Thursday, March 15, 2012

Americas Interchange 51% Complete

The latest newsletter from the Americas Interchange website states that construction is 51% complete with no change to the scheduled completion date of January 2013.
According to the newsletter, 49 out of 93 columns have been completed and 37 of 363 concrete beams have been placed. Motorists will begin to use the newly constructed Gateway East in mid-March, and the northbound 375 Exit 44A ramp will be permanently closed later this month in order to begin construction of that direct connector. Vehicles will have to use the North Loop exit in order to access I-10.
Newly released images show that the majority of work has concentrated on the South 375 to West I-10 direct connector.
Americas Interchange March 2012 Newsletter (PDF):

'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.
A Walmart store will serve as an anchor in Aldea with other big box opportunities spread throughout the development. Smaller retail and restaurants will occupy freeway frontage located along what plans currently show as Walton Way. The design of the Walmart has changed from the original plan in order to adapt to smart code principles, a requirement that the City imposed on the developer in order for incentives to be approved.

The main town center development will occur along the two major boulevards running through the development, Mesa Park Blvd. and Rio Bravo Drive with the highest density buildings located nearest to their intersection. Commercial/Retail and a possible hotel will be located at the intersection, with building facades running along the street; there will be little to zero setbacks. This will be the case for most buildings in the development.
Highest densities will be seen nearest to the large intersection. Note that parking is located in the interior areas of blocks.
Housing will mainly be concentrated on the northern end of the development, but there will also be denser housing in the southeast sector. Green space will include traditional parks, streetscapes, xeric landscapes, urban arroyo landscapes, desert arroyo re-vegetation, and retail/residential landscapes.
Aldea Park Plan
Parking for most structures will be located behind buildings or in the center of blocks. Parking structures will be lined by commercial and retail uses which will hide the parking areas. The focus will be on creating interesting facades along most roads in the development.

The developer is joining with TxDOT to create a new interchange at the intersection of I-10 and Mesa Park Blvd. The plan also includes new Gateway type frontage roads that will stretch along the freeway from Executive Center Blvd to the new Mesa Park intersection. This will eliminate certain on ramps and off ramps and move them to the new intersection. Further west, Rio Bravo will be a very broad boulevard that may include dedicated transit lanes which will serve Sun Metro and Bus Rapid Transit routes. It will also stretch into the new Montecillo smart code development immediately to the north.
New Gateway-type Frontage Roads built along I-10
The Aldea El Paso master plan is broken down into 23 blocks, with statistics calculated for each block including commercial retail square footage and housing units. In all, the initial plan calls for 1,245 total residential units and 1,008,850 square feet of retail space. The plan also shows 300 hotel units (probably split between two hotels) and 265,150 square feet of office space. A movie theater complex is planned for the eastern edge of the site.
Albuquerque-based Geltmore, LLC, is the developer of Aldea El Paso. No definite timeline has been given for the project's completion, but Geltmore has previously stated that it could range anywhere from six to 20 years. No signs of site preparation are yet visible.

Geltmore's Aldea El Paso web page:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I-10 Beautification Moves Forward; Airway First

The Interstate 10 overpass at Airway Boulevard will be the first to benefit from a City-backed beautification project that will stretch along the freeway from Hawkins to Executive Blvd. City Council on Tuesday voted to move forward with the aesthetic improvements at Airway because highway funds are already available but must be used at that specific location.
According to the I-10 Corridor Aesthetic Master Plan, the project will include improvements to slope paving, landscaping, medians, facades, columns, lighting, walkways, abutments, and general neighborhood identity. The illustrative plan presented in the master plan is not final and will change based on community feedback received in coming meetings. Vicki Scuri, the projects public art consultant, has stated that the project is an opportunity for the City to convey neighborhood identities to commuters. 
The project will have $10 Million to work with and should be completed by 2015. After that, the Downtown bridges would be in line for improvements. The total cost for all improvements along I-10 are projected to be upwards of $170 Million.

CRRMA Projects Website:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

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.

Currently, Schuster Ave. takes a curve northward and then back westward when approaching the freeway from the east. 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. If all goes as planned, Schuster would connect to Paisano, making the campus more accessible for students.

It's still unclear how a Border Highway west extension would connect to the plan. Previous mentions of the 375 extension have indicated that the main lanes of the new freeway would float above Paisano.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Northwest Plan Doubles Open Space, Adds 'Villages'

