Home News Local News Roswell air center legislation makes it to House, Senate

Roswell air center legislation makes it to House, Senate

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Once a military air base, the airfield would be part of a special economic district under proposed legislation. (Submitted Photo)

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After years of planning and effort, the creation of an independent authority to govern and manage the former Roswell air base is closer to reality with bills introduced Wednesday to the New Mexico Legislature.

Armstrong

“It is one of the most significant economic development initiatives that has happened in Roswell in quite some time, and we are pleased by the amount of bipartisan support we have gotten across the board from cities and counties and at the state level,” said Kyle Armstrong.

An oil and gas executive, Armstrong is one of the nine members of the Roswell International Air Center Task Force that has worked for months with legislators, their staff and the Governor’s Office to draft the bill and put it on the legislative agenda.

The task force is part of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. and was created this summer with approval by the Roswell City Council and the Chaves Board of Commissioners.

Known as the Regional Air Center Special Economic District Act, the legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate. Senate Bill 180 is sponsored by Stuart Ingle (R-Portales) and Cliff Pirtle, (R-Roswell).

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The House bill, sponsored by Candy Spence Ezzell, Bob Wooley and Greg Nibert, all Republicans from Roswell, and James Townsend (R-Artesia), had not been recorded formally by Wednesday evening, according to legislative staff.

Armstrong said that, while no other former military air base in New Mexico has created an authority, the concept itself is not new.

“It has been done and done successfully elsewhere,” said Armstrong. “We have modeled this from other authorities.”

As currently written, the legislation authorizes the creation of a political subdivision to exercise authority over a portion of the air center in south Roswell. The district would encompass primarily the fenced-in area around the runway and airport terminal but also some buildings and land outside the fence on Earl Cummings Loop.

According to the bill, the authority would initially consist of at least five, and up to nine, people. Four members would be appointed by the Roswell City Council and one would be named by the Chaves County Board of Commissioners. Up to four additional members could be representatives appointed by neighboring counties or tribal entities. Only one member, someone appointed by the Roswell City Council, could be an elected official.

In addition, if approved as drafted, the legislation would allow the land and buildings encompassed in the district, which has been owned by the city of Roswell since the military air base closed in 1967, to be transferred to the authority.

The authority would be able to employ a director and staff and issue bonds to finance improvements in the district. Lease or rents or other district revenues would be used to repay the bonds. The authority also could obtain grants or loans, but it would not be able to impose taxes.

Armstrong stressed that the authority, while not controlled by elected officials, would be still function obtain public input on policy.

“This will still be a public body,” he said. “This is will be an entity of the state. The focus will simply be different. It is an opportunity to have one board that is focused on developing the air center to reach its full potential, whereas before the city has overseen it and it hasn’t been able to have that as its full focus.”

The ability to bring in private investment is crucial to the airfield’s economic development, he added.

“That’s the second key to this, the infrastructure needs at that airfield,” Armstrong said. “We have to put it into a position to bring in outside dollars, private dollars, to rehabilitate existing infrastructure and develop new buildings as well.

“The other part in this is that it will signal to the business community that Roswell is interested in taking a different approach out there,” he continued, “and we are open to new investment and pursuing businesses that may have been looking at facilities elsewhere.”

The timeline for the bills to be discussed and voted on by committees and the full House and Senate bodies is unknown at this point, but task force members believe that there is broad support for the legislation based on conversations with lawmakers.

House Speaker Brian Egolf has publicly voiced his support for the air authority concept, as has Lt. Gov. John Sanchez.

“I think the Roswell air center is one of the great possibilities and that is where we have to send a message to local businesses that the state of New Mexico is willing to invest and not only in terms of dollars but also to then go out and sell the possibilities,” Sanchez said.

Both Sanchez and Armstrong pointed out that the airfield is expected to be a regional job and business creator.

“This is initially an initiative of the city and the county,” said Armstrong, “but the expectation is that we need to draw in some of our neighbors. We need to be able to regionalize this for the benefit of all of southeast New Mexico. I think that is going to be a critical piece of this, to be able to help grow the air center and be able to create new jobs out there because this is going to have an impact of all the communities around us as well.”

The formation of an independent authority to develop and market the airfield’s assets was recommended by two economic feasibility studies, one in 1998 and the other completed in March 2017.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.