El Paso

Will downtown arena succeed without sports?

WIll downtown arena succeed-

EL PASO, Texas - The opinions on the construction of a downtown arena without the possibility of attracting sporting events is mixed across the borderland.

The situation will be a 'losing battle' for the city, according to Las Cruces' Barbara Hubbard.

Hubbard, who is the former Special Events Director at NMSU, is known for attracting major events and concerts to the Pan American Center in Las Cruces. Hubbard is credited for most recently bringing in country superstar Garth Brooks for a five-day concert series.

Tuesday, a judge ruled the expenditure of public funds on a sports arena is not a valid expenditure under the ordinance.

Scott Incerto, attorney for the city, asked the judge, "Does that include sports?"

"I said you cannot build a sports arena, so no," the judge answered.

"That sounds like a losing battle to me then. If it was supposed to be a profitable one, which the city certainly I don't know how they want to pick up another debt factor in their budget," Hubbard told ABC-7.

Hubbard tells ABC-7 the arena needs an anchor tenant in order to sustain the facility.

"The sports scene in this valley, is great due to the Cowboys and the Denver Broncs, as far as football is concerned, and basketball due to the history of UTEP, it's going to be prevalent and even boxing which, is not foremost now but used to be. You stop and think, there's not a league other than the sports area that I know, could be a constant. I just don't see it unless they can do it with it," Hubbard said.

Hubbard tells ABC-7 the Don Haskins Center and the new arena will be competing for a lot of the same events.

"To me, you already have a comparable facility in the city, and it's a state university building and I don't think we're fighting right now to keep the valley healthy and all of not just the fan base for concerts, but even the sporting arial, that Mr. Foster has started. We've got to be wise you know with this area, how many businesses are coming in that could support it. Are we tracking the economic development in both cities and yours particularly," Hubbard said.

She adds the Pan American Center and the Don Haskins compete for events too, and adding the arena into the mix will not fare well for either city.

"We're still in competition for Don Haskins and then you throw another one in the mix, and it really will be a battle," Hubbard said.

In 2015, HKS Architects presented to the city, comparing different arenas in other cities as models for what the downtown arena could include. Each of them included at least one sports tenant.

"It would be the state against the city the way I see it, but to me, again, is it economically feasible at this particular state? Maybe in ten years it will be, if we bring in the economic base for the valley. "

"Sometimes the concert season sometimes the athletic season brings in the most people when we win tournaments, like the girls did a couple of years ago. We packed this house incredibly well."

UTEP's Special Events Director Jorge Vasquez tells ABC-7 it's too soon to tell if the arena will be successful without sports.

"It's hard to say and hard to weigh in on something that yet has to be defined. I think they're still trying to figure out how that's going to be," Vasquez said.

Vasquez tells ABC-7 sports brings in a certain type of atmosphere that can't be replicated.

"Sports brings in you something that a concert doesn't and vice versa. It's different emotions and different experiences and we're lucky to have both."

Vasquez adds the more a building is utilized, the better.

"We try to have the least dark knights as possible, you manage a building this size, our goal as building managers and this goes throughout the industry, is to have the most activity as possible. Not only because you have to pay for the building and the staff, the operation, but it's also kind of the purpose of existing and managing one of these facilities."

Vasquez says it's unclear how soon the arena could start booking events, telling ABC-7 some are booked months and even years in advance.

ABC-7 reached out to city officials about the arena and its interpretation of the judge's ruling, but did not hear back.

Before handing down a ruling Tuesday, Judge Meachum first scheduled for a follow-up hearing on August 1, 2017 based on her ruling, and also asked for a post trial briefing.


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