As the Chair of the 2012 Quality of Life Bond Overview Advisory Committee, I attended the City’s two meetings on the proposed Union Depot location for the Multi Purpose Center (MPC).

The meetings were rather sparsely attended for such an important subject, with only about 35 members of the public at each meeting.

I made it a point to read people’s comments at the virtual meeting, and visit with the participants at the “in-person hybrid” meeting. I could not find a single person in favor of the Union Depot site.

I did learn quite a lot from participants who had knowledge about trains. I was told train traffic is intense, passing by the site approximately every 15 minutes. Not only will there be disruptive noise, but excessive vibration that will be impossible to ignore.

City staff tried to answer several of my questions, unfortunately their responses to basic about the number of onsite parking spaces, size of the venue, and egress from Paisano all yielded the unsavory “we don’t know…. this is all conceptual.” Still conceptual after two years of study is unacceptable.

Here are some things I do know, and it’s not great news.

  1. The budget for the MPC is $180 million dollars.
  2. For $180M we get 4,000 indoor seats and a lawn capable of an additional 4,000 “bring-your-own” outdoor chair/blanket seats. Bottom line, that’s $45,000 per seat. For perspective, you can buy a Ford F-150 pickup for $45,000.
  3. Staff affirmed there will be 30% in soft costs. That’s $54 million for things like administration fees, architects, inspection, and project management. Half of the $54 million ($27 million) will be rebated to the City. That reduces the capital available for construction to $128 million. Yes! In case you skimmed over this important factoid…we are borrowing money to pay City salaries to build the venue… That’s lunacy. BTW, because we are borrowing the $27 million for salaries, in actuality it’s really $54 million from the bond for City salaries.
  4. There are only five other hybrid venues in the USA like what is being proposed for El Paso. Get ready for a Mic Drop: all 5 are privately owed. The Toyota Music Factory is one example, with average ticket prices of $150 to see golden oldies bands like the Pixies and the Black Crows.
  5. As one participant pointed out, the name of the site is quietly morphing into “concert hall”, at the expense of the Plaza and Abraham Chavez. This is an obvious admission of the reduced scope.
  6. The Mayor pointed out that even if we choose the Union Depot Site today, actual construction won’t start until 2027! So what’s the rush?
  7. In the 12 years since this project has been proposed, not one sponsor has offered to jump in.

Frequently we hear the City is not in the business of making money while providing services to the citizens. I agree, and the parks and pools are perfect examples. But what sets this apart is using public funds to build a venue in order to allow a FOR-PROFIT private company to make money.

So what should we do? First, when you are digging yourself into a hole, STOP DIGGING. The simple truth is that inflation, costs of construction, and litigation have all created the perfect storm of higher costs resulting in an inferior venue, far less than anything originally promised to the voters in 2012.

If a private entity willing to build this project with their capital can’t be found, then I suggest going back to drawing board. Stop borrowing money for a failing project, refund what’s left of the $60 million already borrowed, and let the public vote to decide upon the wisdom of investing the more than $500 million necessary to build the type of venue originally envisioned by the City.

If we want to be fair to the community and engage in a true equity partnership with a third party, I suggest we proportionately share in all costs and revenues or losses.

Perhaps we need to look at what the other five cities with hybrid arenas did and offer a parcel as a lease-purchase agreement and let the private sector build and operate the venue.

Dr. Rick Bonart, Westside