Thursday, December 27, 2012

See Concept Design of Downtown Starbucks

Starbucks Coffee will be one of the newest national chains to open a downtown El Paso location, and now conceptual images of what the shop may look like can be found at the architect's Facebook page.

Located in the Centre Building, between the Mills Building and the Plaza Theater, this Starbucks location is slated to open in Spring 2013, according to In*Situ Architecture. A new fine dining establishment, Anson 11, will be next door to the coffee shop in the Mills Building.

In*Situ Facebook page:
Anson 11 website:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

City Eyes Five Points for SmartCode

The City of El Paso would like to bring SmartCode zoning to the historic Five Points neighborhood in the city's center, and a public meeting was held last month to educate residents on the process and what it means.

The current state of Five Points (left) shows too many empty lots and no pedestrian amenities.
According to a list of questions and answers on the Plan El Paso website, the SmartCode zone would only dictate form and not a property's use. SmartCode would require construction of a buildings to follow guidelines with respect to setbacks and density, but would not dictate exactly what function the building would serve.

SmartCode would also help to preserve the neighborhood as well as possibly bring amenities like mixed-use buildings, street trees, pedestrian-friendly areas, higher density development, and bikes lanes to the area. The plan's focus is to improve quality of life by enhancing the urban feel of Five Points and to increase desirability to draw residents back to the area.

Mixed-use buildings near the Five Points Transit Terminal.
Census figures show that the population of the Five Points neighborhood went from 6,385 in 1990 to 5,214 in 2010. Central El Paso as a whole lost over 23,000 residents in the same 20 years, which has led to divestment in the city's core. To encourage renewed investment, the City could possibly offer incentives to new developments within a defined area, such as tax rebates and fee waivers.

No timeline is available for implementation of the SmartCode rezoning plan.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Artspace Concept Pics Show Modern Design

The future Artspace building planned for Downtown El Paso could have modern look and use yellow as the main accent color. That's according to several concept pictures posted to the In*Situ Architecture Facebook page, the architecture firm chosen to help design the five-story structure.

The images show the proposed building from several angles. It will take up a half-block of downtown space at 601 North Oregon Street, the former location of the El Paso Saddleblanket retail outlet. The old store had long stood abandoned alongside the new Doubletree Hotel and was demolished earlier this year.

In March 2012, the City approved a contract to develop the Artspace project, with the help of the El Paso Community Foundation who will oversee the project. According to the Artspace El Paso website, the building will "be ringed by 15+ roll-up, kiosk-style micro-galleries for artists and creative businesses, forming an outdoor 'art walk.' The interior will blend 50 - 70 live/work units for artists and their families with 7,500 square feet of multi-purpose non-profit space."

No concrete timeline has been given for the project.

Council Approves Artspace Project at Old Saddleblanket
City Eyeing Old Saddleblanket For Artspace Project

In*Situ Architecture website:
In*Situ Facebook page:
Artspace El Paso website:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fountains at Farah Project 'Going at Full Tilt'

A recent blog post at the EMJ Construction website describes construction at the Fountains at Farah as "going at full tilt" with a target opening date of October 2013. EMJ Construction is the general contractor on the project.

Concrete beams will support the upper level of the parking structure.
Over 300 workers are on site daily, according to the post, with 2500 to 4000 yards of concrete poured per week. According to the blog, the Fountains at Farah development is the "largest ground-up new retail project under construction in the state of Texas and west of the Mississippi River."

Retail shops and restaurants will line the front of the garage.
EMJ Construction blog post:

Previously: 'Fountains' Progress Continues

Sunday, December 9, 2012

City to Improve Pedestrian/Bicycle Access Around UTEP, Convention Center

The City of El Paso will submit four different applications to the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) for the 2012 Texas Transportation Enhancement Program Call for Projects, each improving walkability and bicycling standards along city streets. Three projects focus on access points to the University of Texas at El Paso, and one targets Santa Fe Street from I-10 to the Convention Center.

University Avenue Pedestrian and Bicycle Improvement Project - This project will affect access along three blocks of University Avenue from Stanton Street to the Hilton Garden Inn. It includes the installation of a landscaped median dividing vehicular traffic into one lane in each direction, considered traffic-calming. Over 500 feet of a bicycle lane will also be added. Also included will be 16 street trees per block, 16 pedestrian lighting units per block, and four benches per block. Crosswalks will consist of stamped concrete, and sidewalks will be six feet wide.

