The opening of Plaza de Las Cruces downtown gives the city the central gathering point it has been lacking for decades.
The plaza, which was dedicated last weekend, has been part of the vision for downtown revitalization dating back to former Mayor Ruben Smith’s first term in 1991. It was fitting that Smith and former Mayor Bill Mattiace joined current Mayor Ken Miyagishima in the dedication parade for the plaza last weekend. All played a role in leading to that event.
“We needed to bring it back to create the heart of Las Cruces,” Smith said, calling the dedication “one of the most glorious days in the city of Las Cruces — probably in my lifetime.”
City officials have been trying to breathe life back into the downtown area ever since the ill-fated urban renewal of the late 1960s and early ’70s, which traded tradition for trendy and including the move of St. Genevieve’s Church. A central gathering point — similar to the plazas in Mesilla, Santa Fe and elsewhere in New Mexico — has long been a vital piece in the revitalization effort.
The Plaza de Las Cruces gives us that gathering place. The plaza has a covered stage at one end, a splash pad to cool off at the other and plenty of space in between to handle large gatherings.
“This is almost like a rebirth of the city,” Mayor Miyagishima said during the dedication. “I predict, in the next four years, you’re going to see an investment of between $30 million and $60 million in private and public investment. It’s almost like the roots of a tree — you’re going to see it start spreading to other parts.”
We agree with the mayor as to the potential of the plaza, but we also recognize that it will take consisten effort by city officials to get the most out of this new asset.
That means ensuring that there are a number of events scheduled for the plaza throughout the year and plenty of reasons for people to come downtown.
The splash pad is sure to be a welcome addition, especially during the hottest months of the summer. And, in time, the benches and picnic tables that line the plaza will also be well used, just as they are in the parks throughout Las Cruces. But to take full advantage of the new plaza, we will need numerous events and activities that will bring people of diverse interests downtown.
The ultimate goal of an economically and culturally vibrant downtown area that includes both a thriving business district by day and a lively entertainment district at night, with people living, working and playing in the downtown area, is still a work in progress.
But the plaza is an important piece to that process and gives city planners an anchor they can build around.
“I really think this marks the beginning of Las Crucens being able to visualize how amazing downtown can be,” said Arianna Parsons, executive director of the Downtown Las Cruces Partnership. “People are very visual. They need to see big, catalytic changes like this.
“But I hope they also understand that this is not the end product. This is a jumping-off point; this is really just the beginning.”