LAS CRUCES — The Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation, a potential $1 billion investment, could become a reality in a desert area in Luna and Doña Ana counties.
As anticipated, the Luna County Commission unanimously approved an economic development agreement Thursday with Pegasus Global Holdings. The agreement gives county officials the ability to begin negotiations with Pegasus to secure a 15-square-mile parcel for the proposed mock city, where new technologies would be developed, tested and evaluated.
"We've got a spot for you to come here," said Luna County Manager Kelly Kuenstler, quoting a portion of a letter she wrote to Pegasus earlier this year.
The agreement outlines a scope of one year for the project to begin, with the agreement, itself, lasting for two years.
Kuenstler wrote the letter after Robert Brumley, president and chief executive officer of Pegasus Global Holdings, announced months ago that plans for CITE had been scrapped in Hobbs. Since sending the letter pitching Luna County, Kuenstler said the company made "five or six" exploratory trips to Luna County. Those trips included teams of "professional developers" and engineers, she added.
Despite the commission's approval, the company has not explicitly said Luna County will be where CITE will be built. However, if plans are finalized, a portion of CITE could be in Doña Ana County, where it adjoins Luna County.
"No land has been purchased from Luna County," Kuenstler said. "They are in the process of evaluating land."
There were mixed reactions from Las Crucens and Doña Ana County residents about the agreement.
"If it does end up being built in both Luna and Doña Ana Counties, I could see where both of us profit from it," said Grace Tyson, a retired chemical engineer who has lived in Las Cruces the past seven years. "If the supposed 3,000 construction jobs materialize as proposed, that would mean some of those jobs would have to go to people living in Doña Ana County. As for the permanent, technical jobs that would be at that facility, I would also think a fair amount of that expertise would also have come from within the county. It could be good for both of us."
But Raymond Carrasco, a Doña Ana County resident, said he is glad the proposed project is going somewhere else.
"There's too many questions and not enough answers that this will be a good thing for anybody," Carrasco said. "Nobody's seen a business plan that outlines what these people intend to do; and what assurances are there that this project will bring in a billion dollars, like it's been said. I think a lot of people would've had better feelings about this if there had been more information about this project."
Pegasus spokesperson Alarie Ray-Garcia has said other locations in New Mexico are still being considered. Those possible locations could include Las Cruces, Roswell and Albuquerque. However, Pegasus officials wouldn't confirm the other communities they are looking at.
"I want to emphasize we're in competition with these other areas," said Jay Spivey, Luna County Commission chairman.
That uncertainty did not sit well with Deming resident Larry Caldwell, who did not speak against the project outright, but said the agreement is "premature."
"I don't want to give the county manager this authority until we have a good faith effort," Caldwell said. "That entity should do something to demonstrate he (Brumley) has a good faith effort instead of traveling the state."
Caldwell added Pegasus should have purchased the land before the agreement was signed. But Kuenstler said land dealings are between the company and landowners.
Other Luna County residents who spoke during Thursday's special commission meeting were generally in favor of the project, citing the need for jobs.
"I'm all for this," said Deming resident Fred Tiedge said.
Steve Ramirez can be reached at 575-541-5452. Follow him on Twitter @SteveRamirez6. Matt Robinson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattrob722
ONLINE EXTRAS: Pegasus Global Holdings website: www.pegasusglobalholdings.com;