Saturday, June 30, 2012

San Jacinto Revamp Moves Into Final Design Phase

San Jacinto Plaza Landscape Plan by SWA Group
The San Jacinto Plaza reconstruction project could be ready for bid within five months and will retain the famous Los Lagartos sculpture at the center of the park which will include an added protective shade structure. City Council voted in June to award the contract for final construction documents to SWA Group, an international design firm specializing in civic projects.

SWA Group unveiled the final illustrative design for the park earlier in 2012, which reverted back to a more traditional framework which includes paths sprouting outward from a central plaza but includes many new modern amenities. Bocce ball courts, a splash deck, a park cafe, retail kiosks, a reflecting pond, table tennis and chess courtyards, and expanded lawn areas are some of the new elements included in the new plan. City leaders desired a more user friendly set up for the plaza and get that with this plan, a big change from the fenced off green areas residents find today at San Jacinto.

The City will also expand the park in each direction by reclaiming current parking lanes around the perimeter of the plaza. This should extend each side by about ten feet. An infusion of trees will create large expanses of pathways and sidewalks that are shaded from the sun.

Preliminary redesigns showed a stark change from the current plaza, but met resistance from residents when unveiled. A special point of contention was the initial removal of the alligator sculpture from the park. The outcry led to the sculpture regaining its prominent spot at the center of the park, but with some changes around it. A shade structure will be constructed around and over the artwork in order to help protect it from the elements. A balustrade circle and reflecting pool will create a ring around the sculpture. And the statue itself will be restored.
A shade structure will protect the alligator sculpture.

SWA Group will remain as consultant after the project goes out to bid and during construction, according to the contract approved by the City. The City is paying $500,000 for SWA's services.

City Council Agenda Item (PDF):
SWA Group Website:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Nordstrom Rack 'Fountains' Location Details

Nordstrom Rack this week became the first retailer to reveal itself as a tenant of the upcoming Fountains at Farah shopping center in east El Paso. Nordstrom, Inc., announced that the store will occupy approximately 35,000 square feet of space at the new center and will open in fall of 2013 when construction is scheduled for completion.

According to unofficial renders, the store will be located in the eastern section of the center with other big box retailers. The center's architecture may include a modern aesthetic, and the conceptual image of the Nordstrom Rack store is in line with this design style.
Location of Nordstrom Rack within the center.
Now that a future Fountains at Farah tenant has made an announcement, other retailers may now feel comfortable making their intentions known to the public as well. In addition, this strong retail presence may entice other on-the-fence retailers to come on board with the center. Look for additional announcements in the coming months.

Nordstrom Rack is the discount arm of Nordstrom stores, offering merchandise at a higher discount than that seen in regular Nordstrom department stores. There are currently 110 Rack locations throughout the United States with nine in Texas and zero in New Mexico.

Market Watch article on Nordstrom Rack's announcement:
Nordstrom Rack website:

'Fountains' Images Show Possible Design Aesthetics

Sunday, June 24, 2012

City to Decide Fate of Downtown Ballpark This Week (Updated)

Update: City Council voted 6-2 to approve the plan for the new baseball stadium. Mountain Star Sports Group will now meet with Triple-A baseball officials to try and move forward with the purchase of the franchise. The City is now making plans to vacate City Hall by the end of the year to allow for demolition and construction starting in 2013. And voters will decide in November whether or not to raise the Hotel Occupancy Tax by 2% to help fund the new stadium.

Original Post:
A brand new baseball stadium could be up and running within two or three years at the current City Hall location. City Council will hear multiple agenda items on the possibility of constructing a 9,000 seat ballpark at its June 26, 2012 meeting. According to multiple news reports, a group of local business persons, organized under the name Mountain Star Sports Group, is on the verge of securing the purchase of a Triple-A baseball team, and the deal partly hinges on the City's commitment to building the stadium. The rumored ball club in question is the San Diego Padres farm team currently operating in Tucson.

