Already a standout home for the El Paso Chihuahuas (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), Southwest University Park will receive upgrades to accommodate soccer’s El Paso Locomotive FC in 2019.
The Locomotive is joining USL Championship (formerly Division II USL) for the 2019 season as an expansion club. The team will be backed by Chihuahuas owners MountainStar Sports Group, and play its home games at Southwest University Park–home of the Chihuahuas and our 2014 Best New Ballpark.
At our sister site Soccer Stadium Digest, Jon Bruning interviewed Locomotive General Manager Andrew Forrest about the club’s preparation for its inaugural season. Part of that preparation concerns Southwest University Park, which is receiving about $3.5 million in renovations for dual baseball/soccer use. A new soccer-specific stadium in or near downtown El Paso might be part of the club’s long-term facility plans, but for now the Locomotive is preparing to play in a venue that with renovations–combined with existing strengths–should provide a solid fan experience for professional soccer. More from the Soccer Stadium Digest story:
The stadium is uniquely well suited for the addition of soccer. Because it was built on a small downtown footprint, it was built up vertically. Though its capacity is only 7,500 seated, it includes a second deck of seats.
“The stands, though it wasn’t intended for soccer at the time, are tight to the field, so our sightlines lend itself to an awesome soccer experience,” said Andrew Forrest, the new club’s General Manager. “Fans can sit close to the field on the second level and see play develop and players move, or they can sit in the front row close to the pitch for the sounds and smells of the game…. Our stadium, while not originally intended for soccer, works out better than a lot of other baseball stadiums I’ve seen soccer in.”
A key part of the park’s makeover for soccer is how the dimensions of the field are being enlarged to accommodate a regulation USL pitch. One of the hospitality areas down the first base line is being changed in configuration, a wall is being moved, to make room. A few soccer exhibition friendlies have been played at the stadium in the past, but the pitch was not regulation size. One additional benefit of the project is a new bar/beer garden in the style of many other modern parks.
In addition to the reconfiguration, Southwest University Park is also getting a retractable mound to make grounds crew transitions easier—it retracts in less than 15 minutes to go from baseball to soccer. Additional usable fan space is also being added to the “Wooftop Deck” area of an outfield rooftop with new restrooms and canopies to deflect the hot south Texas sun.
Rendering of Southwest University Park in a soccer configuration courtesy El Paso Locomotive FC.