El Paso

Council expected to discuss new arena location Tuesday

EL PASO, Texas - ABC-7 will be at Tuesday's City Council meeting where city representatives could vote to change the location of the soon-to-be-built multi-purpose arena. City Representative Cortney Niland says building the arena on the same site as the city's Convention Center would save taxpayers millions of dollars.

"We own that entire footprint," Niland said, "We budgeted $20 million for site acquisition. That is $20 million we could save the taxpayer."

One of the reasons the city wants to build the arena Downtown is state incentives. If the arena is built within 1,000 feet of the convention center, it qualifies to keep some of the state sales tax money it collects. "We can claw back state sales tax, probably to the tune of $25 million," Niland said.

The City Rep. said the $25 million would be added to the $180 million the community approved for the project. "We would be able to deliver a better (arena) without having to put more burden on the taxpayer," Niland said.

The original "targeted footprint" for the arena would be bound by West San Antonio Avenue, South Santa Fe Street, West Paisano Street, and Leon Street. Opponents are against the city demolishing buildings with a historical and cultural value in order to build the arena there. City Attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth told council last month 17 families would be affected by the original proposed location. An estimated 47 people would be relocated, Borunda Firth said.

The City said eminent domain could be used to acquire some of the properties in the original arena footprint.

Thursday, a Downtown El Paso resident filed a petition to recall Niland, stating the District 8 City Rep. failed to protect her constituents from eminent domain and relocation. Friday, Niland told ABC-7 City Council understands the frustrations of residents who could be affected by the arena.

"We are listening to them, we are taking the initiative," Niland said, adding this latest proposal to consider the convention center site for the arena has nothing to do with the recall petition filed Thursday. "I will not let political pressure keep me from doing what is right for my community," Niland said.

"You can't put a price on people and El Pasoans, and so at the end of the day, once we were able to have a public dialogue about (the original location), it became clear there is serious opposition," Niland said, "We need to come up with a solution that is a win-win for everybody."

The convention center and its neighbor, the Abraham Chavez Theater, need major upgrades, Niland said, hinting plans for a Mexican-American Cultural Center and the arena can be combined to preserve the theater. The City owns the complex where the convention center and theater sit.

"Representative Limon has been very creative about finding a way to dovetail the public performing arts with the Mexican American Cultural Center so you can take the two and work together towards a really magnificent venue and still preserve that great performing arts hall," Niland said.

"We can look to other communities like Omaha, Nebraska who said, 'Why not combine the two? Why not have an arena and a convention center in the same facility? You don't have to pay maintenance on both. You don't have to pay utilities on both,'" the city representative added.

"I'm feeling pretty good. This is a huge relief. There are a lot of people who are going to sleep well tonight," said Dr. Max Grossman, the vice chair of the El Paso County Historical Commission.

Grossman said City Representative Lily Limon asked him to organize a meeting with four members of city council and members of the opposition. The meeting took place Friday morning and went quite well, Grossman said.

"I think there are going to be major announcements at Tuesday's City Council meeting. We are hopeful for a positive outcome," Grossman said, "What's important for us is that dispossession and the demolition of historic buildings be left off the table."

Grossman said he hopes the city will move more in the direction of "heritage tourism and honor and preserve our history rather than demolish it."

The City Friday declined to comment on the proposal involving the convention center site. "We look forward to hearing council's discussion on the matter and prefer to hear the discussion before commenting," the City said in a statement emailed to ABC-7.

Look for complete coverage of the downtown arena story from City Hall on air, online at kvia.com and on the KVIA ABC-7 Facebook page. You can also get breaking details from tomorrow's meeting as e learn them by following @abc7breaking on Twitter.





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