Downtown El Paso continues to improve, but uncertainties and challenges remain for full revitalization to take place, according to a report that will be handed out to City Council members today.
The El Paso Downtown Management District completed its 2012 annual report, and the highlights include the largest number of events ever held in Downtown in a calendar year, a parking study, a new online business directory and a facade grant program that helped increase property values.
The next step is to increase private investment in Downtown, the organization's leaders said. Other issues include completeing all of the construction projects in the area without disturbing current activity and parking.
The Downtown Management District is a municipal improvement zone that focuses on Downtown economic development with initiatives and programs. It has an agreement with the city, and most of its funding comes from a Downtown building property tax of 12 cents per $100 of valuation.
"We're very happy with the direction Downtown is going," said Veronica Soto, executive director of the management district. "Downtown is growing to becoming a key cultural and economic center. But we still
need to continue to attract investment and make sure during this high construction time people still come to the area."
Soto called the facade grant program one of the district's biggest successes. Started by the city about five years ago, the Downtown Management District offers grants of up to $25,000 for renovations that restore and beautify building exteriors.
About 35 grants have been awarded, and the district estimates that the rate of return is $8.12 per dollar. That number was calculated by dividing the property tax increase by the Facade Improvement Program contribution.
Some of the current grant projects include the construction of United Bank at 401 E. Main, which has turned a parking garage into an adobe-like building with wrought-iron gates.
"It just adds value to Downtown both visually and economically," city Rep. Susie Byrd said.
A record number of Downtown special event permits were handed out this year, the report said. Twenty-one events received the permits -- compared with 13 in 2011 -- which generated $1.5 million in entrance fees and brought 123,000 people Downtown.
Soto contributed the record to both renewed interest in Downtown and the creation of a streamlined process to request a special permit. The district has created a simple online form to make such requests, which previously had to be done by visiting several city departments and filling out multiple forms.
"It's a great idea. It makes things so much easier," city Rep. Emma Acosta said. "Maybe we need to think about getting this for the rest of the city."
The district is working on making parking easier Downtown, a major concern with the area's redevelopment. A study revealed that there are 6,095 parking spaces, most of which come from 16 garages.
Soto said the district has already identified parking zones based on different areas -- Union Plaza, Arts District and Shopping District -- and the organization has already secured 15 different sites for parking. More angled parking to increase spaces is a goal of both the city and the district.
"Parking is going to be key," city Rep Cortney Niland said, who represents Downtown. "If you have a baseball game going on and another event, we have to find ways to make Downtown accessible."
One of the district's primary responsibilities is to keep Downtown clean with daily litter pickup, sidewalk and trash receptacle washing, and other services. The report estimates that though a partnership with El Paso County Correctional Facilities 31,105 community service hours were used to save more than $225,000 in labor costs.
The district spent $187,996 on sanitation, its second-highest expense. Marketing -- which included Twitter, Facebook and millions of media impressions -- was the biggest cost at $200,000.
The district has also created a business directory for Downtown and boasted about the new Downtown circulator bus, but did not provide numbers.
The report concluded with two primary concerns: continued investment to make Downtown a cultural hub and the possibility of construction inhibiting or detracting potential visitors.
Some of the goals for 2013 to address those issues are way-finding programs, a recycling program, solving parking concerns, championing investment incentives and continued marketing for the upcoming projects in Downtown.
"There's a lot to be excited for Downtown," Niland said. "I commend the Downtown Management District for the work they've done, but we're not done yet. It's exciting right now and we want to continue to get it better."
Evan Mohl may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6381. Follow him on Twitter @evanmohl
Downtown by the numbers
-- 4,571 residential units
-- 800 Downtown businesses, 300 shopping establishments and 50 restaurants.
-- One-third of all Downtown employers have been in business in the area at least 50 years.
-- 6,095 parking spaces Downtown.
-- Information: downtownelpaso.com
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