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El Paso City Manager: We won’t be ‘held hostage’ by Downtown property owners

El Paso City Council on Tuesday voted to hire two firms to lead the efforts in choosing and negotiating a price for the sites of the three signature projects approved by El Paso voters.

City employees have narrowed the search to several sites in Downtown El Paso after searching this Spring.

“We have multiple sites that can work and really to keep the cost down for taxpayers and to get more money into the actual construction, you obviously don’t want to spend it all on land,” said City Manager Tommy Gonzalez in an interview Tuesday.

Gonzalez also sent a strong message on Tuesday, saying the City will not be strong-armed into paying unfair prices for the sites. “We have more than one of two viable sites and I think everyone needs to hear that. So if anyone thinks that we’re going to be held hostage in having to pay exorbitant prices, that’s not going to be the case. We are going to work to attempt to look at all those sites and go after the best one. “

After receiving proposals from six companies, City staff recommended and the Council voted to hire firms Bracewell and Giuliani and Abernathy Roeder. Both companies have experience in land acquisition for large scale public projects, according to city officials. “That experience level and the fact that they worked on similar projects than the ones we want to accomplish here was what put them over the top,” said Gonzalez.

City Attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth said the cost of the contracts for the two firms should not exceed more than one percent of the total project cost.

For example, the arena’s budget is $180 million, which means the firms cannot be paid more than $1.8 million for that project. The other projects are the $19 million Children’s museum and the $5.7 million hispanic cultural center.

The budgets could expand if the City garners private donations which it hopes to do, especially for the Children’s museum and the under-funded cultural center. “We’re hoping that in many of these projects we’re going to have private partners so those projects will even increase because if we get investors or people that are donating to the projects,” said Firth.

In January, the El Paso Community Foundation vowed to raise $10 million for the Children’s Museum if the City moved forward with the project sooner rather than later.

An out of town firm with no business interests connected to downtown El Paso was important to the City Attorney. “The conflict of interest would probably be strong in this community just because in her (city attorney) opinion the legal community has a tight knit kind of group,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez added one of the criteria the city used to narrow sites was the potential of the property’s surrounding area. “What type of additional development could occur around those sites so it wasn’t just looking at a particular site for those particular facilities but what could happen around it.”

City officials have previously said they were considering four areas in downtown El Paso to build these facilities: the civic center district, the museum area, the San Jacinto Plaza area or the golden horseshoe shopping district.

The longer the city waits to build, the more it’ll cost.

For example, if the city builds the arena in 2016, it’ll cost $14,000 a seat. If the City builds it in 2024, it’ll cost them $20,000 a seat, according to city documents. “This community wants things to be moving quickly on these signature projects,” said Gonzalez.



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