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Las Cruces: The Spice is Right

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A lot of places talk up local flavor, but Las Cruces, New Mexico, truly delivers.

The city of 110,000 sits amidst mountain ranges in the fertile Mesilla Valley, where two crops grow exceedingly well–chile peppers and pecans. Chiles stretch to the sun as pecan trees shelter their brown nuts and provide the city with leafy shade.

Locally Crafted Catering

Lucky for visitors, peppers and pecans work their way into food and drink in surprising and delicious ways. There are green chile egg rolls at a Chinese restaurant; green chile lasagna at an Italian one. A bar touts its pecan-crusted stuffed peppers as an ice cream shop scoops green chile sundaes and a winery infuses its white with chiles and serves sweet and spicy local pecans alongside. Gift shops sell chile salsas, chile jerky and chile pecan brittle. 

Peppers and pecans are also plentiful at the city-owned Las Cruces Convention Center, where chefs invigorate everything from plated dinners to passed hors d’oeuvres with the local products.

“Here, you smell, taste and feel,” said Albert Herrera, senior sales manager for Visit Las Cruces. “Food is very important; it’s not just convention center food.”

The sensory experience isn’t confined to the convention center as visitors venture into the community. Board meetings adjourn to local restaurants to learn tamale making and enjoy one or two. Groups tour gardens and a gift shop at the Chile Pepper Institute, part of New Mexico State University (NMSU). Visitors explore restaurants and businesses collectively called the Walk of Flame, known for selling items tied to chile peppers. 

The proliferation of chiles and pecans is one of several surprises for those new to Las Cruces. The area is the oldest wine-producing region in the country, and nine area wineries carry on that tradition. People who haven’t been to this corner of New Mexico are also a little fuzzy on the location of the state’s second-largest city. “A lot of times, the first question is ‘Where is Las Cruces?’” said Herrera.

The city is 41 miles north of the Mexican border, so close to El Paso, Texas, that air travelers land there and drive 50 miles north to Las Cruces. Interstates 10 and 25 cross paths near the convention center.

Meetings of All Sizes

When the convention center opened a decade ago, it elevated the city to a regional meeting destination. Then, in 2019, when another 17,000 square feet of meeting space and an adjacent 125-room Courtyard by Marriott were added, the city became suitable for many national and international meetings. About 600 of the city’s 3,000 hotel rooms are within walking distance of the convention center.

“Meetings of 400 to 600 are our sweet spot,” said Mauro Monsisvais, the center’s general manager.

The LEED Gold-certified facility has a 17,236-square-foot exhibit hall, an 8,950-square-foot ballroom, 10 flexible meeting rooms, 7,100 square feet of indoor prefunction space and 12,000 square feet of outdoor space. 

The convention center’s ongoing working relationship with NMSU, whose campus is adjacent to the center, benefits meetings. The center can turn to the university when it needs more space than its 375-space parking lot provides or if its indoor meeting spaces are stretched thin. Students from the school’s hospitality management program work at the Marriott Courtyard, so the hotel doesn’t have the staffing issues so common these days. 

During the pandemic, the center made important upgrades, from installing touchless faucets, toilets and water stations to adding bipolar ionization, which rids air of pathogens. 

A 1G fiber optic backbone, part of the original infrastructure, can be expanded to meet any customer’s needs, according to Monsisvais. The Wi-Fi system can handle 10,000 unique devices but given the center’s size, that hasn’t been required. In past meetings though “it has handled up to 2,000 unique devices on Wi-Fi without a problem,” he said.

No doubt such a forward-thinking convention center is a big advantage, but Herrera and others realize that cities like Las Cruces — with a strong sense of place and palpable community spirit — are where the best meetings happen. 

“The convention center isn’t standalone,” Herrera said. “It is really about the entire community.”

For more information:

Visit Las Cruces

Albert Herrera