Plans to redevelop the Cohen Stadium site in Northeast El Paso were seven months in the making, and now the city is ready to begin the transformation.
The long-awaited plans, revealed last week, include a zip line, jumbo screen, regional water park, an “urban plaza,” athletic facilities, hotel, retail space and a “media broadcasting studio” on the 50-acre Cohen site, according to the city.
Officials say demolition of the vacant baseball stadium near Transmountain and U.S. 54 could begin this year.
“We did what we said we were going to do,” said Northeast city Rep. Sam Morgan. “Whatever we do, I just want it to be realistic and sustainable, something that’s going to be in the community for years to come.”
The ballpark was once home to the El Paso Diablos, which was a member of the South Division of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball from 1990 to 2013. Since the last pitch was thrown, the site has remained mostly vacant except for a few music and running events.
A little more than 350 residents attended the forum Wednesday night at El Paso Community College’s Transmountain Campus.
Talks to redevelop the Cohan site began last October when Morgan held his first public meeting to collect public input for an early proposal. Two focus groups and hundreds of comments helped architect Eugenio “Pacelli” Mesta, with El Paso-based Exigo, craft a final master plan.
The newest plans eliminated a housing component that was included in the early proposal. Northeast residents clapped their hands in support of that decision.
Morgan said the plans do not include preserving the baseball stadium. He said it would be difficult finding a tenant for the stadium and that it’s time for a change.
“If we could have put a tenant in there, we would have by now,” he said.
The city is still identifying funding for the project, and the issue is expected to head to City Council in late February or early March.
The only component of the master plan that is funded is the regional water park. According to city engineer Sam Rodriguez, the city set aside about $7.7 million for the water park in December.
The city plans to develop the water park, a media broadcasting studio, an urban plaza, greenspace and athletic facilities and partner with private developers to develop the hotel, retail and restaurant spaces.
“What we don’t want to do is create a piecemeal type of development,” Rodriguez said. “We want it to be cohesive so we can create that experience.”
Jessica Herrera, city economic and international development director, said the city is considering forming a tax increment reinvestment zone, or TIRZ, to help fund the project. When property values increase within a TIRZ, the increase in tax revenue created by development doesn’t go into the city’s coffers. They go to the TIRZ, to be reinvested in the area.
For years, the empty Cohan site was a sore spot for many Northeast residents who watched as developments blossomed in Far East, the Westside and Downtown.
Morgan said the Cohan site was one of the top issues when he campaigned for the District 4 spot last year.
“I didn’t run for prestige and titles; I ran to do something for my community,” he said. “This was the issue that was in our face.”
“We’re in a really good position right now,” he added. “And we are being fiscally responsible about it every step of the way.”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Aaron Montes at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 105, or (915) 777-4154. Twitter: @aaronmontes91.