If you happened to drive by the former National Guard armory on Highway 60, you may have noticed change is on the horizon.

Since 2012, the old aging building sat empty when the state decided to start realigning its operations.

The original function of armories was to provide a protected location where local militia could gather and train, as well as store their arms and ammunition. The spaces usually contained a large open area to practice maneuvers, offices, classrooms, dining facilities, weapons storage, and other support operations.

When the 515th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion moved to the south of Belen in 2009, it left Socorro with another empty building.

However, all was not lost when the armory closed. Instead, the City of Socorro came up with a plan to breathe new life into the building.

A year ago, Socorro announced its plans to repurpose the building into a convention center with hopes of spurring economic development within the city.

Tourism dollars will help build Socorro’s new convention center. Thanks, in part, to the state legislature enacting a head and bed tax, over and above the state lodger’s tax. It helps small communities, like Socorro, use the money to build or renovate buildings into a convention center.

In Socorro, lodgers pay $1.50 extra every night they stay at a local hotel/motel to support the head and bed tax. Thus far, the city has been able to collect more than $400,000 from individuals staying at local motels. The money will enable the city to refurbish the old armory site. Plus, taxing tourists was seen as more politically palatable than raising taxes on property taxes, according to city officials. Convention Center design

In January 2019, Socorro City Council got a sneak peek at the proposed architectural design of the new facility by NCA Architects.

The floor plan includes three breakout rooms; a large convention area that can be divided into three 1,300 square feet facilities; a warming kitchen; lobby; coat room; men's and women's bathroom facilities; storage areas; and even space for a future museum and gift shop that will house community artifacts from the El Camino Real Heritage Center. The center's entrance would face the rodeo area's campground while the future museum entrance will face Highway 60. In addition, the convention center plan boasts an outdoor patio area for additional seating.

More importantly, the city is working diligently with hopes of the state will agree to build a three-lane highway on Highway 60 past the current sports complex and rodeo grounds.

City demolition

When the bids to refurbish the building came in higher than anticipated last fall, the city was not discouraged.

Instead, it came up with another plan to address the $300,000 shortfall in revenue.

Since the middle of November, Socorro’s General Services Director Lloyd Martinez and his crew of city workers have been busy doing the demolition work within the old armory.

Socorro contracted with Keers in Albuquerque to do the asbestos abatement which included the removal of 16 exterior panels, floor tile and window glazing. That portion of the project has been completed. In addition,the city removed old doors, ceiling tiles, frames and light fixtures. City crews also have cut and removed concrete for indoor plumbing and drains. Disposing of all the contractor debris is part of the city’s remedy to save money to bring down the construction cost.

Recently, crews dug utility trenches outside the building to bring in electricity to the convention center. In addition, trenches also were dug for a new fire and sewer lines. Martinez noted his crew has been working hard to make sure the project stays on schedule.

"By us doing a lot of work, we can help lower the construction cost and save the city some money," Martinez said. "We have gotten a lot of work done, keeping the project on schedule."

The plan is for the civic center to open its doors in the fall of 2020.

“We’re on track,” Martinez said. Martinez has a deep personal interest in the project, too. Thanks to his diligent efforts and those of retired New Mexico National Guard Brig. General Andrew Salas, the city, was able to obtain the armory as a city resource.

Moving forward

While some skeptics disagreed with refurbishing the old armory, Socorro Mayor Ravi Bhasker believes the convention center would be another economic development tool in the city’s toolbox to get more people to come to the center of the state. It’s one of three places in New Mexico where people can crisscross

the state to go north and south and well as east and west.

As Bhasker pointed out last year, using the head and bed tax is one way small communities like Socorro can use their local assets to rebuild its economy and community.