By Andrea Hutchins
The coming new year holds tremendous potential for the community. We’re seeing the fruits of voters’ wishes come to fruition in the Children’s Museum, new parks, the Mexican American Cultural Center, and so much more.
The voters were clear in their decision, and business and civic leaders have risen with them to deliver on projects such as these that take the best of the community and create spaces that are expressive, participatory, and celebratory.
With this perspective in mind, it is disconcerting to see a small group of loud voices suggest that the recent City Council elections are a mandate to end or curtail these projects.
It appears the Jan. 3 City Council vote to abandon the Downtown arena project was purposely scheduled when we are least likely to have community input, right at the start of the new year, and at the tail end of the holiday season. Many are focused on other matters and cannot consider this issue fully.
We believe that the community deserves a voice in these matters before any decision is made on their behalf. Community buy-in and support are a must so that we may ensure the will of the public is respected.
The 2012 quality-of-life bond election made it clear that El Pasoans wanted action to take what was good about El Paso and make it great. The city has consistently delivered on the promise to use the bond funds efficiently and judiciously. We have benefited from these projects, citizens continue to enjoy them, and businesses across the community have benefited from the economic development.
These facts alone are hard to contest, but I would argue that completing the remaining projects are crucial benchmarks for the community.
The very vocal minority against the completion of these projects would have you believe that there are no benefits to completing the bond projects. That is simply not the case.
As with the same vocal minority against the baseball stadium, MountainStar Sports has positively impacted Downtown and El Paso with the Chihuahuas and the Locomotives. The economic development impact has been clear, as has something else; community pride.
The arena project is not meant to deny or disregard the history that is already in our community but to enforce it, and even shine a light on it. This generation deserves to make its own history, and we must allow them a space to leave their mark.
I believe, as do many business leaders, that the completion of the bond projects, especially the arena, is necessary. They are a commitment to fulfilling the integrity of the quality-of-life election results, and they are a signal to businesses locally, regionally, and nationally that El Paso is a world-class city with the capacity to host events that will bring people here and keep residents entertained and engaged.
The El Paso Chamber membership has voiced its opposition to abandoning plans for the arena in a survey recently conducted by the Chamber. The overwhelming majority of those who responded believed that the project could still bring new opportunities to the region.
Even many of those that wanted to see the project abandoned did so only because they were tired of the constant back and forth with no solution in sight.
The Downtown redevelopment that was promised depends on projects such as these, and it would be a betrayal of the voters and our membership if we were to abandon these plans.
It is frustrating to see how cavalier opponents of the arena and the quality-of-life bonds are to dismiss the efforts of so many, including city staff, government officials, and the business community. It’s particularly galling given that there has yet to ever be a “plan b” presented to address the needs of the quality-of-life bond projects.
I’m solutions-oriented. Every business leader in this community is and has been, so if there is opposition, “no” isn’t enough. I cannot accept that, and the voters of El Paso should not accept that either.
The El Paso Chamber stands ready to lead the effort to ensure the bond projects get finished. As the major business leader in the community, the chamber has to draw in businesses and business leaders to stand for the projects.
If there’s a debate to be had, we welcome it. If there are arguments to be made, we will engage. We will gladly work to have voices at a table for a robust conversation.
But saying that the voters don’t matter or that these projects should end with no alternative is not only foolhardy but counterintuitive to the need for robust and effective economic development. The community deserves better, and the chamber wants to ensure we reach that goal.
Andrea Hutchins is president and CEO of the El Paso Chamber.