Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Downtown Update: United Bank, Luther Building Make Strides

Two major construction projects in downtown El Paso are just one block apart, and work on both is apparent while maneuvering orange barrels on North Campbell Street.

The first, United Bank of El Paso del Norte, is well along on its way to becoming an office building. The structure, located at 401 E. Main, began life as a parking garage several years ago but was purchased by the local bank in order to create a new office structure downtown.
The façade on the new United Bank building is nearly complete. Decorative wrought iron highlights the arches.
The original garage structure has all but disappeared beneath a new façade structure. And a bell tower at the buildings southeast corner has become an easily identifiable feature that can be seen from Interstate 10.

United Bank tower.
The first floor of the building will become United Bank's downtown location, while the second and third floors will remain parking levels. A fourth and fifth floor have been added and will become office space. The resulting 92,000 square foot building is of Spanish Colonial design.

Large arches now line the front of the building featuring impressive wrought iron work that mostly hide the parking area within the structure. Sizeable suspended awnings hang over storefronts at street level. The new façade varies little from the original design with just a few changes to windows on the upper levels.

Construction continues on the City’s Luther Building just one block to the south. Workers have stripped much of the blighted industrial façade to reveal the original brickwork underneath.

Monday, April 29, 2013

'Piazza' Progresses: Modern West Side Project Has Old World Character

Loft Units Could be Ready by June

One of El Paso’s most unique communities continues its march to reality on the city’s west side, and units will be ready for occupancy this summer.

Piazza Escondida, a Winton Homes Group project located at 6350 Escondido Drive and adjacent to the company’s headquarters, will ultimately deliver more than 20 residential units surrounding a central plaza area complete with landscaping and a fully functional fountain.
The Live/Work units have garage access at the plaza level.
Pavers are already in place at the Piazza, a development influenced by old world residential areas such as those found in the oldest Italian villages where a diversity of housing options surround a central gathering plaza. 

Three larger buildings and five detached “City Homes” will make up the Piazza. Currently, two of the three planned multi-family buildings are under construction.

One of those buildings is on the property’s eastern edge and will have four loft-style condos on the upper level, each with its own unique floor plan covering approximately 1,000 square feet. Each loft will include amenities like exposed duct work and beams, exposed brick detail on walls, and concrete floors. The plaza-level (basement) will have garage access for these units.
Scaffolding covers the unfinished façade of the Loft/Terrace Homes building at the Piazza Escondida on El Paso’s west side.
Immediately below the lofts, the project includes four professional office units that will front the current headquarters’ parking lot. 

Flanking the lofts and office spaces are two level, two bedroom units each with its own attached double car garage. These “Terrace Homes” also include two and half bathrooms each and generous balconies. 

Weekly Edition, Issue 4

The Weekly Edition, Issue 4, has arrived! Take a look at the newest issue of our Weekly Edition, by clicking HERE.

In this edition:
  • Piazza Progresses - Modern West Side Project Has Old World Character
  • 'Fountains' Tenant Names Emerge - Store, Contractor Websites Reveal Possible Retailers
  • Downtown Update - United Bank, Luther Building Make Strides
  • Sundt Completes Prep Work for New Beaumont Medical Center on Fort Bliss
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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Vote on Central El Paso Walmart Postponed

City Grants Two Weeks for Site Plan Tweaks

Matthew McElroy
A vote to allow a Walmart Neighborhood Market to be constructed in Central El Paso has been postponed for two weeks in order to allow the company to make changes to the site plan. The City Plan Commission (CPC) made the decision after some debate on the project’s proposed design.

Matthew McElroy, Director of the City Development department, recommended denial of the rezoning application at the April 18 meeting, citing issues the Planning Division has with the layout of the building and parking lot on the property. McElroy provided alternatives that the City wants Walmart to consider.

A Walmart representative countered, though, saying the City’s site concepts do not fit the discount store chain’s plans. Walmart also indicated that traffic would backup onto Montana Avenue and Chelsea Street in the City designs. Additionally, trucks would have a difficult time maneuvering through the parking lot.

In the end, board members decided to delay the vote until the next CPC meeting. Walmart representatives will return with an updated site plan, though it is unclear any considerable changes will be made.