Urban Design+, the firm tasked with studying the possibility of locating sports facilities in the Downtown area, will make presentations at the City Council meeting on the feasibility, costs, and benefits of moving forward with the deal to build a ballpark. Included in the numbers are $76 million in economic impact with an additional $22 million in labor income, with 450,000 in annual attendance and $4 million in ticket sales. The City would be responsible for building the ballpark, and would retain ownership throughout. Urban Design+ estimates that construction would not exceed $50 million and could be partially paid for by a 2% increase in the City's Hotel Occupancy Tax. Though that would make it the highest tax in the state, hotel rates would still be below other Texas cities.

The City, of course, would need to quickly find new space for City offices. The Consolidated Tax Office has already been moved to the Wells Fargo Building. But that still leaves the City in need of tens of thousands of square feet of space. According to the study by Urban Design+, the first phase would include finding 80 thousand square feet of temporary space for City offices. Phase Two would find a separate space specifically for Development Services, and the City would like to rehab older buildings to serve this function (possibly including the Roberts-Banner building as we reported here, or the adjacent Kress Building). The final phase would create a brand new Municipal Hall, either on land between Main and Franklin Avenues across from San Jacinto Plaza, the Luther Building on Campbell Street, or on City-owned land in the so-called government center nearby where current County and Federal offices are located.

In addition to baseball, the stadium would create the largest Downtown concert venue and could be used for additional events. Other sports events and gatherings could also take advantage of the ballpark. And since the venue will be City-owned, the economic benefit would be the City's. Surrounding areas would also most likely benefit from new development, as seen in other cities where stadiums are built downtown.
City Hall site benefits as indicated by the Urban Design + study.

Assuming expected approval by City Council, the purchase of the Triple-A franchise should get the green light from baseball officials within the next few weeks.

City Council Meeting Agenda:

City May Demolish City Hall for Ballpark

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Loop 375 West Extension Grows Eastward

The scope of the upcoming Border Highway West extension grew by one mile to the east recently when the Texas Department of Transportation unveiled the latest plans for the Loop 375 extension. The project's limits will now stretch from US-54 near Chamizal Park to just south of the I-10/Paisano/Sunland Park interchange. A new interchange has also been included at Coles near Paisano just east of Downtown.

Access mostly blocked south of downtown.
The Border Highway's intersections near the downtown international bridges will be largely limited and mostly blocked off, creating a true expressway feel. Commuters will have to exit east or west of downtown to access the areas, using new interchange ramps that will access Paisano Drive including the new interchange at Coles. Westbound commuters will have an additional exit at Campbell which can be used by those who wish to avoid using the tolled portion of the highway.

Eastward, the State's strategy may be to continue the managed toll lanes currently under construction east of US-54 onto the portion of the Border Highway just added to the project. Plans are already underway to add a toll lane in each direction on Loop 375 from the Zaragoza port of entry up to the America's interchange. In addition, an extra inside lane was included in each direction when the Loop 375 main lanes were constructed from I-10 to Montana, and they remain unused today. If these unused lanes are also changed to managed toll lanes, the State could have managed lanes on Loop 375 from Montana south through the entire stretch of Border Highway, and continued west of downtown to the I-10/US-82/Sunland Park interchange.

The alignment of the highway's 8-mile westward extension has not yet been decided, though it would be surprising to see the State choose the so called Railyard A option considering it would cut right through the historic Chihuahuita neighborhood and require the acquisition of many properties through eminent domain. Border A is the optimal choice; it would run south of the neighborhood and along the Rio Grande River.

Railyard A would cut through historic Chihuahuita.
Further north, the options split again as the tollway reaches the Asarco property. The Railyard B option would basically hug I-10 along the property up to Executive where it would take a turn west and align with Paisano once again. The optimal choice would be Border B as it would run along the same path as Paisano and separate itself from I-10 to truly become it's own highway. Commuters may be less apt to use the tollway if it simply sits to the side of I-10.

The State will present its choice for the tollway's route in a meeting scheduled for November 2012. Additional steps in the process include the environmental study and developing Context Sensitive Solutions, which is the State's goal to tailor the highway to the surrounding community. This includes aesthetics and design elements. TxDOT has become much more serious in recent years in regards to trying to produce visually appealing projects.

