by Sharon Niederman
RATON — Despite increasing speculation about the development of approximately 230 acres on the south end of town owned by Colfax County, chairman of the county commission Bobby LeDoux and commissioner Roy Fernandez are in no hurry to proceed with designating uses for it. “Every possibility is going to be evaluated,” LeDoux said.
Donated to the county by International Bank, the land is the former airstrip where the Santa Fe Trail International Balloon Fiesta is held Fourth of July weekend.
“The county is going to be very prudent,” says chairman LeDoux. “The city wants to do an industrial park to bring more industry to Raton, but once you do that, we no longer have flexibility… and I don’t think solar is the intention,” he adds, referring to an idea of a small solar farm floated by the city.
Just a pipe dream?
What LeDoux’s true hope for the land is actually a remnant from a time gone by. “It might just be my pipe dream,” he says, and “although the discussion is somewhat limited. We haven’t been told no and we haven’t been told yes,” he says, referring to the one racing license yet to be designated. “It has been brought to the attention of the state that (the racetrack) is what we’d like to do.”
Commissioner Fernandez agreed. “We need to save the acreage in case the governor gives the license for a racino,” he said. “Are we in the running? I don’t know. Could Raton get that? I’m not going to give up on it.”
“I’m pretty optimistic about Raton,” Fernandez said. “I’m still hopeful about the racino.”
Racetrack brought Raton’s glory days
Raton’s history of racing goes deep, with memories of the town’s greatest stretch of prosperity occurring during La Mesa Park days. La Mesa, opened in 1946, was New Mexico’s first track. It closed in 1992.
During the Richardson administration, a serious bid for a track emerged, with Gov. Richardson himself coming to Raton to celebrate the upcoming revival. A tent to house the racino was erected on the east side of I-25, south of town on land the city sold to the developer, Michael Moldenhauer, for $1.
However, the prospect for a racino languished and died.
Conditions on the sale of those 230 acres were believed to contain a clawback provision stating that if a racetrack was not built, the land would revert to the city. That clawback provision was omitted from the final document and ownership of the land is now in litigation.
At the time, P.J. Mileta was city manager, Ray Floersheim was city attorney, and Franken Construction Co. of Las Vegas, NM was in line to become contractor. The $1 sale passed the city commission, which somehow missed the omission of the claw back provision.
Speculation about the reason(s) the racino was not ultimately built continue.