There are currently more than 4,000 active capital outlay projects underway across New Mexico, according to a new legislative report, with that number likely to increase to some 5,000 in the next several months.
The complete number of projects to be enacted is one of the key points made in a report released by the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee, revealing that the state's outstanding capital outlay funds as of this spring had a total dollar worth of $3.1 billion.
That $3.1 billion figure includes $1.8 billion in projects earlier authorized by members of the legislature and signed into law by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham; as well as some $258 million in what are known as earmark projects; and another $463 million in supplemental severance tax bonds for public schools.
Sometimes a source of controversy among lawmakers and public policy advocates who have argued that such a process is both cumbersome and wasteful, capital outlay funds can be used for everything from building and upgrading schools, hospitals, playgrounds, museums, and broadband infrastructure, to purchasing land for construction projects.
Bolstered in part by a continuing rise in oil and gas revenue, the dollar value of capital outlay projects statewide has increased from $47 million in 2019 to just over $314.2 million in 2022.
Similarly, local projects have seen a dollar increase from $108 million in 2019 to $375 million last year. Somewhat more uneven has been high education capital outlay funding which went from $11.9 million in 2019 to $132 million in 2020, before dropping to $36.8 million in the following year.
Capital outlay funding for higher education projects rebounded to a new high of $246 million in 2022.
The Senate Finance Committee report additionally notes that the "2023 capital package was the largest in the state's history." Even so, "capital outlay requests from state and local entities continued to exceed available funding."
Reflecting some of the criticism of the capital outlay process, the report adds that a "significant gap between need and available funds, along with the practice of earmarking funding for individual legislators and the governor, undermines the state's ability to use surging revenues to efficiently complete projects that represent the greatest needs or would produce the most public benefits."
By Garry Boulard
With a strong base of more than 150 stores in the West and growing, the Whataburger restaurant chain has announced plans to substantially expand its operations in the South.
Based in San Antonio, Whataburger’s largest state remains Texas where, to date, it has more than 720 locations. But the chain is seeing a future in the Deep South, particularly Alabama and Georgia where it has announced plans to build and open to 80 new locations between now and 2028.
Founded in 1950 in Corpus Christi and for decades known for its A-frame buildings bearing an iconic orange and white-striped design, Whataburger currently has more than 900 stores, generally ranging in size from 3,000 square feet to 4,000 square feet. Its largest location, at two stories and around 6,000 square feet, is in its home city of Corpus Christi.
Meanwhile, the chain’s presence in the West continues to increase, with three Whataburger locations opened in just the Colorado Springs area in the last year. The company has additionally in recent months unveiled new stores in the metro Phoenix area, as well as the Albuquerque metro area in Rio Rancho.
Altogether, the company currently has nearly 40 stores in Arizona, 4 in Colorado, and a dozen in New Mexico.
The chain got its name and reputation by offering burgers big enough to require a person to use two hands to hold them, thus exclaiming, “What a burger!”
The company in recent years has enjoyed annual revenues more than $2.6 billion.
By Garry Boulard
A cutting-edge amphitheater boasting the latest in new technology is slated to be a part of the growing $1 billion VAI Resort in Glendale, Arizona.
Plans for the construction of what has been described as the largest hotel and entertainment destination of its kind in Arizona, located at 9505 Cardinals Way, were announced in the spring of last year.
Spread out over 60 acres, the VAI Resort upon completion will include up to 1,200 hotel rooms and suites, as well as well as some 13 “elevated fine dining concepts,” and white sand beaches.
Focal point of the project has always been an island populated with an aerial bar, private cabanas, and restaurant, among other features.
The VAI concept from the start has been to create a kind of tropical resort oasis in the middle of the desert, with an endless variety of offerings worthy of the expected $500 a day price of admission.
Now added to those offerings is an amphitheater with an 8,000-seat capacity that, according to HNR Hotel News, “will showcase a wide range of entertainment, from A-list touring acts to up-and-coming talent and comedy superstars.”
The amphitheater is set for completion next year, with 2024 also expected to see the opening of the resort itself.
The project belongs to VAI Global Development, which is owned by Tommy Fisher and Grant Fisher, both of whom are the heads of the Tempe-based Fisher Industries.
By Garry Boulard
A Las Cruces-based organization dedicated to securing housing for those in need of it, has announced plans to build a new complex.
For roughly a quarter of a century, the nonprofit Mesilla Valley Community of Hope has been providing transitional shelter for homeless individuals and families in metro Las Cruces.
The group launched its efforts in early 1998 with the construction of a $1.6 million center at 999 W. Amador Avenue designed to provide an array of services to the homeless.
It opened what is called Camp Hope in 2011, a designated tent community for up to 50 people or so on land owned by the MVCH, with a roughly $65,000 shower and bathroom facility built on the same site in 2016.
