Thursday, August 29, 2013

Updated: Unnamed 'Economic Development' Projects on City Council Agenda


Former Mayor John Cook had planned to speak to City Council on Tuesday to lobby for a new downtown hotel. That's according to an El Paso Time's story concerning Cook's attempt to register as a lobbyist.

Cook appeared at City Council on behalf of Jim Scherr, the El Paso businessman who turned the abandoned International Hotel building into the gleaming DoubleTree Hotel in Downtown a few years back. The story indicates that Cook was trying to lobby City support for a "new" hotel for Downtown but was denied the opportunity due to a City ordinance preventing elected officials from becoming lobbyists within 24 months of leaving office.

Also, after the City Council meeting, City Manager Joyce Wilson and City Rep. Carl Robinson indicated that multiple proposals have been made for the future use of the Cohen Stadium property. Wilson briefed City Representatives in executive session behind closed doors. City officials will weight their options and decide which direction to take for the property. No details on the proposals were released to the public.

Original Story:

Items to be Discussed in Executive Session 

El Paso’s City Council will discuss four items at this week’s meeting labeled as “Economic Development” projects, all in Executive Session. Three of the projects are located in Northeast El Paso and one is set for downtown. The projects have not been made public and will be discussed behind closed doors. 
Officials could weigh their options for the future of the Cohen Stadium site at the next City Council meeting.  A water park and a soccer stadium/complex are two of the rumored possibilities for the 50 acre site.

Two of the items are related to building an “entertainment facility” in the Northeast part of town and could be in relation to the City-owned Cohen Stadium and the 50 acre site on which it sits. The El Paso Diablos baseball team played its final game ever at the stadium this past weekend and no concrete plans exist for the use of the facility in the future. 

There has been speculation in the past several months concerning Cohen Stadium’s future, with some mention of possibly building a water park on the land. City officials previously mentioned interest from an outside company in constructing a water park, though no formal plans were announced. Others have mentioned transforming Cohen into a soccer stadium using 2012 Quality of Life bonds. 

The stadium opened in 1990 with a seating capacity of nearly 10,000 as the home of the El Paso Diablos Double-A baseball team. The team was sold in 2004 and moved to Springfield, Missouri. A new Diablos team formed in 2005, becoming part of an independent league and continuing to use the stadium up to this year. Earlier this year, the stadium was deemed unfit for a Triple-A club coming to El Paso in 2014, leaving officials with the task of determining the site’s future. 

Mega site location in Northeast El Paso.
Another item involves building an “industrial” facility in Northeast El Paso. This could be related to the Edge of Texas “Mega Site,” a 1,042 acre shovel-ready parcel of land along US-54 near the New Mexico border. The City-owned property can quickly be sold for industrial purposes. With so much available land in the Northeast part of town, it is possible that the unnamed industrial project could be on a different property.

The final Executive Session item is in relation to building a hotel in downtown El Paso. It is unclear if it relates to renovation of a current building or a brand new hotel built from the ground up. Council recently approved two downtown hotel projects, including an incentives package for the former Artisan Hotel building and a permit to allow changes to a historic building for a possible boutique hotel.

Hotels have previously been rumored for certain properties, including the current parking lot across Main Drive from San Jacinto Plaza. The former City Hall property was also mentioned as a hotel site in years past but will be the future baseball stadium for the coming Triple-A ball club.

The City may be interested in supporting a new convention hotel for downtown. City officials have clashed in recent years with the ownership of the Camino Real Hotel due to deteriorating conditions and a general lack of upkeep at the convention hotel. The hotel is the largest in downtown El Paso and located directly across the street from the Convention Center. 

It was recently revealed that the Camino Real only keeps about 120 rooms in operating condition, out of 357 rooms, significantly reducing the number of downtown hotel rooms. The Camino Real Hotel is owned and operated by Grupo Empresarial Angeles of Mexico City.

If City Council members deem it appropriate, they may discuss and/or take action on these items in open session. City Council will discuss the items at the August 27, 2013 meeting.