ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A city in the heart of southeast New Mexico has been selected to hum with the latest next-generation technology — but there might as well be digital tumbleweeds rolling down the streets of this scientific ghost town.
The $1 billion project to help researchers test everything from intelligent traffic systems and next-generation wireless networks to the latest in automated washing machines and self-flushing toilets will develop in Hobbs and Lea County, officials said Tuesday.
Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb said the unique research facility will be a key for diversifying the economy of the town, which after the oil bust of the 1980s saw bumper stickers asking the last person to leave to turn out the lights. Hobbs has a population of about 43,000.
Pegasus Holdings and its New Mexico subsidiary, CITE Development, said Hobbs and Lea County beat out Las Cruces for the Center for Innovation, Technology and Testing.
The CITE project is being billed as a first-of-its kind smart city, or ghost town of sorts, that will be developed on about 15 square miles west of Hobbs.
Bob Brumley, senior managing director of Pegasus Holdings, said the town will be modeled after the real city of Rock Hill, S.C., complete with highways, houses and commercial buildings, old and new. No one will live there, although they could as houses will include all the necessities, like appliances and plumbing.
The point of the town is to enable researchers to test new technologies on existing infrastructure without interfering in everyday life. For instance, while some researchers will be testing smart technologies on old grids, others might be using the streets to test self-driving cars.
Gov. Susana Martinez, who joined officials in announcing final site selection for the project, said no tax breaks were given for the development. "The only thing they have asked for is guidance," she said.
Brumley said plans are to break ground on the town by June 30. The initial development cost is estimated at $400 million, although Brumley estimates the overall investment in the project could top $1 billion.