It’s different in Texas

Carpe diem.

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.

Existing El Paso City Hall. Image from ElPasoInc.com

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.

21 thoughts on “It’s different in Texas

  1. I believe Oakland owns the parkland on the point that juts into Lake Merritt. That piece of property is large enough to accomodate a great ballpark.

  2. Get rid of parkland to build a ballpark? I’m pretty sure that Children’s Fairyland is on that spot, too. Be prepared for massive protests if anyone suggests putting a ballpark there, if that’s the spot I think you’re talking about.

  3. re: Lake Merritt parkland. Get rid of parkland to put up a ballpark? I’m pretty sure Children’s Fairyland is on that spot, too. Be prepared for massive protests if anyone tries to put a ballpark there.

  4. @Mark (the other one) – Typo on my part. Meant to put “decades”. Fixed.

  5. @xootsuit – That’s the point. Putting a ballpark in that park is a total nonstarter due to the severe backlash the City would face.

  6. Wow, talk about taking one for the proverbial team… sacrificing City Hall all for the sake of building a new, minor league ballpark? Then again, the El Paso City Hall isn’t exactly an architectural wonder… but still, ballsy move on their part.

  7. I have long wished for that Lake Merritt site too. As for El Paso, the speed s astonishing but I’m not sure it’s a smart way to do business. The Bay Area is the the other extreme to be sure though.

  8. Well, desperate times make for desperate measures. Although I have to admit I’m only joking about the Berkeley-bred burghers of Oakland turning into Rio Bravo cowboys overnight.

  9. Actually it’s looking like the team name they’re leaning towards is El Paso Padres if their website registrations are any indication. Which makes sense. The El Paso Diablos name is still tied up with the indy league team, and the owners of the team (the local Tigua Indian Tribe), are reportedly not happy a AAA team is coming to town. Specifically because they just sunk a over a million dollars into publicly owned Cohen Stadium upgrading it. However the new ballpark lease with the new AAA owners contains a no-compete clause with regard to other baseball teams in public venues that would force the Diablos out of Cohen Stadium, unless some accomodation is granted by the new AAA owners (which means the Diablos would still be playing and the name unavailable). And even if forced out the Tigua might not want to give up the historic name since a. they might continue playing in another El Paso or Las Cruces venue, or b. just out of spite if they’re forced to shut their team down.

  10. Wow, just wow. Tearing down City Hall to build a stadium for a minor league team. Spending $100 mil for a minor league team. A 20 year old stadium being outdated. When archaeologists dig this up, they’ll either laugh or cry.
    .
    And I love how the safest big city suffers from a random gunfire affliction, and that the location of the gunfire is the perfect spot for a stadium. Priceless!

  11. I’m torn as well. I’m impressed by the will to get things done, but what a huge cost. I don’t think a ball team (even a major league one) is worth taking out city hall. While energetic it seems awfully wasteful.

  12. Most of what goes on in city halls these days is wasteful too, so this seems like a fair trade 😉
    .
    Seriously though, it’s not the tearing down of city hall I find wasteful assuming they wanted to move out of the old city hall anyway. More it’s the fact that Cohen Stadium is only 20 years old and is already large enough for AAA that perplexes me, particularly given that its city owned. With some minor renovations they could have it ready to play for next year.

  13. Did they want to move out of city hall? According to google it was built in 1979, likely needs maintenance but hardly a relic. According to the post moving city hall will cost $22-38 million by itself. To me the whole endeavor seems wasteful.

  14. Meh, 1979 is almost 35 years ago. I’m sure as a building it’s probably missing a lot of things modern buildings have like efficient fixtures, proper wiring for modern loads, proper IT infrastructure, LEED certs, stuff of that nature. What’s impressive however is that the city not only has the money and wherewithal to make this work, but that they were willing to get creative to do it. I can’t see Oakland demolishing its useless city hall to build a ballpark.

  15. After all the money they spent retrofitting Oakland’s city hall to withstand an earthquake? Even if Oakland had money they wouldn’t do it.

