El Paso Mayor John Cook says he won't veto a lease for a new downtown ballpark, clearing the way for the Tucson Padres (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) to move there in 2014.
MountainStar Sports has a deal to buy the Padres and move the team to El Paso, contingent on the city approving a ballpark lease calling for $200,000 in annual rent, mostly financed by a 2 percentage point hike in the city hotel/motel tax. The measure passed Tuesday by a 4-3 vote; had Cook vetoed the agreement, it would have been unlikely the ballpark proponents could wrangle the six votes needed for override. Hence the importance of his decision.
He set forth his reasoning in a statement. Here's the core of his decision:
1. No voter approval on Quality of Life projects
I was troubled by the fact we are overturning a long standing policy of securing voter approval before proceeding with Quality of Life projects. The City Manager and staff have made the argument that the ballpark is really an economic development project and deserves to be treated as such. The City of El Paso regularly approves economic development projects without voter approval. Further, I was reminded of the fact that past signature quality of life projects were done without voter approval, such as the Plaza Theater and the El Paso Art Museum and both are gems in our Downtown and successful.
2. Demolition of City Hall
After researching possible sites, an alternate site for the baseball stadium could have been the buildings south of the Convention Center all the way to Paisano Drive which includes 38 parcels of land owned by 22 different owners for a total land value of $25 million. The selection of this site would have created the need to use eminent domain and might require the City to incur expensive attorney fees and court costs.
It would have also slowed down the process and possibly kill the idea for a ball park. Additionally, the condition of City Hall and the price tag of $30 million to renovate would not be an overall benefit to the City. The $13 million appraised value of City Hall is comparable with the researchthat I did on other large downtown properties that include Wells Fargo, Chase and El Paso Electric buildings which were sold in the last five years and were appraised within the range of $12 - $15 million. This assessment supports the argument to use the City Hall site.
3. Negative Impact to Quality of Life Election
I am concerned that the ballpark opposition will harm the Quality of Life bond election. However, all the supporters of the ballpark project have indicated they will work to support the Quality of Life election. I would encourage all to put aside their differences and look at what is best for our entire community. The 2012 bond election includes projects for the entire City and will provide the funding to pay for the stadium without using taxpayer money. I urge everyone to support the bond to further the vision of having a vibrant quality of life for our citizens and those that come to visit our City.
For MountainStar Sports, it means the team can move ahead with the $20.5 million purchase of the team and preparing for a 2014 move,
“The members of MountainStar Sports Group join the people of El Paso in celebrating the vision and forward-thinking action taken by our Mayor and City Council members this week to commit to build a downtown ballpark for El Paso’s Triple-A baseball team," said a press release issued by the local ownership group. “We thank Mayor John Cook for his strong leadership on this critical decision for El Paso’s future, and for honoring the Council’s decision to build a ballpark in Downtown El Paso. We also thank the members of City Council for considering this issue so diligently and for ultimately standing by their commitment to El Paso, to the Pacific Coast League, Minor and Major League Baseball, and to our Group.
“This issue was controversial, and difficult questions were addressed on both sides. At its conclusion, we believe this is a momentous step forward for El Paso. As the ownership group, we pledge to bring a team to the City that El Pasoans will be proud of and a quality product they will enjoy.”
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