A reporter for the publication Searchlight New Mexico late last year noted that Camp Hope is made up of “orderly rows of tents, most of them protected from the elements by three-sided lean-tos.”
Members of the Las Cruces City Council earlier gave their approval to the nearly $4 million purchase of 4.8 acres of land that formerly belonged to the Brewer Oil Company to be used for MVCH's purposes.
As planned, the project will see the construction of a three-story housing facility, along with an open-air courtyard. An existing health care facility run by MVCH will be expanded, while the group's busy soup kitchen will be moved to another part of the site.
An exact schedule for when work will begin on the MVCH facility project has not yet been announced.
By Garry Boulard
A move to impose vacancy rates on building owners who allow store spaces to remain empty could come with unintended consequences, according to a new study released by the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies.
Various reports have indicated that building owners have often been willing to allow retail and commercial space to remain empty at any given time on the hunch that that same space may fetch a higher rent at some point in the future.
As a result, some cities have either enacted or proposed vacancy taxes designed to penalize building owners and landlords who purposely keep certain spaces empty.
The movement has even taken in residential space that is kept empty by owners, with voters recently in both San Francisco and Berkeley, California approving taxes on vacant dwellings.
In New York, such taxes have been proposed primarily for the owners of empty commercial space. Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the New York State Senate that would impose taxes on the owners of vacant properties only in cities with populations of 1 million or more.
The argument behind the commercial vacancy tax movement is simple: a lack of retail activity in a building has the potential of adversely impacting business and property values. Thus, owners who allow such spaces to remain unused in still-popular neighborhoods where other stores are easily being rented should be penalized.
But the new JCHS study called Option Value and Storefront Vacancy in New York City, contends that such measures, while decreasing vacancy rates, may also have the tendency to lower tenant quality.
Not only that, but the study also argues that such a tax would most likely lead to a higher turnover of retail tenants.
"These findings have important broader implications," notes a narrative accompanying the study. "Indeed, growth un urban retail amenities helped drive the resurgence of American cities in the last 30 years."
The study goes on to suggest that elected leaders and others, rather than imposing such new taxes, would be better off trying to understand "the behavior of these landlords," which it contends is a key to "developing effective urban policies."
Meanwhile, the first reporting period of a new commercial vacancy tax in San Francisco expired on the last day of February of this year. That tax, according to documents, is calculated based on the length of store frontage and the number of consecutive years the space has remained vacant.
For the first year the property is vacant, the tax is $250 per linear foot of frontage. The fee increases to $500 in the second year, and $1,000 in the third and following years.
By Garry Boulard
A proposal has been officially unveiled in Colorado calling for the construction of up to 460 new electric vehicle charging stations.
Xcel Energy says it wants to build the facilities across the state and in response to what could be the existence of some 940,000 operating electric vehicles on the roads of Colorado by the end of the decade.
In public testimony before the Colorado's Public Utilities Commission, Jack Ihle, vice president for regulatory policy with the Public Service Company of Colorado, a subsidiary of Excel, said the company's electrification initiative is "bolstered by new federal and state opportunities, ensuring the maximization of available opportunities to support side spread transportation electrification."
The company has filed its blueprint for the new stations, officially called the 2024-2026 Transportation Electrification Plan, with the utilities commission.
Based in Minneapolis, Xcel serves more than 3.7 million electric customers and some 2.1 million natural gas customers in Colorado and seven other states.
Late last year the company proposed building around 730 new electric charging stations in its home state of Minnesota, a proposal that is still being reviewed by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
By Garry Boulard
A museum dedicated to an exploration of the wonders of both natural history and science is receiving just over $1.1 million in state funding for the planning, design, building, and upgrading of exhibits and overall facilities.
Located at 1801 Mountain Road NW, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science was opened in 1986 and attracts visitors from across the country due to its creative volcano, dinosaur, and ice age exhibits, among other features.
The museum, which also features an interactive planetarium, is a part of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.
Earlier this year, members of the New Mexico State Legislature voted to approve a capital outlay of $1.1 million for upgrades to the popular museum. That outlay was later signed into law by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
The Cultural Affairs Department oversees the single largest museum system sponsored by any state in the nation. During this year’s legislative system the department also requested a capital outlay of $795,000 for planning, design, construction and upgrading work at the Taylor-Mesilla Historic Property in the town of Mesilla at the southern end of the state.
That property, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is made up of a large residence, and two storefronts, all dating to the 1850s.
Another successful capital outlay request submitted by the Department of Cultural Affairs is seeing $725,000 going for planning, design, construction and upgrade work to the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe.
Opened in 1953, the folk-art museum houses more than 135,000 artifacts related to international folk art.
By Garry Boulard
In a decision anxiously awaited by both builders and environmentalists, the U.S. Supreme Court has moved to decrease the power of the Environmental Protection Agency on matters governing the nation’s waterways and wetlands.
