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City hires NY firm to find sites for 3 large Quality of Life Bond projects

By Maria Garcia, MariaG@kvia.com.
Published On: Dec 17 2013 08:02:18 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 16 2014 08:06:44 PM CST

ABC-7's Maria Garcia reports.

EL PASO, Texas -

El Paso City Council has hired a New York firm to find sites for the three biggest projects from last year's Quality of Life Bond election.

City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a $614,980 contract with HKS Urban Design Studio to find locations for the children's museum, cultural center and arena voters overwhelmingly approved last November in a massive bond election.

The projects are projected to cost $228,250,000. The projects were overwhelmingly approved by a 71 percent margin in November 2012.

HKS Associate Principal, Randall Morton, said the company will be working with the community during the 6-month process.

"In the early days, we'll have public forums where we'll discuss downtown and all the outer lying areas. We'll then have a series of workshops where we'll bring in models and sketches and have people work with us on physical ideas and in the end, we'll have a report where we'll tell people how their input changed the plan."

The prior City Council had voted for all three projects to be in Downtown El Paso. And during a special meeting on May 24, 2012, the Council approved the bond projects from a presentation that included all three facilities in Downtown.

View the presentation at http://bit.ly/1gEQFYx and read the minutes at http://bit.ly/1kfn341.

Current City Rep. Lily Limon wants HKS to look beyond downtown, at least for the cultural center. 

"Don't lock yourselves downtown specifically for the cultural center, look at the entire city. If it's going to be reflective of the City of El Paso,  let's look at the whole city," she said.

City Rep. Cortney Niland who was part of the prior council who initially approved the projects, said all three facilities were destined for District 8, which encompasses downtown.

"It's these sorts of investments that I believe our catalysts to further economic development now that we got the baseball stadium, we've had an increased amount of new properties and new businesses located in our downtown area. If we were able to eventually put the arena and the museum downtown, there'd be additional activity and recreational activities and I think it will further encourage new development," she said.

Morton said they may consider options outside of downtown, though the core of the City appears to be the main focus. 

"We're going to start by understanding downtown  and then we're going to go through a series of alternative ideas about how placing cultural facilities will reinforce the backbone of downtown and then we'll put it all together and make a final plan," Morton said.

Former City Rep. Susie Byrd said City Council had presented the projects to the public as downtown facilities and should keep its word. "Council can't change that after the public approved," she tweeted.

The ballot language did not specify locations for any project. Read the ballot language at http://bit.ly/18PJ4hS

Though, the order for a bond election approved by Council does specify the arena as a downtown facility. View the order at http://bit.ly/1dlohFD

HKS will work hire six subcontractors to spread the word about the potential sites and help with architecture, feasibility studies, engineering consulting, financial and marketing services and local outreach.

Positive Directions is one of the subcontractors. That's the name of the company headed by County Judge Candidate Aliana Apodoca, who was not immediately available for comment.

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