Efforts by city officials to convert a little-used stretch of riverfront property adjacent to the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park into a public gathering spot got a boost late last month when state tourism officials announced the city will receive a $500,000 grant for the project.
Farmington was one of 10 recipients across the state to receive a Destination Forward grant from the New Mexico Department of Tourism, a new program state officials rolled out this year. Farmington’s grant was the largest among the 10, with the other nine ranging from nearly $385,000 for the city of Grants for new grandstands at the Grants Multipurpose Arena to $17,000 to the city of Clovis for interpretative signage at the Hillcrest Park Zoo.
“I’m very proud of the work and dedication from the Tourism Department staff and community partners that allowed for us to bring the Destination Forward program to life, Lancing Adams, the department’s acting secretary, said in a statement included in an Oct. 27 news release announcing the grants. “Our research shows us that demand for travel to New Mexico has never been higher. This program will help New Mexico communities better meet that demand so we can continue to deliver high-quality visitor experiences for folks who visit the Land of Enchantment.”
Warren Unsicker, the economic development director for the city of Farmington, said the Destination Forward grant was exactly the kind of financial resource city officials have been trying to identify and access as they plan various projects designed to improve local quality of life. He said city officials have set a priority of developing the long-vacant land on the east and west sides of the Farmington Museum that backs up to the Animas River, and the Destination Forward grant will help them achieve that goal.
Unsicker said the grant will help fund the creation of an entertainment venue on the west side of the museum, a site that currently sits mostly vacant and is strewn with rocks, weeds and debris. Phase 1A of a master plan already approved by the Farmington City Council calls for that area to be transformed into a showplace with an amphitheater, a multiple-use pavilion for the Farmington Growers Market and other functions, a festival plaza, a food truck court, a shade promenade, and a considerable amount of landscaping with berms and trees.
“This adds to that pool of money that is going to allow us to move quickly and efficiently to develop that,” Unsicker said.
The city already has received a $300,000 federal grant to help build the farmers market pavilion, Unsicker said, and it is actively pursuing other grants that could contribute to that funding pool, as well. The city also has received a $2 million grant from one of the Gold King Mine spill settlement funds that will be used to construct a standing wave on the Animas River at a site adjacent to this project.
Grant applications the city has submitted for other sources of federal funding are still hanging in the balance, he said.
Unsicker said the city already is relatively far down the road in terms of drawing up designs for and getting City Council approval for the entertainment venue. That’s important because the city only has until June 30, 2024, to spend the Destination Forward grant, he said.
“It’s a tight time frame,” he said.
Unsicker said the venue is envisioned by city officials as a community gathering spot, one that can be rented for weddings or other private events, as well as a site for concerts or other public performances. He said city officials hope to break ground on the project soon and have at least part of it complete by next summer.
“I hope that’s the case,” he said, explaining that some of the supply-chain issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic have yet to be worked out and could still lead to delays in the project. “We’re feverishly working toward making this a priority.”
This article originally appeared on Farmington Daily Times: Farmington using $500k tourism grant to build venue near Animas River