Hawthorne Street Pedestrian and Bicycle Project - This project includes two blocks of Hawthorne Street between Rim Road and Crosby Avenue. Two bicycle lanes are included, one in each direction along this stretch. Also included will be 16 street trees per block, 16 street lamps per block, and two benches per block. Parking will be limited to the eastern side of Hawthorne Street. A large textured and stained concrete medallion will occupy the intersection of Hawthorne and Rim. 

Lawton Drive Pedestrian Improvement Project - This project affects 875 feet of Lawton Drive near the UTEP campus, between Schuster and Prospect Avenues. It includes 20 street trees, 42 street lamps, and treated concrete crosswalks. Marked street parking spaces will line both sides of the roadway.

Santa Fe Street Pedestrian Improvement Project - The project supports "the development of a pedestrian-oriented corridor along Santa Fe extending from San Antonio Ave. to Missouri Ave," about four blocks in length. It includes 63 street trees, 27 street lamps, and treated concrete crosswalks. A tapered median will also be constructed on Santa Fe Street beginning just north of San Antonio Avenue. The right of way along the upcoming baseball stadium is not part of this project.

If approved by TXDOT, the State will reimburse the City the state portion of the cost. The City would complete the projects within four years of approval. The projects around UTEP would mirror the University's plans to improve walkability around campus. 

TXDOT Transportation Enhancement Program website:

Asarco Smokestack Demolition Plan Moves Forward

The trustee for the Asarco property stated last week that the demolition of the controversial smokestacks will move forward. Roberto Puga expressed his commendation to the Save the Stacks grassroots group for their efforts in preserving the iconic columns, but made clear that the deadline for the group to present a viable preservation plan had passed with no plan received by the trust. Mr. Puga made his statements in a press release at the Asarco trust website.

In November 2011, the trustee opted to give the Save the Stacks group 12 months to come up with a way to preserve the smokestacks, including finding a way to finance the endeavor. Late last month, the group attempted to have El Paso City Council designate the stacks as city monuments, which would have required the City to fund their upkeep. The City, however, decided to support the group's efforts in name only, not financially.

Trust's concept land use plan for the Asarco West property.
Mr. Puga has argued that keeping the stacks would make it exceedingly difficult to market the property to potential buyers. Presentations to city groups have shown examples of prosperity on former Asarco land in other parts of the country, specifically at locales where smokestacks were torn down.

Former Asarco site in Omaha, Nebraska.
Now, demolition is imminent, and planning will continue to ensure the stacks are destroyed next year. The trust's plans include a concept of a memorial plaza at the site of the largest smokestack. The lower twenty to thirty feet of the stack would be preserved and surrounded by a fountain. Another concept shows a roundabout surrounding the stack's footprint.

Street-level view of a potential memorial where the largest stack now stands.
Related: Asarco Ready for Development in 2015, Stacks or No Stacks

Asarco Trustee website:

Friday, December 7, 2012

Americas Interchange Phase 1 Nearing End; Phase 2 Coming Soon

The long awaited Americas Interchange will open to traffic in one month, and the construction of additional direct connector ramps will soon follow. The newest edition of the Americas Interchange Newsletter highlights the work Americas Gateway Builders has accomplished in building the first three ramps of the massive project and also provides a peak at an additional three ramps that could start construction soon.

Phase One, consisting of three direct connectors between Interstate 10 and Loop 375, is slated for completion in January of 2013 but could open to the public before the end of December of this year. Major work on the project includes:

♢ Three bridges,
♢ Two exit ramps from I-10 (one in each direction),
♢ Five embankments,
♢ Fourteen retaining walls,
♢ Resurfacing of the intersection at Joe Battle and Rojas,
♢ Resurfacing of significant stretches of frontage roads,
♢ Frontage ramp below the Southbound to Westbound direct connector,
♢ Improved drainage, and
♢ Relocation of utilities.

Phase Two will also consist of building three direct connectors, Westbound I-10 to Northbound Loop 375, Westbound I-10 to Southbound Loop 375, and Eastbound I-10 to Southbound Loop 375. The contract for the project has been awarded to J.D. Abrams of Austin. No timeline has been given, but a project page at the J.D. Abrams website indicates a possible completion date of December 2013.

