by George Zamora

SOCORRO, N.M. September 29, 2004 -- It’s official: New Mexico Tech, a state-supported research university in Socorro, is the new owner of Playas, N.M., a former Phelps Dodge company town located in southwest New Mexico that will now be converted into one of the nation’s top locations for counter-terrorism training.

Top executives from Phelps Dodge Corporation and New Mexico Tech President Daniel H. López signed off today on the $5 million real estate transaction, making New Mexico Tech the only university known to literally own an entire town.

Negotiations between New Mexico Tech and Phelps Dodge to purchase the 640-acre township, along with its 259 homes, six apartment buildings, various community facilities, and surrounding 1,200 acres, had been ongoing for more than a year and a half.

“I am elated, as well as relieved, to announce the successful culmination of what has been a long and arduous process to procure the town of Playas to help with our research and training efforts in support of our nation’s homeland defense and security,” said Tech President López.

“The negotiations were drawn out longer than anyone had expected because of the inherent complexity involved with forging a truly unique transaction among a public university, a private corporation, and the federal government,” López added.

López credited the efforts of U.S. Senator Pete V. Domenici, along with those of the late U.S. Representative Joseph R. Skeen, as being instrumental in garnering federal funding and approval for the Playas purchase, from its inception to its completion.

“Thanks to the federal funding provided through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for this monumental purchase, New Mexico Tech is now able to look forward to initiating a whole range of research activities and training programs in and around Playas that will directly support homeland security efforts, not only at the state and national levels, but on a global basis as well,” López said.

Initial plans call for the town to be used as a “real-world” training center for the research university’s training program in prevention and response to suicide bombings and other related programs.

Playas, which is located in Hidalgo County in the “bootheel” area of New Mexico, had once been a bustling small town since the early 1970s, with a peak population of about 1,000 residents.

After Phelps Dodge Corporation closed down its nearby copper-smelting operations in 1999, most of the workers then living in Playas moved elsewhere, essentially leaving behind a company owned ghost town.

“Having New Mexico Tech become the newest landowner in Hidalgo County also bodes well for the area’s economic development,” Tech President López also said.

“I suspect, once we get going in Playas, the southwest region of New Mexico will have more economic activity and job opportunities being created for everyone involved than we can foresee at this time,” he said.

The New Mexico Tech President also extended his personal thanks to the university’s board of regents for the critical role it assumed in the purchase of Playas.

“If it had not been for the steadfast and continual support of all the regents in this unique venture — from Day One up until today, as we signed off on the sale with their approval — this promising chapter in New Mexico Tech and New Mexico’s history would have never seen the light of day,” López said.