by George Zamora
SOCORRO, N.M., May 18, 2004 – The New Mexico Tech Board of Regents has officially approved a purchase agreement that allows the state-supported research university in Socorro to move forward on becoming the owner of Playas, New Mexico.
Federal funding which will be provided for the southwestern New Mexico town’s purchase price of $5 million is expected to be approved as early as next week through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the university’s governing board was told prior to the decisive vote taken at today’s monthly meeting.
Earlier this year, administrators from New Mexico Tech and Phelps Dodge Corporation, the current owner of Playas, signed off on a real estate deal that will transform the remote company town into a real-world training and research facility for the university’s burgeoning Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program and other national domestic preparedness programs.
Playas, which is located in Hidalgo County, in the “bootheel” area of New Mexico, was once a bustling small town with a population of about 1,000 residents.
After Phelps Dodge Corporation closed down its nearby copper-smelting operations in 1999, most of the workers who had lived in Playas moved elsewhere, essentially leaving behind a modern-day ghost town.
The mining company then decided to put the 640-acre township, along with its 259 homes, six apartment buildings, and various community facilities, as well as the surrounding 1,200 acres, up for sale around December 2002.
Negotiations between New Mexico Tech and Phelps Dodge to purchase Playas have been ongoing for more than a year now.
“Our intention in purchasing Playas is not to deplete any programs that are already established in Socorro,” said Van Romero, New Mexico Tech’s vice president for research and economic development. “Rather, the purchase of Playas is intended to accommodate the expansion of research and training programs at New Mexico Tech.”
New Mexico Tech President Daniel H. López also assured the university’s regents that buying Playas does not mean that jobs will be taken away from the Socorro campus.
“The infrastructure support for Playas will remain largely in Socorro,” López said, “and that will actually create more economic activity in Socorro, as well as Hidalgo County. . . . I suspect, once we get going in Playas, we’ll have more opportunities being created for everyone involved than we can visualize at this time.”
The New Mexico Tech President also reminded the university’s board of regents that the pending purchase of Playas by New Mexico Tech is still subject to approval by state agencies, such as the State Board of Finance and the Commission on Higher Education, before the university can actually become the town’s owner.