Sunday, May 27, 2012

Website Offers Glimpse of Montecillo's Future

New images of the Montecillo smart code project have surfaced thanks to a new website for EPT Land Communities' 288 acre smart code development in west El Paso. The images seem to focus on land east of Mesa Street.

The pictures include expected smart code details, such as zero-setback buildings, on-street parking, transit stops, high-end finishes, and include water features and interesting architecture. Parking structures are hidden within a retail/commercial buildings.

The website includes a map that acts as a starting point to different areas of the development. Currently, only the Venue at Montecillo apartment community has a functioning link, but other highlighted sections include the Retreat at Montecillo senior apartments, the T.I.M.E. at Montecillo retail/restaurant incubator, and a future EPISD school site.

Sections of the website include a "Homefinder" which will introduce those interested in living in the development to different housing options, and a "Retail/Commercial" area which retailers can use to find available space. There is also a "News" section which is currently non-functioning.

Montecillo website:

Council to Choose Trolley Route

City Council has postponed the agenda item and it will now be heard at the June 5, 2012 meeting.

Original Post:
The City could choose the new Downtown to UTEP streetcar route at the upcoming May 29, 2012 Council meeting. URS Corporation, the firm previously chosen to complete the environmental and engineering phases of the new streetcar route, will present what it feels is the optimal route based on previous El Paso streetcar studies.

Route options include:

1. Mesa/Oregon - The trolley would travel north on Mesa, turn west on Glory Road, and travel south on Oregon to Downtown.
2. Mesa/Stanton - North on Stanton, west on Glory Road, south on Oregon, east on Cincinnati, and south on Mesa to Downtown, then switching to south on Oregon to the Santa Fe bridge.
3. Oregon Only - The majority of the route would travel north and south on Oregon.
4. Mesa Only - The majority of the route would travel north and south on Mesa.
5. (Alternative) Stanton Only - The City has mentioned using Stanton for the route. Oregon is currently being readied for the Bus Rapid Transit system, and the City has spent millions revamping the street. Stanton would benefit from the streetcar route because it would allow the City to reconstruct it entirely. This route is not mentioned in the previous study.
The environmental study must be completed by the end of September 2012 in order to qualify for $90M in fund from the Texas Department of Transportation.

Previously - Trolley Project Could Get $90M in TxDOT Funds:

Cambridge Systematics Rail Study (Large PDF):

Quality of Life Items Narrowed Down; Streets Get $210M

City Council narrowed down the list of Quality of Life (QOL) bond proposals for the November election in a special meeting held May 24, 2012. The City has settled on seven different items totaling $460M which will most likely be divided into two categories on the ballot, Parks, Recreation and Sports Facilities for $160-180M and Cultural and Entertainment Facilities for $230-280M. A separate item will ask for $45-55M for investment in a Triple-A baseball club.

Sun Bowl improvements were removed from the items due to legal questions surround money towards a facility the City doesn't own. The item considering a soccer stadium was also removed; the City would like to wait until a team is identified and form a public/private partnership to build the venue.

Resurfacing Project Map
Street improvements will not be part of the QOL election. Instead, the City will move forward with issuing $210M in certificates of obligation to fund improvements for the next seven years starting in 2013. Street projects include:
  1. Synchronization of Signal Network
  2. Resurfacing/Micro-surfacing
  3. Reconstruction
  4. Unpaved Right-of-Ways / Alleys
  5. Street Median & Parkway Landscaping
  6. Neighborhood Traffic Management Program
  7.  Pedestrian Elements, Sidewalk & Parkway Improvements

Residents will vote on the QOL proposals in the November election.

City of El Paso QOL website:
Special City Council Meeting QOL Presentation (PDF):
Street Infrastructure Presentation (PDF):

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

City May Demolish City Hall for Ballpark

Update: City Council approved a plan to build a baseball stadium at the City Hall site. Click here.

Original Story: 
City Hall Property

If local businessmen are successful in acquiring a Triple-A baseball club, the City may be willing to demolish City Hall in order to make the land available for a baseball stadium. That's according to a KVIA story by long-time reporter Darren Hunt. City officials are reportedly considering the idea due to timelines associated with the ball club acquisition; the understanding has been that a baseball stadium would have to be built downtown quickly in order to accommodate the deal.
Kress Building (from Wikipedia)

City offices, of course, would have to find new quarters, and talk of renovating the old Kress Building a few blocks away has been overheard at City Hall. The historic building is too small to accommodate all City offices, but it is a solution for some relocation. It is unclear what other spaces the City may move to, but there have been rumors for years of occupying the Blue Flame building near County and Federal offices. The Blue Flame buildings is owned by Paul Foster, one of the businessmen reportedly working on the deal to acquire the Triple-A club. The City also recently showed interest in the Roberts-Banner Building on the same block as the Kress.

