AP NEWS

N.M. Tourism Department to close four visitor centers

September 10, 2016

In an era in which mobile devices and online media are playing a greater role in travel planning, the New Mexico Tourism Department confirmed Friday that it will permanently close half of its visitor centers, facilities where state workers distribute maps and provide other services for travelers.

Tourism centers at Raton, Chama, Anthony and La Bajada will be shuttered Oct. 7. The La Bajada center on Interstate 25 south of Santa Fe, which recorded about 20,000 visitors a year, ceased operating earlier this summer due to staffing issues.

The roadside sites at La Bajada and at Anthony, near New Mexico’s southern border, are owned by the New Mexico Department of Transportation and will continue to serve as rest areas.

But the Tourism Department will lay off a total of nine employees at the visitor centers in a move expected to save $556,342 annually.

The announcement comes amid calls from Gov. Susana Martinez for each department under her control to cut its budget by at least 5 percent as the state tries to deal with a $220 million deficit from the last fiscal year and a projected shortfall of $431 million for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Tourism Department spokeswoman Heather Briganti said visitation at all eight of the department’s tourism centers has fallen sharply during recent years.

Among the more heavily used centers are facilities at Glenrio, on Interstate 40 near the Texas border, and at Manuelito, on I-40 near the Arizona border.

The La Bajada center closed earlier this year when a state employee went on long-term medical leave, leaving just one person available to staff the facility.

“Knowing what we’ve known about the decrease in traffic at the visitor centers, and that there is an alternative [funding] model working in most of our surrounding states, this has been in consideration for some time,” Briganti said in an email, referring to neighboring states where visitor centers are run privately, by local governments or funded with special taxes.

While the agency says visitation at its eight tourism centers fell 52 percent between 2009 and 2016, that doesn’t reflect a growing number of people visiting the state. The department says visitation has increased at tourism centers managed by local agencies, which can exercise greater flexibility in tailoring hours and services.

The city of Santa Fe and state Tourism Department have discussed partnering to operate the La Bajada facility.

“Given the opportunities for these four centers to thrive being managed at a local level, the budget situation gave us reason to look deeply at every program and every dollar spent,” Briganti said.

The Tourism Department’s visitor center at 491 Old Santa Fe Trail, in Santa Fe’s historic district, will remain open.

The mayor of Chama said the decision to close the visitor center there will have a big effect on the mountain village that serves as a gateway to Northern New Mexico and relies on tourism to support a large part of the local economy.

“Not only does it have an impact on the village but on communities across the north,” said Mayor Jennifer Gallegos.

Gallegos argued closing the facility, which was open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, leaves visitors to the area with one less amenity.

“We have campers coming through all summer until the snow flies,” she said. “That’s the only dump station and there is no other information center.”

Gallegos said Tourism Department Secretary Rebecca Latham told her of the decision Friday. The mayor said village leaders will examine options to keep the center open under local control.

Contact Andrew Oxford at 505-986-3093 or aoxford@sfnewmexican.com.

State Tourism Department visitor centers

Closing Oct. 7

La Bajada

Raton

Chama

Anthony

Remaining open

Santa Fe

Lordsburg

Glenrio

Manuelito