News Column

El Paso turns attention to other projects, including $180M arena

June 8, 2014

By Aaron Bracamontes, El Paso Times, Texas

June 08--With Southwest University Park open for baseball games Downtown, the city of El Paso is slowly switching its focus to future bond projects, specifically a multi-purpose arena.

Final recommendations for the arena, along with the children's museum and multi-cultural center, will be presented to the public next month.

The arena, multi-cultural center and children's museum were approved by 71 percent of voters who cast a ballot in the November 2012 quality-of-life bond election.

While construction on the $19.3-million museum, the $5.8-million cultural center and the $180-million arena won't begin until after 2015, plans have already begun with three workshops hosted by HKS Inc., the architectural/engineering firm hired to develop a master plan for the three projects.

Some members of city council have declared the ballpark a success and feel that it's time to ride the momentum and move forward on the arena.

"People are tired of going to the Pan-American Center in Las Cruces for a Shakira concert or the Harlem Globetrotters when we are a bigger city," city Rep. Cortney Niland said. "They (voters) were the ones that overwhelmingly supported the quality-of-life bonds in 2012. When you have some of these stars in your favor, it is time to make a move."

Others believe that it is safer to put off the larger projects until the end of the 12-year period that the city has to complete the bond projects.

"The most important thing is that we have time," city Rep. Lily LimÓn said. "This is not something that has to be done right away. It can be done right."

Destination El Paso General Manager Bryan Crowe sees both sides of the argument. The debt for the larger projects may be easier to work with towards the tail end of the 12-year period. The problem may be that the $180 million for the arena may not buy the same type of arena in 10 years.

"The community is also really excited with the stadium opening," Crowe said. "We are seeing something in the community succeed where some were skeptical. It furthers peoples drive to see the next big thing."

Designs and locations for all three projects have not been announced but at a meeting in May, the HKS showed six arenas and one currently under construction that would be comparable to what El Paso may build.

The arenas are the Intrust Bank Arena (Wichita, Kan.), Bon Secours Wellness Arena (Greenville, S.C.), Van Andel Arena (Grand Rapids, Mich.), Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena (Jacksonville, Fla.), Huntington Center (Toledo, Ohio), BOK Center (Tulsa, Okla.) and the PPL Center (Allentown, Penn.).

Most of the arenas hold between 10,000 and 16,000 people at full capacity. The largest is the BOK Center at about 19,000 and smallest is the Huntington Center at about 9,300.

The Bon Secours Wellness Arena was the cheapest, and one of the oldest, to build at about $68 million in 1998. The most expensive is the Intrust Bank Arena at about $206 million in 2010.

The PPL Center is set to open this year and it cost about $177 million. It has a capacity of about 10,000.

Crowe said the target for El Paso's arena would be at above 12,000.

"Having a first-class arena in our area will change the type of events we can get here," Crowe said. "These new facilities today are technologically advance compared to what we have."

Even though the Don Haskins Center and Pan-American Center hold as many seats as the potential new arena would, there is still no comparison, Crowe said. The new arena would allow for more seats during a end-stage concert, have more luxury suits, stronger hanging rigs and other new technology.

"Concerts are more demanding than the ones that were touring in the 60s and 70s, which is when our current facilities were built," Crowe said. "The Don Haskins Center is a basketball arena only. The multipurpose center is made for exactly that. It can support multiple events."

Crowe said the arena would not just be for large events. The seating areas can be separated and sectioned off for smaller events such as an amphitheater setting.

"It's not as simple as 'we have a big box people can fit in and it is free that night," Crowe said.

Many tours and acts are not even looking at El Paso because they know there is no facility that can host them, Crowe said.

"We are selling the types of venues we have to their respective markets," Crowe said. "A lot of it is going to have to do with the acts themselves. There was also a time when a lot of acts were just not touring at all."

Crowe said he does not know where the arena will be built, but he knows it will not be where the Abraham Chavez Theatre and Convention Center are located. City council has made it clear that the Abraham Chavez Theatre is off limits, The language on the bond election specified that the arena has to be Downtown.

And having multiple venues will also give El Paso more options, Crowe said.

"Having all those venues gives us great availability to host different types of events," Crowe said. "It is having the ability to have flexibility. It lets you say yes when an event wants to come in."

LimÓn said she hopes that an arena and the Abraham Chavez Theatre can exist in the same city, but she is more concerned about the multi-cultural center and the children's museum because they will be used on a more regular basis.

At a public hearing in May, LimÓn said she that she wanted to know about the non-arena projects. The public will get to see final plans and recommendations on July 2.

LimÓn said she fears that the public is not aware of what it will be getting because,in her opinion, the public hearings have not been well attended.

"I don't know if it is location or what the reason is there has not been a lot of people at these meetings," LimÓn said. "With these projects being such a major part of the bonds you would hope more people would attend. Maybe one or two more meetings would be good."

The more time El Paso takes on the arena, museum and center right the better it will turn out, LimÓn said.

While Niland wants to move forward, she said the process will take some time as the city tries to acquire the land to build the projects. Unlike the ballpark where the city owned the land.

That is why she wants to start the process because it could take several years until construction begins.

Niland said she believes that later this year, council will discuss what quality of life projects the city will focus on from 2015 to 2018.

"I'm hoping we can move forward in the process with these high-profile projects in the second set of three years," Niland said. "I know I will be pushing for that."

Aaron Bracamontes may be reached at 546-6156.

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(c)2014 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)

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Source: El Paso Times (TX)


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