Retrovision: More On Dwntwn

This article originally appeared on November 11, 2013.

By now you may have read this story by David Crowder about the Downtown Management District shenanigans. To recap quickly, the DMD couldn’t line up the property owners to approve a modest increase in their dues.

Here’s a money quote:

“It’s not at all what we envisioned when we created this district,” [Downtown businessman Tanny] Berg said. “City manager Joyce Wilson installed Veronica and you’ve got a board made of up people who don’t own property Downtown.

“I don’t think we ever expected to see $240,000 of the district’s money going to salaries. I feel terrible because I promised this wouldn’t happen.”

Those downtown business owners aren’t begrudging the Downtown Management District an extra two cents per $100 of valuation because they hate El Paso. After all, they’d love to see business increase. It’s because they don’t understand the logic of the plan. Much of the money that the district collects is spent on marketing. The problem, however, is the product. Or lack thereof.

Here’s another quote from a different El Paso Inc. article, this one an interview with outgoing Convention and Visitors Bureau head Bill Blaziek:

Q: I’ve been asked by visitors Downtown who’ve got a couple of hours to spend, ‘What is there to see?’ It’s surprisingly hard to answer. What is El Paso’s best Downtown attraction?

We’re asked that all the time. Infrastructure development is what the mayor is talking about when he said, “I’m going to build a destination city.” He didn’t mean he’s going to spend a bazillion dollars marketing something we can’t deliver. If we suggest there are four or five hotspots they’ll enjoy, we’ve got to be able to take them to those hotspots.

Q: Name one thing Downtown.

We have a walking tour of Downtown El Paso that will keep you busy for 3½ hours. It’s historic buildings, it’s museums, it’s San Jacinto Park. Therein lies the reason for the Hispanic Cultural Center, the children’s museum and everything coming with quality of life bond projects.

All of those projects named are going to knock properties off the tax rolls. And none of them sound like a surefire, gold-plated draw. And certainly not what they were planning when they said this (from another El Paso Inc. article):

But the effort to rebrand Downtown began with a 2006 study by New York-headquartered public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, aimed at transforming “Downtown into a vibrant 24/7 city center.”

A vibrant 24/7 city center? Even the Good Luck is only open 24/6. Waffle House is open 24/7, but their menudo sucks.

(The Hollywood Café, at the corner of South El Paso and East Overland, used to be open 24 hours. That place was great. Draft beet cost eighty-five cents. Old men in bathrobes came down from their apartments upstairs for the morning eye-opener, when they started selling beer again at seven. You couldn’t get beer at four in the morning, but you could get breakfast, or a hamburger. Somehow I get the idea that what the City envisions for downtown El Paso doesn’t look a lot like the Hollywood Café.)

I understand that some communities have successfully employed a system for developing downtowns. It’s called capitalism. The way it works is that proponents of this system, called capitalists, open businesses downtown when they think that they can make money doing it. Capitalism may not be as sexy as walking tours, and children’s museums, and marketing plans. But supposedly it works.

The drawback with capitalism is that you have to use your own money.


  1. If one believes that a children’s museum, city park, baseball stadium is going to make any city a destination, then you’ve been pranked.

    The only reason El Paso was a destination city is because of the easy access to “anything goes” Juarez. So why isn’t Juarez a destination city ? Despite, city council, the county and the Congressman that it’s safe, it’s not. The advice directly contradicts the US State Dept warnings and the media reports of murders, muggings, crossfire deaths, etc. So there people come here to visit family or rest overnight on a cross country trip.

    What hurts El Paso is itself ! Deny, bury your head in the caliche or just lie. The corruption, numerous ethics violations (passed as being clever), many school administration problems, poor infrastructure. Although due to piss poor planning and a rush to get things done as a means to a legacy, we are known as “cone” city. Open inept management by local officials. A rush to demolish anything that is over 15 years old or older. There goes part of history and the draw. No historical markers of anything. How many locals even know the location of famous peoples’ former homes ? Take a look at Mesilla, they kept their history ! Look at San Eli, they kept some history.

    A trolley, super sized screen ( that’s worthless), computerized trash cans, a small city park, a triple A baseball team and perhaps a soccer team. That’s the tourists draw. That’s its ? That the plan to make El Paso a destination city? A city with a couple of dives for night life ? A city that has a PR firm to lobby for fake titles and a local media that out right lies about the titles. Do you really believe cook was the best mayor in the world ? Forget, the safest city in the US. When caught in the lie, the title was modified with so much spin it was a dust twister. The belief that the first Latina congresswoman from Texas is going to have a welcoming parade in DC and suddenly be elected as the Speaker !

    I’ve taken enough space, although there’s much more. I will stop here.

  2. a major problem in downtown is that investors who can afford to pay property taxes get large tax incentives……..while the mom and pop shops pay through their nose.

  3. Man, it sure brought back memories of the Hollywood Cafe….Made me tear up. El Paso’s “Draw,” as mentioned above, was always Juarez. What exactly is there for a Tourist to do in El Paso? Sleep off a hangover? Eat at Chico’s Tacos? Get a Mexican food fix while they washed your car at H&H?

    In Juarez they had betting, ladies of the night, bars open till your money ran out, cheap good food, anything and everything which was also promoted by the Raildroad Companies as a “Wet” Weekend in El Paso. Meaning during Prohibition you could drink as much and as long as you wanted.

    At least they still have The Tap…

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