Retrovision: The Master Plan

This post originally appeared on 22 October, 2017.

How MountainStar Wants to Get You to Pay for Their Futbol Stadium

Now it’s a futbol stadium. From the El Paso Times:

Whether a controversial Downtown multipurpose arena will ever get built is still up in the air, but that’s not stopping the owners of the El Paso Chihuahuas baseball team from pursuing another stadium in an effort to recruit a minor league soccer team.

Alan Ledford, president of MountainStar Sports Group, said the group is talking to city and county officials about getting financial help to build what likely would be a 7,500-seat stadium. That’s the same seating capacity as Downtown’s $78 million Southwest University Park, where the Chihuahuas play, and the city helped finance mostly with hotel taxes.

But how will we pay for it?

It’s a little complicated, but the idea is we’ll take money out of one pocket, put in another pocket, and let the robber barons take a skim on the transfer.

“My preference would be a county soccer stadium,” [former County Judge and current congressional candidate Veronica] Escobar said. “But if not the county, then some kind of city-county collaboration on building it. The ideal revenue source would be hotel taxes” so that property owners don’t have to pay for it, she said.

Well there you have it. “The ideal revenue source would be hotel taxes.” Is Ms. Escobar promoting the idea that we raise hotel taxes to pay for a soccer venue?

El Paso already charges he highest hotel tax rate allowed by law in Texas. (LOCAL GOVERNMENT CODE, TITLE 10,SUBTITLE C., CHAPTER 334. SPORTS AND COMMUNITY VENUES Sec. 334.254.d) Maybe your average traveller won’t realize the weight of his seventeen percent tax obligation till after he gets the bill, but convention planners take that into account. Are we going to subsidize hotel taxes for conventions?

Of course.

Right now most of that hotel tax goes to the County Coliseum. From a KFOX report:

County Judge Veronica Escobar told KFOX14 [keeping the Coliseum open is] at the expense of millions of dollars in hotel occupancy tax funds..

“Eighty-three percent of our hotel-motel tax dollars go just to the coliseum. That is a lot of money that we cannot utilize for other purposes. One of our other goals is historic preservation and heritage tourism. Hotel-motel tax money can be used for that but we can’t necessarily do both,” Escobar said.

The county has also raised concerns that the coliseum may be in direct competition with the City’s new Multipurpose Cultural and Performing Arts Center.

(Did you notice former Judge Escobar said “historic preservation and heritage tourism?” Those words must have tasted like ash in her mouth.)

I’ve often said that we don’t need the downtown arena because it’s redundant, because of the Coliseum, Haskins Center, and Convention Center. But if the downtown arena were built, we would decide which facility was redundant. Which means we’d lose the Cow Palace.

UTEP owns the Haskins Center, so our local governments can’t get rid of it. We need a fully operational Convention Center for all those conventions our paid optimists claim are right around the corner.

That’s why the downtown arena is so crucial. If the Coliseum gets the ax, all that hotel tax money gets freed up. For a futbol stadium.

But any relationship between the fight for the arena and the futbol stadium is purely coincidental. As far as you know.

Problems with getting a proposed Downtown arena built “plays no factor in this [futbol stadium],” Ledford said.

MountainStar in September began an advertising campaign supporting the proposed $180 million multipurpose arena, approved by voters in a 2012 bond referendum.

The campaign is aimed at countering efforts by a group of El Paso preservationists and community activists, who are pushing to stop the city from putting the proposed arena in the Duranguito neighborhood, which is in the Union Plaza entertainment district, next to the Downtown convention center.

There have already been rumblings about liquidating the Coliseum. On May 21, 2017, the El Paso Times ran this story:

In its 75 years of existence, the El Paso County Coliseum has seen its share of changes in the community.

Now, with the city’s plans to build a $180 million Downtown multipurpose arena, the County Coliseum faces an uncertain future.

In 2016, a draft of an economic development plan, which stated that completion of the Downtown arena would create direct competition with the coliseum, was presented to El Paso County Commissioners Court. The plan included redevelopment of the coliseum, which would include repurposing the facility or selling it and the land around it.

So, instead of the City or County directly subsidizing the futbol stadium, El Paso taxpayers will get to pay for the arena. And the County will transfer the hotel tax funds currently allocated to the operation of the Coliseum to the stadium.

Pretty slick, huh? Repurpose the hotel tax money that’s being paid to the County, and let the city’s taxpayers absorb the hit through the new arena. Same money, different pockets, different blame.

You know our elected officials and the civic staff stay up nights figuring how they can screw us and throw up a smokescreen of plausible deniability.

Too bad they’re not working that hard on good government.

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