Even if the CPC denies the rezoning application, Walmart can still appeal directly to the El Paso City Council which has the power to override the CPC vote.

The 35,500 square foot store will be located at the corner of Chelsea Street and Montana Avenue if approved.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

‘Quiet Zone’ Project to Benefit UMC, Five Points

Seven Railroad Crossings to be Closed 

A deal is in the works to create railroad Quiet Zones in central El Paso that would eliminate or minimize train horns at specific rail crossings, and Union Pacific Railroad may help finance the effort with $1.155 million in funds.

In return, the City will permanently close seven railroad crossings to help qualify the crossings as Quiet Zones. An agenda item detailing the agreement will be reviewed at the April 23, 2013, City Council meeting.
Eleven crossings in the UMC area will be affected. Some will be closed.
The first of two areas that will benefit from the Quiet Zones is that around University Medical Center. A total of 11 railroad crossing are affected here. Seven crossings will receive improvements to help qualify them as Quiet Zones. They are at San Marcial, Grama, Copia, Concepcion, Chelsea, Glenwood, and Clark Streets. Three will be permanently closed, at Estrella, Cebada, and Boone Streets. Another crossing, at Cadwallader Dr. near Riverside High School, will also be closed.

Further west in the Five Points area, three crossings will be improved. They are at Rosewood, Maple, and Piedras Streets. The three that will be closed are at Birch, Cedar, and Elm Streets.

Toll Lanes to be Extended on Loop 375

CRRMA to Steer Americas Managed Lanes Project

Frontage Road Bridges to be Built Over Railroad Tracks 

The Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority (CRRMA) has entered into an agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) that will allow the CRRMA to help the Americas Managed Lanes project move forward. The nearly six mile project will add an inside toll lane in each direction on Loop 375 from the Zaragoza Port of Entry to Pellicano Drive.
Managed toll lanes will extend from the Zaragoza POE north to Pellicano Drive. Toll gantries are in yellow.
The scope of work in the agreement includes three tasks. The first is the development of a preliminary engineering/schematic design, which includes typical sections of the improved highway, current and projected traffic volumes, toll infrastructure layout, and cost estimates.

The second provision in the agreement requires the CRRMA to hold community meetings and collect input from residents in the area. Two public meetings are required as well as a public hearing.

The final task involves the development of an “environmental document and the associated technical reports” that would lead to environmental clearance for the project. 

Last year, the CRRMA posted a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for Environmental and Preliminary Engineering services for the project at its website.

The Americas Managed Lanes project would add a third lane in each direction in what is currently the median of the freeway; the additional lane would be a toll lane. This would require the filling-in of median gaps in current overpass structures, such as those at Socorro Road, Alameda Avenue, and North Loop. The toll lane would continue the lanes currently under construction along the Border Highway between US-54 and Zaragoza Road.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Weekly Edition Newsletter, Issue 3

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bus RTS Line Set to Open Next Year

Contract Awarded for Mesa RTS Corridor

El Paso’s first bus Rapid Transit System (RTS) line could be up and running in just over a year. That’s according to a presentation given to the El Paso City Council at its April 9, 2013 meeting as part of a vote to award the contract for the project.
The Mesa Corridor route will stretch from downtown El Paso to the city’s west side.
Sun Metro’s Brio RTS system will first run along Mesa Street and stretch from the Downtown Transfer Center to the Westside Transfer Center on Remcon Circle. Twenty-two RTS stations will be located along the route.

The line will use uniquely branded 60-foot articulated buses which stop less frequently than normal bus routes. Special branded and landscaped stations will distinguish the line from regular city buses. Station amenities part of the construction include canopy lighting, raised platforms, wind and sun screens on shelters, pre-paid automatic ticket vending, benches/leaning rails, bike racks, trash cans, and wayfinding pylons.

The City has awarded the $9.8 million contract to Martinez Bros. Contractors, LLC of El Paso. Funding comes from a mix of sources which include 2011 Certificates of Obligation, federal funding, and the Texas Department of Transportation Mobility Plan.

