After more than a week of suspense, Mayor John Cook announced Thursday that he will not veto plans for the Downtown ballpark, so Triple-A baseball appears to be coming to El Paso.
The project will involve tearing down City Hall and moving the city's governmental operations elsewhere.
It would amount to about an $80 million taxpayer investment in Downtown. Under the terms of an agreement the City Council approved on Tuesday, the new ballpark must be ready for the team that is now the Tucson Padres to begin the 2014 season in El Paso.
Cook had kept the city on edge since last week, when he said he was mulling over a veto. Because city Rep. Emma Acosta abandoned her support for the project on Tuesday, stadium supporters did not have enough votes to muster the three-fourths majority required to override a veto.
"I have given this issue much thought and soul-searching and have come to the conclusion that it is not in the best interest of the city of El Paso for the mayor to use his veto power," Cook said in a statement. "Based upon the information I have been provided by the city manager and the investor group, I believe any delay might cause us to lose this opportunity."
Opposition to the project had built since June, when the plan was announced just days before the council voted to commit the city to building a $50 million stadium if MountainStar Sports Group -- private investors including El Paso business magnates Paul L. Foster and Woody Hunt --could secure a team.
Cook said he shared opponents' concerns that the project was not subject to voter approval and that it involved demolition of City Hall. But on Thursday, he said he was convinced that the plan was the only practical way to take advantage of a once-in-a-decade opportunity.
"Whether I believe baseball is the silver bullet is beside the point," he said.
With City Council's approval on Tuesday of the stadium-related measures -- and the mayor's statement Thursday that he won't veto it -- MountainStar is expected to complete its purchase of the Pacific Coast League's Tucson Padres yet this week.
The city now must purchase buildings, including the one that houses the El Paso Times. It also must move city workers, hire a company to demolish City Hall and hire an architect and construction manager to design and build the new stadium.
In addition, the city in November will ask voters to approve a 2-cent increase in the hotel-occupancy tax to fund $36 million of the cost to build the stadium.
Acosta said she was disappointed the stadium would not be put to a vote. But now that it appears to be a reality, she said she would push voters to support the hotel-tax increase so that the burden of much of the stadium expense doesn't fall on city taxpayers.
"We have to move forward," she said. "We need to keep going."
But Bill Aleshire, an Austin attorney who represents stadium opponents, on Thursday reiterated his claim that the stadium project violates Texas law because it wasn't put to a vote.
"The law requires them to get voter approval of the venue project and the method of financing," he said.
Opponents could challenge the project with a lawsuit or by raising objections with the Texas attorney general, who must approve the revenue bonds that make up part of the project's $81 million finance package, Aleshire said.
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