TxDOT presented the new plans to City Council on June 19, 2012, and to the public at a meeting at UTEP on June 20.

Border Highway West project website:

TxDOT May Fast Track I-10, L-375 Projects

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

City Purchases Downtown Parking Structure

City Council voted today to approve the purchase of a 157-space downtown parking garage near the Convention Center. The City agreed to pay $1.4 Million for the structure, noting the importance of its location near the downtown cultural districts, Union Plaza, the Golden Horseshoe shopping district, the Plaza Theater, and the convention area. The parking structure is located at 120 W. San Antonio Ave., at the corner of Santa Fe Street.

The purchase is a strategic move for the City. It immediately provides additional parking spaces for convention area events, and it also gives the city prime real estate for future development projects. In the Downtown 2015 plan, the area was designated an ideal location for additional hotel space.

City Council Agenda item (PDF):

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Newest Aldea Master Plan Reveals Changes, Districts

The developer for the future Aldea El Paso smart code project has made several tweaks to the latest version of the Master Site Plan, including relocating two hotel sites and grouping areas into distinctive districts. And a new map shows the combined area of both the Aldea and Montecillo smart code developments, which are adjacent to each other but have two different developers.
The districts now defined by the plan are: the Rambla district, which is the town center part of the development; an office district which lines both sides of Mesa Park Blvd.; the Walmart district, which now includes a smaller building in the parking lot, most likely a destination restaurant; an anchor retail district, which is to the south of the Walmart area; a freeway retail district; two housing districts; two hotel districts which look to include two large hotels and possible ancillary buildings; and two retail/housing districts that serve as entryways into the development from Mesa. The final large district is labeled "Campus" and is defined by the number of beds available. It is unclear what the focus of this district will be, but the name may denote some sort of school. A separate "convenience center" will be located at the corner of Executive Blvd and Interstate 10.

The project website's new plans seem to focus largely on the Rambla, the wide winding tree-lined boulevard which will be the development's main town center. Conceptual images of the Rambla are included with the master plan maps, and show planned senior housing, multi-family housing, a theater, a fashion anchor, street retail, liner retail, and surface and structured parking.

The new plans also contain a new Parking Grove, which will be used by "one-time" visitors who are accessing the Rambla town center. It will be located immediately to the east of a row of multi-family housing. The grove will be bisected by Village Way, which will become a pedestrian only walkway west of the Rambla and terminate in a large staircase the leads to the new Walmart. A new street called Aldea Drive will also connect the Rambla to Mesa and terminate at the fashion anchor.

The two new hotels will now both be located at the development's main intersection, at Mesa Park Blvd. and the Rambla boulevard (an extension of Rio Bravo). Originally, only one hotel was slated for the same intersection, at the southwest corner, and another hotel was planned for the southern edge of the Rambla, nearest Executive Boulevard. According to the new plan, one hotel will be located on the northeast corner and one on the northwest corner.

The developer may break ground within the next year, based on an incentives deal it currently has with the City. It is unclear which phases will be built first, though Walmart is fully committed and may be the first area to see construction.
Aldea El Paso website:

Aldea Image Emerges; CA Architect Firm Lists Aldea/Montecillo as Projects
'Aldea' to Create Urban Village on West Side

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Schuster Extension May Include Pedestrian Underpass, Roundabout

Plans for the State's proposed Schuster re-alignment and extension over Interstate 10 may include a roundabout which incorporates a pedestrian underpass, helping to remove foot traffic from what is sure to become a busy intersection. The realigned roadway will be called Spur 1966, an homage to UTEP's historic national championship win in basketball nearly 50 years ago.
The roundabout will be placed where Schuster currently turns into its S-curve when travelling west. A new off-shoot will become the new Schuster and travel directly west through existing parking lots, over I-10, and connect to Paisano and possibly the new Loop 375 west extension. The current interchange at Schuster and I-10 will remain.
According to preliminary conceptual images, pedestrian passageways will be built underneath the proposed roundabout, allowing UTEP students to travel from parking lots to the campus without interfering with vehicular traffic. Designs are preliminary and subject to change.

