Spend a day in Downtown and you will realize that the efforts by the public and private sectors to revitalize the city center are coming to fruition.
If cranes hovering overhead, the persistent hum of construction or the businesses popping up aren’t enough to convince you, just ask the people you might encounter. Families doing a photo shoot in San Jacinto Plaza, shoppers looking for prom dresses, couples dining out before a show at the Plaza Theatre, and even a presidential candidate from El Paso will all tell you that they are impressed at how far Downtown has come.
There are a lot of great things happening, but it’s not time to declare “mission accomplished.”
With every new hotel, business or resident, we are seeing the transformation we imagined. However, these achievements are only part of what it will take to build the Downtown we all desire.
We can’t lose sight of all of the contributing factors that will make Downtown great and must maintain an active role in tending to these factors.
Last year, the Downtown Management District partnered with the International Downtown Association for the second cohort of its Value of U.S. Downtowns and Center Cities project. This project develops measurable outcomes identified to contribute to the value of a downtown toward its parent community. It also compares them with other downtowns in the same stage of redevelopment and identifies factors for creating a truly vibrant downtown.
Categorized as an emerging downtown with other cities such as Tucson, Greensboro and Sacramento, the project clearly recognizes our early stage of revitalization with a strong indication of where we are going and what we can achieve.
While Downtown only represents 0.4 percent of the city land area, land values per square mile are three times higher there than the citywide rate, according to the report. Downtown accounts for 4 percent of the city’s jobs, 3 percent of the retail sales across the city, 8 percent of office space and 7 percent of hotel rooms (with more on the way).
We have a strong identity and are a hub for community destinations. At the same time, the historic concentration of residential poverty, low incomes and below average educational attainment levels impact areas where other downtowns are flourishing.
By focusing not just on individual projects, but on Downtown as a community asset, we will continue to maximize our strengths while addressing our weaknesses. We need to consider factors such as diversity, fun, mobility, resilience, creativity, affordability, health and sustainability among others.
We can build a Downtown where all El Pasoans and visitors feel welcomed, valued and can contribute to our ongoing development. At that point, not only will we be providing 11 percent of property tax revenue and accounting for 17 percent of citywide jobs like our peers, but Downtown El Paso will be a place we all will have helped to develop.