City Hall is also in consideration as a future Arena site.

City Hall was built in 1979, and is reportedly in need of many repairs. In addition, the design of the building and surrounding surface parking lot are not in line with the vision the City has for Downtown. City Rep. Steve Ortega has asked the City Manager for cost estimates of emptying and demolishing City Hall, and states in the KVIA story that it all could happen withing the next eight to 16 months. In contrast, trying to acquire other properties for a ballpark could take years, so the City seems to be in favor of the City Hall option.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

El Cruzero Reveals Progress, Gets Extension

The 228 acre El Cruzero smart code development in far east El Paso hopes to break ground before the end of the year, according to Katherine Updike, spokesperson for the project. The owner already has deals in the works with a large multi-family developer for 900 units and a retail developer that would bring anchor stores to the town center areas.

At the May 15, 2012, City Council meeting, El Cruzero requested mutiple amendments to the incentives contract from last year including a contract extension to 20 years in line with the contracts the City has with the Montecillo and Aldea projects, an increase in incentives amount to $18M, and a seven month extension of the deadline to submit the smart code rezoning application.

Updike indicated that they are trying as hard as possible to break ground this year to show the City something tangible and concrete. She also expressed that smart code zoning requirements make it more challenging to create a form factor that retailers will accept and that the zoning map is still being tweaked.

In return for the contract extension, the developer will now have to provide architectural plans to the City for approval, assuring a consistent and high-quality look throughout the entire project. In addition, the school planned for the development will be built to smart code standards. The Council approved the extension and amendments.

City Council Agenda item (PDF):

Previously - El Cruzero to Transform Far East El Paso Desert

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Aldea Image Emerges; CA Architect Firm Lists Aldea/Montecillo as Projects

A firm based in Pasadena, California has listed both Aldea El Paso and Montecillo among its projects on its website, revealing a new conceptual image of what Aldea could eventually look like. The image includes what will most likely be the major intersection of Rio Bravo and Mesa Park streets, which would be a roundabout in this concept. Multi-level buildings also directly face the boulevards with parking situated in the center of blocks. The edge of what will be a Walmart store can be seen at the left hand side of the image.

Moule & Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists website describe Aldea like this:
This 200-acre Master Plan is the second development to emerge from the City of El Paso’s recently adopted Smart Code. This new Town Center is located just south of the Montecillo Neighborhood, on a heavily sloping site in the center of the City, fronting Mesa Boulevard. The Master Plan has four principal components: a 185,000-square-foot Walmart and support retail located in the center of the site along Interstate 10; a traditional Rambla main street with 300,000 square feet of urban retail and commercial uses located at the site’s higher western edge; a multi-lane boulevard fronted by retail and office uses connects Mesa to the freeway and a new 500-home Neighborhood is located to the site’s northwest. The Master Plan has an interconnected block-street grid interspersed with a variety of parks and open spaces.

The site describes Rio Bravo as a "rambla", or a tree-lined main street that accommodates both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The scheme also seems to include the relocation of a cinema-type building from east of Rio Bravo to fronting the actual boulevard.

The firm also lists Montecillo as a client, stating:
It is located on a heavily sloping site in the center of the City, bisected by Mesa Boulevard, a major arterial envisioned to have rapid-bus transit in the future. The project is designed as a Transit-Oriented Development organized on a number of walkable pedestrian sheds with interconnected streets and open spaces carefully situated to preserve the existing arroyos on the site . The eastern side of Mesa is designed as a Town Center with anchor and destination retail and commercial uses. The project is envisioned to have more than 3,500 residential units ranging from single-family cottages, townhouses, courtyard housing and stacked flats.

The projects are immediately adjacent to each other, so it makes sense that using the same architectural firm for both should mean a smooth transition when traveling from Montecillo into Aldea, and vice versa. Montecillo broke ground last year and is finishing up the Venue at Montecillo apartment community. Aldea has not yet broken ground, but is expected to do so within the next year.

'Aldea' to Create Urban Village on West Side:
City to Vote on Montecillo Smart Zone Application:

Moule & Polyzoides Aldea web page:

Friday, May 18, 2012

City to Create TIRZ to Aid MCA Improvements

The City is poised to create a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) around University Medical Center which may help spur development in the area that will become the Medical Center of the Americas (MCA). City Council will vote on an ordinance creating TIRZ #6 on its May 29, 2012 meeting, which would encompass around 67 non-contiguous acres owned in part by the City of El Paso, University Medical Center, Texas Tech University, and MCA Americas Realty Inc.

A TIRZ is created to capture additional tax collections per year in a defined area and dedicate the additional tax to capital/public works improvements within the zone. For example, if the tax at the beginning is $1M, and the tax after year one is $1.5M, the the TIRZ would receive $0.5M for the year.