Three additional lines are planned. Alameda Avenue should begin shortly after the Mesa route, with Dyer Street following in 2015. Montana Avenue is scheduled for completion in 2016.

Construction on the Mesa corridor route is scheduled to begin in June of this year with service beginning in July of 2014.

The City Council agenda item can be found at http://goo.gl/31k8v.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

CRRMA Gets Update on Proposed Northeast Parkway

Initial Highway Design Could Be Scaled Down

A brand new tollway could start construction in the next few years and give tractor-trailer traffic an alternate route around El Paso, helping to relieve Interstate 10 of some commercial congestion. The Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority (CRRMA) received an update on the proposed Northeast Parkway at its April 10th meeting.
The proposed tollway would circumvent the most congested parts of I-10.
Built as a four lane highway, the Northeast Parkway will eventually have interchanges at Loop 375, Dyer Street, US-54, McCombs Street, Martin Luther King Boulevard, NM Highway 404, and Interstate 10. The 21-mile project will span from Loop 375 near Railroad Drive in northeast El Paso, travel northwest across the state line into New Mexico, and connect to Interstate 10 near Anthony, New Mexico.

Monday, April 15, 2013

History Made: Asarco Smokestacks, Former City Hall Demolished

Events went largely as planned this past weekend as the dormant Asarco smokestacks and the former City Hall building were demolished on consecutive mornings in El Paso.

The former City Hall building took only 10 seconds to be demolished.
Saturday morning saw the towering Asarco stacks fall over like chopped-down trees as explosives helped fell the historic columns. Spectators gathered in parking lots around UTEP and on the sides of surrounding streets, though Interstate 10 and Paisano Drive were closed for the event. The boom of dynamite at each column’s base signaled the coming fall, and in seconds both stacks were gone.

A slight breeze brought dust from the demolition over I-10 and may have been more than expected; the freeway remained closed for over two hours total, longer than planned and causing expected congestion on Mesa Street due to diverted traffic. Otherwise, the mostly calm morning air helped to keep the dust near to the ground, and officials could have hardly received more cooperative weather.

Winds were stronger during City Hall’s demolition on Sunday, though officials had previously stated that wind strength would not be a factor in their decision to proceed. Precisely at 9:00 a.m., explosives brought down the building in a matter of seconds. The northern half of the structure went first, and helped pull down the southern section, most likely in order to pull the southern facing wall away from the nearby railroad trench.
Dust from City Hall's implosion took over downtown as winds blew it towards the east.
Clouds of dust quickly drifted eastward as breezy conditions turned windy, engulfing downtown’s highrises in an eerie haze. Unlike the Asarco aftermath, piles of rubble many feet high could be seen after City Hall’s implosion. Officials stated that cleanup would begin immediately.

Weekly Edition Newsletter, Issue 2

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Walmart Plans Store for Central El Paso Neighborhood

Chel-Mont Chico's Tacos May Be Demolished to Make Room

Walmart is eyeing the corner of Montana Avenue and Chelsea Street in central El Paso for a new Neighborhood Market location, but it may have to overcome a rezoning hurdle in order to construct the new grocery store. And construction could mean the razing of a Chico's Tacos location. 
Walmart would like to build a 35,500sf Neighborhood Market
at the corner of Chelsea Street and Montana Avenue.
The retail giant has planned a 35,500 square foot store that would squeeze into a narrow 3.1 acre lot in the Chel-Mont area and has submitted a rezoning application to the City Plan Commission that would allow construction. Under the current plan, the building would be located on the northern side of the property with a parking lot facing Montana Avenue.

City Flyer Highlights New Department Locations

The former City Hall building has been vacated for weeks now in anticipation of demolition to make room for the upcoming Triple-A ballpark. And now officials have mailed out a flyer to let residents know where City offices can be found.
Though most departments have been moved to the new City Hall at 300 N. Campbell Street, several have been placed in temporary offices in and around downtown including the O’Rourke Center, the Tillman Center, and the Union Plaza Transit Terminal pending the renovation of the Luther Building and the 811 Texas building. The renovations are scheduled for completion in Fall of 2013.

The new flyer can be found at the City’s home page, www.elpasotexas.gov.