Previously: Americas Interchange Nearing Opening

Americas Interchange website:
J.D. Abrams website:

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ballpark Concept Videos Added to City's Website

The City of El Paso has added two short videos to its Downtown Ballpark page showing conceptual views from within and above the proposed stadium. Additional details have also been added, such as the firms selected so far to assist the City in constructing the stadium that will house El Paso's Triple-A baseball team.

View looking west from the Santa Fe Street side of the stadium.
The videos allow a closer look at the conceptual images already released by Populous Inc., the project's principal architect. The first video offers a field-level perspective, beginning at the eastern edge of the field underneath the planned grandstand, travelling to the middle of the park, and turning clockwise to offer a 360 degree view of the stadium.

Eastward view overlooking the outfield.
The second video provides a bird's eye view of the park, swooping around the perimeter for a complete look from outside the walls. This perspective offers a look at previously mentioned amenities, including a grassy seating area in the outfield, a "party zone" located in the outer grandstand, and multiple access points for fans to use.

Firms listed as involved in the project include:

• Populous, Inc. (Kansas City, MO) - Principal Architect
• MNK Architects (El Paso, TX) - Local Architect /LEED Accredited Professional
• W. P. Moore (El Paso, TX) - Civil, Traffic, Structural
• Robert Navarro (El Paso, TX) - Structural
• Henderson Engineering (Lenexa, KS) – Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing
• Wrightson, Johnson, Haddon &Williams (Dallas, TX) – Audio/Visual
• Ovations (Pleasanton, CA) - Food Service
• Dover, Kohl & Partners (Coral Gables, FL) – Design

The 8,000-9,000 seat stadium's initial design seems to take cues from nearby Union Plaza where old brick buildings have been recently renovated by local entrepreneurs. The City has expressed a desire to reflect El Paso's history in the stadium's look and feel.

View of the stadium seating areas and home plate.
The City approved a contract with Populous at its November 27, 2012 meeting for the firm to complete the design work and oversee construction of the ballpark. The City and MountainStar Sports Group hope to have construction completed by April of 2014.

Previously: Triple-A Club, Ballpark Debut New Website

City's Ballpark Page:

'Fountains' Progress Continues

Construction on the upcoming Fountains at Farah shopping center is progressing at a rapid pace as walls continue to go up around the development. Photographs at the center's website show a rapid increase in concrete from October to November of 2012.

The majority of work is currently focused on the big-box area of the project along the northwestern boundary. This is where larger retailers like Dick's Sporting Goods, Nordstrom Rack, and Best Buy will be located. Construction is also ongoing on the two-level parking structure. Concrete has now been poured for sections of the upper level of the garage. Portions of some big box retailers will actually be built above the parking area's first level.

The 1,800 foot shopping promenade will occupy the forward section of the center, and construction on this area will most likely begin when the garage is being completed. Storefronts will line the parking structure along the promenade.

The $70 million dollar project is scheduled for completion in fall of 2013. Centergy Retail hired EMJ Construction of Dallas to build the center.

Previously: 'Fountains' Website Adds New Aerial Photos

Friday, November 30, 2012

NE El Paso Next In Line for SmartCode

A 451-acre plot of land in Northeast El Paso could be next in line for SmartCode zoning. That's according to a rezoning application that the City Plan Commission will hear at its December 6, 2012 meeting.

The land will be divided into three "New Community, Traditional Neighborhood Developments" which will split the acreage into three pedestrian sheds. A pedestrian shed is an area that defines the distance a pedestrian can walk in five minutes. This, along with interconnected blocks, bike paths, and greenways will encourage walkability within the development. 

The development will be split into three neighborhoods.
The project will be interspersed with civic buildings, playgrounds, and shopfronts, and will focus on creating terminating vistas throughout. Plazas and main squares will be placed strategically within the neighborhoods. A transit center is also planned for the development.

The land, owned by the City of El Paso and managed by the Public Service Board, is located along the southern edge of US-54 east of McCombs Street. Once rezoning is approved, the City may move to hire a master developer, though no timeline is available for the project. The plan was developed by URS Corporation, the same firm that is helping plan the retirement community just north of this project.

Related: NE Retirement Community Could Spring Up By 2013

City Plan Commission agenda:

Friday, November 16, 2012

Another Historic Downtown Bldg Could Be Demolished

The owner of the historic Union Bank & Trust Building at 104-106 East San Antonio Avenue in downtown El Paso is requesting a Certificate of Demolition from the City's Historic Landmark Commission (HLC). Next door, the First National Bank Building, which once housed the offices of John Wesley Hardin, burned down in April of 2012.

