Contemplating white elephants

-A A +A
By Jay Miller


SANTA FE — When I suggested in a recent column that Spaceport America might be a good location for the $1 billion research ghost town a one-man international development company is promoting, I was only half serious. 

It does seem that New Mexico’s much-heralded spaceport could be on its last legs Gov. Susana Martinez and the New Mexico Legislature work very hard in the next few months to keep it. 

Some very exciting offers have been made to Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic by some deep-pocketed suitors. 

Virgin Galactic now says it was sold a bill of goods when former Gov. Bill Richardson painted a picture of Virgin being the center of a thriving spaceport. After several years, Virgin remains the only tenant at the site. 

Meanwhile the trial-lawyer laden Legislature appears far from granting the limited supplier liability protection our competition is offering and Gov. Martinez is acting as though she would rather be pursued by Branson instead of her pursuing his business. 

This scenario from a past column got retired state tourism staffer Mike Pitel to thinking he had witnessed similar occurrences of state or federal money being spent on good ideas in the middle of nowhere that never have fulfilled their original promise. 

Pitel mentioned Caprock Amphitheater, between Tucumcari and Clovis and Greyhound Stadium, between Portales and Clovis, as two examples of projects he has wondered about. 

Other possibilities for a White Elephant List which have been suggested by others include the Bosque Redondo Memorial/Fort Sumner State Monument, near Fort Sumner, The Camino Real International Heritage Center, between Socorro and T or C, and the Ghost Ranch Living Museum near Abiquiu. 

Another problem exists with oddly-located visitor centers. We have a beautiful new one west of Gallup that has many visitors and rivals Arizona’s visitor center a few miles down I-40. But other visitor centers seem to be located where an underutilized building already existed. 

All of the subjects listed above are worthy issues that deserve recognition. And maybe all should exist. But these and others need to be studied. What is their annual visitation, operating cost and return on investment? What is their purpose? Are they underutilized, undervisited or closed? 

During the past 50 years, my wife and I have had the opportunity to travel all the paved roads in the state and many to the unpaved roads. We have enjoyed visiting museums, memorials, monuments and visitor centers along the way. 

Admittedly we have not visited some of the attractions listed above because they were inconvenient to work into the schedule we had at the time. 

One that we have visited, and revisited with friends, is the Camino Real International Heritage Center along I-25. We may like it because we grew up in nearby towns. 

We especially enjoy our friends’ reactions while going through the section where it suddenly becomes completely dark and desert noises such as lightening, rattle snakes and other varmints fill the air. 

I am hoping it is doing as well as original predictions suggested. But it is in the middle of nowhere and it hasn’t been busy when we have been there. 

One of its advantages is that it is part of the national and International Historical Trails systems, which receives federal assistance. It also is part of the New Mexico state monuments system. 

Perhaps you know of others that should be added to the list. If so, Pitel and I would like to know. Others may be interested also. The information might make a good term paper or newspaper feature. 

The subject might be worthy of some sharp pencils at Gov. Susana Martinez’s Department of Finance and Administration or at the Legislative Finance Committee. 

These all are sacred cows to some people. Some of these may have been seen as economic development for a needy area of the state. Possibly every project listed above is absolutely justified. But we need to know.