This third in a series of blogposts on the downtown arena is an explanation of why I am actively opposed to it as a concept and as a reality (and why you should be too).
You may recall that as a candidate for District 2 City Council rep, I was the lone candidate that actively and publicly campaigned AGAINST building the arena…this includes everyone running for office.
Now I don’t spend interminable hours digging up facts and figures to make my points. I’m more a person who exercises logic and common sense, something I find mysteriously absent from most of our city leadership administrations.
Apparently they believe that they know best…never mind the cost exacted in human, financial and historical terms. That sinking taxpayer dollars into this mammoth arena project will be the silver bullet that magically turns downtown into the mecca that will shift the tax burden from we, some of the highest property-taxed individuals in America, to the corporations and companies who hire hundreds of white collar, college-educated, tech-savvy employees who can’t wait to locate here because we have a big city downtown with a triple-A ball club and a gargantuan sports arena.
I’m sorry to bust your piñata, but that will not happen. At least not using the same old approaches that always seem to involve clandestine meetings with shady downtown investors and wealthy property owners seeking new ways to separate us from our hard-earned dollars so they can add to their playground.
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I want you to visualize a cold conglomeration of concrete, glass, brick and steel rising high above the former Union Plaza sightline, imposing its vastness on what was once a great example of a true mixed-use neighborhood that had all the right elements of livability for residents, business owners and visitors. Entrepreneurial small businesses, historical buildings tying El Paso into it’s oldest past, residents who have lived in the area for decades, bars and restaurants contributing to nightlife, public parks…in short, the walkability and livability that is paramount to building the downtown we want.
Imagine a massively out-of-proportion indoor sports arena with various historical appendages attached to it like architectural parasites —the Trost Brothers designed firehouse on the south end and the Chinese Laundry on the north end. This is how city leaders tell us they will respect the history of the barrio, architecture and various ethnic communities that left their mark.
The Chinese Laundry could serve as the box office and the Trost Firehouse can become His and Hers restrooms they suggest. Brilliant.
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Let’s say city leaders get the green light from Austin to build this monument to self-serving politicians and privileged El Pasoans without the doggedly determined naysayers bitching at their heels.
And just like that, El Pasoans will be smacked with a $180,000,000 tax increase for dropping this barrel bomb of a building into the heart of Union Plaza.
Newly elected Mayor X and Council Y will soon inform us that the 180 million will get us the plain vanilla version that will likely come in over budget, BUT if we issue more bonds—maybe $120,000,000 additional, we can pimp out the arena and be like all the other cities with low self esteem and high property tax rates. After all, we do things right in El Paso, even if it massively costs the masses.
We’ll scrape, cobble, scratch, dig and suck every last penny we don’t have to get what we don’t need.
Newly elected Mayor X and Council Y will then inform us that the arena will cause major parking and traffic problems that weren’t considered when they spent all that money exploring locations and viability. We’ll have to bite the bullet and toss in several additional million $$$ for the parking garage(s) required to accommodate the additional cars on the rare occasion the arena sells out the 18,000 seats. Let’s figure an additional 6,000-9,000 cars depending on whether there are 2 or 3 people per car.
The city will have to find some property to put up the garage(s) and pay top dollar. And then come the costs to tear down. There may be a little Eminent Domain and greedy landlords involved once again. Who knows.
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Watching the novelty trolleys worm their way around downtown will be fun, but let’s not kid ourselves…they will contribute to congestion. Congestion will contribute to urban malfunction. Urban malfunction will contribute to a hell of a lot of frustration.
Add the arena which, if all goes as planned, will attract an additional several thousand autos into an already suffocating patch of urban real estate that is a maze of one-ways and construction obstruction. Keep in mind that there will be plenty of traffic overlap with the ballpark, museums, the convention center, the thousands of hoped for downtown residents who are yet to relocate, and the hundreds of small businesses that they tell us will spring up like weeds in summer after the rain.