In a 5 to 4 ruling, the court provided a new definition of what the word “wetlands” means, handing a victory to a couple who received a notice from the EPA when they were in the early stages of building a house on land they owned near Priest Lake, Idaho.
The agency informed Chantell and Michael Sackett that the land in question was subject to the federal Clean Water Act, and as such, they were charged with illegally placing fill materials in the form of gravel and sand to make a stable grade into what was described as “jurisdictional wetlands.”
Filing a lawsuit in response to the EPA’s actions, the Sacketts met with defeat in both a district court and circuit court of appeals before taking their case to the Supreme Court.
Now in the matter of Sackett v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the higher court has declared that what’s at stake is where a given wetlands is located. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito argued that the Clean Water Act extends only to “wetlands with a continuous surface connection to bodies that are waters of the United States in their own rights.”
Alito added that the “wetlands on the Sackett property are distinguishable from any possibly covered waters.”
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the majority ruling was essentially rewriting the Clean Water Act, casting aside in the process “45 years of consistent agency practice.”
In making a distinction between wetlands that are part of a separate body and wetlands that are connected to something larger, Kavanaugh continued, the majority decision “will leave some long-regulated adjacent wetlands no longer covered by the Clean Water Act, with significant repercussions for water quality and flood control throughout the United States.”
Builders have long thought that the EPA’s wetlands regulations were too restrictive. In a statement after the Supreme Court ruling, Stephen Sandherr, chief executive office of the Associated General Contractors, said the decision will “return consistency and sanity to the permitting process.”
Added Sandherr: “This decision will allow vital infrastructure and development projects to proceed in a timely matter while still providing strong protections for the actual waters of the U.S.”
Jason Mark, editor of Sierra, a magazine published by the Sierra Club, said the Supreme Court in its wetlands ruling “continued its assault on basic environmental safeguards,” arguing that the Sackett decision means that “polluting or filling in some wetlands if permissible under the Clean Water Act, the law that has protected the integrity of U.S. lakes, rivers, streams, and other water bodies for 50 years.”
In a posting on the Sierra Club’s website, Mark added that the ruling “wipes out protections for more than half of the country’s wetlands, going even further than policies proposed by the Trump Administration.”
By Garry Boulard
Work may begin later this year on a long-planned project to build a new taxiway at the Tucson International Airport.
Arizona’s second largest airport, behind the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, the Tucson airport is getting around $33.1 million in federal funds for the taxiway work, as well as the reconfiguration of an existing runway.
The funding is coming through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Runway Incursion Mitigation Program.
That program, launched in 2015, is tasked with increasing runway safety in the nation’s airports via infrastructure improvements. Crunching the numbers from runway incursions nationally during a six-year period, the program focused on the greatest risk factors in select airports leading to those incursions.
The program earlier determined that there were some 140 airfields with a high degree of runway incursions, all eligible for FAA funding support.
In announcing the funding for the Tucson airport projects, as well as other similar projects across the country, Shannetta Griffin, associate administration of the FAA, remarked: “Some airfields have complex layouts that can create confusion for pilots and other airport users.”
Griffin added that the just-announced funding will be used to “reconfigure complex taxiway and runway intersections to help prevent incursions and enhance the safety of the national airspace system.”
After a dip during the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, the Tucson Airport last year saw an increase in passenger volume from 2.5 million to just over 3.3 million travelers.
In the spring of 2022, the Tucson Airport received a federal grant of nearly $23 million for ongoing work on a $350 million airfield safety improvement project. That project comprises the largest such project of its kind in the history of the airport.
By Garry Boulard
A move to greatly develop a section of the main Albuquerque campus of the University of New Mexico has been made official with the launching of a tax increment development district.
“We have the opportunity to create something truly special here, and we can’t wait to bring this vision to life,” Garnett Stokes, UNM President, remarked during signing ceremonies creating the South Campus Tax Increment Development District.
As envisioned, the tax increment district will provide gross receipts and property tax revenue to pay for an estimated $267 million in infrastructure work, all designed to support a district that may very well see any number of housing, retail, and educational space development.
The infrastructure work could include everything from parking structures, roads, and sewers to bike paths and recreation fields, among other features.
UNM, City of Albuquerque, and State of New Mexico officials have been working for several years to create the district.
That cooperative effort, noted New Mexico Representative Day Hochman-Vigil at the signing ceremony, is what made the development district possible. “We can accomplish big things when our state and local partners work together on common goals,” said the legislator, who noted that additional partnerships with the federal government and commercial parties will foster “economic development and the revival of an underserved area of our community.”
Reports have indicated that new development in the area could not only lead to a variety of new building projects, but also around 4,000 jobs and easily up to $4 billion in wages.
Locate at Avenida Cesar Chavez and University Boulevard, the South Campus comprises roughly 50 acres heading in a western direction toward Interstate 25. The campus is the home to the Lobo Village dormitories and the University Stadium.
By Garry Boulard
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