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Pacific Coast League approves El Paso getting team; city one step closer to Triple-A dream

By Whitney Burbank
Leonard Martinez
Published On: Jul 31 2012 07:36:29 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 01 2012 01:04:42 AM CDT

Reporter: Whitney Burbank

EL PASO, Texas -

The Pacific Coast League's executive committee has unanimously approved the preliminary application review (PAR) application by MountainStar Sports Group, bringing a Triple-A team one step closer to being moved to El Paso.

The PCL's president sent a letter to El Paso City Manager Joyce Wilson which stated that a Control Interest Transfer application has been sent to Minor League Baseball and that review has started.

"Because the Ownership Group has already been approved under the PAR process, we expect the CIT review to be straightforward and we do not anticipate any issues," PCL President Branch B. Rickey said in the letter.

Joshua Hunt, a partner in MountainStar Sports Group, said the PAR approval letter from Rickey was a very positive sign from the Pacific Coast League and Minor League Baseball.

"This is all part of the baseball process, and it's a big step forward," said Hunt. "There are other necessary steps of approval, but we're getting very close."

Hunt added that this is big, positive news for the City.

"This is as close as this City's ever been in its history to having a Triple-A, professionally-affiliated team. That's exciting, and it's a tribute to El Paso that our community was carefully vetted by Minor League Baseball and the PCL. Our City can be proud of that; there are only thirty Triple-A Baseball teams in the country."

While sports commentator Steve Kaplowitz said it's not quite a done deal because Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball have to sign off on the deal, "the Pacific Coast League giving their approval was huge."

City Rep. Steve Ortega said at this point it is just a matter of paperwork.

"Now it's just administrative work that needs to be done," Ortega said.

Matt LaBranche, general manager of the El Paso Diablos, said he did not have a comment on the Triple-A announcement.

El Paso City Council on June 26 approved building a baseball stadium at the site of the current City Hall in Downtown. The measure passed by a vote of 6-2.

To make way for ballpark opening by spring of 2014, City Hall would have to be demolished by early 2013 with a 14-month construction schedule.

Projected cost of the ballpark would be no more than $50 million.

Not everyone is excited about the Downtown ballpark. On July 31, a group gathered at City Hall to turn in a petition that could change the way City Council approves the construction of stadiums and arenas.

It would require voters first approve the proposal before they are built.

"The devil is in the details and though they say the stadium will only cost $50 million, there's a lot of hidden costs that were not really talked about," said Raymundo Rojas of Quality of Life Voters for Democracy. "We think that the decision should have been kept within the bond or put into a separate bond so that we can vote upon just as has traditionally been so."

Rojas said they have collected about 2,300 signatures and that they hope to add the initiative to the ballot in November.

The PCL and its members reviewed materials relating to El Paso and the ownership group at its meetings in Buffalo earlier this month where the Triple-A all star game and festivities took place. Mountain Star Sports is pursuing the Tucson Padres.

MountainStar Sports made a three-hour presentation on July 6 in Dallas to the Executive Committee of the PCL and called it a productive meeting.

A name has not been announced for the potential Triple-A baseball team but a possibility is the El Paso Padres because the owner of the Tucson Padres has agreed to sell the team to MountainStar Sports Group. Franklin Mountain Management, a company associated with MountainStar Sports, registered elpasopadres.com on June 7, 2012, according to Internet registration records.

Scott Weaver and Paul L. Foster, both officers with MountainStar Sports, also are managers with Franklin Mountain Management, according to state records.

Local millionaire Woody Hunt also is an officer with MountainStar Sports.

MountainStar Sports Group was founded May 8, 2012 and has active officers that include Paul L. Foster, Hunt, Scott D. Weaver, and Joshua Hunt, according to business registration information with the state. Foster and Woody Hunt have been working for two years to acquire a Triple-A team for El Paso.

To make way for ballpark opening by spring of 2014, City Hall would have to be demolished by early 2013 with a 14-month construction schedule.

Projected cost of the ballpark would be no more than $50 million.

With certificates of obligation off the table, the city's Chief Financial Officer, Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria said for the first year the most cost effective method to pay for the ballpark would come primarily from the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT tax).

Arrieta-Candelaria said, ideally, 70 percent of the funds would come from an increase in the HOT tax.

She said the other 30 percent would combine:

$40,000 from a ten cent per-ticket surcharge, estimating around 5,400 people would attend every game.

$200,000 from stadium rent, after the second year, three-quarters of that will go into a capital improvement fund, leaving $50,000 for the stadium.

The ownership group consists of El Pasoans Woody L. Hunt, Chairman of Hunt Companies, Inc., and Paul L. Foster, Executive Chairman of Western Refining, Inc. Other members are Alejandra de la Vega Foster, President of Almacenes Distribuidores de la Frontera, and Joshua Hunt, Senior Vice President of Hunt Companies and Managing Director of Hunt Holdings.

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