EL PASO, Texas - Public comment during Monday's special El Paso City Council meeting got heated and led police to escort one speaker out of the room. The commotion also brought an abrupt end to the meeting that included representatives, the city attorney and other staff members.
Jud Burgess was one of a handful of speakers who addressed the council in regards to the location of the new downtown arena. City staff had just explained to representatives the financial benefits of building the new arena within 1,000 feet of the Convention Center.
Some speakers at the meeting argued there is no legal reason the city must locate the arena within 1,000 feet of the convention center and reps should consider other downtown locations that would not displace residents.
Texas House Bill 1964 is a state incentive that allows the city to collect a state sales tax for a 10-year period on businesses within 1,000 feet of the convention center.
Burgess was given the standard three minutes to address the council but argued the placement of the $180 million voter-approved arena deserved more public discussion.
"If I am breaking the law then these guys can arrest me. If I am breaking the law they can arrest me," Burgess said.
Despite being asked to step back from the podium, Burgess became agitated and was removed from the meeting by two police officers.
Burgess has filed a formal ethics complaint against El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser and city Reps Lily Limon, Cortney Niland, Peter Svarzbein and Jim Tolbert over their participation in a closed-door meeting with some of those opposed to the original proposed location of the downtown arena in the city's Duranguito neighborhood.
Cary Westin, deputy city manager for economic development and tourism for the city of El Paso, was one of the staff members explaining how the city could financially benefit from locating the downtown arena near the convention center.
"What the house bill and the Texas tax code does is make El Paso eligible to capture state sales tax within 1,000 feet of the convention center property for the development of a hotel project, the convention center hotel project. So the hotel has to be 1,000 feet from the convention center property line to be able to get that capture of the state sales tax incentives," Westin said.
The city would then be able to capture the entire state sales tax generated by businesses within that 1,000 feet. Hotels, restaurants, shops, parking facilities and possibly the downtown arena would be among the businesses generating the state sales tax that would be returned to the city of El Paso to be used for a convention center and hotel project. The city can do this once for a 10-year period.
Westin said the idea behind the legislation was to encourage and enhance convention center operations statewide and allow cities to have better convention center business.
"Essentially, what we are able to do with the state capture is not only be able to incentivize the hotel project and be able to get that deal done and utilize state incentives as a big part of doing that, but then we can go to the comptroller with additional facilities or infrastructure projects that provide direct benefit to not only the convention hotel but convention center business. "
City rep. Lily Limon called the meeting informative.
"The arena does not have to be in the convention center (footprint). If the arena is in the convention center, then potentially it would raise additional revenues. The incentives coming from the state, are based on the businesses in the footprint. So, those things I understand clearly," Limon said.
Limon believes the city should look at potential arena sites outside of downtown. She pointed to Cohen Stadium as one option.
But city attorney, Sylvia Firth, reminded council the arena must legally be built in downtown El Paso.
The city will have to make the case of adding the arena to the convention center and hotel project to the state comptroller's office for approval.