Local politics is like Texas Hold ’em. The players won’t show you all their cards, so you look at what’s on the table and try to figure it out.
What makes the local political version of Texas Hold ’em so interesting is that you don’t even know who is sitting at the table. There are players who don’t even admit that they’re in the game.
The puppet masters. The money men. People who have a stake in the game, but don’t want to own up to it. (I would like to take my mulligan and strike these remarks from the record, your honor.)
If we were really playing poker you’d call it a rigged game.
So what’s with the downtown arena?
People sitting at the table already told us that a downtown arena would be stupid without an anchor tenant.
This is from a 2011 story by David Crowder in the El Paso Inc.:
Consultants had advised [a downtown arena] would absolutely need an anchor tenant to work, such as a Dallas Cowboys arena football team, and a location that wouldn’t require evicting residents or significant opposition from area property owners.
And District 8 Representative Cortney Niland, right there in the twilight of Council chambers, during public comment about the arena, let slip that the arena was for D-League basketball.
Let me bring another thread into this tangle of intrigue.
MountainStar Sports Group. The de facto owners of the ballpark.
Yeah, I know that the City is the legal owner of the ballpark, but that’s just so MountainStar won’t have to pay any taxes on the property. For them, tax money is a one-way street, and it’s inbound.
But they didn’t call themselves, MountainStar Baseball Enterprises. Not El Paso Baseball Group.
MountainStar SPORTS group.
Sports. Plural. As in more than one.
Given the paucity of evidence, and the limited number of potential players, I’ve got to think that MountainStar Sports Group has their thumb on the scale. Like they’ve had their thumb on the scale since 2012, and before.
Advocates for the arena, and before, the ballpark, and before that, the Plaza Theatre and Union Plaza and every other pipe dream foisted on the taxpayers since forever said our sacrifice was for the greater good. That investments in downtown would somehow, through some convoluted and arcane economic development process, create more commercial properties which would pay more taxes and relieve the burden on homeowners.
(And then what? Government will give homeowners rebates? Or will the bigger pie just get eaten by a bigger government?)
Peculiarly, though, to entice commercial enterprises to open, City Council gives generous tax incentives, or removes properties from the tax rolls outright.
At the risk of stating the heretically obvious, let me remind you that the world is changing. Global warming. Self-driving cars. The collapse of the oil-driven economy. The death of print, and the rise of new media. It’s a new game out there, and we’re using an old playbook that never won any games even when it was current.
When are we going to see a return on all these well-intentioned investments? When will we have poured enough tax money into downtown that downtown will start to pay us back?
Good intentions are fine, but they can’t compete with results.
They say that every poker game has a sucker. And if you look around the table, and you can’t pick the sucker, it’s you.
Well, look around the table, and tell me who the sucker is.