An unspecified Sun Metro property located in Downtown El Paso is being environmentally assessed as a possible alternate site for the city’s Multipurpose Performing Arts and Entertainment Center.

There are three Sun Metro properties located Downtown: Union Plaza Transit Terminal and parking garage on San Antonio Avenue (south of Southwest University Park and the Judson F. Williams Convention Center); the Bert Williams Downtown Santa Fe Transfer Center south of Paisano Avenue (which also houses the streetcar terminal); and the Union Depot property on San Francisco Avenue (just west of the ballpark), which serves as the Amtrak Train Station and a bus maintenance hub used by Greyhound and El Paso County.

City Engineer Yvette Hernandez during the Sept. 19 Bond Overview Advisory Committee meeting disclosed that a Sun Metro property was undergoing an environmental assessment, but did not specify which property. Hernandez also did not say what, if any, other site options are being assessed.

Composed of volunteers appointed by the El Paso City Council, the BOAC meets at least quarterly to review the status and financial progress of the quality of life bond projects approved by voters in 2012. Hernandez serves as the city staff liaison to the committee.

The Sun Metro site being assessed, which has not been publicly identified, is among alternatives presented to the City Council in executive session in June by the firm hired to look for other options, said city Architect Daniela Quezada in a phone interview with El Paso Matters.

“We’re in what’s called the ‘due diligence’ period,” Quezada said, adding that she could not disclose potential sites not owned by the city because it may need to acquire the real estate.

The city-owned Sun Metro property that houses Union Depot in Downtown El Paso may be among the locations the city is considering as the future site of the arena. (Cindy Ramirez / El Paso Matters)

Possible alternative sites for the project have not been discussed publicly by the City Council since January when it abruptly voted to scrap the project site in the Union Plaza area encompassing the Duranguito neighborhood.

The Paso del Norte Group and the 2015 Downtown plan identified three areas where the city’s Downtown arena project could be built. The site labeled C encompasses a Sun Metro property.

It’s not the first time the Sun Metro area south of Paisano Drive has been identified as a potential site for the arena.

Studies from the Paso del Norte Group and the 2015 Downtown plan developed by the city identified the area as a possible site, according to city documents. Those plans also identified the recently nixed Duranguito area as the preferred location for the project.

A study completed by HKS in 2015 identified four possible areas for the arena project: behind the current City Hall building on Campbell Street; south of the convention center in Union Plaza; north and south of Paisano Avenue in the Chihuahuita neighborhood; and south of Interstate 10 near Kansas Street.

A 2015 HKS Architect study shows areas where the design firm thought the city’s Downtown arena project could be built.

The $180 million signature bond project had long been stalled by lawsuits by preservationists opposed to building it in Duranguito until the city voted to abandon that plan and resolve the remaining litigation. The final lawsuit, which has now ended, involved an archeological permit issued by the Texas Historical Commission that would have allowed the city to raze the buildings on the site.

Rick Bonart, chair of the bond committee, asked questions about the status of the project during the Sept. 19 meeting.

“It feels kind of like we’re in the dark at this point in time,” said Bonart, who was appointed to serve as BOAC chair during the meeting.

Quezada said she would have to ask the city’s legal department whether the alternate locations could be discussed in executive session at a future BOAC meeting.

In a phone interview with El Paso Matters, Bonart said he’s not aware of the potential sites and that he is more concerned about the city completing the project within the available funds.

The city has about $153 million remaining in its budget for the Downtown arena, according to the presentation given to BOAC. The funding that has been spent has gone toward land acquisition, appraisals, engineering fees and project consulting, among other expenses.

The Duranguito neighborhood in the Union Plaza area of Downtown, pictured in July 2022. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

“What I’m going to try to do moving forward, which is why I started asking about it, is, ‘Where are we? Where are we going and do we have the finances to get us there?’” Bonart said.

The BOAC is tentatively scheduled to meet again in November.

The alternative site assessments and findings will likely not be presented to the City Council until January, Quezada said.

Pivotal decisions about the arena this year:

  • The City Council in March authorized paying the San Francisco-based M. Arthur Gensler & Associates, Inc. architectural firm up to $25,000 to look at other possible sites for the arena project.
  • The El Paso County Commissioners Court in March discussed possibly purchasing the buildings from the city or having a joint meeting to discuss the future of the Duranguito site. No such meeting has been scheduled.
  • In August, the city instructed city staff to remove the fencing around Duranguito to reopen Chihuahua Street for through traffic and turn on the street lights. The removal of the fencing has not been scheduled. The buildings will remain fenced in.

Elida S. Perez is a senior reporter for El Paso Matters. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities...