of downtown's 131 acres are city-owned. Many of those acres are striped asphalt.
There's one more reason Beckett is betting on the future of downtown. He looks ahead to the next generation of business owners.
“Downtown is where you're gonna see locally-grown businesses. That’s what makes downtown so fun.”