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Stadium rage at city meetings - El Paso Inc.: Top Story

Stadium rage at city meetings

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Posted: Sunday, August 26, 2012 6:00 pm | Updated: 2:34 pm, Fri Aug 31, 2012.

They got to vote. At a raucous community meeting led by Westside city Rep. Cortney Niland on Thursday evening, a crowd of frustrated citizens got to do the thing they wanted most: vote.

It wasn’t official, of course. And it wasn’t a pretty sight for Niland and other supporters of the Downtown baseball project when a large majority of the 200 people there raised their hands in opposition.

The vote came at one of four sessions held across the city, as citizens filled meeting rooms to voice their concerns and frustrations about the proposal.

In a packed room at the Police Department’s West Side Regional Substation, Niland told the crowd that the cost of the stadium on the current City Hall site could be as low as $30 million, well below the $50 million that has generally been used.

The $50 million, Niland said, could cover the cost of demolishing City Hall, moving out city offices and building the stadium.

And 70 percent of that would be paid by out-of-towners, if voters approve a 2-cent increase in the hotel occupancy tax come November.

But the possibility of a lower price did little to appease this audience.

“No one’s saying we didn’t want baseball,” one man said. “No one’s saying we don’t want soccer, football or anything Downtown.”

What has people frustrated, he said, is that the El Paso City Council went ahead with the multi-million dollar plan without giving taxpayers enough time and information to really understand it, much less the opportunity to vote on it.

Among those opposed to the stadium plan is former El Paso Mayor Ray Salazar, whose administration used federal and state money to build City Hall 33 years ago.

“I think that your council members have made a tremendous mistake in what you’re doing,” said Salazar, who ridiculed the idea of tearing down a public building still valued at $38 million.

Another former mayor, Larry Francis, who served from 1993 to 1997, is actively campaigning against trading City Hall for a ballpark.

Current Mayor John Cook also opposes the demolition, as well as scattering government offices around Downtown in buildings the city wants to buy and offices it plans to lease.

A divided City Council has committed the city to the project, even if voters reject the proposed increase in the hotel-motel tax.

The city is negotiating to buy two buildings, the El Paso Times and 801 Texas, for $20 million. Moving costs are estimated at $2 million, Niland said, which is less than the $30 million it would take to repair and update City Hall.

Niland was apologetic that the plans to build a stadium for the Triple-A Tucson Padres have gone ahead without voter approval. The MountainStar Sports Group is buying the team for $20 million,

“You have every right to be upset,” she said. “We wanted to put it on the ballot.”

But, she said, the Padres came up for sale quickly, and the city and MountainStar would have lost the opportunity to acquire the team if the decision had to wait for the Nov. 6 election.

“You elected me to vote,” she said to a chorus of shouts and boos from the crowd. “I stand by what I did. I think it’s a great decision.”

Not invited

El Pasoans reacted much the same at two other city-sponsored meetings, with city Reps. Susie Byrd, and Steve Ortega and Dr. Michiel Noe.

City Reps. Eddie Holguin and Carl Robinson, who have opposed the Downtown baseball project on every vote, weren’t part of the city’s meetings. Announcements said the city sessions were “to ensure that the public has the correct information on the downtown ballpark project.”

Holguin arranged his own meeting far from his district in Downtown’s Cleveland Square Park, which moved indoors to the El Paso Museum of History because of rain.

The purpose of Holguin’s meeting, according to his office, was “to answer any questions the public may have and listen to concerns regarding the downtown ballpark.”

Robinson didn’t attend a meeting. He was headed for Austin to join Mayor John Cook and city Rep. Emma Acosta at a Texas Municipal League meeting.

“Eddie and I were not invited,” Robinson said. “I found out about the meetings from a blogger who called asking me about it. I didn’t know what he was talking about.

“I would have attended if I had been informed in advance that we’re doing this. I don’t feel bad. It’s just disappointing that a group would collaborate to do something like this.”

Asked about the exclusion of Holguin and Robinson, Byrd said, “The purpose of those meetings was for the majority of the council that made the decision to go out and talk about why they made the decision.

“People wanted to yell at me, not at Carl. That was really the point.”


 

Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at dcrowder@elpasoinc.com or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.

© 2015 El Paso Inc.. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Welcome to the discussion.

5 comments:

  • Jerry posted at 3:24 am on Fri, Aug 31, 2012.

    Jerry Posts: 1

    I agree with Makaio 100 percent. All this sounds too weird to have went ahead with planning this "ballpark" without consideration what the public wanted to do. Sounds like personal gain to me. This type of project is not what El Paso needs. Fix the pot hole filled streets that are already in dire need of repair. Hope they all go to prison for corruption. Yes EP4ever not all young people attended to support the plan, because maybe they were not interested in it either. Yes El Paso is the ugly duckling in Texas because of our "beloved" city officials make it that way.

     
  • 4Runner06 posted at 7:34 pm on Thu, Aug 30, 2012.

    4Runner06 Posts: 3

    Built it behind El Paso Times. Union Pacific Railroad has a lot of land to sale. It was offering land years back when the proposal was to built a multi-purpose arena was given.

     
  • makaio posted at 2:55 pm on Tue, Aug 28, 2012.

    makaio Posts: 5


    It's already in print so to speak on this web page, but I will withdraw -- with a combination of reluctance, frustration, and appreciation -- my comment below.

    On reluctance, I think the Council has taken a huge risk with taxpayer money, from which, initially, a small number of people will benefit. Future & larger benefits are a big question mark.

    On frustration, I don't know if the Mayor's and Council's dealings were too public or too private.

    On appreciation, the Mayor and Councilwoman Byrd have taken the time to communicate with me, on short-notice and with presumably overwhelming messages on their end. Thank you.

    I have asked El Paso Inc. not to publish my comment below in hardcopy. But if it goes to print, I apologize if it is out of line with regard to the individuals addressed.

     
  • EP4Ever posted at 7:17 pm on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    EP4Ever Posts: 12

    Notice how the people at the meetings are mostly older folks? Nothing against a person who is older and at these meetings, but please let the younger generations have something new and great like this? You guys had your chances to improve this city and look at the condition its in now, its time for a new vision to come in and try something new.

    We've done the "lets do nothing-policy" for years, its failed. It's time to start progressing and become a great city again. Things are starting to look nicer though, projects like the Children's Hospital, Paul Foster Medical School, Fountains at Farah, UTEP's master plan, Monticello + other master planned communities, many major highway projects, etc.. are improving this city, and several nice new investments are starting to take shape in downtown as well. But besides those new projects, we are not and shouldn't be done. We still have a long ways to go to even compete with other large cities, but we will get there, even if its little by little.

     
  • makaio posted at 10:26 am on Mon, Aug 27, 2012.

    makaio Posts: 5

    Cook, Lilly, Byrd, Acosta, Noe, Ortega, & Niland are probably better poised for personal gain by secretly siding with millionaires rather than publicly siding with El Pasoans.

     

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