The ‘Arena’

It is truly unfortunately ironic that the City wants to build a Multi-cultural and Performing Arts Center (aka ‘The Arena’) on top of one of the oldest neighborhoods in El Paso, Barrio Duranguito, and thereby displacing Mexican Americans that have lived in that neighborhood for generations.
However, the Arena will ‘honor El Paso’s heritage and complement plans for heritage tourism.’  For developers this neighborhood represents a pot of gold to build an Arena, but for historians and the community, this is iconic of El Paso moving in the wrong direction regarding historical preservation and culture. Because the Arena has come up in ALL of the Mayoral Candidate debates and forums, I want El Paso to know that I am against the arena el pasoarena, but the City and other stakeholders, and those that (perhaps unknowingly) voted for the Arena may have put us in a legal obligation to proceed with the Arena. In that case, I would vehemently oppose the Downtown Site, and instead would like to take a two-birds-one-stone approach and relocate the Arena to the Northeast at Cohen Stadium. Here are some important points to know:
  • The City voted and passed an ORDINANCE to put the Arena on the ballot, in which the ORDINANCE specifically said “Multipurpose performing arts and entertainment facility located in Downtown El Paso,” however that exact verbiage is absent from the Ballot that voters voted on in November 2012. I believe this was an intentional attempt to misguide voters.
  • Here is an important timeline to know that shows how the process intentionally left out stakeholders from the formative process of this Arena (taken from the City of El Paso’s Website):
    • August 2012, City Council votes and passes the ordinance for the Quality of Life Bond (the Arena represents $180 million of the entire $245 million Quality of Life Bond) to be put on the November 2012 ballot. At which point, 72% of voters voted on the Bond and the Arena. However, less than 1/3rd of El Paso voters voted on the Bond. Be wary when you hear that the Bond and the Arena had the overwhelming City support, as that sounds more like an alternative fact than someone versed in understanding basic statistics.
    • December 2013, the City awards the construction contract. In February 2014 there is a Public Planning Kickoff event, and outreach briefings and events in March – June 2014. Fast forward to late 2016 when the City and consultants start to meet with property owners that will be impacted and stakeholders (including businesses). During 2015-2017 evaluations and feasibility studies (except for an environmental impact study) were being conducted and legal services were accumulating to the sum of approximately $1.7 million.
  • Current Mayor Oscar Lesser has said that he will veto the use of eminent domain, but that could be a decision that will be carried over to the next Mayor.    
Of one of the most touted Pros for the Arena in Downtown El Paso, is because the City will qualify for an ‘estimated’ $25 million in rebates over a ten year period by meeting a 1,000 ft capture component of the Convention Center as set by the State Comptroller’s office. Keep in mind, acquiring the land can cost at least $20 million alone, to where the City owns the land that Cohen Stadium sits on and wouldn’t have to buy it. Then there can be additional costs and speed bumps if there is found to be historical artifacts lying under the land. Also, the estimated $25 million in State rebates could be used on projects that would ‘support the convention center and the convention center hotel.’ I am not sure why we would want to capture State rebates that would go towards private hotels, when we are still paying off the Chihuahua Stadium, and are not projected to break even on our debt until 2021 even with an $11 million in savings garnered from refinancing the Stadium that took place this year.  
And Parking? The current plans will include that the Parking Garage for the Chihuahua’s Stadium be knocked down, and the City has a contractual obligation to rebuild it (additional costs as Cohen Stadium has plenty of parking available). The plan includes ‘limited parking will be incorporated into the site…..encourages commercial activity in the area as attendees walk to their car.’ Hopefully they are considerate of our elderly and disabled communities in being able to access the Arena. And then there will be a need for additional security as people walk to their cars at night.
The City ‘has been working on site selection for the past couple of years’ but that selection has been limited to only the downtown area within 1,000 ft of the convention, not alternative sites in the City.
Luckily the Fire Station, Memorial Park, and the trolley line will not be impacted!  
For major bond projects, the City needs to have strong leadership to carry them out. However, the Arena presents another example of the City pushing a capital project down our throats. When I worked in the U.S. Senate, anytime a bill was being written the Senator would get public comment and stakeholder consultation BEFORE the bill was introduced. Unfortunately for El Pasoans that our City Council doesn’t work in this fashion and didn’t start engaging the community until almost 2 years after the bond was voted on by the citizens of El Paso and passed. The Community sees this as Round 2 with our City Government, and this time El Pasoans are giving the City the fight of the Century. There is a citizen petition gaining momentum that calls for the Arena to be placed on the ballot and voted on again, this time in the hopes of the Arena failing.
In any case, the City err I mean the taxpayers, have sunk nearly $2 million in a bond that passed almost five years ago and there is not much to show for it. The Chihuahua Stadium continues to be a sore spot for many El Pasoans, and some have vowed to abstain from ever attending any event there. I can see the same happening with the Arena, in which the City, err I mean tax payers, will be left with another hefty debt that has implications on the City’s credit and access to low-interest loans. As El Paso’s next Mayor, I will be impartial in ensuring that we focus on all areas of El Paso for development or redevelopment, not just downtown. 

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