El Paso

Downtown Arena Site: Duranguito back in, Abraham Chavez Theater out

Council approves feasibility study

EL PASO, Texas - El Paso City Council Tuesday approved a feasibility study that will look at areas within a 1,000 foot radius around the Downtown Convention Center as a possible site for the Downtown arena.

In a stunning reversal, the feasibility study will once again include the historic Duranguito Neighborhood, which was taken off the list of potential sites in the wake of an uproar from the community. The study will not take the Abraham Chavez Theater into consideration.

City rep. Lily Limon said she did not understand why the city would reconsider an option that is not feasible.

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. What kind of leadership is that?" Limon said.

For months, the City pushed for the new Downtown arena to be built just south of the convention center in the Duranguito Neighborhood, even spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer dollars surveying and researching the location for acquisition.

The vote to approve the feasibility study Tuesday was 4-3, with City Reps Lily Limon, Jim Tolbert and Peter Svarzbein voting against it.

City Rep. Michel Noe Tuesday asked Council to consider looking at all potential arena locations within a thousand feet of the convention center, including the original site: the Duranguito Neighborhood.

"I think the taxpayers deserve that we look at all options and not just tie our hands," Noe said.

Earlier, City Rep. Tolbert said the city does not have all the information on locations for the arena. He called the PR for the project "pathetic."

"we have had lousy PR from the city on all these projects. And I'm sorry throughout this whole process I and others have urged the city manager to get more info out, yet the PR from the city has been lacking and pathetic," Tolbert said.

City Rep. Carl Robinson called for the council to be transparent with its considerations.

"Sometimes what is said out here, and what is said back there and what is said in other places that some attend, and some are not invited, is not the same," Rep. Robinson said.

One possible location for the arena is the current site of the Convention Center complex.

City Rep. Cortney Niland, not present at Tuesday's council meeting, previously said building the arena at that site of the convention center complex would save taxpayers at least $20 million. Niland said the Downtown arena has to built near the Convention Center in order to qualify for state incentives. The District 8 Rep has touted cities like Oklahoma City, which built arenas and convention centers within the same complex.

Others, like former Mayor John Cook, are against the move because any construction could force the city to cancel scheduled Convention Center events for three years.

At Tuesday's city council meeting, Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce President Richard Dayoub asked council to assure the business community the site selection will not disrupt Convention Center operations.

Dayoub has 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.

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.

City Rep. Claudia Ordaz said the public is losing faith in the council when it comes to turning the 2012 Quality of Life projects into reality.

"It has been four years and the city has yet to break ground on a single signature 2012 project," Rep. Ordaz said.

City Rep. Emma Acosta told the council she fears the city is already losing conventions because the location of the arena is in limbo.

"Demolition of the Convention Center is not in the works, not at all," said City Rep. Lily Limon said, who led the effort to spare the Duranguito neighborhood from demolition. Limon 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 their rent for so many months?" Limon asked. "How much money can we save if we used a city-owned property?"

City reps voted to keep the convention center "operational" during construction of the arena and preserve the Abraham Chavez theater.


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