Sam Rodriguez has a quick take on what’s wrong with the northeast El Paso site of the Cohen Stadium.
“It’s a site that has just been sitting there and underperforming from a public asset perspective,” says Rodriguez, who is El Paso’s city engineer and director of the Capital Improvement Department.
“So the idea is to redevelop that, and make it a contributing portion of our city,” continues Rodriguez.
That may seem like an incredibly simple perspective on what will be a multi-layered, phased redevelopment of one of the most publicly identifiable properties in El Paso.
But Rodriguez’s overview, if all works out, is one that city leaders and residents across El Paso would agree with.
The Cohen Stadium, built in 1990 and one-time home of the Diablos minor league baseball team, has in recent years been the home to various festivals and fairs, but has also often stood vacant.
In response, El Paso city officials for the most part of the last two years have been working on a plan to dramatically transform a more than 50-acre site, turning it into a thriving hub of retail, recreation, and entertainment options, with public plaza, hotel, and office space.
The office factor could well include shared work space, while the retail component may see, as a community component, room for small businesses and stores.
In a document presented to the El Paso City Council called Cohen Entertainment District, the vision for the site also emphasized “integrated circulation for walking, bicycling, [and] jogging throughout the property,” with streets and defined parking areas.
“We just finished the master plan and are in the process of completing the design standards,” reports Rodriguez of the project.
“The city has already funded about $12 million towards the improvement of the site to kick off the development by approving the funding for a new water park that is going to be built by the city and operated by the city as part of the development,” he continues.
The water park will be paid for out of both the big Quality of Life Bond passed by El Paso voters in 2012, as well as the city’s 2017 Capital Improvement Plan.
According to plans, work on the water park will begin in March of next year, with a completion date set for the summer 2020.
But the water park component also serves another purpose: it will show to the people of El Paso and the surrounding region that the Cohen redevelopment will be focused on recreational themes.
“Residents made it very clear—we don’t need more residential,” El Paso City Representative Sam Morgan remarked, as the latest redevelopment plans were presented in late August to the City Council.
“We need something that is family-oriented, and is more of a destination type event,” continued Morgan, whose District 4 includes the Cohen site.
But before the scope of the full development could be realized, city officials and project participants realized that they had to address the question of what to do with the Cohen Stadium itself.
“Do we keep the stadium or not?” Eugenio Mesta asked during a community input meeting earlier this year.
“It was a long and hard debate on whether we keep it,” continued Mesta, whose El Paso architecture firm Exigo was tasked with putting together a preliminary design plan for how the Cohen site could be redeveloped.
Ultimately, the design team opted for a site without the stadium.
In May, the El Paso City Council approved around $3.4 million for the demolition of the structure.
“We really didn’t see how it could continue to serve a purpose for the community,” explains Rodriguez, additionally noting the existence of the new $72 million Southwest University Park baseball stadium in downtown El Paso, which opened in the spring of 2014.
Additional funding for the project will be coming through the creation of a tax increment reinvestment zone, which will allow for tax revenues from within the boundaries of that district to be plowed back into basic infrastructure for the site redevelopment.
But ultimately, the ambitious and imaginative Cohen project will only become a reality through a combination of both private and public funding.
“This is a trend you are seeing nationwide where it just makes sense to combine public amenities with the private sector to ensure that our communities get the biggest benefit of the development itself,” says Rodriguez.
How much the total redevelopment of the Cohen site will eventually cost remains open to question. Estimates have pegged the big project at anywhere from $200 to $300 million in combined private and public funding.
“We’ve done some estimates regarding the public part, but haven’t released those numbers yet because we need to do more studies on that,” says Rodriguez.
By Garry Boulard
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