Las Cruces, N.M., Invests in Kiosks to Measure Need for Downtown Wi-Fi

The idea is to gather data to see if Wi-Fi would add to the amenities that city officials hope will draw crowds to the area.

by Jason Gibbs, Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M. / April 26, 2017
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(TNS) — New kiosks will soon be popping up in downtown Las Cruces to help city staff determine whether free Wi-Fi on Main Street and the Plaza de Las Cruces would be used by visitors to the shops and events in the district.

Las Cruces city councilors met Monday in their role as board members of the Tax Increment Development District and were told of the plan that will see seven Soofa stations installed downtown. The units, which cost a total of $30,000, offer charging stations for wireless devices and monitor how many people pass the unit who would be able to take advantage of wireless connectivity. The stations, which can be upgraded to offer Wi-Fi for an additional cost if the city chooses, were paid for through the city’s office of sustainability.

The idea is to begin gathering data to see if Wi-Fi would add to the amenities that city officials hope will draw crowds to the area, not only for special events and the Farmers and Crafts Market, but also people who might want to access Wi-Fi during the workday, said Andy Hume, downtown planning and development coordinator. Last year, city staff began studying the current availability of Wi-Fi and exploring what would be required to add free Wi-Fi up and down Main Street, as well as the area around the plaza.

Initially, a study determined the cost for deploying the system throughout downtown would be around $384,000, or $263,000 for the plaza alone. The system would have cost $50,000 per year to operate and maintain. Then the Soofa system came across the city’s radar, offering a much lower cost option, Hume said.

“We felt the permanent infrastructure approach was cost prohibitive and had no data to support a return on investment,” Hume said. “During the time of the study, new technology came to light that is a much more modular approach, smaller in scope and will provide an incremental approach to provide service in the area.”

The Soofa units can be relocated to different areas of the plaza to meet demand and have a roughly 150-foot coverage area. The units have solar panels and batteries to operate and to recharge guests' mobile devices.

The units will be deployed in coming days and the results of the study presented to the public at a future City Council work session.

Following the TIDD board meeting, the Las Cruces City Council convened a work session.

Councilors heard an update of an audit review of the Las Cruces Police Department, from July through December 2016. The review was conducted by Public Safety Strategies Group, a West Townsend, Massachusetts, company hired by the city in 2014 to conduct regularly scheduled review of external and internal investigations conducted by LCPD’s Professional Standards Unit. Since October 2016, PSSG has heard a total of 20 cases, including a total of 63 allegations against 41 officers or employees. The audit did not go into specific cases, but noted that of that 20 formal complaints, five were made by citizens and 15 were made internally.

City Manager Stuart Ed presented a proposed 2017-18 budget of $381.5 million, 1.5 percent larger than last year’s budget. The capital improvement budget calls for $113.6 million, the general fund $89.3 million. No tax increases, layoffs or furloughs are included in the budget. Ed said the city would offer “level or expanded” services across the board and realized a net reduction of 2.5 full-time positions that were eliminated from the budget after siting vacant for more than a year.

©2017 the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.