By Douglas Messier
Plans for a visitor’s center at Spaceport America have continued to shrink due to a lack of funding and revenues. And that could pose significant risks to New Mexico’s plans to boost the local economy by attracting more than 200,000 visitors to the remote facility where Virgin Galactic plans to launch tourists into space.
In fact, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority appears to be going down the very path that its own Strategic Business Plan warns will result in a poor visitor experience and fewer tourists paying money to see the high-tech spaceport.
The New Mexico Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee has endorsed a bill that would prohibit Spaceport America from using excess taxes collected from Dona Ana and Sierra counties to fund its operations.
The measure, introduced by Republican Sen. Lee Cotter of Las Cruces, would require that funds collected from gross receipts taxes to pay off construction bond debt. Operational money would have to come out of the general state budget.
Residents of the two counties voted to impose a tax increase on themselves to help fund the $212 million spaceport located near the town of Truth or Consequences.
New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) Executive Director Christine Anderson, which oversees the spaceport, said she was disappointed in the committee’s decision.
Anderson said the measure, if approved by the Legislature, would cost the agency about $700,000 at what she called a “critical moment” for the Spaceport.
“That money has been acting as a lifeline for the Spaceport,” Anderson said. “If this bill is passed what I would need to do is go to the Legislature and ask the senators who voted for this bill if they will add the money to the authority’s budget at the cost to all the taxpayers in New Mexico. And that’s something I don’t want to do.”
Virgin Galactic, which is Spaceport America’s anchor tenant, is behind schedule on beginning commercial operations of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle from New Mexico. This has limited the revenues that NMSA can collect to maintain its operations.
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Construction of Spaceport Unit Will Resume
Construction of an aircraft rescue and firefighting building at Spaceport America, stalled since November, is scheduled to resume within three weeks.
The Spaceport Authority’s former executive director, Rick Homans, halted work on the $2.9 million building because of concerns about how the first-floor space would be used and whether it was sufficient to meet the needs of future tenants. The project had been launched by Homans’ predecessor Steve Landeene.
New Spaceport Authority executive director Christine Anderson said she lifted the stop-work order on March 11 after determining “that the original design was fine and we would move forward.”
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