By a narrow 4-3 margin, the El Paso City Council approved a proposed lease with MountainStar Sports for a new $50 million downtown ballpark for the relocating Tucson Padres (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), but don't assume the issue is settled -- yet.
After hours and hours of public input on the new ballpark, the vote came along the exact lines everyone expected going in, with Rep. Emma Acosta switching her vote to no, as promised; the original ballpark proposal passed by a 6-2 margin, and with the absence of Rep. Steve Ortega (out on his honeymoon) and the switch of Acosta, the 4-3 vote was no surprise. Proposed amendments that would have put the ballpark to a public vote also failed by the same 4-3 margin.
So we have approval of a revised lease -- for now. Mayor John Cook has 72 hours to either veto the lease or let it go, which would authorize the city manager to sign a lease with MountainStar for a new downtown ballpark opening in 2014. A 2 percentage point rise in the local hotel/motel tax would pay for most of the ballpark; the rest would come from rent and ticket surcharges. The rise in the hotel/motel tax would be subject to approval in the November elections, but as the lease is written now the city would need to find an alternative funding method should it be rejected.
Opposition to the ballpark came mainly from two groups: senior citizens against any large city expenditure and conservatives questioning whether the city should be in the ballpark business; support came from business leaders and younger citizens who see the ballpark as contributing to the city's quality of life. Many also opposed tearing down City Hall to make room for the new ballpark, while others pointed out the city's master plan calls for the demolition of City Hall in the next four years. We listened to most of the 140 citizens weighing in on the matter; there were thoughtful comments on both sides, as well as a few Abe Simpsons and a few starry-eyed optimists.
We expect Cook to receive lots of pressure from both sides. He tends to be on both sides of an issue; twice now he's threatened a veto, only to come along the following day and walking back the threat, saying his concerns had been addressed. With only five votes supporting the ballpark (the four voting yes today plus Ortega), a veto would stand; it takes six to override. If Cook vetoes, then MountainStar and ballpark proponents will need to find a way to finance the ballpark -- if the PCL doesn't pull the permissions necessary to buy and move the team. So, basically, the future of PCL ball in El Paso relies on the decision of a single man, at this point.
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