Construction could start in spring of 2013 and be completed by fall of 2014. The Texas Department of Transportation hopes to have the environmental assessment ready by summer's end.

TxDOT Project Page:

UTEP Plan Shows Schuster Realignment

Thursday, June 14, 2012

NE Retirement Community Could Spring Up By 2013

The Public Service Board's master planned retirement community adjacent to Painted Dunes Golf Course may begin construction as soon as next year, according to a newly released Master Zoning Plan. The 427 acre development will be built in three phases, with Phase 1 starting in 2013. Construction on all phases should be complete by 2023, according to the plan's timeline.

The layout of the community will be a gently curving grid, with several pedestrian and bicycle paths following north-south and east-west streets. Higher density buildings will be located towards the center of the development creating a small town center which will be highlighted by a central park and a civic building that will serve as a visual landmark. Densities will decrease outward from this area, transitioning from apartments/condos to town homes and row houses to single-family homes towards the outer edges of the community. A row of senior apartment buildings will line the golf course.

Views of the mountains are considered especially important and used in the positioning of streets and green spaces. Special attention is also given to Community Form and Design, with the following expectations:
►The District theme has a vernacular aesthetic of El Paso desert southwest.
►The general form should be one of interconnected neighborhoods with traditional rectangular architectural forms; narrow streets and laid out in a grid pattern; and reduced yard space (reduced setbacks) that is balanced by more open space that is strategically placed and integrated into the District.
►Multiple residential product types per Neighborhood are encouraged, with traditional components such as porches and patios, portals/gateways and paths, vibrant color, and native building materials.
►Enhanced views to the Franklin Mountains and central communal space.
►Enhanced views of open space and green corridors for long views and for pedestrian circulation.
►Native landscape materials, with focused landscaping for impact.
►Native plant materials and irrigation systems favor reclaimed water, grey water, roof water, and surface stormwater, as appropriate and practicable.

Phase 1 includes areas closed to the golf course and US-54 and could result in 462 housing units and 200,000 square feet of non-residential indoor space, including civic buildings, community centers, and commercial uses (restaurant/retail). It is the largest of the three phases and also includes the majority of the highest densities.

The project would be the first retirement community in El Paso, an anomaly considering these communities are popular in most cities in the southwest. The City hopes to entice retirees, especially military, to choose El Paso as their retirement city.

The Master Zoning Plan will go before City Council on June 26, 2012 for approval.

City Council Agenda item (PDF):

PSB Readying NE Retirement Community Master Zoning Plan
Painted Dunes Retirement Community Plans Move Forward

Monday, June 11, 2012

I-10 Project Plans Show Major West Side Changes

Additional lanes, reconfigured ramps, a new gateway, and collector-distributor lanes are all part of project plans for I-10 on the west side of El Paso presented by the Texas Department of Transportation at a June 5, 2012 community meeting. Meanwhile, "managed" toll lanes previously planned for the interstate are nowhere to be found.

New Gateways west of Executive Boulevard.
A new gateway would run along both sides of Interstate 10 from Executive Boulevard to the proposed interchange at Mesa Park, a new boulevard which will take commuters through the new Aldea El Paso smart code development and connect with Mesa Street to the east. The current westbound on-ramp and eastbound off-ramp at Executive would be eliminated and moved to Mesa Park.

Ramps at Resler do not interact directly with the main lanes.
The bulk of construction will occur further west, as east and westbound travelers wanting to exit on Sunland Park Drive or Resler will all exit onto new collector-distributor lanes which will run parallel to the interstate, allowing through traffic to remain unaffected by on- and off-ramps. Collector-distributor (C-D) lanes will "collect" traffic entering I-10 and only allow the traffic to enter towards the extremities of the C-D lanes. The biggest issues currently facing west side drivers are tremendous slowdowns caused by traffic entering I-10 at Resler and Sunland Park, and these new lanes will help to eliminate bottleneck congestion on the main lanes.

