Deming's MainStreet Project gathers ideas for giving the town a jolt of energy.
I'd seen notices in advance about the meeting of the Deming MainStreet Project on March 14, but on the day of the event I had to ask at City Hall where it was being held. A woman told me it was at Morgan Hall.
I went there, but there was another meeting going on. The people there told me the MainStreet meeting was next door.
It was going on in a room with about 10 large notepads on easels arranged in a semi-circle. The notepads were covered with illustrations of plans proposed by MainStreet to revitalize the downtown area of Deming. A handful of participants were scattered around the room chatting
When people signed in, they were given a strip of paper with five green adhesive dots on it, with which they were supposed to vote for the projects that appealed to them most.
I'd heard for years about other people's frustrated ideas for attracting tourists to Deming.
About a decade ago someone told me about his idea of reconstructing the gallows on which some of the Mexican raiders of Columbus were hanged behind the old courthouse in 1916.
This man also talked about the possibilities of rock-climbing in the Florida Mountains. This kind of project would require a lot of training and safety measures. (I've never heard of anybody rock-climbing in the Floridas, despite the billboard advertising Deming on I-10 that shows enthusiastic, youthful climbers.)
He was miffed that the local leadership didn't seem to want to change the way they did anything.
In 2006 there was a little flurry of gallery openings in Deming by people wanting to make the town into an "art destination" accessible to travelers off I-10. I heard the promoters had a great first meeting, but that from then on it was all downhill. The hordes of art admirers never materialized. The gallery owners also complained of the lack of support by local leadership.
But at the MainStreet meeting, Bill Duncan, the director of the project, said all of the authorities in town aren't sticks-in-the-mud. He's already making concrete plans to carry out some of the proposed projects:
Some of the ideas on the notepads were to:
- Start a farmers' market in the Post Office parking lot
- Spiff up the signage in Deming so visitors will know where to find interesting places
- Fix up some of the network of old alleyways in the downtown area
- Cover cement walls at the entryways to Deming with paintings of Mimbres pots
- Create more murals
- Create more bike paths.
According to Duncan, the farmers' market is definitely going to start up this year. I know of a few organic farmers in town, and this might turn into something special.
There are lots of forces at work in economic development. Luna County took an innovative step in 2009 to make the county more attractive to businesses. That's when the doors opened for the entertainment center that includes Starmax films, a bowling alley, an arcade and a restaurant.
It was explained to me in 2004 by Luna County's Economic Development Director at the time, Debbie Knepprath, that part of the formula for bringing new businesses to the area was to get a movie theater and a bowling alley to move here.
Instead, the county had to build it themselves, after a vote on a bond issue.
The innovative part is that the center has belonged to the county since it was built. Current manager Ira Pearson says it's the only arrangement of its kind anywhere. Counties often own waterworks or swimming pools, he says, but not entertainment venues.
Starmax has been going up a very slippery economic slope while the county tries out different forms of management. First Starmax managed the center, then a company called American Family Entertainment managed it, and now the county itself does it. Pearson was hired by the county.
There are six theaters at Starmax, which seems too much in a small town with so little money. Pearson says flatly, "If it were a private enterprise, they never would have done that."
But he's upbeat and seems to think he can make it work by cutting back on "frivolous spending." They're doing better now because a lot of people are coming down from Silver City after the two-screen movie theater folded there.
For now it's OK to make little jokes about the "People's Republic of Luna County" from time to time.
After writing about the proliferation of mariachi groups in Deming for the February Desert Exposure, an economic development idea of my own popped into my head.
There are four mariachi groups in the schools and about six more made up of Deming school graduates. There are also a healthy number of other musicians both in the schools and outside them.
A small patch of the Wells Fargo parking lot called the Leyendecker Plaza has been furnished with pillars and a fountain and has been used by musical groups occasionally.
Why not showcase local talent every weekend in this central spot right on Gold Street (Deming's "Main Street")?
It would make downtown Deming come to life. Besides the mariachis and their accompanying folklorico dancers, there are also square dancers in town, folk music groups, rock groups, a jazz band at the high school, and miscellaneous musicians who play at Morgan Hall on Sundays in the winter.
They could play at different times of the day, depending on the season, maybe at lunch or suppertime. This could bring visitors from other towns.
It would be fun if groups of two or three mariachis could roam the streets and play at restaurants for tips the way they do in Palomas.
The MainStreet Project once brought a rock group to play at the plaza but it was so loud it was shut down by police. There could be limits set on the decibel levels of music for the sake of residents.
This kind of project would make Deming a happier place for locals. It would also provide that intangible "quality of life" thing that Deming needs in order to attract businesses for desperately needed employment. For a lot of people coming from more cosmopolitan places, Deming can seem a barren town.
This plan would take a lot of consistent work and perhaps a few thousand dollars to execute. Maybe some snowbirds would have the time to do it.
Most of the ideas I heard about at the Main Street meeting were good ones. The important thing is that someone carries them out.
Maybe Deming is beginning to wake up to itself.
Borderlines columnist Marjorie Lilly lives in Deming.