Thursday, September 20, 2012

No Ballpark Veto; Next Steps for Downtown Stadium

Mayor John Cook announced today that he will not use his veto power to overturn the City's contract for a new $50 million Downtown baseball stadium. The announcement all but guarantees that Triple-A baseball is coming to the City, and City Hall will be vacated and demolished early next year to make room for the 9,000 seat ballpark.

The announcement came at noon in an exclusive live interview with KVIA reporter Darren Hunt and simultaneously at the City's website where the mayor released an official statement. According to media reports, the mayor had provided a tentative veto to the City Attorney's office before leaving El Paso on a road trip, but hadn't yet decided whether or not to veto. In the end, Mayor Cook decided it was in the city's best interest not to veto the baseball contract.

Mayor's Statement

In his statement, the mayor cited three reasons for making this decision. The first was changing his consideration of the baseball stadium and seeing it not as a quality-of-life project but as an economic development project, which City Council often approves, not the voting public.

The second reason was the realization that his preferred location for the stadium, between the convention center and Paisano Drive, would involve acquiring 38 different properties at a cost of around $25 million and most likely require the usage of Eminent Domain, which could be a very drawn out process. City Hall's most recent appraisal at $13 million was much lower than previous estimates and comparable to similarly-sized building in Downtown.

Future Baseball Stadium Site
And the third reason cited by the mayor was his concern that opposition to the ballpark would hurt Quality of Life bond items slated for the November ballot, feeling that the groups in support of the ballpark are also in favor of the Quality of Life projects which the mayor supports.

Next Steps

Now that the drama surrounding the City Council vote and Mayor Cook's possible veto has passed, the City and MountainStar Sports group will take their respective next steps in making Triple-A baseball a reality in 2014.

MountainStar Sports group now awaits the Pacific Coast League's ultimate stamp of approval that will allow the sale of the Triple-A club to be finalized, ensuring the team's acquisition is a done deal. Members of the group, including Paul Foster and Josh Hunt, have indicated that this step may take place any day now.

The City will now move to finalize purchases of buildings in other parts of Downtown which will house City departments. This includes the El Paso Times building at 300 N. Campbell Street and another at 801-811 E. Texas Ave. The City will also be working on the contract for a design architect, creating demolition and utility relocation plan packages for City Hall, and finalizing relocation plans.

City Manager Joyce Wilson has stated that she hopes to be completely out of City Hall by early 2013 at which time demolition could begin, leading to a tight schedule for ultimate construction of the baseball stadium. In construction terms, 2014 is not very far away.

HOT Ballot Issue

One of the most important pieces of the baseball puzzle may be the upcoming ballot item that could help pay for the great majority of the baseball stadium. An item in the November election will ask voters to approve a 2% increase in the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT), which hotel patrons will pay while staying in hotels in the city. In El Paso, this amounts to an average of $1.40 more on a night's stay per hotel room. If the item does not pass, the City will be forced to look elsewhere to fund the stadium's construction.

Read more about the HOT ballot item in our post here.

Mayor's Statement (PDF):
City's Next Steps (PDF):

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