An important focus of the project is to improve the I-10/US-82 (Paisano) interchange, most likely due to its connection to the future Loop 375 extension from Downtown to the west side. This interchange will most likely be a terminus of the future tollway, important in helping relieve the interstate of some traffic. Additional main lanes are also added from Executive Boulevard to the Sunland Park westbound exit and eastbound entrance ramps.
Newly configured interchange at I-10/Sunland Park/US-82 (Paisano)
The project was first mentioned in 2008 as part of the City's Comprehensive Mobility Plan, and "managed" toll lanes were originally part of the plan. The toll lanes would have been located on the inside lanes of I-10 from Mesa east to Paisano where they would continue onto US-82 (future Loop 375). The project plans released this year show no signs of the toll lanes and instead show a true focus on leaving all of the main lanes free.

The 5.75 mile project would stretch from Executive Boulevard to Mesa Street (west side) and cost an estimated $150 million to complete. In comparison, the Border Highway West extension could cost upwards of $750 million. No timeline has been given for construction, but recent comments by Texas Transportation Commission chairman Ted Houghton suggest this project may become a reality sooner rather than later.

TxDOT Project Page:

TxDOT May Fast Track I-10, L-375 Projects

Sunday, June 10, 2012

PSB Readying NE Retirement Community Master Zoning Plan

The Public Service Board has submitted a master zoning plan application to the City for 427 acres in northeast El Paso for a future retirement community of off US-54 which will be heard at the June 14 City Plan Commission meeting. The development will focus on land adjacent to Painted Dunes golf course, immediately to the north and east of the club.

The City is hoping for a 10-year build out with areas closest to the golf course seeing development first. The entire project could result in 1,500-2,000 units once complete. The plan shows a continued interest from the city leaders in enticing retired military to choose El Paso as their retirement city. The master zoning application was originally slated to come before the City Plan Commission in February 2012, according to a proposed schedule  in a November 2011 presentation by the PSB. City Council action should soon follow.

City Plan Commission agenda item (PDF):
November 2011 PSB Presentation (PDF):

Painted Dunes Retirement Community Plans Move Forward

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Americas Interchange Seven Months from Completion

If all goes as planned, the current work on the interchange under construction at Interstate 10 and Loop 375 on the east side should be completed in seven months time. This includes the three direct connectors that are part of the project: eastbound I-10 to northbound Loop 375; southbound 375 to westbound I-10; and northbound 375 to westbound I-10.

The years-long project has had January 2013 as its target completion date since it began, and those involved with the project have previously stated that they expect to make or beat the deadline. To date:

  • 110 out of 114 drill shafts have been constructed,
  • 80 out of 93 columns have been completed,
  • 49 out of 78 bent caps have been constructed,
  • 191 out of 363 concrete beams have been placed,
  • 5 out of 76 bridge deck spans have been poured, and
  • 16,670 square feet out of 76,648 square feet of retaining walls have been constructed.

Once completed, El Pasoans travelling to and from the far east side will no longer have to contend with traffic lights at Rojas when transitioning from one freeway to another. The next direct connector in line for construction will be the westbound I-10 to northbound 375 ramp which could start construction soon after completion of the initial three ramps.

Americas Interchange June Newsletter (PDF):

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Council Chooses Streetcar Route

A new streetcar route was chosen by City Council at its June 5, 2012 meeting. The new route creates a narrow loop for the future El Paso streetcar route which will use both Oregon and Stanton streets to connect Downtown and the UTEP area. The streetcars will travel north on Oregon Street, turn east at Glory Road/Baltimore, then south on Stanton Street. A downtown loop will travel east on Franklin Avenue, south on Kansas Street, west on Father Rahm, and north on Santa Fe Street.

The two-block-wide route allows the city to expand the streetcar's economic development footprint, and should help foster development along Oregon, Mesa, and Stanton streets. The route also runs through popular pedestrian areas such as UTEP, Cincinnati, EPCC's Rio Grande Campus, Downtown, Union Plaza, Segundo Barrio, the downtown international bridges, and the Convention Center.