The firm tasked with developing a new master plan for City owned land in Northwest El Paso has unveiled pieces of the plan in draft form. Dover Kohl held a charrette workshop in January of this year in which it narrowed down the changes to the master plan with the public's help.
Master Plan revision developed by Dover Kohl.
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.
As a result of density increases and use of mixed-use types of development, the plan envisions more walkable neighborhoods. Walking-distances from homes to restaurants and shops could decrease from 4,660 feet to 1,182 feet. Distances to parks and schools could go from 2,957 feet to 824 feet.
Neighborhoods nearest the eastern edges of the plan area could see additional entrances to Franklin Mountain State Park, with trailheads located at convenient points. Other amenities could include many playgrounds, a dog park, an amphitheater, gardens, an equestrian facility, a skate park, and two large regional parks with soccer fields, baseball diamonds, tennis and basketball courts, a recreation center, gymnasium, and swimming pool.
The master plan envisions four or five distinct "village" type neighborhoods built with higher densities towards the center and surrounding gardens and public spaces. Preserved arroyos would run between these villages, providing other opportunities for natural parks and connected trails. The neighborhoods would be built in phases, and the first phase would be closest to existing development.
The Public Service Board voted at its March 5 meeting to approve the changes to the master plan. The next step is to create a smart code rezoning application to send to the City Plan Commission and then to City Council for approval. (There is a pending recommendation from the Open Space Advisory Board that could lead to changes to open space in the final master plan.)
Northwest Master Plan Presentation (PDF):
Original Master Plan from 2005:

Push for Trolley System Re-Emerges

Proponents of a fixed-rail trolley system have become increasingly vocal in their hope that the City will decide to resurrect a streetcar line in El Paso. Their hope is that the City will include a streetcar project in the coming quality of life bond election that will allow El Pasoans to decide the project's fate.
Illustrative plan from Connecting El Paso, showing suggested redevelopment along the Oregon Street corridor.
The streetcar project of choice would stretch from the Paso del Norte international bridge downtown up Oregon Street to UTEP, a two-mile one way trip. It would cost an estimated $80 Million to construct the line and refurbish or purchase rail cars. Currently, there are eight or nine aging streetcars throughout the city that were retired when the streetcar system was closed.
Conceptual image from Connecting El Paso, showing an imagined streetcar line on Oregon Street with surrounding development.
A 2010 streetcar study conducted by Cambridge Systematics found that the line between downtown and UTEP would be heavily used. The study also found that the return on investment would be 12 to 1, or hundreds of millions of dollars over 15 years. This would include ridership, development surrounding the line, and the effect on tourism.
Map showing the possible route for a streetcar line along Oregon Street, from the Cambridge Systematics study.
Peter Svarzbein, a local artist, is spearheading the effort to revive streetcars lines and place the project on the November ballot. He recently told the El Paso Times, "This is a way to cut down on drunk driving, brand the city and generate tourism. There's only so much the city can do to show clear signs to developers and property owners. It's going to take more than smoke and mirrors to revitalize Downtown. This is a literal investment on the ground."
Old photograph of a streetcar in El Paso, from Peter Svarzbein's Tumblr website.
City Representative Steve Ortega also supports the project and stated, "No one seems to have a problem with large investment made in things like (freeway) overpasses, but when it comes to 21st-century rail projects, there's heartache amongst some."
Possible change over time for the corridor, from Connecting El Paso.
Streetcars are also environmentally friendly since they run on electricity and can entice automobile users to switch to mass transit.

The Oregon line would take the same route that the planned Bus Rapid Transit system would take, for the Mesa corridor. Oregon Street is currently going major reconstruction in order to accommodate the BRT line, which will have a stop at the Glory Road Transit Terminal. The City is still determining which projects to include in the $300-$500 Million quality of life bond election to be held in November.

Cambridge Systematics' El Paso Rail Transit Studyhttp://
Connecting El Paso study:
The El Paso Transnational Trolley Project Tumblr:
El Paso Times article:
KVIA ABC7 video story:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

City Adopts 'Plan El Paso'

The City of El Paso on Tuesday adopted the comprehensive Plan El Paso as the comprehensive plan for future growth and development in the City.
Conceptual Image of a Central Park that could replace downtown rail yards.
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.
Left: Re-imagined Bassett Center changes over time.
Right: Concept of Zaragoza Road as a friendly Boulevard.
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.
Intersection of Rojas and Zaragoza, re-imagined over time.
A main goal of the plan is to stop and prevent suburban sprawl by designing and repurposing neighborhoods, increasing density and promoting walkability. For decades El Paso neighborhoods have be alienated from commercial and retail sectors, and it is nearly impossible to commute between each without an automobile. The new vision for El Paso includes many areas that incorporate mixed-use buildings, meaning residents can opt to live very near to their employers and to retail and commercial town centers.
Conceptual changes on Mesa near UTEP.
Aesthetic design recommendations also play a large part in the plan. One important feature that is stressed throughout the plan is moving parking lots from the front of the buildings they serve to the back or inner areas. This simple idea can have a big impact and it's a shame that developers have rarely used this design in the city. Tree-lined streets are also important; they help to shade sidewalks and protect pedestrians and bicyclists.
The top left image shows a normal pocket park found in newer developments.
The same amount of space can be used to create much more appealing neighborhoods.
The plan even suggests proper design rules with respect to different styles of architecture found throughout El Paso, devoting many pages to specific rules for each style.

