When the UT System Board of Regents agreed to buy the 458-acre Asarco site for $17 million in 2016, the task of hammering out the details went to UT lawyers and representatives of two major railroads with track adjacent to the site.
At the time, UTEP’s executive vice president, Richard Adauto, said he hoped the deal would close in a few weeks. That was 31 months ago.
But now, the dust has settled and it looks like the sale will close this summer, possibly before the departure of UTEP President Diana Natalicio, who’s retiring in August.
Coming to terms has taken much longer than expected because of difficult negotiations with BNSF and Southern Pacific. The railroad companies have tracks that are sandwiched between Asarco and West Paisano Drive next to the Rio Grande.
“The Asarco site will have to be maintained environmentally for decades to come, and we’re using the sale proceeds to fund that,” said Roberto Puga, the bankruptcy trustee who was charged with the cleanup of the site.
“When we got into the details of access and making sure that we can get over the railroad and taking care of the railroads’ issues, it really slowed things down and got us into some pretty close-in negotiations,” Puga said.
But the railroad issues have finally been resolved, he said.
“Now we are busily finishing up the pre-closing requirements and issues, and we’re hopeful to have the thing completed sometime this summer,” Puga said. “I would love it to be in July, but it might get pushed out to August.”
The next announcement should probably come from UTEP, said Puga, who represents Project Navigator Ltd.
The Los Angeles-based environmental risk and resource management company selected by the state in 2009 to oversee the cleanup and sale of the property.
“I think I’m going to leave it to the university to deal with the closing announcement and anything they want to do,” Puga said.
When Asarco ceased operations in El Paso and filed for bankruptcy, there was no foregone conclusion that the property would end up in UTEP’s hands, though that’s what many El Pasoans want to see happen.
One reason was the long historical ties. The original El Paso School of Mines and Metallurgy buildings went up on land donated by the American Smelter and Refining Co., which relied on the college to train many of its personnel.
The school’s name changed to Texas Western University and then to the University of Texas at El Paso, and its campus abuts 241 acres of Asarco property on the east side of Interstate 10.
About 100 acres is considered suitable for residential development.
Even though most of the Asarco property between I-10 and Paisano Drive is now covered with five feet of clean soil as part of the site’s remediation, it can’t ever be used for residential purposes.
David Etzold, a commercial real estate broker who’s involved in marketing the property, said UTEP could lease properties for any number of uses, including one many hope to see – a professional soccer stadium.
“That would be a fantastic location,” he said. “You could also see hotels, retail entertainment venues, and I think there will be a soccer stadium there one day, maybe with practice fields and room for soccer club tournaments.
“As a subscribing season ticket holder for the Locomotive, I do like the way they have accommodated soccer at Southwest University Park,” he said. “But it would be better if we had a stadium that was specifically designed for soccer.”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.