What I’m about to suggest is heresy.
What if downtown El Paso will never be a high-end destination?
That’s the goal the City and investors have been aiming for the last dozen years. Spurred by wishful thinking and private greed, we’ve thrown common sense out the window. What we’ve gotten has been vacant lots and empty store fronts. An alienated community. Property tax rates among the highest in the country. A pile of completed projects proffered with the empty promise of collateral development, with more in the pipeline.
After nearly a dozen years, all we have are dimming glimmers of hope.
I’m not against turning downtown into a playground for the well-heeled. I just don’t think it’ll work.
What, exactly, is the demographic we’re targeting? Who is our archetypal consumer? Who will heed the siren song of the heavily leveraged speculators?
Who, exactly, will move downtown? A family of four, with dogs and cats and an Audi SUV? A couple of DINKs currently residing in a stone house on a half acre lot in the upper valley? Eastsiders? Juarenses?
The office towers are full of suits content with their commutes from the suburbs. Do you think you’ll get a junior lawyer from Kemp Smith to live in a third-floor flat in downtown in lieu of a fifteen minute drive from his condo on North Stanton?
The savage truth is that there aren’t a lot of reasons to live downtown. The allure of the nightclub districts fades as the cohort of hard-chargers enters adulthood. How many times, in a year or a lifetime, will a person go to the Museum of Art, or History? How rabid a fan of baseball or Broadway would a person have to be to justify the lifestyle sacrifices of living downtown? They’d still have to drive to Sprouts, or the Fountains at Farah, or the IMAX theater at Basset Place. Instead of commuting to downtown, they’d be commuting to the suburbs.
What, then, is the inherent advantage to living downtown? What’s the draw?
I don’t see it. And I’m not the only one.
TVO pulled out of its plan to build condos in Basset Tower after occupancy rates for its Magoffin Park apartments didn’t meet expectations. River Oaks put most of its downtown properties up for auction. Some investors are seeing that the emperor is naked.
The City of El Paso, and taxpayers, have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into downtown revitalization, with no, or negative, returns. Maybe it’s time we reevaluated our strategy. Maybe it’s time we reassessed our priorities. Maybe it’s time we redefined our mission. What we’ve been doing obviously hasn’t been working. We’re in a hole. Can we stop digging?
Stay the course, the real estate speculators say. But they’ve stopped investing any of their own money. Now they’re only asking us to invest more of ours.
So maybe I’m a heretic. But so was Galileo.