by Andrew Hume, AICP, MPA, Las Cruces, New Mexico
The 2016 Downtown Master Plan is a complete retooling of the original 2004 Downtown Revitalization Plan. The 2004 plan was adopted by Las Cruces City Council in January 2004. During the life of the plan – nearly 13 years – about 70 percent of the document was implemented. Most of the early projects involved the investment of public funds. Implementation included reopening Main Street, building a new city hall and plaza, establishing a tax increment development district, and adopting a form-based code.
With the tremendous accomplishments of the 2004 Downtown Plan, city staff realized that the plan was coming to the end of its actionable life. In January 2016, the Tax Increment Development Board approved the allocation of $250,000 for the development of the 2016 Downtown Plan. The plan was adopted by City Council on December 5, 2016. It guides the next ten years of downtown redevelopment and provides methods for measuring success. The plan has four components: the master plan and three market analyses – retail, hospitality, and residential. Plan development began in February with the hiring of PlaceMakers, a national firm that includes operations within New Mexico. PlaceMakers subcontracted with two nationally-known firms to conduct the marketing analyses: Gibbs Planning Group and Zimmerman-Volk Associates.
About Las Cruces
Las Cruces, New Mexico is located in southern New Mexico about 225 miles south of Albuquerque. The city is one of America’s “Best Performing Small Cities” as ranked by Forbes.com and the Milken Institute. Las Cruces has more than doubled in population since 1970. According to the U.S. Census, 101,408 people called Las Cruces home in 2014, up almost 4 percent since 2010. The city was founded in 1849.
How the plan is different from past efforts
There are two crucial factors in the development of this plan that separate it from any planning process previously undertaken by the city:
- It is the first lower-level plan that is directly tied to the city’s Comprehensive Plan.
- The market analyses provide an economic basis for the goals and strategies throughout the document.
City staff was adamant about using this plan as a turning point in inter-plan consistency. The aim was to use the Downtown Master Plan as a catalyst for ensuring that all future planning efforts and documents, as well as implementation tools, are directly tied to the comprehensive plan. Just as crucial was the direct tie to economic conditions, both current and desired. The market analyses demonstrated the opportunities for retail, hospitality, and residential growth in downtown. These analyses are also available to the private sector for developers and commercial brokers to use to attract financing. The result is that the public and private sectors are both using the same economic data for redevelopment.
Importance of public engagement
Public engagement was central to the development of this plan. The key was a five-day charrette conducted by PlaceMakers. Their staff, led by Susan Henderson and Hazel Borys, consisted of urban planners and designers, a transportation planner, a marketing specialist, and architects. The entire week was filled with stakeholder meetings, open discussion sessions, mapping exercises, walks throughout downtown, and detailed discussions with City officials and staff. Over 200 people participated during the week-long event.
Community leaders from the adjacent historic neighborhoods, Alameda Depot and Mesquite, were invited to attend a stakeholder meeting specifically geared to their needs. Many years of exclusion from downtown planning and redevelopment processes – real or perceived – resulted in alienation and disconnection from proper cooperation and the wellbeing of all three neighborhoods. The result of meetings with the adjoining neighborhoods is a plan that recognizes the importance of weaving these three neighborhoods together, the roles that each play in a complex central city organism, and the benefits of working together for greater accomplishments and benefits. Downtown business and property owners were also heavily involved. They provided valuable input regarding the struggles they face daily and important aspects to the vision for the downtown that supports and enhances their goals.
Also included in the charrette process were two public sessions with Robert Gibbs, a retail planning expert, and Peter Swift, a long-time transportation engineer. Later in the year, Laurie Volk, residential marketing expert, visited and provided a similar public session. Over 150 people participated in these sessions. The sessions were also broadcasted on the city’s cable channel and archived on the city’s website. Finally, Mr. Gibbs provided unique one-on-one sessions with some selected Main St. business owners, showing them how they could improve the profitability of their businesses.
The plan also features a brand-new layout unique to the Downtown Master Plan. PlaceMakers’ staff had been experimenting with a magazine-like layout for planning documents. The 2016 Downtown Master Plan was the first document produced by PlaceMakers to implement the new design. Readability of the document is greatly increased by using large, bold graphics and concise text. The new format engages the reader in the story of downtown – where we’ve been; what we discovered during the planning process; and how we’re moving forward.
An Innovative Plan
In summary, the 2016 Downtown Master Plan is innovative for several reasons:
- It is the first plan for Las Cruces that directly connects to the City’s Comprehensive Plan.
- The plan integrates the adjoining historic neighborhoods to weave together common central city goals.
- The plan integrates economic and market analyses throughout the goals and strategies.
- The plan’s magazine-like layout dramatically improves reader engagement and readability.
Andrew Hume, AICP, MPA, is the Downtown Coordinator for the City of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Published March 2018