As El Paso scrambled to control a resurgence of COVID-19, with cases hitting a record 838 on Friday, City Council approved the purchase of three more buildings to serve as health clinics.
The city is purchasing the properties with $2.33 million in federal funds.
Local medical authorities attribute the new surge in countywide coronavirus cases to pandemic-weary El Pasoans letting down their guard – and their face masks. Thursday, Mayor Dee Margo re-imposed restrictions on bars, restaurants and nonessential businesses. And he urged El Pasoans to continue wearing masks, social distancing and washing their hands.
“Please, El Paso, do what you need to do,” he said at a news conference.
Margo said he did what he felt he had to do by ordering that El Paso bars close again and that restaurants go back to serving only take-out orders and meal deliveries after 9 p.m. until further notice.
With state and local governments’ access to federal CARES Act dollars set to end Dec. 30, City Council raised the number of city building purchases this month from two to five on Tuesday. That brings the city’s total to $12.8 million, which exceeds the CARES money available to the city by $1.27 million. Where the difference will be made up is unclear.
The city bought the former headquarters of the El Paso County 911 District at 200 N. Kansas for $5 million earlier this month along with another building at 9655 Railroad Dr. for $6.5 million.
The CARES money is also to be used to equip the former 911 building, already in use by the city, to house more than 150 people, including epidemiologists, the COVID Education Task Force and contact tracers.
Last Tuesday, the council agreed to buy the property at 9341 Alameda for $720,000, a second at 7380 Remcon for $1.06 million and the third at 220 S. Stanton for $550,000.
All three are on the roles of the El Paso Central Appraisal District for substantially less than the city paid.
The Alameda property, owned by ELP Family Dollar LP, is appraised at $474,370. The Remcon building, owned by MicBec Investments LLC, is on the rolls at $665,250 and the Stanton property, owned by the Nadler family, is valued at $382,000.
The fact that those commercial properties are on the CAD’s rolls for significantly less than their true market value is not unusual because owners often challenge their property valuations before the Appraisal Review Board and get them lowered.
Asked how those buildings will be used, Alex Hoffman, assistant director of the city’s Capital Improvements Department, told El Paso Inc., “They’re part of our clinics that we’re looking at as part of a regional response to COVID.
“So the initial use for the buildings is for COVID testing, and then, eventually, when the vaccine becomes available, to do vaccinations.”
As for what they might be used after the COVID-19 pandemic threat has passed, Hoffman said that’s an unsettled question.
“With what we know about the CARES funding, we’re not looking to do anything else with the buildings because sometimes, with federal dollars, there are stipulations in terms of what other uses you can put them to,” he said. “So, right now, our focus is just using them on the COVID response.”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at email@example.com or call (915) 630-6622.