EL PASO, Texas - Downtown El Paso is changing and there are many more changes on the way thanks to a new tax increment re-investment zone that's expected to pay for millions more in improvements.
A tax increment re-investement zone, or TIRZ, takes the property taxes that increase due to improvements in an area and puts it into a fund to pay for more projects in the area, like those approved this week by City Council.
"The TIRZ exists to do high impact projects in the Downtown," said Matthew McElroy, director of planning for the City of El Paso.
High impact projects like more than 800 new antique-looking LED lighting fixtures in Downtown El Paso, that McElroy said El Pasoans can expect to start to see as soon as 2013.
"These projects are strategic in that they provide the groundwork, the infrastructure for people to take on other projects," he said.
Other projects already on the way include way-finding signs that will help people navigate Downtown, the addition of trees in the central business area, in hopes of creating a streetscape/tree canopy, and tree string lights that will be strung throughout the Downtown shopping district, illuminating the area at night.
"Not only is it a lighting project, but sort of a pedestrian guide project in terms of the shopping district," McElroy said.
In addition to all the new lighting and trees, San Jacinto Plaza will also undergo major renovations, including expanding in size. Since bus lanes are no longer needed around the park, McElroy said the park will expand by ten feet on all sides.
"I think Downtown looks pretty sad," said Lem Arredondo, a sketch artist who likes to sit at San Jacinto Plaza and draw Downtown El Paso scenes. "This city has a lot of history and why not make it beautiful? downtown dies around 7 o'clock or 6:30 p.m. That's it!"
Arredondo was particularly excited about the prospect of additional lighting downtown.
"Light, simple as light," said Arredondo. "Light will bring people Downtown. It looks pretty tetric when it comes to 6:30 p.m. I'm pro beautifying the city. Let's get things rolling, let's get the money circulating, let's beautify this Downtown."
In all, the improvements will cost about $7 million, about $5 million of which will come from the TIRZ.
McElroy said the latest improvements all tie in with other progress Downtown, including the coming trolley project and Triple-A ballpark, which should also increase traffic in the area in the evenings.