The debate over public funding of a new downtown El Paso ballpark enters the final stretch, with both sides making a push to convince voters to support them in the upcoming elections.
The immediate issue: whether or not to approve a 2 percentage point hike in the city’s hotel/motel tax to mostly fund a $50-million ballpark project, which will include tearing down City Hall. MountainStar Sports, owner of the Tucson Padres (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), has a lease with the city to play at the new downtown ballpark beginning in 2014. City leaders say the new downtown ballpark will happen with or without the tax hike; if rejected by voters, the city will need to find another funding mechanism to build the ballpark.
Opponents want to see the hotel tax rejected and are throwing up an alternative: a $25-million renovation of Cohen Stadium, the former home to Double-A ball in El Paso. Now, it’s hard to say whether this is a viable alternative: the agreement to bring in the T-Padres clearly calls for a new downtown ballpark, and legally the city can’t just substitute what many would consider to be a lesser facility without voiding the entire contract. We just don’t see this as a viable option, but we’re guessing the fact it’s being raised will be enough to confuse some voters.
In the end, the issue really isn’t the ballpark; opponents are using it as a platform to criticize city leadership. El Paso attorney Stephanie Townsend Allala, who is spearheading opposition to the ballpark, framed the issue in different terms:
“Given the past indictments and convictions for corruption, I think that our city leaders should be bending over backwards,” Allala said, “to let the public know that the era of backdoor deals… is ended.”
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