Photo by William Faulkner, courtesy Faulkner Studios
Meeting in Las Cruces will become easier when the southern border town opens its new convention center next year.
A case in point is one of the first large meetings booked for the center, next April’s New Mexico Governor’s Conference. The last time the conference came to Las Cruces, the convention and visitors bureau had to pitch a tent to accommodate all the group’s activities; next year, everything will fit nicely into the 55,000-square-foot convention center on the edge of the New Mexico State University campus. About 300 are expected for the tourism-related meeting and trade show.
The convention center’s arrival creates geographical diversity for state associations, which have mostly met in the north, home to the state’s largest city, Albuquerque, and its nearby neighbor, tourist mecca and state capital Santa Fe.
“When you look at New Mexico, there’s hasn’t been much choice outside of the northern part of the state,” said Ken Mompellier, executive director of the Las Cruces CVB. “There were a lot of meetings that we couldn’t talk to, because there was nothing we could do [to accommodate them].”
Now the bureau is seeing interest from planners for state associations who are saying, “Now we can spread the business around,” said Mompellier.
The center still faces some challenges. It is not as large as originally planned, trimmed from 85,000 square feet because of budget constraints. Mompellier and others made sure the center’s ballroom wasn’t too compromised; it is only 1,000 square feet smaller than originally planned and still significantly larger than the largest hotel ballroom in the city.
The one-level floor plan is simple: an 8,950-square-foot ballroom and a 14,500-square-foot exhibit hall separated by six 475-square-foot breakout rooms. A commercial kitchen, also in the middle of the building, was not downsized at Mompellier’s insistence. A west wall can easily be removed to add another 10,000 square feet of meeting space. There are about 300 paved spaces in a free lot adjacent to the center and additional spaces in a soft-surface parking lot.
Plans for an attached convention center hotel are still being refined. Like the center, the hotel has been downscaled from the original 180-room full-service hotel to a 150-room midrange property with a restaurant and bar. The addition of the hotel is important for the center’s success even though a number of hotels are near the center, including the Ramada Palms de Las Cruces, recently upgraded and a block away; a soon-to-open Hilton Garden Inn; and several other limited-service hotels. It helps that about 80 percent of Las Cruces’ meeting business is drive-in.
Because of the lack of an attached hotel, “some of our business that wanted to go to the convention center will stay in the hotel for now,” said Mompellier. “And, we will lose some business.”
The center has booked a number of local events for the end of this year to get the kinks out before larger groups begin arriving in 2011. For that year, more than $230,000 of business has been booked. Beyond that, about $250,000 in business is on the books for future years, according to Mompellier. The center is on the verge of booking an international group that hasn’t met in the United States in about a decade.
As the center’s opening draws nearer, the sales effort is heating up. The convention center has added another salesperson, the Las Cruces sales staff was in Albuquerque on a sales mission in May, and more tours and missions will be planned for early 2011 when the destination has something solid — its new convention center — to show meeting planners, said Mompellier.
Chill out at Cloudcroft’s cool Lodge Resort
Chilling out is nothing new at the Lodge Resort and Spa, 100 years old next year. At an elevation of 9,000 feet, three steep blocks from the village of Cloudcroft, the 59-room hotel is a cool escape summer and winter.
“We are literally like an oasis, surrounded by desert,” said Mandi Smaga, director of sales. “The average temperature in the summer is 75.”
The historic hotel, built by the railroad in a Bavarian architectural style, attracts an interesting mix of business. The chaplain at Fort Bliss, outside of El Paso, Texas, has chosen it for marriage retreats; government agencies also opt for the property. An association of contractors recently booked the hotel; a ghost hunters association from El Paso is also spending a few days there soon in hopes of bumping into the friendly resident ghost Rebecca.
The largest of the hotel’s five indoor meeting areas can seat around 200 and is in a separate, historic building downhill from the hotel; beyond that, the spaces range from to 600 to 1,200 square feet.
Although the Lodge is in a quiet area, 90 minutes from El Paso, and its airport, halfway between Las Cruces and Roswell, N.M., it is not bereft of amenities, with a golf course, a freestanding spa and a chef who was recently honored by the state’s hospitality industry and loves to stir up palates with his green chili chicken chowder. Cloudcroft and its shops and restaurants are three blocks down the hill.
“We’re ideal for executive groups and small meetings that want no distractions and want to get down to business,” said Smaga. “We don’t have the big attractions, but a lot of times, people are looking to get away from that.”
In addition to chilling out, guests there get a breath of fresh air. “The air is pristine as it gets in the world,” said Smaga. There might be a “little pollen,” she said, but “there is no pollution, no man-made pollution anyway.”