The applicant, River Oaks Properties, owns both properties and has submitted a report from engineering firm HKN Engineers which states that the two buildings shared a wall and that the earlier fire has caused damage to the surviving building. The report goes on to say that the building is in "imminent risk of structural failure," and that demolition is the suggested option considering the "high cost of structural retrofit."

Despite the engineering report, the agenda item recommends denial of the application, stating, "The property has been altered but it is still the embodiment of distinguished characteristics of an architectural type or specimen; can still be identified as the work of an architect or master builder whose individual work has influenced the development of the city; and still embodies distinguished elements of architectural design, detail, materials or craftsmanship which represent a significant architectural innovation."

The application will be heard at the HLC's November 19, 2012, meeting, less than one week after City Council approved the demolition of the Henry Trost designed Muir Building at 230 N. Mesa Street. That application for demolition was originally denied by the HLC, but Council voted unanimously to override that decision. The property's owner, Borderplex Community Trust, has promised a mixed-use development at the location but has divulged few other details. If River Oaks' application for demolition is denied, they can also appeal directly to the City Council.

Aftermath of destructive fire at the First Nat'l Bank building.
Previously: Demolition Denied for Downtown Trost Building (Update: Approved by Council)

HLC Agenda Item (PDF):

Saturday, November 10, 2012

East EP Cinemark Site Plan Revealed

A Detailed Site Development Plan Application on the City Plan Commission's next agenda is offering a glimpse of what the future far east El Paso Cinemark Theater site will look like. The site plan shows a 53,665 square foot movie theater building, a 23,265 square foot office building, and five retail buildings totaling 49,529 square feet. The center will be located at the corner of Montana Avenue and Rich Beem Boulevard.

The buildings are laid out in a traditional shopping center format; each structure is surrounded by large parking areas. The 14-screen theater will be located on the southern end of the property, nearest the Hueco Club Estates residential area to the south. Four retail buildings will run parallel to Montana Avenue while another will align with Rich Beem Boulevard. The office building will be centered on the eastern portion of the site.

Southwest Land Development of El Paso is developing the 20 acre shopping center, which is part of the larger Hueco Club Estates development, a residential subdivision which is using SmartCode principles in its design. This includes making the neighborhoods more walkable and incorporating alleys for rear garage access for homes.

The center itself, however, follows a more traditional layout, but does incorporate a large amount of shade trees which could be helpful for pedestrians. The City does recommend including more shade trees and widening the sidewalk along Tierra Rancho Street to the south, which would create a friendlier environment for pedestrians coming from the residential area.

The development could break ground in the coming months and could be open by the end of 2013. The City Plan Commission will consider the Application at its November 15, 2012, meeting.

City Plan Commission Agenda:

14-Screen Multiplex Planned for Far East EP
Carmike First 'El Cruzero' Tenant?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Americas Interchange Nearing Opening

The long awaited Americas Interchange at Interstate 10 and Loop 375 is about two months away from opening to the public, and the latest newsletter from the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority (CRRMA) states that the finishing touches are being put on the three direct connectors that make up this phase of the project.

According to the newsletter, the following items are on track to be completed in the next two months:

• Final deck pours for the EBNB direct connector are scheduled for November;
• Grooving the bridge deck will continue;
• Placing concrete barrier rail for bridges & ramps;
• Placing sidewalks;
• Painting of all three direct connectors;
• Entering the final stages of construction for the embankments on the Joe Battle frontage roads north of Rojas; and
• Final asphalt pavement is scheduled to take place throughout the month.

The $141 million (revised) project is scheduled for completion in January 2013. The CRRMA is working on finding funding for the five remaining direct connector ramps.

Americas Interchange website:

Previously: Americas Interchange Will Open in Three Months

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Essential Posts: March 2012

Our blog came to life back in February of 2012, and there have been over 100 posts so far! Here are some of the posts we believe are definitely worth reading (again) and a few you may have missed, listed here for easy access.

This second edition includes stories from March of 2012, our second month. Every week, we'll highlight months from earlier in the year, just in case our readers may have missed some interesting stories. Click on each headline to jump to the original post.