Info: (915) 541-4000.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wiggins Road Project Marks Beginning of UTEP ‘Campus Transformation’

The University of Texas at El Paso has closed portions of Wiggins Road to begin construction of a pedestrian friendly plaza that will connect the University Library and the Health Sciences and Nursing Building. The plaza will include amenities like curving benches, shade trees, and solar-powered light fixtures. Vehicles will still be allowed to pass through the area once completed, but the roadway will become a weaving street that will force cars to slow down.

According to Greg McNicol, associate vice president of facilities services, “Cars will be allowed to pass through the plaza, but will be required to slow down as they weave through it.” The plaza will also contain a walking maze measuring 20 feet in diameter.
The $900,000 project is scheduled for completion before students return for the 2013 fall semester, funds coming from allocations to the Health Sciences and Nursing Building. This is the first of several ambitious “Campus Transformation” projects which the University hopes to complete in time for the school’s Centennial Celebration in 2014.

Updates to road/path closures can be found at the University’s UTEP On the Move website: http://www.onthemove.utep.edu/


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

'Demolition Weekend' Nears

Time’s Up for Asarco Stacks and City Hall 

Two enormous demolition events will occupy El Paso’s coming weekend as both the Asarco smokestacks and the former City Hall building are levelled. And authorities are asking residents to stay home and watch the events unfold on television.

Asarco No More

Asarco is first in line. The massive columns at the former copper smelting site will be knocked over like falling trees in the early morning of April 13, 2013, between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. Diagrams of the “fall zones” show that the stacks will tumble in an easterly direction into predetermined footprints. Berms made of piles of earth will help block dust from travelling laterally and raised sprinkler systems will also try and hold dust close to the ground. The taller chimney stands 828 feet tall, approximately as tall as a 70 to 80 story building.

Smokestack fall zones are shown as red-striped areas in this diagram.
Traffic along Interstate 10 and Paisano Drive will be closed 15 minutes before the event. I-10 could reopen as soon as 15 minutes after the smokestacks fall, but Paisano could stay closed for three additional hours.

The demolition of the stacks is part of a much larger site remediation project, headed by Project Navigator’s Roberto Puga, trustee for the site. Puga hopes to have all remediation completed by 2016 in order to eventually sell the property to a developer. According to the Trust, the explosive demolition will be conducted under the direction of Brandenburg Industrial Service Company of Illinois and Dykon Explosive Demolition Corporation of Oklahoma.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Weekly Edition Newsletter, Issue 1

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

US-54 To Get Extra Lanes Between Hondo Pass and Transmountain

The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) is looking to add an additional main lane in each direction on US-54 between Hondo Pass Avenue and Woodrow Bean-Transmountain Road in northeast El Paso, and a community meeting is scheduled to gather public input on the upcoming project.

The additional lane would create a total of three main lanes in each direction, and the roadway would be widened to accommodate the new capacity. Currently, the freeway shrinks to two lanes in each direction north of Hondo Pass.

Another aspect of the proposed project is to reverse the location of the off- and on-ramps which will create "X" configurations as opposed to the current diamond setup.
Concept of ramp reversals at US-54 and Diana Drive.
No timeline has been revealed for the project. The public meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 24, 2013 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Forum Theater-Foyer of El Paso Community College's Transmountain Campus. It will be conducted as an open house with no formal presentation.

TXDOT Public Meeting website: http://goo.gl/6J7SF

Monday, April 1, 2013

MCA Debuts Biomedical Research Park Plans

Concept image of a future Biomedical Research building planned for the MCA Campus.
The Medical Center of the Americas (MCA) Foundation earlier this year unveiled its concept plans for a new Biomedical Research and Technology Commercialization Park that will be located at the campus. The Park will occupy 13 acres of City-owned land at the corner of Gateway East Boulevard and Revere Street in central El Paso.

Initial plans call for the construction of an 80,000 square foot building that will house "office suites, principal investigator offices, incubator  space, laboratories, core research elements, prototyping laboratories and/or machine shop facilities, and flex space that can be built out for specific tenants’ needs," according to the website. Tenants in the facility could include those from the public and private sectors as well as nonprofit and for-profit organizations.