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City of El Paso changes target of TIRZ from blighted areas to new development

In one day, the El Paso City Council tripled the land it has set aside for Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones, or TIRZ.

A TIRZ is a financial tool that allows taxing entities like the city to reinvest part of the property tax revenue collected in the area to spur its development.

On Tuesday, city representatives approved a combined 5,000 acres in two new separate TIRZes in the booming northwest El Paso. A review by the ABC-7 I-Team of all active TIRZ areas in El Paso shows combined, their total acreage was 1,602 before the vote.

Traditionally, the city used that tool to attract developers to blighted areas. The three oldest TIRZ that remain active and were implemented between 2006 and 2014 were designed to redevelop neighborhoods in Downtown and the Union Plaza, the Medical Center of the Americas in central El Paso and the Northgate Mall in northeast El Paso.

Then, the city began utilizing the financial tool in 2017 to incentivize areas of new growth.

The latest and largest TIRZ, approved Tuesday, is called TIRZ 10A and has absolutely no infrastructure, no stormwater control or other amenities.

The city says it wants to use TIRZ dollars to make those amenities ready for a developers to move in and develop more than 2,000 new homes and businesses in the fast-growing northwest El Paso between I-10 and Transmountain Road.

One homeowner says all those amenities are what developers are supposed to pay for, not the taxpayer.

Rick Bonart says the expansive backyard for the people of northwest El Paso does not need redevelopment incentives.

“No, I wouldn’t say that this is blighted at all.” is what Bonart, a preservationist, said.

But the city’s Economic and International Development director, Jessica Herrera, says TIRZ are not just used to pump money to redevelop.

“A lot of these costs are significant on the developer, they’re significant on the utility and they’re significant on the city.” said Herrera.

But Bonart said these are all amenities the developer traditionally installs to develop the land.

He says taxpayers, with the use of TIRZ, will foot the bill for all of it.

“So the city is proposing to sell it to a private developer, and help him pay his costs to development, and yet we don’t have an equity position in this deal. So when he sells, and makes his profits, we don’t get a cut.” added Bonart.

The city maintans the “cut” is the investment in the area.

Herrera said the city wants to be strategic and identify how an area grows, with open space and mixed-use development, like homes and shopping.

One developer rumored to be looking at El Paso is the Grey Wolf Lodge Resort, a hotel and water park.

“No, not that I’m aware of,” responded Herrera.

However, she added, this is would be an ideal landscape for such a resort.

According to city documents, plans to develop the area now covered by TIRZ 10 include the construction of 1,129 single family units and 875 multi-family units in addition to “destination retail and entertainment.” The PowerPoint presentation shows an “Illustrative Vision Plan” with the Cimarron and Hunt Communities logos. The companies are owned by Woody Hunt, a prominent developer and philanthropist in El Paso. The plan includes several open space areas and trails.

On Tuesday, city council approved TIRZ 10A and TIRZ 12 in northwest and TIRZ 11 in northeast El Paso near the shuttered Cohen stadium Tuesday.

The vote was 5-4 with Mayor Dee Margo breaking the tie.

Dozens of residents voiced their concerns, even chanted, asking council to reject the plan. They fear they will lose the Lost Dog Trail which the city says, will be moved to a new location.

“I think the thing that we’ll go forward with at this point and time is an initiative petition to bring this to the voters and to block the sale of the land to anyone,” said Bonart after the meeting.

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