A plan to build a $180 million multi-purpose arena in downtown El Paso may be facing yet another hurdle as the site it will be built on is examined from an archeological and historical perspective.
Approved by the El Paso City Council in the fall of 2016, the proposed arena has been consistently opposed by community activists and residents of the Duranguito neighborhood where the project would go up.
Those opponents have argued that Duranguito is an historically significant neighborhood that shouldn’t be demolished to make way for the project.
Arena foes won a signal victory earlier this year when Texas District Court Judge Amy Meachum ruled that the ballot language for the 2012 Quality of Life bonds paying for the construction of the arena did not mention that the structure might be used for sporting events.
Although the City of El Paso has since appealed Meachum’s ruling, demolition work at the site was forced to stop.
Now a memorandum of understanding that is in the working stages between El Paso and the Texas Historical Commission could result in an extensive archeological and historical analysis of the site.
Reports have indicated that a cemetery with the buried remains of Confederate soldiers may be beneath Duranguito’s surface. If that proves the case, it would add a new complication to the project and could, according to Texas law, require yet more study.
El Paso officials have acknowledged the possibility that there may be a cemetery with the remains of Civil War soldiers in the area, but have maintained that that cemetery is most likely not beneath the exact area where the arena will be built.
A 2005 book by the authors Ken and Sharon Hudnall, entitled Spirits of the Border, claims that Confederate soldiers were indeed buried in downtown El Paso, but in a space near the intersection of South El Paso Street and East Overland Avenue, roughly a block to the east of Duranguito.
A long talked-about and sweeping plan to remake one of the most popular parks in Phoenix could finally be getting a construction schedule in 2018.
“A revised master plan was approved in April 2016,” says Gregg Bach of the proposed $118 million redevelopment of the Margaret T. Hance Park, adding that the “architectural plans and potential construction phases are [now] being developed.”
The next step, continues Bach, public information officer with the City of Phoenix’s Parks and Recreation Department, is the money, which could come through “naming rights, sponsorships, or private donations.”
For Marcia Karasek, it has been a long time coming.
“This has very much been a work in progress,” says Karasek, the former executive director of the Hance Park Conservancy, a Phoenix group dedicated to supporting the park’s improvements and securing funding for it.
“The concept is fabulous and is a part of all the things that were predicted when the project was first talked about several years ago,” Karasek continues.
Those things include the continued development of downtown Phoenix, and the prediction that Hance Park would be in the middle of increased residential development.
“All of that has come to fruition,” says Karasek, “which means that there is now a chance to actually have a place for people living downtown that is not just a neighborhood green space, but also a civic space for the city.”
Named in honor of Margaret T. Hance, Phoenix’s first woman mayor, the 32-acre park, located on the northern edge of downtown Phoenix and uniquely built atop the Papago Freeway Tunnel, has for years been a durable mainstay for area recreational activities, concerts, strolling, and idle contemplation.
It is also a place, remarked Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton last year, that “plays a big role in our community, it’s a place where the city’s commitment to our residents comes to life.”
But for visitors to the space, as well as regular users, Hance Park, according to a city master plan document, has often felt “empty and uninviting,” lacking a “sense of identity.”
That document, entitled the Hance Park Master Plan Final Design, additionally noted that the park “has a shortage of amenities, daily programming to activate the park, and a perceived lack of safety.”
Some five years ago, city officials launched a timeline for the park’s master plan that has seen a design team partly made up of the architectural firms of Scottsdale-based Weddle Gilmore of Scottsdale and Floor Associates of Phoenix overseeing a public engagement process intended to elicit input from residents on how to improve the park.
The subsequent evolving plan envisions a comprehensive redevelopment that will eventually see the construction of splash pads and other water features, an outdoor theater, skate park, gardens, creative landscaping, and shade structures of varying shapes and sizes.
An existing firehouse in the park will be repurposed as a food and beverage station.
But an exact schedule for when all of this will actually begin, cautions Gregg, is “currently undetermined.”
“We’ll have a better idea about the timeline in another six months or so when the planning has been completed,” he adds.
Generally, the ambitious makeover is expected to take at least a decade to complete, with the work being done in phases.
The most immediate challenge for the project is its price tag, which could eventually end up being more than the anticipated $118 million, and finding the funding necessary to meet it.
City sources say that almost certainly the redevelopment will be paid for through a combination of public and private financing, with some of the money on the public side coming from a parks and recreation sales tax fund.
Despite these challenges, Karasek says hopes for a new Hance Park remain high.
“It will not be just a big civic place that no one goes to when there is not an event, but also a neighborhood place, which is the best.”
While Karasek acknowledges that much preliminary work still remains to be completed, she nevertheless emphasizes that “Once everything is done, it really is going to be an important place for the city.”
Legislation designed to keep the San Juan Generating Station near Waterflow, New Mexico operational is expected to be reviewed when lawmakers begin the regular 2018 session in mid-January of the New Mexico State Legislature.