The City has adopted the plan as the guiding principles in future development for El Paso, but it has done so without enforcing these design ideals as requirements upon developers. Instead, it will use the guidelines to try and influence the city's growth wherever and whenever possible. Developers have been extremely slow to warm to the principles of smart growth, and some have been vocal opponents of any change in development style whatsoever, saying that El Pasoans do not want these higher-standard types of neighborhoods. But in meeting after meeting in all parts of the city, residents have overwhelmingly approved of smart growth ideals. Some enlightened developers have already adopted to smart growth principles, which will soon be seen in the Montecillo, Aldea, and Cruzero developments.
Concept of homes facing a linear arroyo park.
 Currently, the City owns a great deal of undeveloped land in the Northwest and Northeast areas of El Paso, and this can help influence the eventual development of those areas. In the near term, the city hopes to focus on specific projects that would highlight the recommendations of the plan. After spending so much time and effort on creating the new comprehensive plan, it's not surprising that the City would like to see much of the plan come to fruition. It is likely that many El Pasoans feel the same way.
Placement of Civic Buildings is important in the Plan.
A current blank El Paso street transformed using Plan El Paso principles.
Plan El Paso website:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

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. 
According to a story in the El Paso Times, Eric Pearson, president of the 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.

Artspace has already updated its website to include the new El Paso project, and includes the following in its description: "Artspace will create an entrepreneurial arts center in downtown El Paso that builds upon the community’s Hispanic heritage and seeds a distinctly local arts scene."

"Artspace El Paso 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."

Eric Pearson said will meet with residents to discuss the project at 6 p.m. March 20 at the El Paso Community Foundation, 333 N. Oregon.

Artspace El Paso web page:
Original El Paso Times article*:

*Please note: El Paso Times articles are available online for a limited time before they are archived.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Americas Interchange Altering Eastside Landscape

Work continues on the giant Americas Interchange project in far east El Paso at the intersection of I-10 and Loop 375 and major construction work is about 35-40% done, according to a February newsletter from the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority.
Conceptual Image of Complete Construction
In this phase of the project, three direct connectors will be constructed with plans to add five additional connectors when funding becomes available. The connectors currently being constructed are:

Eastbound I-10 to northbound Loop 375;
Southbound Loop 375 to westbound I-10; and
Northbound Loop 375 to westbound I-10.
The timeline for completion shows a January 2013 deadline, but the CRRMA website indicates a goal to complete the work ahead of schedule. The work that includes building the three direct connectors is a $146 Million project and is being constructed by Americas Gateway Builders, a partnership between Zachry & CH2M HILL. It is part of a larger regional plan to complete the entire Loop 375 around El Paso, and to provide relief to chronically congested Interstate 10. It will also serve to ease congestion for Eastsiders who use the intersection on a daily basis.

Americas Interchange website:
February 2012 Newsletter:

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. According to preliminary concepts, the housing areas would be nearly divided in two by a common mall area lined by commercial and retail uses.

Conceptual Zoning Plan from Nov. 2011
Mayor John Cook, a former Northeast El Paso city representative for many years, told the El Paso Times that a retirement community of this sort has been in the planning stages for decades, but has been slowed due to apathy or a negative national economic atmosphere. Cook hopes that construction will begin before the end of his term in office next year.
The next step, according to Mayor Cook, is for the PSB to accept the plan and then put it out to bid in hopes that a developer will purchase the land and begin construction. Other interim steps include bringing a rezoning application to the City Plan Commission for approval, then City Council for final approval. The master plan tries to maximize views of the Franklin Mountains and the golf course. It incorporates smart code principals and creates a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly development. The 300 acre development could take from five to ten years to build out.

Conceptual Zoning Plan from Nov. 2011
The retirement community would help fill a gap that has been largely missing from El Paso's housing scene, an anomaly when compared to other Southwestern cities will similar climates, such as Tucson, Phoenix, and Las Vegas. There are currently no large-scale retirement communities of this type in the city.

The development is part of a larger 1,500 acre plan. URS Consulting was hired by the PSB to develop the master plan.

Public Service Board Master Plan Presentation (PDF):
El Paso Times article* (03/05/2012):
El Paso Times article* (11/17/2011):

*Please note: El Paso Times articles may only be available online for a limited time before they are archived.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

'Fountains' Website Adds Progress Photos

Update: The Grand Opening has been moved back by a year. The center is now scheduled to open in November of 2013.

Original Post: 
Site preparation has been ongoing at the Fountains at Farah project, and the developer has posted new photos on its website showing the progress made as of February. Construction crews have been busy clearing the site for what should be infrastructure work such as utilities and roads, followed by pad site work and what will become the double-decker parking structure.
The project located at Hawkins and I-10 is slated to open in fall of 2012, according to the website's leasing flyer. West Miller, principal of the project's developer, Centergy Retail, told the Texas Real Estate Business newsletter late last year that "the property already has between 350,000 and 400,000 square feet of space designated for 45 tenants that have committed or signed letters of intent," also stating that "among the committed tenants, more than 30 of these merchants do not have existing sites in El Paso."
Miller stated that some stores could open by the end of 2012. Hopefully, this will lead Centergy to quicken the pace of construction.

Original Texas Real Estate Business article:
Fountains at Farah Construction Progress photo page: