It’s different in Texas
It works in ballpark building too, though as A’s fans we wouldn’t know about it first hand. It’s happening in El Paso, TX, where the political and civic community is rallying to get a minor league stadium built in time for the 2014 season.
El Paso hasn’t had affiliated minor league baseball since 2004, when a group headed by George Brett sold and moved the 42-year-old Diablos AA franchise to Missouri. Since then, the city has had an independent league Diablos team in place, but has longed to return to the true minors. When the Padres’ attempt to build a stadium in Escondido died last summer in the redevelopment crunch, El Paso saw its chance. The AAA Padres were to play at Tucson for one or two seasons as a temporary gig. Their future permanent home would be the city that gave the quickest, best deal the Padres could get.
That brings us to yesterday, when MiLB announced that El Paso would get the Padres in 2014, assuming that a new ballpark deal were completed in time. The existing minor league park, Cohen Stadium, is just a shade over two decades old. From what I gather, it’s comfy yet utilitarian, lacking in the premium facilities AAA teams look for nowadays. Moreover, the city fathers want the new park downtown. With the time constraints, El Paso couldn’t afford to waste time bargaining for or claiming eminent domain over privately owned land. Yet there was precious little publicly owned land on which something the size of a ballpark could be built. Apparently that left the City no other choice but to build at City Hall.
There’s a large parking lot behind City Hall, but that’s not large enough. So the City is going to demolish and relocate City Hall just so that there’s enough room for the new ballpark. (Odd note: the building is close enough to the border that two years ago it was hit by stray gunfire ranging from across the border in Juarez. El Paso itself is considered the safest large city in the nation.) A location for the future City Hall has not yet been determined. The total cost of relocating City Hall could be $22-38 million.
The speed at which all of this has come together for El Paso is astonishing. They’re avoiding a initial public vote on the deal terms, saving it for an occupancy tax which may or may not come up in November. Texas has no CEQA, which allows the City to avoid much of the process grind California faces. The ballpark will cost $50 million and will be publicly financed, with the Padres responsible for a $200,000 rent payment every year for 25 years and a percentage of game revenue to pay off the loan.
In 2014, we should see a new El Paso Diablos AAA franchise playing in a sparkling new stadium, with a beautiful view of the Franklin Mountains in the background. The City has taken less than a year to make what many cities would consider a sea change, committing to spend nearly $100 million to bring in AAA baseball. Amazing.