Built over a six-year period between 1976 and 1982, the facility underwent a $320 million plant-wide retrofit in 2009.
But the Public Service Company of New Mexico, which is the majority owner of the plant, last spring announced a plan that would do away with coal power as part of the company’s portfolio by the year 2031.
Two lawmakers, Representative Paul Brady of Aztec and Senator Steve Neville of Farmington, are asking that PNM study the economic ramifications of closing the facility. The legislation will open the door to transferring control of the station to another party if up to 50 percent of the facility is used to produce energy.
The legislation will also allow for continued coal-fired production at San Juan, or for converting the plant for natural gas and geothermal production.
The San Juan Generating Station has annually burned around 6.6 million tons of coal, supplying the energy needs of consumers in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. Earlier this month, the plant closed down two of its four units as part of an agreement with New Mexico and the federal government to reduce haze pollution.
One of the most iconic and historic structures in downtown Tempe is on the verge of a major renovation.
The Hayden Flour Mill for decades produced tons of flour and grain daily until its then-owner, the Bay State Mill Company, moved its operations to nearby Tolleson in the spring of 1998.
In the years since that closing, the facility and the larger 5-acre site has been the subject of redevelopment proposals calling for the property with its distinctive commanding white grain silos to be turned into a mixed-use project.
Now City of Tempe officials, working with the Chicago-based Baum Development, have settled on a plan that will see a revitalization of the property beginning in 2018.
First phase plans for the site call for the development of 14,200 square feet of office space, 8,300 square feet of restaurant space, and 2,000 square feet for an outdoor dining area.
The plans also include repurposing the silos into a hotel, with the construction of a separate building that will serve as the hotel’s lobby.
Final plans for the property are expected to be submitted to the Tempe City Council early next year, with construction starting by spring.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the flour mill, located on the southeast corner of Mill Avenue and the Rio Salado Parkway, was built in 1918. It replaced two earlier mills on the site dating back to 1895.
The land has been secured for the construction of a new wind farm in central New Mexico, some 100 miles to the southeast of Albuquerque.
Cowboy Mesa LLC, whose parent company is the Pattern Energy Group of San Francisco, has plans to build the farm on a just over 1,600-acre site on land being leased out by the New Mexico State Land Office.
The project, which will be able to produce 20 megawatts annually, enough to power several thousand homes, is one of many such wind farms either operating or being developed in New Mexico on wind-swept rural lands.
According to reports, private owners receive several million dollars every year for leasing the land needed for wind farm use. Altogether, wind farms in New Mexico today are producing around 1.1 gigawatts of electricity.
A working committee is expected to be formed next year bringing together representatives from Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa, and smaller communities with the idea of jump-starting a move to bring the Salt River in those areas back to life.
That water stream, which once flowed through Phoenix and its neighboring cities, dried up after a dam project in the first decade of the last century, leaving behind what has been described as a gigantic scar measuring more than one mile in width in certain segments.
But a move to bring back the Salt River corridor received a boost earlier this year from Arizona Senator John McCain, who has talked about the creation of a project that would create a flood control channel stretching some 20 miles from Mesa to Phoenix and punctuated by recreational parks and lagoons.
Because McCain was diagnosed last summer with a form of terminal brain cancer, the work getting the project going is considered to be more timely than ever.
“Those who have worked with the senator say that a development project that could change the face and future of metro Phoenix is as fitting a legacy project as any,” the Arizona Republic recently said.
Proponents of what is being called the Rio Salado Project, in honor of the Spanish name for the Salt River used more than a century ago, say the initial challenge will be getting the various city and community governments in the area to agree on one action plan.
That effort is made more complicated by a number of private interests who own land along the banks of the river.
A gymnasium built in 1971 that hosts regularly scheduled sporting events, graduations, and the annual Hozhoni Days Powwow and Pageant may be significantly expanded if funds for the project can be secured.
Officials at the four-year Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado say they would like to more than double the square footage of the current Whalen Gymnasium, but need state backing to proceed.
The building is said to be the most busy structure on campus, but has inadequate training and weight rooms, among others things.
The college would like to build a $57.5 million expansion of the facility, adding 45,000 square feet that would go up in two phases, with the first phase costing around $31 million.
In a bid for state support, Fort Lewis College officials have presented plans for the gymnasium project to members of the Colorado Legislature’s capital development committee.
That committee is tasked with prioritizing higher education facility funding. The top five projects signed off by the committee will almost certainly be included in Governor John Hickenlooper’s preliminary 2018-19 budget.
If funding for the Whalen Gymnasium is approved, it would mean that Colorado would be paying for over $25 million of the first phase construction costs, with $3 million going to the design and engineering of that phase.
Ultimately, Fort Lewis College would like to end up with a total 120,000 square foot facility that will include room for a biometrics lab, faculty
An internationally known golf entertainment company is expected to begin construction on a new outlet in Thornton, Colorado sometime next year.
