Sale of Triple-A Padres to El Paso group not complete; announcement expected Thursday

EL PASO, Texas - The sale of the Tucson Padres to MountainStar Sports Group in El Paso has not been finalized, according to a Tucson Padres official.

The official said he could not say when it was expected to be completed and referred that question to MountainStar Sports Group.

MountainStar Sports Group announced Wednesday afternoon that a news conference is scheduled for Thursday afternoon in El Paso with MountainStar Sports Group and Branch Rickey, president of the Pacific Coast League.

On Sept. 20, El Paso Mayor John Cook announced his decision not to veto City Council's decision to build a ballpark on the current site of City Hall.

At the Sept. 18 City Council meeting, city representatives passed three agenda items 4-to-3 that will pave the way to demolish City Hall  and allow for a ballpark to be built in Downtown El Paso.

"Either way I was going to make some people happy, and some people not happy," Cook said on Sept. 20.

Cook said he expects city staffers to begin moving out of City Hall in March. That will allow time to demolish the building and begin construction on a $50 million stadium that is expected to be ready for a Triple-A team for the 2014 season.

"We'll probably be out, most of the departments will be out earlier than that," Cook said. "The department that will have the most work to do will be the information technology folks. They have to tap into the fiber that runs up off the street and all of our IT equipment will go over to the new building which is the building that Mr. (Paul) Foster donated to the City."

MountainStar Sports Group has agreed to purchase the San Diego Padres Triple-A affiliate that currently plays in Tucson, Arizona.

On Sept. 18 Josh Hunt, a member of the ownership group, said he'd received an email from the Pacific Coast League telling him the deal would likely only occur if city council voted to stay on a previously proposed timeline for baseball to be played in Downtown El Paso in 2014.

In early July, a Major League Baseball vice president toured University Medical Center's trauma center this summer as part of the vetting process to see if an El Paso sports group should be allowed to buy the Tucson Padres and move the team to El Paso.

Earnell Lucas, director of Security/Facility Operations for Minor League Baseball, visited the hospital and toured the Sun City in early July during a three-day visit.

"At the major league level, we have a certain agreement with the level 1 trauma center with respect to having at least basic life support at the ballpark," Lucas said during his UMC visit which was captured on a YouTube video. "The standard is a little bit lower at the minor league level but given the proximity (to the stadium) I think there can be a great opportunity for a great relationship."

Lucas was asked by Dr. Alan Tyroch,  UMC's trauma center director, if the requirement for a level trauma 1 center was for the players or for the fans.

"It was initially in place for the fans," Lucas said. "Most of our (player) injuries that come off the field are usually breaks and things of that nature that don't necessarily require a level 1 trauma center. But having said that we had an owners meeting in Arizona in which one of our owners passed away from a cardiac event. So as a result of that baseball put a standard in place as a result of what we learned from that experience."

At the end of the nearly two-minute video Lucas said he had a wonderful stay in El Paso.

Bob Cook, Regional Economic Development Corporation president accompanied Lucas on his tour of El Paso and said it was a thorough visit.

They took a helicopter tour and "looked at everything," according to Cook. They drove by all hospitals, UTEP, and met with different local and federal law enforcement officials.

Lucas looked at community attractiveness, safety and security, demographics, economics, weather, quality of life, and health care.

Cook said it was very similar to visits from other private companies looking to relocate to El Paso.

Lucas also is vice president of educational programming and investigative services for Major League Baseball.

Read below for part of Sept. 18 article:

After a City staff presentation on the ballpark and City Hall, MountainStar Sports Group co-owner Paul Foster addressed City Council.

Foster acknowledged the concerns of some of the council members  that the decision is not going to the voters but then he mentioned that only two of 20 of the most recent stadiums built nationally have gone to a vote. He said City Council has to make the decision it's elected to make.

"This opportunity is in your hands," Foster said. "I personally think it's a good opportunity. The ownership group has pretty much done all it can do."

Foster also said he has been involved in remodeling Downtown buildings and has worked with the City on San Jacinto remodeling and other projects. He added that true Downtown revitalization started when the El Paso Art Museum was built and with the restoration of the Plaza Theatre and that neither was approved by voters.

Not everyone attending the City Hall meeting was for the stadium. Stephanie Townsend Allala, a local attorney and member of Quality of Life Voters for Democracy, questioned the City's authority to make the decision to build a ballpark without a funding source before Nov. 6.

She then asked if MountainStar Sports Group's decision to donate all of its profits from the Triple-A team to local charities was in the contract with the City and how people would know the money was really being given to charity.

"Are they going to open up their financial records for us to review publicly?" Allala asked City Council.

Foster was then given the opportunity to answer Allala's questions.

"As we've stated before we did make a decision for at least 10 years, which doesn't mean it ends at the end of 10 years, it's just the amount of time Woody (Hunt) and I felt going out on a commitment like this," Foster said. "But we will commit 100 percent of the profits of this enterprise to charitable causes in the El Paso area."

While members of the audience applauded, Allala asked Foster "how will we know?"

"My answer to how you'll know is simply to look at our track record," Foster said as Allala appeared to smirk at him. "As Woody and I were talking about (this) he said 'you know, if we were trying to put more money on the bottom line, wouldn't we just quit giving money away?'"

That got a laugh from some in the crowd and even Allala, who was standing next to Foster.

"No, we will not put it in the contract because we are not interested in being audited by naysayers out there and you can take our word for it," Foster said before being interrupted by Allala, who asked Foster not to call her names.

Foster finished by saying "if you don't believe us then don't take it into account.

There were a couple of moments of levity from speakers, including when KISS-FM morning show co-host Tricia Martinez said, "People say El Pasoans won't support a losing team but how many El Pasoans own a Dallas Cowboy jersey?"

Earlier in the meeting, before the ballpark discussion was taken up, members of the public cheered when one of the speakers called for City Manager Joyce Wilson's job.

Shortly thereafter, cheers rose again when a member of the public came to the defense of Niland. Former Mayor Ray Salazar is attempting to recall Niland for her part in supporting the Downtown ballpark.

"This is about our right to vote, stupid," said one member angrily.

While the mayor has the power to veto a vote by City Council, if he did so, it would have to come back to a vote by City Council at a later date. If this occurs, six city representatives will have to vote against the mayor to ensure a ballpark is built in Downtown El Paso.

On Monday, Wilson tried to get ahead of questions about the ballpark by holding a news conference. In that conference a lengthy discussion, Wilson and staffers talked about funding.

According to the city's chief financial officer if the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT tax) passes in November the ballpark would be paid off within the 25 years if their predictions hold true.

According to the documentation the City's total debt would be around $96 million, but in a 25 year span using HOT tax money, ticket surcharge money, rent from the ballpark and parking fees the city could see a return of $121 million.

Without the HOT tax, however, the City would be on the hook for around $79 million that would have to come out of the general fund.

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