July 03--LAS CRUCES -- Spaceport America officials this week OK'd seeking $6.5 million to build a visitors center in Truth or Consequences.
They said they're now following a plan that -- at least for now -- has two other proposed visitors centers, one in DoÑa Ana County and one at the spaceport site in Sierra County, on the backburner because of a shortage in funding.
The New Mexico Spaceport Authority board OK'd a measure Tuesday that will allow it to seek a $6.5 million loan from the New Mexico Finance Authority. It also will have to be signed off upon by the state Board of Finance.
"It is not the final action of this board," said New Mexico Spaceport Authority board member David Buchholtz. "This board will have to act again when the details of the financing come before us."
Spaceport authority Executive Director Christine Anderson said the agency has two options for repaying the loan: using excess revenue from two county-level sales taxes that also help repay loans used for Spaceport America construction or using revenue from a Virgin Galactic lease of spaceport facilities.
"They're more comfortable with the excess pledged revenue," she said, referring to finance authority officials.
Sales taxes OK'd by voters in DoÑa Ana and Sierra counties go to repay a portion of bonds that were taken out to build the $212 million Spaceport America, located just north of DoÑa Ana County. But not all of the sales-tax revenue is needed each year to repay the bonds.
More dollars eventually must be found to pay for other planned visitors centers at the spaceport site and at a yet-to-be determined location in DoÑa Ana County, officials said.
"Basically what's happened over the last four years as the operations of the spaceport have become delayed, we've used up the money that had been allocated to build a visitors center in operating the spaceport," said spaceport authority Chairman Rick Holdrige. "And some of it went to roads."
Also, spaceport officials said other proposals to fund the proposed visitors centers -- such as private financing -- didn't pan out.
The $6.5 million being sought would allow the spaceport authority to buy land off Interstate 25's Exit 79 in Truth or Consequences and build the visitors center, officials said.
The Florida-based Arts & Technology, Inc. aka IDEAS as part of a contract in recent years designed the spaceport visitors centers and the exhibits and attractions that will go in them. Anderson said that work means the spaceport authority already has architectural plans ready and has the exhibits that will outfit the Truth or Consequences visitors center.
Spaceport officials have said their aim in building the visitors centers is to attract tourists who want to see the spaceport close-up but can't afford the price of a ticket to suborbital space.
Tuesday, the spaceport authority board also OK'd a contract to a Las Cruces firm, Pure Operations LLC, that will oversee testing of a water system at Spaceport America.
Diana Alba Soular may be reached at 575-541-5443.
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