The Dallas-based Topgolf, which has nearly 50 such facilities in the U.S. and Great Britain, opened its first Colorado site in the city of Centennial in 2015.
The Thornton project, which has won the approval of the Thornton City Council, comes after an earlier Topgolf proposal in that city that sparked opposition from nearby neighbors.
The new site, on some 12.2 acres near the northeast corner of Interstate 25 and 160th Avenue, is, according to City of Thornton documents, “not located in proximity to any existing residential uses.”
The document adds that the traditional Topgolf “designs its prototypes to be compatible with surrounding development.”
The Thornton project will see the construction of a 65,000 square foot structure with restaurant and special event space, as well as a rooftop terrace. Also included in the project will be an indoor/outdoor golfing range, and 102 covered driving bays.
Topgolf has recently been on an expansion boom, building or planning new facilities just this last year alone in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, and Texas.
Renovation work is set to begin on one of the more unique neo-classical buildings in downtown El Paso.
Originally built to house any number of different-sized offices on its upper floors, with retail on the ground level, the Abdou is one of a handful of downtown El Paso structures treasured by preservationists and historians for the way it was put together.
Designed by the celebrated architect Henry Trost, the building, says Daniel Carey-Whalen, the chairman of the El Paso Historic Landmark Commission, is “the second of five buildings built by Trost on a two-block stretch of Mesa Avenue between 1909 and 1910.”
“It is most notable in that it was Trost’s first completely exposed concrete building in which both the structural and decorative components were made out of reinforced concrete.”
Architect Bill Helm, a principal with the El Paso-based Situ Architecture, says that the concrete aspect is more historically important than might be casually imagined.
“The building was completed before there was even a city code,” says Helm, “which means they were testing ideas and technology that were not even yet codified.”
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the elegantly simple structure at 115 N. Mesa Street, which was officially opened in 1910, has gone through several owners, as well as some physical changes, before being purchased by its current owners.
Those owners, comprising the Urban Lions LLC firm, announced plans last year to renovate and upgrade the Abdou, respecting in the process its architectural integrity while creating new spaces for luxury apartments and offices on the building’s upper floors.
In September the project took a big leap forward when members of El Paso’s Historic Landmark Commission approved the renovation plans for the 27,000 square-foot structure.
Those plans are not only inspiring people in the city delighted to save and preserve one more Trost masterpiece, but also those interested in promoting the Abdou’s larger downtown surroundings.
“This is really a project signaling the renewal of downtown residential and the establishment of modern market rate downtown residential,” remarks Joe Gudenrath, executive director of El Paso’s Downtown Management District.
“It’s the sort of thing that changes the hours of operation when you have people who are living downtown and are there in the evenings and on weekends,” Gudenrath continues.
“That brings a sense of ownership in the area that really has a dramatic impact,” adds Gudenrath.
Unlike other structures of its era and age, the Abdou has not endured the kind of dramatic downturns in fortune that lead to endemic vacancies, boarded up windows, and vandalism.
“In the past 20 years or so there have always been people living on the upper floors,” says Helm.
Constructed at a cost of $60,000, the building was originally known for housing the Rio Grande Valley Bank and Trust before being purchased by El Paso businessman Sam Abdou in 1925.
It was Abdou who kept the building rented out, even during the Great Depression, seeing the structure house such businesses as the Zales Company and Gantt Jewelry Manufacturing.
The Urban Lions team, in announcing plans for the Abdou’s renovation, have said that it is their goal to repair the exterior concrete of the building, while keeping the windows, interior walls, and marble stairs as much as possible in their original condition.
“The exterior was not covered over at any time, fortunately,” notes Helm.
“But there has been a neglect of maintenance over the years, a lot of the concrete has spalled, so the renovation work will be significant,” Helm adds.
The building will also be seeing an update of its electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems.
It is expected that upon completion, the updated apartments inside the Abdou could rent for as much as $2,500 a month, in spaces measuring more than 2,000 square feet.
“The demand has been identified and people are lining up to be in these downtown buildings like the Abdou,” says Gudenrath, who additionally describes the project as proof that “we are at the very beginning of what should be a significant residential boom in downtown El Paso.”
Bids are expected to open early next year for the next construction phase of a big sports field complex being built on the far east side of El Paso.
Originally funded at $10 million as one of the Quality of Life bonds passed by El Paso voters in 2012, the first phase construction of what is being called the Eastside Sports Complex was increased to nearly $24 million when the project was expanded.
City officials expect that the first phase of the project, which started last year, will wrap next summer.
Meanwhile, design work on the second phase will most likely start in early 2018 with construction slated to begin later in the year.
The project is going up on a rectangular-shaped 80-acre site at the intersection of John Hayes Street and Montwood Drive, more than 20 miles to the east of downtown El Paso.
Included as part of the complex are 16 sports fields, hiking and biking trails, exercise stations, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant bathrooms, and an events pavilion.
Work on the second phase of the project will be funded through the creation of both a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, as well as a Public Improvement District that will use property taxes to pay for the continued work.
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