The New Mexico Racing Commission visits Tucumcari on Thursday where it will hear investors’ proposal for building a racetrack and casino at the edge of town.
We encourage area residents to help the commissioners see the potential a “racino” would have on the economy of this community, the region and ultimately the state.
The best way is to attend the hearing, which begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Tucumcari Convention Center. And bring signs trumpeting support for the Coronado Park project and its prospects for more jobs and community growth. People are also needed to speak in favor of the plan, or to support those who will.
The Tucumcari plan is not the only one being considered by the Commission. Raton and Santa Fe are also bidding for the designation.
But we believe Tucumcari is the only location that can attract millions of out-of-state dollars — new money — into New Mexico.
While all of eastern New Mexico would benefit from the project, Quay County would be the big winner. The project backers see the racino employing 300 people full time and 100 part time. Plus the crowds would increase traffic to other local businesses, thus generating more jobs and retail sales, which increases Tucumcari's gross receipt taxes.
Coronado Park investors will tell members of the Racing Commission they expect the racino to generate $60 million annually, with about 75 percent being spent by non-New Mexicans.
“That’s been our whole focus,” said Franklin McCasland, chairman of the Quay County Gaming Authority. “If you located it in Santa Fe, you’re just going to be trading gaming dollars in New Mexico.”
Raton, nestled among the Sangre de Cristo mountains, is already a tourist attraction.
Amarillo and other Texas Panhandle residents are the primary target of Albuquerque car dealer Don Chalmers and his team of investors, who say the annual Coronado Park payroll will be about $9 million. The average wage will be close to $28,000 — or $6,000 a year more than the average Tucumcari median family income is today.
If anyone doubts the Tucumcari plan would be successful, they need only look southeast, to Hobbs, where a racetrack and casino opened about three years ago.
Ray Padilla, marketing director for the Hobbs Chamber of Commerce, said his community is seeing thousands of new residents move in needing places to live. The result: Hobbs is building 950 homes, has five hotels under construction and, with the accompanying oil boom, has 2,500 jobs available right now. The city of 38,000 people is projected to grow to 49,000 by 2010, Padilla said.
While Lea County has more than just a racino spurring its economy, there’s no denying Zia Park and its Black Gold Casino have played a key role in the growth. That’s visible in the track parking lot and on the streets of Hobbs, where Texas license plates, especially from Lubbock and Midland/Odessa areas, are a staple.
“You used to be able to get across town in a few minutes. Now it takes 20 minutes or longer,” Padilla said. “A few years ago, we started getting (heavy) traffic about 5 o’clock. Now it starts about 4 in the afternoon.”
The thoughts of new homes and more traffic on Tucumcari streets are an exciting tradeoff for a community whose population and economy have been dwindling for decades.
Tucumcari was built for train travelers more than 100 years ago. Its heyday was spent catering to visitors along the Mother Road — Route 66 — in the 1950s and ’60s. But now, with the racino plan, there’s a chance to create the next round of glorious days with more potential for tourism than ever before.
Coronado Park Racetrack Casino is what we need to put Tucumcari back on the map.
Community support is needed to convince the Racing Commission of the great potential.