LOVINGTON ZONING MAP The Economic Zone, aka Zone E, in Lovington, north and south along Main Street in the center of town and east and west along Avenue D, is targeted by the Infrastructure and Facade Improvement Program, offering matching grants to business owners to help them comply with a new city ordinance.

LOVINGTON — The Lovington Economic Development Corporation this week kicked off two separate incentive programs — one designed to encourage housing development and the other to help with commercial renovations.

Housing Developments

“We all know that Lea County has a severe housing shortage. With the economy going back up again, there’s just not many homes available in Lovington,” said Evelyn Holguin, executive director of the Lovington EDC.

With efforts to recruit new businesses into the city, Holguin said the EDC is using funding from New Mexico’s Local Economic Development Act to offer incentives to building contractors to improve the housing shortage.

“If we’re going to recruit these businesses, we need housing,” she said. “We need market rate high-end homes. We need a variety of everything. These incentives are not targeting anybody specifically. It’s just housing in general.”

The EDC set aside $450,000 in incentives to go toward the infrastructure of new homes, such as curbs, gutters, sidewalks, streets and utility extensions.

“Anything that ends up being public infrastructure, we can help fund,” Holguin said.

The program is a partial repeat of a similar effort made in partnership with Lea County in 2015.

“This is actually the second go-around. We did this in 2015 and the county partnered with us at that time. We were able to put out $900,000 in incentives,” Holguin said.

The results then included a 64-unit apartment complex, the Lovington Trails Apartments, and 141 new homes valued from $145,000 to $350,000. All of the homes sold before they were completed.

“So, it was successful and we felt with the economy going back up to do it again and see what type of contractors or new homes we can recruit to our area,” Holguin said.

Although no one has yet applied for participation in the program that only started July 1, the EDC director said, “We have a couple of contractors that have expressed interest. They are in the process of filling out their applications. We know $450,000 is not a lot, but it is a start. If we are able to get more development, this next fiscal year, we’ll allocate more and, potentially, reach out to the county again to see if we can partner up again and double it.”

According to Holguin, contractors can receive up to $3,000 per home once a certificate of occupancy and receipts for expenditures are presented.

“The home needs to be ready to be put up for sale or ready to rent,” Holguin said. “We’re excited and we’re happy to be able to help contractors develop homes.”

Commercial Renovations

The majority of retail businesses in Lovington operate on Main Street and Avenue D, an area established recently as the city’s Economic Zone, aka Zone E.

The ordinance establishing the zone, according to City Manager James Williams, “was designed to make the Economic Zone … more attractive to customers, to existing businesses where they can, hopefully, want to expand their operations, and also to attract other retail businesses into those areas…”

On Main Street, the zone runs through the city from Brian Urlacher Drive north to the Nor-Lea Hospital. On Avenue D, the zone runs west from Commercial Street to 17th Street.

Holguin explained many business owners in that zone were concerned about how they would be able to afford the improvements the new ordinance required.

“Some of these folks expressed, during the commission meetings, they didn’t have the money to renovate,” she said. “That’s when we came up with the idea. … We decided we could help these businesses spruce up, renovate, whatever they needed to do to bring their buildings up to code. We really don’t have a large fund. We were allocated $50,000 a year for the next three years, total.”

The Infrastructure and Facade Improvement Program, modeled after the downtown improvements initiated by the Lovington MainStreet Program, came into being.

The EDC established a list of eligible improvements and offered a matching grant this week. Holguin said within three days, she had six calls for more information. The funds won’t last long at that rate, she fears, so she encouraged those who called to avoid any delay in getting the application completed.

“The intention was for improvement, rehab of commercial property, store fronts of retail, restaurants, entertainment for profit, businesses, just to kind of jump start growth, get everybody excited about it,” Holguin said. “I know there are a lot of businesses that have remodeled the interior of their business, but they haven’t had the chance to get to the exterior.”

The matching grant may be used on renovating vacant buildings, but a stipulation to the grant is that a viable business tenant occupies the facility within 18 months, or the owner will refund the grant money.

“There are a ton of eligible improvements. They can do signage, décor, windows, trim,” Holguin said. “If they have any type of abatements they need to do, asbestos, striping, handicap accessibility, air conditioning, we know that’s very expensive, so we definitely want to be able to contribute toward their renovations.”

Williams clarified, “The whole goal is to stimulate the economy, to get people to move on those properties, to get them filled with a viable business, but help with the financial burden with expensive things like electrical upgrades, any type of abatements that need to happen, replacement of HVAC and exterior improvements.”

Compliance with Zone E requirements is the ultimate goal, he said.

“We want to stress that we’re not being heavy-handed, but there are laws that need to be followed, now,” Williams said. “I want to hand it to the property owners. Now that we have the ordinance, they have been making the improvements. But for some of those that may be cost prohibitive, when we go out and say they need to do something to be in compliance, we want to be able to say here’s a resource that could assist you to get the job done faster.”

Holguin concluded, “We will allocate up to $50,000 until the funds are depleted.”

Curtis C. Wynne may be contacted at reporter3@hobbsnews.com.