Painted Dunes Retirement Community Plans Move Forward

The El Paso Public Service Board (PSB) will view updated plans at its March 5 meeting for a retirement community that could be built adjacent to Painted Dunes golf course in Northeast El Paso. The development would contain anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 housing units which would include condominiums, townhomes, and detached homes and would mainly target retired military for its residential makeup.

Council Approves Artspace Project at Old Saddleblanket

City Council voted on Tuesday to approve the sale of the old Saddleblanket building at 601 N. Oregon to Keystone Properties who will then donate it to the El Paso Community Foundation (EPCF) in order to create the Artspace project the City has been seeking for years. EPCF hopes a five-story 50 to 70 unit building will be constructed on the property by Artspace, an organization dedicated to developing low-rent housing with studio and gallery space for artists.

City Adopts 'Plan El Paso'

Plan El Paso is an immense volume of studies, maps, conceptual images, changes-over-time, graphs, and chapters upon chapters of recommendations for land-use, transit, design/aesthetics, and general growth focus that the city will take in the coming years and decades. Land use is of significant importance in the plan, which includes many images which show changes over time if the standards of the plan are enforced. This includes areas that are undeveloped as well as older neighborhoods  closer to the city's center.

Northwest Plan Doubles Open Space, Adds 'Villages'

One major change is the amount of open space in the plan, which has increased to 65%, up from only 32% in the previous plan. This means that the amount of develop-able land has decreased from 1,182 acres to 824 acres. Despite the decrease in land that can be used for development, changes in zoning and density account for an actual increase in housing units, population, and employment options in the new plan.

UTEP Plan Shows Schuster Realignment

The UTEP Master Plan, unveiled last year, shows massive changes, including a doubling of building space, removing vehicular traffic from the campus core, and a realignment of Schuster Avenue which will move it southward and create an overpass at I-10. In the new plan, Schuster continues westward in a nearly straight line, crossing I-10 via a new overpass that the City has said it supports.

'Aldea' to Create Urban Village on West Side

A new 204 acre urban town center development should break ground in the next couple of years on the west side in an area bounded by I-10, Executive Center Blvd, and Mesa Street. Aldea El Paso will be a large, mixed-use, smart code development which will include commercial/retail, hotels, housing, restaurants, and entertainment. This is not to be confused with the ongoing Montecillo construction, which is adjacent to this property, immediately to the north. They are two different projects.

The Essential Posts: February 2012

Thursday, November 1, 2012

City to Buy Texas Ave Bldgs, Revamp Luther Bldg

City Council may vote next week to finalize the purchase of two buildings at 801 and 811 Texas Avenue in downtown El Paso in order to continue with the relocation of City offices. Additionally, the Council will consider allocating funds to renovating the donated Luther Building for more space, all in hopes of vacating the current City Hall site to make way for an upcoming Triple-A baseball stadium.

801 Texas Avenue Building
Two items on the Council's agenda relate to the purchase of the Texas Avenue buildings, which will house the City Development Department. The first item is to approve the purchase of the building for $2.3 million, while the second item will move to select Mijares Mora Architects for the rehabilitation of the building to modern standards. The main building and the annex contain a combined 68,000 square feet of space.

The City also hopes to approve expenditures of $8.86 million to renovate the Luther Building at 300 N. Campbell which was donated to the City by Paul Foster. According to the agenda item, money will be used which was previously allocated to other projects but which is now available because the projects are not proceeding, have been completed, or have been funded through other programs. The City may choose In*Situ Architecture of El Paso as the architect on this project on a separate agenda item.

There is no agenda item to purchase the El Paso Times building as the City had previously considered doing. It is unclear if the City has scrapped that plan in favor of rehabilitating the Luther Building. The City is on a tight schedule and hopes to vacate the current City Hall site by early 2013. Construction on the stadium must be complete by April 2014.

City Council agenda:
Mijares Mora Architects website:
In*Situ Architecture website:

Glimpse of Ballpark Plans Included in Council Agenda
Triple-A Club, Ballpark Debut New Website
No Ballpark Veto; Next Steps for Downtown Stadium
Rep. Acosta, Mayor Cook May Wreck Ballpark Deal
Ballpark Update: Paul Foster May Donate Luther Building
City Finalizes Quality of Life Ballot Questions
Council Votes to Purchase Buildings for City Hall Relocation
City to Decide Fate of Downtown Ballpark This Week (Updated)
City May Demolish City Hall for Ballpark