The infrastructure to accommodate this vision of a “vibrant and revitalized” city core is nowhere close to being able to handle this kind of traffic. It’s bad now and downtown isn’t close to vibrancy. Don’t let the politicians, chamber of commerce, the media, leasing companies and apartment owners tell you otherwise.
Building an infrastructure that will handle the best case scenario for downtown revitalization will cost us hundreds of millions more in taxes, and you can bet that it won’t be the imaginary corporations and companies yet to make El Paso home that will cover the tab. It will be you and me.
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It’s been said that the arena, if built in Duranguito, will finalize a stretch of real-estate no-mans land that actually separates the Union Plaza entertainment district from the rest of downtown. This group of occasionally used buildings including the ball park, the Chamber of Commerce building and parking lot, the rarely used Abraham Chavez Theatre and the sports arena become a serious barrier to the walkability and livability our city leaders tell us is essential for a revitalized downtown.
People don’t like to hang around dead zones and this blocks-long series of buildings will be just that. Do you really think the sports arena will be jam-packed with El Pasoans and tourists year round? It has no foundational tenant and will compete for shows with other venues in town. A generous estimate of usage for the arena assumes it will be used once a week, leaving it unoccupied 313 days of the year.
The ballpark which was supposed to bring in new business has actually siphoned customers from struggling businesses. Just ask the owner of “The Garden” who recently shuttered his restaurant. He had a huge clientele within walking distance concentrated in the City Hall building which all but disappeared when it relocated to the other side of downtown.
People who go to ballgames and drop $50 a head for tickets, nachos and beer are not going to patronize any of the surrounding bars and restaurants.
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This is much more than city leaders trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.
Downtown El Paso cannot get any bigger.
This is why they insist on dropping the arena into Duranguito, there is absolutely nowhere else it will fit…not that it fits into Duranguito either for all intents and purposes.
I-10 essentially keeps downtown from expanding north and east to a degree. The Mexican border and the railroad keep it from going any further west. The rail yard on the east side will not allow for northeastern expansion. This leaves us with the only option of expanding downtown in a southern and southeastern direction.
And for some weird reason, building south always displaces the poorest among cities.
We got a good taste of what to expect from tone-deaf and ethnically-challenged politicians a few years back when Susie Byrd, Steve Ortega, Beto O’Rourke, John Cook and Bonnie Escobar attempted to expand the downtown cool zone into the heart of El Segundo. They didn’t bat an eye when they suggested we relocate a very large portion of generationally-established Segundo residents to “nicer” apartments that would be built somewhere else, away from everything they’ve ever known. Not a second thought when they suggested we tear down Sacred Heart Catholic Church, the beloved sanctuary for immigrants and back and forth between our countries.
This is the mindset that has set about rebuilding downtown in their image.
They’ve got it in their head that they know what is best for El Paso.
That flip-flopping politicians who love our history and people one day and covet campaign contributions the next have our best interests in mind. That a hotel owner who wants to fill beds knows what is best for the people of Duranguito. That well-known and well-banked El Pasoans who own vast stretches of property along the downtown and Juarez corridor have all the answers.
They are not here to build an El Paso for El Pasoans, they are here to have us build an El Paso for THEM.
And our city leaders have accommodated them at every dark turn with tax incentives and abatements, lawsuits against us and paid for by us that will benefit them, major property tax increases for ambiguously worded projects that change like the weather on a typical El Paso day.
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If we as a city want El Paso to become something special, it has to be done holistically (across all El Paso) and with respect to who we really are, not who the powerful but misguided few think we are.
It has to be done creatively by our own, not by importing talent who think they know who we are after a 24 hour tour of our city.
And it has to be done with as little of our tax-payer dollars as possible.
It can be done…just not their way.
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Read Part 1 here — El Paso’s Arena Fustercluck Part 1
Read Part 2 here – El Paso’s Arena Fustercluck Part 2
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