Dear Media and Friends,
Claudia Lizette Rodriguez of City District 6 placed item 22 on the agenda for this coming Tuesday:
“Discussion and action to direct the City Manager and staff to come back at the November 23, 2021 City Council meeting with an estimate of how much the Multipurpose Performing Arts and Entertainment Center (MPC) project would cost if it were executed today.”
On May 24, 2012, the City Council earmarked $180 million for the “Arena,” but there are only $165 million remaining from the 2012 Quality of Life Bond, and that was nine years ago.
The City’s own RFQ reveals that their plan is to build “a state of the art arena with a target capacity of 15,000 seats for basketball games, that includes approximately 24 private suites, 30 loge boxes and 500 club seats” even though the 2012 ballot proposition was titled “Museum, Cultural, Performing Arts, and Library Facilities.”
As I wrote in a guest column for the El Paso Times 18 months ago, “the City claims it will build the arena for $180 million, or $12,000 per seat. However, the cheapest multipurpose basketball arena of comparable size built in the past five years is Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, seating 17,341 and costing $32,178 per seat. Mathematically, our arena would cost $482,671,000 in 2019 dollars, not including the $23 million-plus already spent on bond interest, property acquisition, and litigation.”
Given the skyrocketing cost of construction materials and labor, it is painfully obvious the City’s project would cost well over $500 million.
No one should be surprised. Both the Ballpark and Childrens Museum cost more than triple their original price tags.
Thanks to Rep. Rodriguez, the media and public are going to learn the cold hard truth about the Arena. Not only would it destroy critically important cultural assets and displace numerous urban residents, but we cannot possibly afford it.
Assuming this boondoggle is underfunded by at least $300 million, what are the options for making up the shortfall?
1. Issue more COs. We already have $731 million in outstanding CO debt, a Texas record, and the debt servicing will continue to raise our property tax as hundreds of millions in bonds are sold over the next several years. Moreover, as of September 1, debt servicing on COs is now included in the State’s calculation for the tax rollback rate. Not an option.
2. Put a new ballot initiative to a vote. Even if Woody, Paul and their friends spent a billion dollars on advertising, they would never convince El Pasoans to borrow hundreds of millions more for yet another insolvent sports venue. I doubt anyone on City Council would have the courage to stand in front of that one.
3. Enter into a public-private partnership. Our local oligarchs typically prefer that the taxpayers assume the capital risk for large insolvent projects that benefit them, such as the Ballpark. Private investors won’t go anywhere near the arena, not even in a hazmat suit for gamma radiation. It would be more profitable to sell buckets of sand to the Saudis! The oligarchs will never step up to the plate if they have to pay for this themselves.
CITY COUNCIL TO VOTE
So Tuesday our City Council will vote on whether to direct the City Manager and his staff to provide an estimate for the cost of the Arena.
Its cost is completely unrelated to any litigation, so there is no reason why the matter cannot be discussed in open session.
In any case, why should anyone on City Council object to transparency? What would be the logic for voting no?
We shall see.