Even though the city is opting to sell the buildings it bought in Duranguito to build the Downtown arena, the Union Plaza area may not be off the table as the future site of the project.
Without confirming or publicly releasing a potential site for the arena, several recent City Council actions point to the area by the Union Depot train station as a possible new site.
“The City is not disclosing the locations of properties looked at as part of assessment as it could affect the City’s negotiating position regarding potential real estate transactions,” city spokesperson Laura Cruz-Acosta said in an emailed statement to El Paso Matters.
On Oct. 10, the council passed the first reading of an ordinance change for the Union Plaza District to allow for the construction of a larger variety of businesses, including a multipurpose center and an arena, city documents show. The city is also doing an environmental assessment of a Sun Metro property in Downtown El Paso – possibly the Union Depot, which also houses Greyhound and county buses.
In the Duranguito area, which is now off the table, the city owns 18 properties that it purchased within the former arena project footprint, said City Attorney Karla Nieman, in an email statement to El Paso Matters.
“The City spent $13.2 million acquiring properties within the area and will have all properties reappraised. Updated appraisals are needed to determine the properties’ fair market value for today’s real estate market,” Nieman said.
The City Council on Oct. 10 voted to sell off those properties after an executive session discussion.
Nieman said the city will begin soliciting and entertaining letters of interest for development and/or ownership of the 18 properties within the former site for the Multipurpose Performing Arts and Entertainment Center.
The Union Plaza District encompasses the Union Depot property on San Francisco Avenue just west of the ballpark, from Missouri Avenue to Durango Street and from West San Antonio Avenue to South El Paso Street with Paisano Avenue as the southern edge of the district.
The Union Plaza area also includes the Duranguito neighborhood where the city had – until January – planned to build the arena.
The future of the Downtown arena, one of three signature bond projects approved by voters in 2012, remains in limbo months after the years-long legal battle came to a close. Voters approved $180 million for the project, but the city has about $153 million left. The city spent part of the funds on purchasing the prior properties, studies, appraisals, engineering fees and project consulting, among other expenses.
Other key City Council decisions over the past several months may lead to new development in the Union Plaza, including the arena.
Here’s what we know about key decisions that will impact the future of Union Plaza:
The City Council on Oct. 10 voted to begin soliciting letters of interests from buyers for the properities in the Union Plaza.
The City Council also introduced the first reading of an ordinance to amend the Union Plaza architectural and design guidelines. The changes include allowing for the building of a “performing arts center,” “sports arena” and various other uses such as bed and breakfasts, beauty salons, restaurants and others, while it loosens restrictions in the approval process for projects for redevelopment and new developments within the boundaries. A public hearing will be held during the next regular City Council meeting on Oct. 24.
On Sep. 26, the City Council approved asking Mayor Oscar Leeser to send a letter on behalf of the city to the Texas Historical Commission in support of the National Register of Historic Places nomination of a Downtown El Paso Historic District. The district boundaries were first proposed by the El Paso County Commissioners Court. The item passed with the exception of Union Plaza properties and will not be sent until after the city amends its historic landmark ordinance. City officials have not said when the landmark ordinance will be amended or what the specific changes will be.
In September, city staff revealed that a Sun Metro property in Downtown El Paso was undergoing an environmental assessment as a possible alternative site for the arena. There are three Sun Metro properties in Downtown, two within the Union Plaza: the Union Plaza Transit Terminal and parking garage on San Antonio Avenue south of Southwest University Park and the Judson F. Williams Convention Center, and the Union Depot property on San Francisco Avenue west of the ballpark. The third Downtown Sun Metro property is the Bert Williams Downtown Santa Fe Transfer Center south of Paisano Avenue where the streetcar hub is also housed.
On Oct. 24, the city will begin installing a new fence in Duranguito to allow for the reopening of Chihuahua Street. The move is part of the settlement agreement in the remaining lawsuit that was dismissed in September. The buildings within the area will remain fenced off. The city will also relight the street lights, restripe the parking spaces and reinstall parking meters as part of the work. Crews are currently cleaning up the street to prepare for the project.