El Paso Downtown Arena Project Will Only Be a Memory
As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the Quality of Life Bond Issue, one of its main components is still no closer to breaking ground now than it was back in 2012. The Downtown Arena, better known as the multi-purpose performing arts and entertainment center (MPC) is still not a reality. If you have not done so already, it is time to come to grips with the realization that this project will never be built in downtown El Paso with public funding.
Late last month, the City of El Paso reached an agreement with San Francisco-based Gensler and Associates to conduct a feasibility study. Since the bond issue passed, this is the second time the city has ordered a feasibility study. For the bargain price of $798,611, Gensler and Associates will advise the city on the following areas:
• Financial models that include estimates of capital and operating costs
• Public-private opportunities
• Preservation of historic buildings and preserving the historic character of the neighborhood
• Recommendations on how to safeguard dilapidated buildings, and options
I could have saved El Paso nearly $800,000 and told them the same thing that Gensler will say in their nicely prepared presentation. It is not in the best interests of anyone to build a MPC in downtown El Paso. For one thing, the cost will greatly exceed the $180 million that was originally budgeted. In recent years, new arenas carry a $400 to $500 million price tag. Gensler just finished construction on the Moody Center in Austin with a total cost of $375 million (it was originally priced at $300 million). There is also the question of having an anchor tenant for the El Paso arena. It does not matter if it is an NBA G League or Minor League hockey team. No club will be able to put more than a few thousand people in their seats on a regular basis. That is not going to allow the MPC to sustain itself.
I can see Gensler recommending to El Paso that their money would be best spent on the existing convention center. If they give that facility a $180 million facelift and turn it into a state-of-the-art convention center, it will be able to generate more dollars than any minor league sports franchise could. Only time will tell what happens in about eight months, but do not expect to see a downtown arena built any time soon unless it is entirely funded with private dollars.