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City’s plans for outdoor amphitheater may hinge on ballpark contract

Members of the 1st Armored Division Sun City Brass Band performed in spring 2023 before an El Paso Chihuahuas game at Southwest University Park.
Courtesy of the 1st Armored Division Band
Members of the 1st Armored Division Sun City Brass Band performed in spring 2023 before an El Paso Chihuahuas game at Southwest University Park.

by Elida S. Perez, El Paso Matters
February 15, 2024

The city may be violating its contract with MountainStar Sports, which operates Southwest University Park, if it builds an indoor-outdoor amphitheater at Union Depot.

City officials have not mentioned the ballpark contract clause in public discussions about the amphitheater proposal, and it's unclear if City Council members were told of the clause as they’ve discussed plans for the city’s long-delayed multipurpose center.

A city spokesperson, responding to questions from El Paso Matters, said the amphitheater wouldn’t violate the contract,but did not directly answer whether City Council members had been previously informed of the clause.

The ballpark lease contract with MountainStar, originally signed in 2012, states: “Neither City nor any Affiliate of City, shall, directly or indirectly, develop, finance, facilitate or otherwise participate in the development or approval of any outdoor concert venue in downtown El Paso that is reasonably anticipated to compete with the Ballpark, with the exception of a soccer stadium for a United Soccer League Soccer Team.”

The current plan for the multipurpose center – the city’s last signature bond project approved by voters in 2012 – aims to build an indoor/outdoor amphitheater venue with a capacity for 4,000 indoor and 4,000 outdoor seats.

City Rep. Brian Kennedy said he is aware of the clause and “that discussion is ongoing,” but declined further comment. 

“That’s news to me,” said city Rep. Josh Acevedo, adding the clause has not been brought up to him since he was sworn into office Jan. 30.

Former city Rep. Alexsandra Annello, who participated in planning for the multipurpose center until she left office Jan. 30 to run for state representative, says she doesn’t remember the City Council being told about the ballpark contract clause prohibiting the city from building an outdoor venue Downtown.

“I have no recollection of that clause,” Annello said.

Chris Canales

City Rep. Chris Canales, who represents the Downtown area, declined to comment when asked if he was aware of the ballpark contract clause, and some of the remaining city representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

The city owns Southwest University Park, but it is leased and operated by MountainStar Sports, which owns the El Paso Chihuahuas Triple-A baseball team and the El Paso Locomotive of the United Soccer League.

Prior to last year, when the council voted to remove the multipurpose center project from the controversial Duranguito neighborhood into the Union Plaza area of Downtown El Paso, the city had not discussed an indoor/outdoor venue. The initial plans for the project called for an indoor arena-type facility.

In January 2023, before the city voted to move the project, the San Francisco-based M. Arthur Gensler & Associates, Inc. architectural firm presented findings of a study that showed options for how an arena could be built as either a hybrid venue with indoor and outdoor seating, or a traditional arena.

The City Council is considering building its multi-purpose center, with outdoor seating, adjacent to the Union Depot. (Ramon Bracamontes/El Paso Matters)

The new proposed site, on which City Council on Tuesday delayed voting for four weeks to get community feedback, would be located on the property of the Union Depot, within view of Southwest University Park.

City officials have stressed “speed to market” as a feature of the Union Depot site, because the city already owns the land. But legal challenges, which have plagued efforts to build the multipurpose center for years, could once again snarl the project.

Gensler, which has been working with the city on alternative sites for the project, this week again presented the City Council with the option for an indoor/outdoor venue that would fit within the city’s remaining budget of about $162 million from the voter-approved $180 million.

MountainStar Sports officials didn’t respond to questions from El Paso Matters.

City spokesperson Laura Cruz-Acosta said the amphitheater will not violate the contract.

“It's a hybrid facility that will provide a completely different experience to event goers than the ballpark,” Acosta said in a written statement. “As for the past 10 years, the ballpark has not been used as an entertainment venue for concerts that are anticipated to be hosted at the MPC per the feasibility study conducted by Gensler. The Gensler study also noted that the region lacks a modern concert venue that a select group of concerts/acts look for on tours which means it will target a completely different act than the ballpark would attract.”

In addition to baseball and soccer games, Southwest University Park has held events such as dance competitions, boxing matches, graduations, the annual Way Out West Country Music Festival, and mixed martial arts competitions since opening in 2014.

The lease agreement between the city and MountainStar says that if there is a dispute with what's in the contract, both sides must try to settle it on their own first and through the help of the city manager. If that doesn't work, then mediation is the next step. If those don’t work, one of the parties could file a lawsuit.

Disclosure: The Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation is a financial supporter of El Paso Matters. Woody Hunt is one of the co-owners of MountainStar Sports. Financial supporters play no role in El Paso Matters’ journalism. The news organization’s policy on editorial independence can be found here.

This article first appeared on El Paso Matters and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Article Topic Follows: Politics

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El Paso Matters Elida S. Perez


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