El Paso

Chamber of Commerce President: Building arena at Convention Center site could be catastrophic

Chamber of Commerce President:...

City Council pulling a 180 saved the Duranguito neighborhood from demolition, but now it's back to square one.

For months, the City pushed for the new Downtown arena to be built just South of the Convention Center, even spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars surveying and researching the original location for the arena.

City Council, returning from its holiday vacation, now has to find a new location for the arena.  A possible location is just a few blocks north of the original plan where the Convention Center now stands.

City Rep. Cortney Niland says building the arena at that site would save tax payers at least $20 million. Others, like former Mayor John Cook, are against the move because any construction could force the city to cancel all scheduled convention center events for three years.

At this point, no one seems to know where they're going to put the arena, or how long it will take.

"I think it is very much potentially catastrophic," said Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce President Richard Dayoub, who didn't mince words when talking about the Convention Center site as a possibility. "The longer we wait, the more expensive money becomes. The more expensive money becomes, the fewer seats you get in your arena."

Dayoub said one of the big concerns is that the Convention Center is actually built on the third level and there are two levels of parking below it with more than 900 spaces that could disappear if the new arena is built on that site.

"That means no parking for the ballpark when you go to Chihuahuas games," Dayoub said. "That means no parking for Abraham Chavez for concerts or the Plaza Theater for concerts or the symphony, or a host of other events that go on Downtown.

Dayoub said any demolition or delay would complicate things for downtown businesses. Asked where the arena could fit, Dayoub responded: "It's physically impossible."

"That's the problem," said Joe Gudenrath, executive director of the Downtown Management District. "Nobody knows at this point and it's going to take months to determine what the impact is, what's feasible. These types of things that are going to push it out for another six months or a year, it's going to mean a lesser product."

"Demolition of the Convention Center is not in the works, not at all," said City Rep. Lily Limon said, who led the effort away from the Duranguito site.

She thinks there's a way an arena would fit at the Convention Center without demolition.

"How much money would we save if we don't have to buy land, move people, pay for their rent for so many months?' Limon asked. "How much money can we save if we used a city owned property?"

According to Convention Center officials, it hosts events more than 120 days a year, or an average of once every three days, producing about $2.7 million in annual revenue with some dates already reserved through 2021.

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