Downtown Loop
The choice of the preferred route now allows the environmental and engineering assessment to move forward, which must be completed by the end of September to ensure up to $90M in state funding for the construction project. No word yet on how the trolley route will affect the planned Bus Rapid Transit route slated for Oregon Street.

Council to Choose Trolley Route
Trolley Project Could Get $90M in TxDOT Funds
Push for Trolley System Re-Emerges

Sunday, June 3, 2012

'Fountains' Images Show Possible Design Aesthetics

New color and material schematics of the upcoming Fountains at Farah development are shedding light on the possible design scheme of the shopping center's buildings and include conceptual store and restaurant signs that do not necessarily reflect tenants that will actually occupy the spaces.

Due to pending lease stipulations, some of the new names El Pasoans may be introduced to when the center opens in fall of 2013 will not be officially revealed for a few more months. In addition, tenants that appear in the images and elevations may simply be included for illustrative purposes and may not actually have signed leases with the developer.

It is uncertain what percentage of retailers will be new to El Paso and which ones will be relocations or new sites. The incentives agreement that the retailer has with the city states that any anchor tenant relocation will result in a penalty on the incentive, and is based on a relocation from any large shopping center (500K+ sf) in a pre-determined area in east El Paso and the lower valley. Additional locations will not be considered penalties unless the original east side locations close within ten years from the agreement's start in 2008. The penalty may also be avoided if the space that was formally occupied by the anchor tenant becomes 90% occupied.

The schematic designs are from January of 2012 and may be subject to change. The center's highlight is a long pedestrian promenade, with large anchor tenants located behind double decker parking structure. Fifty to 60% of the project's available space has been leased, according to previous statements by the developer. Major construction has already begun on the 55 acre site, led by EMJ Construction of Dallas.

'Fountains' Construction Start, Opening Dates Revealed
Fountains at Farah Design Changes Submitted

Saturday, June 2, 2012

TxDOT May Fast Track I-10, L-375 Projects

The Texas Department of Transportation could make two large freeway projects a reality within the next few years if expected state funding comes through, according to Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton in a recent El Paso Inc. interview.

Border Highway West Concept
The first project is a new eight mile Loop 375 extension from Downtown to the west side which could be completed as soon as 2016. Currently, the freeway becomes a boulevard just east of the Downtown international bridges, and ends abruptly at Santa Fe Street. The project would cost an estimated $750M and would be a tolled freeway that would roughly follow the same route as Paisano. The project would extend from Park Street along Downtown's southern border and westward to the interchange at Doniphan and Paisano.

Concept of completed I-10 Project at Sunland Park
The second project would be $150M widening of I-10 on the west side which would include new travel lanes and collector-distributor lanes. In previous TxDOT plans, the travel lanes would continue onto the new Loop 375 west extension at Sunland Park Drive. Collector-distributor lanes would handle on- and off-ramps and "collect and distribute" the traffic without having a slowing affect on the freeway itself. This project would extend from Executive Center Boulevard eastward to North Mesa.

TxDOT will hold community meetings in El Paso this month to inform the public on these the projects. The first will be on June 5 and will cover the Interstate 10 Collector-Distributor Lanes Project. More information can be found here. The second will be on June 20 and will cover the Loop 375 Border Highway West Extension Project. More information on that meeting can be found here.

The projects have been in the works for years and are part of the larger El Paso Comprehensive Mobility Plan unveiled in 2008. The video below was created in 2009 to highlight the Southern Relief Route, or what transportation officials feel would be a valid alternative to Interstate 10, helping to relieve congestion on the city's main freeway.

Other projects mentioned by Houghton:
$60M - Realign Schuster at UTEP and create a new overpass at I-10. Extend Schuster to Paisano and new 375 West Extension. Read our previous post about the project here.
$19M - Spaghetti Bowl Upgrades we posted about here.
$8.4 - Dual Roundabout Project at Paisano and Alameda we posted about here.
$7M - Widen Sun Bowl Drive

El Paso Inc. article:
TxDOT Border Highway West site:
El Paso Mobility website: