Proposition 3: Voters approve increase in hotel tax for Downtown El Paso stadium funding
By Cindy Ramirez / El Paso Times
Posted: 11/07/2012 01:19:20 AM MST
The planned Downtown ballpark received a huge show of support from El Pasoans, who on Tuesday voted in favor of increasing the hotel tax to pay for its construction.
"What we did (Tuesday) was change the dynamics of our community," said Leonard "Tripper" Goodman, chairman of the El Paso Tomorrow political action committee advocating for the quality-of-life bond referendum. "Now we know we can -- and will -- make change happen."
El Pasoans voted notably in favor of Proposition 3, which called for the designation of the ballpark project as a sports venue and the use of hotel occupancy tax dollars to finance it. About 60 percent of voters cast ballots supporting the proposition.
With the proposition approved, the $50 million Triple-A stadium will be financed primarily by customers of El Paso hotels. The remaining portion would be paid for by lease payments, baseball-ticket surcharges and parking revenues, among other revenue sources.
Two other propositions, which called for $473 million in projects including parks and zoo improvements, a new children's museum and a multipurpose arena, passed with ease.
"Ten years from now, we won't be able to recognize this city," City Manager Joyce Wilson said at The Garden restaurant Downtown,
where bond supporters gathered and cheered the election results. "We are redefining ourselves."
The decision on Proposition 3 follows months of heated debate over the process and cost of bringing the minor league Tucson Padres baseball team to the city and building a stadium to house it.
Opponents argued that the city should not build the stadium without voter approval and have filed petitions, complaints and lawsuits trying to prevent the demolition of City Hall to make way for the
"As far as I'm concerned, we have already won because our people started this grass-roots organization," said El Paso lawyer Stephanie Townsend Allala, who helped lead the groups opposed to the bond propositions.
"The quest for good government doesn't end with the vote," Allala added. She said she believed the city handled the baseball deal inappropriately. She advocated that the ballpark be built only with voter approval and not at the City Hall site. "Each of us can do something to make our community better."
While revenues from property taxes cannot support a venue project unless it's subsequently approved by voters, the city could have used other financing methods such as a lease-purchase plan or using existing general revenue funds such as sales taxes, franchise fees or international bridge tolls.
City leaders had banked on the hotel tax to pay for about 72 percent of the construction costs.
The hotel tax rate will increase from 15.5 percent to 17.5 percent -- about $1.40 more a night for a room with a $70 daily rate -- by spring 2013. That would generate about $36 million for the ballpark over 25 years, city finance officials said.
On Tuesday, the City Council approved buying two Downtown buildings for $11.7 million, including the El Paso Times building. The council also voted to spend more than $13 million to remake another building as part of a plan to demolish City Hall to make way for the ballpark.
The city entered into partnership with MountainStar Sports Group in June, when the City Council agreed to build the ballpark Downtown. In September, the council approved a contract with the group for the lease of the ballpark.
MountainStar in October officially became the owner of the Triple-A Tucson Padres, the affiliate of the major league San Diego Padres.
The Tucson Padres will play their 2013 season in Arizona and are expected to play in El Paso in 2014.
"It's a great day for El Paso," said Josh Hunt, a partner in MountainStar Sports Group, on Tuesday. "We are progressing, moving forward, and not just with baseball, but as a city with all the propositions."
Cindy Ramirez may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6151. Follow her on Twitter@eptcindyramirez.
Times reporter Aaron Bracamontes contributed to this report.
Heh, heh, heh
THAT'S how you FUND a baseball stadium.
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