After four years of working to relocate its headquarters to the state line, the Hobbs Chamber of Commerce is significantly closer to its goal, thanks to a generous land donation by a Hobbs family.
The children of Vernon “Cowboy” and Marcella Jones – Cindy Snyder, Kress Jones, Linda Jones, Tom Jones, and the late Spud Jones – transferred the land to the Hobbs Chamber from their company, VMJ Inc., on June 16. The three-acre tract, located on the north side of U.S. Hwy 62/180, touches the eastern corner of the State of New Mexico’s Port of Entry No. 5 weigh station and K.L. Towle Rest Area Park.
“We are enormously grateful to Cowboy Jones’ children for their gift to the Hobbs Chamber,” Hobbs Chamber board of directors chairwoman Ruth Girón said. “We are committed to making this gift a lasting legacy that will honor their family name and Cowboy's enduring legacy. The Hobbs Chamber has been welcoming visitors to Hobbs for 85 years, and being closer to the border will make us dramatically more effective in that role.”
The donated three acres was subdivided from VMJ Inc.’s 12,000-acre property that was once a part of Taylor Ranch. Cowboy Jones, a life-long rancher and horseman, managed Taylor Ranch for more than 30 years for and was a business partner with Charlcia Taylor and Clara Fowler from the 1960s, Tom Jones said.
“Cowboy was not only a business partner, he was faithful caretaker of both Mrs. Taylor and Ms. Fowler,” Jones said. “They loved this community, and we’re proud to also honor them in this gift to the Hobbs Chamber.”
Hobbs Chamber executive Grant Taylor said obtaining a site represents just the first step in relocating the Hobbs Chamber’s offices and visitor-information center nearer the state line. The organization must now launch a capital campaign for the facility and grounds.
“Closing on the land is a milestone, but this is where the real work begins,” Taylor said. “The challenge before us is to raise funds – approximately $2 million – to create offices and an information center that will evoke a ‘wow’ from visitors and newcomers. We are providing the first impression of not just Hobbs, not just Lea County, but of the whole state of New Mexico, and we intend to give our intended audience the best shot we’ve got.”
In addition to its mission as a member association of Hobbs-area businesses, the Hobbs Chamber, like community chambers across the nation, acts as the information center for visitors, newcomers and potential transplants. Due to Hobbs’ proximity to the Texas border, the Hobbs Chamber is also the first visitor-information center westbound motorists find as they enter New Mexico.
Taylor said the Hobbs Chamber is “committed to a vision to enhance community development and provide visitors and newcomers with a more satisfying experience.” As it relates to traffic entering New Mexico on 62/180, Taylor said, making the Hobbs Chamber a better welcoming agent relies on three key factors:
1)The building needs to be on the same side of the road as westbound traffic; 2) The location has to sit east of the Navajo bypass and proposed southeast bybass, as well as the Bender, Sanger and Marland arterials; and 3) The location must provide adequate parking, as well as access and egress, for those with trucks and recreational vehicles.
Taylor said the Hobbs Chamber’s work to relocate closer to the state line began in 2011 and was initially presented as a Hobbs Chamber-City of Hobbs joint venture. Taylor and then-city manager Eric Honeyfield first brought the idea to the Hobbs City Commission on July 25, 2011, and the draft plan proposed the city acquiring the State of New Mexico’s Port of Entry No. 5, where the state Department of Public Safety’s Motor Transportation Police Division operates a weigh station.
Honeyfield proposed the city could then add on approximately 4,500 square feet to the facility, whose public restrooms had recently been upgraded through joint funding from the state, Lea County and the City of Hobbs. But the restrooms were underutilized, Honeyfield said, since the main entrance was often locked. A Hobbs resident confirmed that observation and remarked, “That’s no way to welcome folks,” in public comments during a Sept. 19, 2011, Hobbs City Commission meeting.
The commission consented to the idea, and the city and Hobbs Chamber pitched the plan to the State of New Mexico. The state Property Control Division, which has oversight of the port-of-entry property, denied the city-chamber proposal in a December 2011 letter and said the division was “unable to transfer the property to the City of Hobbs.”
“Throughout the process, we kept state Senators Gay Kernan and Carroll Leavell, as well as then-House Minority Leader Don Bratton, apprised of our movements, and they were advocates for our cause, especially to PCD,” Taylor said. “By February of 2012, Sen. Leavell advised us to sit tight until we could have a face-to-face meeting with the pertinent state officials on their next trip to Hobbs.”
That meeting came the following June, when Leavell and Bratton led the Hobbs contingent through a discussion with the state Motor Transportation Police Division. Also represented at the meeting was the Department of Tourism, with Secretary Monique Jacobson endorsing the joint-use proposal.
“We went into the meeting asking for a lease-improvement agreement through which the city would not own the land but could build the expansion and then lease the offices to the Hobbs Chamber,” Taylor said. “DPS officials said they were open to the idea, but their primary concern was the potential hazard of heavy-truck traffic mingling with privately owned vehicles of visitors, as well as the presence of children and pets in the rest-area park. They requested updated renderings that showed an adequate barriers, and we summarily provided that to them.”
In 2011 and 2012, the Hobbs City Commission ranked the welcome center project among its top five state-funding requests, estimating a project cost of $2 million, as part of its annual, state-mandated Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan.
But even with the improved traffic-circulation plan, then-Public Safety Secretary Gordon Eden and General Services Secretary Ed Burckle wrote in a joint letter in January 2013, “We do not feel a combined visitor center and commercial vehicle inspection facility can provide the level of safety necessary.”
“With that,” Girón said, “it was time to move on. We’re grateful for the city’s partnership in exhaustively pursuing the use of the K.L. Towle site.”
Taylor said time is of the essence to raise the funds needed for the facility and grounds on the donated site. The special warranty deed for the land states, “Grantee agrees to commence construction of a commercial building designed to house the Hobbs Chamber of Commerce (“Commercial Office”) within three (3) years of the recording of this deed.”
“We will attempt to raise $1 million in donations of various amounts in order to fund the building," Giron said. "To procure the second $1 million for grounds and initial operations, we are prepared to name the building after a single donor."
Taylor said donations can be made through the Hobbs Chamber’s website, www.hobbschamber.org, where there is a “Donate” icon and PayPal link. The building’s naming rights will first be offered to donors within Lea County.