The Downtown Las Cruces has a long and rich history of culture and business. Though there have been challenges along the way, Downtown Las Cruces stands out as an example of successful revitalization beginning at the community level.
Downtown Las Cruces Historical Timeline
- Late 1800s
The New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance determined that the Las Cruces Downtown Mall was one of the state’s most endangered place, and Las Cruces residents begin working to work together to restore downtown to its former glory.
Detailed History of Downtown Las Cruces
Several buildings along the Main Street Mall in downtown Las Cruces date back to the late 1800s. Well into the first half of the twentieth century, Main Street served as town center with a thriving commercial and arts district. Pedestrians and vehicles cruised down Main Street to visit the theater, local eateries, and local businesses including Woolworth’s.
Las Cruces’ population increased from 4,000 in the 1920s to more than 29,000 in the 1960s. City leaders adopted an Urban Renewal program for the downtown area, and in the early 1970s city officials closed off several blocks of Main Street to construct a pedestrian mall.
The urban renewal movement of the 1970’s scraped many historic Downtown buildings, installed a pedestrian mall, and restructured Church and Water Streets as one-way arterials. Many property owners, including with historic structures, were forced to tear down their buildings through the Urban renewal “Property Acquisition” program. The loss of vehicle traffic caused by this closure caused the number of businesses along Main Street plummeted from 160 to about 90. Anchor business, essential for an area’s commercial survival, began opening their doors along interstates 25 and 10, near Lohman and Telshore Avenues and New Mexico State University, where both pedestrian and vehicle traffic were plentiful.
The challenges of the once thriving Downtown Las Cruces’ were clearly evident by the 1990s. This downward trend continued until Las Cruces residents began working to work together in 2002 to restore downtown to its former glory.
In 2002, the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance determined that the Las Cruces Downtown Mall was one of the state’s most endangered places. The alliance wrote, “without immediate action, the six-block area will continue to dwindle, existing businesses and cultural opportunities will lose what little traffic they now attract and Downtown will continue to suffer a slow death.”
In order to reverse this pattern, Las Cruces officials worked with the National Main Street Program and private planning and design firms to revitalize Downtown. After several planning studies and much debate, officials decided to remove the pedestrian mall and bring back an actual Main Street. In a three phase process, the city finally returned Main Street to a pedestrians and vehicles oriented thoroughfare, with wide sidewalks and landscaping finally. The former pedestrian mall was officially opened to traffic in 2013.
In October 2013 Las Cruces Community Partners facilitated a Downtown Las Cruces Charrette to evaluate current master plans and studies while articulating today’s collective community vision for Downtown. During this week-long event, collaborative planning workshops, round-table focus groups, and public presentations carefully examined Downtown opportunities and developed a plan of action.
The people of Las Cruces have come together to restore much of what was lost in the 1970s. By reopening Main Street to cars while maintaining a walkable environment for business and community gatherings, businesses are once again thriving in Downtown Las Cruces. The Downtown charrette celebrated these recent accomplishments, including numerous studies and master plans, public funding of infrastructure improvements for $6.4 million on Main Street reconstruction, and consolidation of governmental and cultural public buildings into the Downtown.
Private reinvestment in new restaurants and retail, an Intermodal Transit Center, and public and private art collaborations have all paved the way to get ready for a resurgence in Downtown activity. Las Cruces Downtown Charrette was a time for meaningful commentary, exchange of ideas, and foresight on how to move forward with Downtown revitalization. Most frequent comments pertained to the importance of a plaza and making Church and Water streets two-way roadways. Predictable zoning, emphasis on building development areas were also cited as important factors to the revitalization of Downtown. The public agrees that the future Downtown and plaza should address many needs of the community, support residential living, as well as retail, service, and food and beverage providers. To help reach these goals, three master plan update priorities:
- Return Church and Water Streets to two-way traffic neighborhoods to Downtown
- Update the City’s Zoning Code as it pertains to Downtown
- Develop a plaza as the heart of downtown, to provide both an informal gathering place as well as a venue for entertainment and events
Articles and resources about Downtown Las Cruces: