Cohen Stadium could become water adventure park

City's timeline to build ballpark; healing bond division

EL PASO, Texas - A water adventure park could be heading to the current site of Cohen Stadium. City Manager Joyce Wilson Thursday said a private company had approached the city with a proposal to build the water park in the Northeast El Paso site.

Wilson said the water park could co-exist with the stadium because the land is big enough to fit both.

"They came and said 'we have a proposal and we want to put together a public private partnership' and it involves the city having a significant financial stake in it and so we just need to do our due diligence." Wilson and Mayor John Cook said the company asked its name not be publicly disclosed because its still looking at other cities.

Cook said El Paso was "number one on the list." The company is a national firm with water parks throughout the state, said Wilson. She said she had set up a team to visit the company's other water parks in the state and evaluate how other municipalities formulated the partnership with the private entity.

The city is also considering approaching El Paso Community College about transforming Cohen Stadium into a high quality amateur baseball complex for school and college teams to use. She said the baseball complex and the water park could both fit on the site.

The current tenant of the city-owned Cohen stadium is the Tigua tribe. "That group, has I think recognized, financially, it'd be very difficult to compete (with a AAA baseball team). They actually approached us about the lease and entering a transition and we just said 'look we want to work with you. We want to make this mutually beneficial and certainly we don't want to do anything that could economically hurt the Diablos or the Tiguas."

The Tribe owes the city about $70,000 in stadium utility costs. Though Cook said the tribe has made some improvements to the stadium that could change the amount they owe the city. Wilson said the city is not necessarily seeking payment of the utility costs and is focused on a cooperative transition out of the lease.

An opponent to the ballpark deal said he is leary of another private partnership. "(They're doing the same thing) By using some city assets to invest into another corporate enterprise.Now we already know from the analysis of the baseball plan, what kind of deal they can negotiate. That was a bad deal, very bad deal," said Ron McGinnes, who believes the city's contract with MountainStar Sports Group, the private investors who bought the Tucson Padres AAA affiliate, was not beneficial to the city.

McGinnes contends the city should be entitled to profits of the stadium because it is footing the bill for the construction, which could cost $50 million.

Voters on Tuesday approved a proposition that raises the Hotel Occupancy Tax in El Paso by two percent. Visitors who stay in El Paso hotels will pay for about 70% of the stadium construction through that tax.

Cook said it was time to heal and move forward with the ballpark plan and the $473 million worth of quality of life projects voters also approved. "That means making sure that the 30% of the voters who didn't have that faith and confidence in us or who thought it was going be an unfair tax burden on them - that they don't feel disenfranchised."

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