  16. Geographically, it’s not as much of an outlier as people may think – El Paso is actually farther west than ABQ. As to the stadium situation – that’s just an indicator of why Texas is propspering and California is failing miserably; there’s so much power given to the NIMBY population (via CEQA) in any major project that the only way anything can get done is for the legislature to set aside CEQA for certain projects (Farmers Field, City of Industry Stadium, Sac Railyards Project, 49ers Stadium) that may tickle the fancy of the politicos up in Sacramento. Moving a City Hall to put in a ball field may be a bit hinky, but Texas has always been a Go Big or Go Home kind of state.
    Also – El Paso may well be the safest big city in the nation, but I think a big chunk of that is due ot the fact that everyone there is armed to the effing teeth 24/7 because of what’s going down across the Rio Grande.

  17. So El Paso decides to put a non compete clause for a new team in the new stadium,yet the team that is already there and in place is the one that has to leave.That’s messed up. I think the Diablos do have a lease through 2014 and at that point or before I hope they sue El Paso for the money spent on renovation,amongst other things.
    The affiliated Diablos were in MILB AA and had attendence problems, that’s one of the reasons they moved in the first place.So now they are trying for AAA ball?

  18. Normally Independent leagues can ignore MLB affiliated ball rules, but I guess El Paso must own Cohen Stadium. , so are able to do it by kicking them out of thje stadium.

  19. SierraSpartan, you “misremembered,” as Dubya would put it. El Paso is further W than Denver, Santa Fe, and the geographical center of NM…but not ABQ. (I had to look it up once.)

    Notable levels of safety in El Paso predate the troubles in Juárez. And crime rates are plenty high in other parts of Texas, and in “Little Texas” (e.g., Hobbs, NM). So a more guns/more safety correlation isn’t really there, as logical/perverse as it may seem.

    I grew up in the East Bay, but have lived in OK and TX since ’90. This thread captures well the love/hate I feel for both CA and TX. (Quadrophrenia, perhaps.) All I can add is that there seems to be an almost viscerally anti-sentimental, shark-like, keep-moving-forward-at-all-costs-don’t-stop-to-reflect impulse in TX, and particularly in West TX. It seems rooted in a deep history of being aware that towns could, and did, fail in that part of the world, and did so as recently as just a few generations back. If you’re standing still, bad things might happen, in other words. They think of this mindset as “progressive,” but it’s not Progressive, if that makes sense. It’s wasteful, technically speaking, but of course Westerners often think all resources (other than water) are still limitless.

    El Paso is pretty much recession-proof; a Brookings study about 2008 ranked it 6th among the most recession-proof cities in the US: strong, ongoing military presence; amazingly situated geographically in the sense that it is both a gateway into MX as well as a crossroads rail-wise (easiest climb and best weather route for trains through the Intermountain West…and now it’s an interstate corridor); mining has always been profitable (if not good for the environment). So, despite the lack of an income tax, El Paso probably is able to avoid the roller-coaster downside of property-tax revenue reliance that is legendary for many other parts of TX and other non-income-tax states like TN and FL.

    And that City Hall may likely be a piece of crap building-wise despite its relative lack of age. TX really threw stuff up in the late 70s/80s, even more than most places. (There was real superheating real-estate-wise in TX that culminated in the Savings and Loan crisis of the 80s; builders were very busy and probably not paying as much attention to details at that time as they should have.)

    ML, BTW–I really enjoyed the stuff you put up about Chavez Ravine a few months (??) ago. Very interesting.

  20. i am an el pasoan, all this is …………one word….corruption. our city council is just corrupt and greedy. we in el paso do not even want a different team…we are angry that this city shafted the tiguas into buying a stadium just to rip it out of their hands with a no compete clause. people here do not even fill up cohen stadium…….there is no way we will fill up this other place……not happening, they need to take a vote before making these desicions. oh and the bullets that come across from juarez…..what about the area downtown where they want the ballpark…..its where almost all the bars and fights and shootings and stabbings that they don’t tell you about happen……right where they want to put the ball park……..our city council are slow at best.!!!

    WE THE CITIZENS DO NOT WANT THIS!!

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