by George Zamora
PLAYAS, N.M., Dec. 2, 2004 – New Mexico Tech, a state-supported research university in Socorro, opened up its new Playas Training Center in Playas, N.M. today with a bang.
A small explosive device was used to cut the ribbon at the entrance to the former Phelps Dodge company town located in southwest New Mexico, kicking off a daylong inaugural event that also included live demonstrations of the type of anti-terrorism training that will now be occurring in Playas on a regular basis.
Top administrators from New Mexico Tech and Phelps Dodge Corporation signed off this past summer on a $5 million real estate transaction that made New Mexico Tech the only university known to literally own an entire town.
Negotiations between New Mexico Tech and Phelps Dodge to purchase the 640-acre township, along with its 259 homes, six apartment buildings, various community facilities, and surrounding 1,200 acres, had been ongoing for more than a year and a half. New Mexico Tech is now in the process of fully converting Playas into one of the nation’s premier locations for anti-terrorism and first responders training.
“New Mexico Tech is now able to look forward to initiating a whole range of research activities and training programs in and around Playas that will directly support homeland security efforts, not only at the state and national levels, but on a global basis as well,” said New Mexico Tech President Daniel H. López.
Initial plans call for the town to be used as a “real-world” training center for the research university’s training program in prevention and response to suicide bombings and other related programs.
Located in Hidalgo County in the “boot heel” area of New Mexico, Playas had once been a bustling small town since the early 1970s, with a peak population of about 1,000 residents.
After Phelps Dodge Corporation closed down its nearby copper-smelting operations in 1999, most of the workers then living in Playas moved elsewhere, essentially leaving behind a company owned ghost town.
“Having New Mexico Tech become the newest landowner in Hidalgo County also bodes well for the area’s economic development,” Tech President López said.
“I suspect, once we get going in Playas, the southwest region of New Mexico will have more economic activity and job opportunities being created for everyone involved than we can foresee at this time,” he added.
López credited the efforts of U.S. Senator Pete V. Domenici, along with those of the late U.S. Representative Joseph R. Skeen, as being instrumental in garnering support for the Playas purchase, from its inception to its completion.
The New Mexico Tech President also extended his personal thanks to Tech vice presidents Van Romero and Denny Peterson, as well as the university’s board of regents, for the critical roles they assumed in the purchase and current development of Playas.