According to the TIRZ documentation, "The proposed Medical Center of the Americas (MCA) Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone is intended to stimulate private investment in the El Paso MCA area and facilitate the creation of an integrated campus of facilities that will position  the MCA as the premier regional center of health delivery, education, and research. The full  implementation of the proposed Zone is expected to yield significant increases in tax revenues for all MCA area taxing authorities, providing substantial economic benefits and opportunities to the region."

The preliminary study indicates the TIRZ will be in place for 30 years and has identified three projects so far totaling $5.78 Million. In addition, the study identifies $176 Million in non-TIRZ projects within its boundaries. If approved, the City may immediately name a board of directors that would choose projects to bring to City Council for a final vote.

City Council Agenda item (PDF):
MCA Master Plan Details:

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Trolley Project Could Get $90M in TxDOT Funds

Latest Update: City Council has approved $1.2 Million for the environmental study, which must be completed by the end of September.

Previous Update: El Paso Inc. is also reporting on this story. El Pasoan Ted Houghton, chair of the Texas Transportation Commission, cannot speak in detail about the project until the environmental project is complete, but states that he is a fan of the idea. The story also indicates that El Paso's trolley system had 63 miles of tracks, 100 streetcars, and 17 routes at its peak many decades ago.

El Paso Inc. article:

Original Post:
According to an upcoming City Council agenda item, the Texas Department of Transportation could give the city $90 Million in state funds to complete the Downtown to UTEP trolley project that City officials have been wishing for for years. The funding is contingent upon the City approving $4 Million for the environmental study and design process for the rail line, which is set for a vote at the May 15, 2012 City Council meeting. Details first came to light in a story at
This study route uses both Stanton and Mesa Streets.
The environmental study must be completed by September 31, 2012, and the design must be completed by February of 2013. The trolley route the city is focusing on would utilize Stanton and Kansas Streets, and would travel from the Santa Fe bridge to the UTEP/Cincinnati district. A Bus-Rapid-Transit route is already planned for the Oregon Street corridor and may be why the City is looking to Stanton for the streetcar project.
Oregon Corridor concept in Plan El Paso.
A study funded by the City a few years back has shown that a trolley could show up to a 11 to 1 return on investment, despite the high cost per mile for construction and maintenance. Streetcar systems in other cities have shown to increase positive perception from tourists and can easily transform the corridors they serve.

Previously: Push for Trolley System Re-Emerges

City Council Agenda item to approve environmental study (PDF):
KVIA Story:
Cambridge Systematics Study:

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sun Metro Readying for Move

The City is getting ready to approve a rezoning application in order to build a new Sun Metro operations and maintenance facility on airport property which should move major operations away from the Union Depot area. The new facility will be located at 10151 Montana Ave, just west of Global Reach/Yarbrough Dr.
Future Location of Sun Metro Operations facility.
The move has been in the planning stages for years and should allow Sun Metro growing space for a future enlarged fleet which will include Bus Rapid Transit units. The current downtown location is landlocked and surrounded by railroad tracks, Paisano Drive, and Union Depot.
Current Location
It is unknown what the City plans to do with the Union Depot facility. City Council will vote on May 15, 2012, on the rezoning application.

City Council Agenda Item (PDF):

Monday, May 7, 2012

Union Plaza Pros Plan Montecillo Presence

Montecillo is about to get its first restaurant tenants in a new plan by three entrepreneurs who are better known for their Union Plaza endeavors 1914 and The Garden, and for the wildly popular Crave Kitchen on the east side and by UTEP. In a story in this week's El Paso Inc., Nick Salgado, Octavio Gomez, and Rudy Valdes discuss their plan to occupy a smart code compliant building with an informal incubator-type "center" that will assist local investors in developing restaurant/retail brands by helping them with space, advice, and clientele.
The new center could be situated in the large blank area at the corner of Montecillo Blvd and Mesa Street.
Construction should begin in June on an 11,000 square foot building that will be nestled among the four current buildings that make up The Venue at Montecillo. They hope to have their first restaurants open by January. The trio would not disclose the amount of investment they are making, but did say that it's the largest investment they have made to date.
The Venue at Montecillo Conceptual Image
El Paso Inc. article:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Americas Interchange Takes Shape

Constructions crews continue to work at a breakneck pace to meet a January 2013 deadline for completion of the Americas Interchange at Interstate 10 and Loop 375. Progress can clearly be seen on a week to week basis as workers continuously work on columns and bridge structures.

According to the project's May newsletter 105 out of 114 drill shafts have been constructed, 76 out of 93 columns have been completed, 43 out of 78 bent caps have been constructed, 136 out of 363 concrete beams have been placed, and  6,444 square feet out of 70,165 square feet of retaining walls have been constructed. The majority of the beam work has been concentrated to the westbound ramps.

May Newsletter from Project website (PDF):