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Petitioners question downtown ballpark

By Matthew Smith
Published On: Jul 25 2012 08:26:19 PM CDT
Updated On: Jan 14 2014 12:21:46 PM CST

ABC-7's Matthew Smith reports.

EL PASO, Texas -

The El Paso City Council passed a resolution in late June to bring Triple-A baseball to downtown El Paso.

Now, a petition is being circulated by a group called the Quality of Life Voters for Democracy, asking the City Council to vote on an ordinance that would allow the voters in El Paso to make their own decision on the stadium.

While the group said its main goal is to allow voters to vote, it also has brought up several main issues it sees with the baseball park. Below is a description of its stance, which was sent to ABC-7, and responses City Manager Joyce Wilson gave during a sit-down interview about the protest.

BYPASSING THE GOVERNMENT PROCESS:

Protestors: “The El Paso City Council's decision to curtail El Paso voters in voting for a baseball stadium outside of Quality of Life Bond is a flagrant violation of the democratic process. Traditionally, cities have put Quality of Life Bond issues like stadiums to the voters. In 1999, City Council adopted the Ad-hoc Bond Committee's recommendation, which said all quality of life initiatives, such as parks, zoos and stadiums, must be approved by voters. For this reason, the City Council's vote on Item 12 on June 26, 2012 was such a violation of community trust. When the city saw that public support for a downtown stadium was faltering, they removed it from the Quality of Life Bond that voters would have been able to vote upon."

Joyce Wilson: "I believe in an ideal world, the Council would have liked to put it on a ballot, but throughout this process when we started the whole Quality of Life bond election, we were very clear publicly that there was a possibility or prospect of Triple-A baseball. The reality is the opportunity came forward and a commitment and a decision had to be made by the city."

A CALL FOR OPEN GOVERNMENT:

Protestors: "El Paso City Council had 'confidential' meetings with the stadium's proponents, namely Paul L. Foster and Woody Hunt. This may be a Texas Open Meetings Act violation or at least a violation of the spirit of open government."

Joyce Wilson: "First and foremost, the city did not hold any confidential meetings with any of the ownership group. The management team had confidential negotiations on the terms of the agreement. That is not inconsistent with any other type of real estate transaction, business transaction or economic development transaction we do under any set of circumstances. Those negotiations are always confidential until you reach a tentative arrangement. Then, you bring them forward for public vetting and discussion."

PROBLEMS IN TUCSON

Protestors: "El Paso, on the border, is a poor city. The median family income here is $32,000 per year compared to over $45,500 in Pima County, AZ. El Paso County has 800,000 people, the Tucson metropolitan area has 990,000 and their teams have struggled in recent years. Why move a team to a poorer and smaller market?"

Joyce Wilson: "Whoever thinks Tucson is the larger market doesn't know the demographics. El Paso, geographically, is larger. It has a larger population base, and when you factor in the Mexican market, which unfortunately many people don't, this is a huge metroplex. We're talking about 2 million people."

COHEN STADIUM

Protestors: "El Paso has a nice baseball stadium, Cohen Stadium. It is only 22 years old and was designed to hold a Triple A team. It can be easily upgraded to do so. We neither need, nor want, another stadium or team contingent upon a new stadium."

Joyce Wilson: "Two years ago, when the ownership group was trying to acquire the Portland team, they and their representatives went and viewed Cohen Stadium. It was a deal killer. It killed the deal. It wasn't even acceptable as an interim stadium. Cohen Stadium was never built for Triple-A baseball. It is not adequate for today's standards. It would never be acceptable for any ownership group to retrofit for today's standards for Triple-A baseball."

ELIMINATION OF SCIENCE MUSEUM

Protestors: "The city's only science museum, the Insights Museum, which inspires many scientists such as Astronaut Daniel Olivas, will be demolished. A new Insights Museum is not in the city's future."

Joyce Wilson: "Insights leadership has been aware for some time that their tenure on that site would be limited. Even if this would not have come forward, there had been other plans to build out that site and make better utilization of the acreage than what exists now."

OPEN COMPETITION

Protestors: "Traditionally Republicans Paul Foster and Woody Hunt promote a Laissez-faire type of government with no limits on competition. However, they promoted a resolution, which City Council passed, that included a non-compete clause calling for the city to terminate its agreement with the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and deny any baseball team from using Cohen Stadium."

Joyce Wilson: "Any decision we make on relocation will be based on sound business principals, regardless of who the ownership might be. We are not targeting properties owned by the Foster group. We are not targeting properties owned by the REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust), or the Paso del Norte group. I think they're referencing the REIT, the Real Estate Investment Trust. We have our own real estate agent, a company that represents us. They handle all of our property and real estate management needs, and they are doing the due diligence for us. It has been extensive."

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