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Political Baseball: Crowd Lashes Out at Byrd, Ballpark [OPINION]

Duke Keith
The conference room at the Nolan Richardson Rec Center was almost packed. Seeing two of El Paso’s finest in uniform was a clue as to how this would go, as was the fact that there was a lot more gray hair in the audience than any other color.

I should have known.

El Paso’s city representative from District 2, Susie Byrd, was about to get an earful on the downtown ballpark and I was going to be the “moderator”. I use quotations because what happened Thursday night was anything but moderate.

Passionate would be a good word. Contentious would be another. Downright angry qualifies, too.

Moderation walked out with about six other people just five minutes into Byrd’s presentation when she told the crowd funding for the ballpark was already a done deal. That’s when the shouting started.

The first wave died down quickly and Byrd finished presenting reasons why she and five other members of council had voted to spend the money to build a ballpark on the site of the current City Hall without taking it to the voters.

Then came “Question” and Answer.

Again with the quotation marks. That’s because questions turned into rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions turned into statements of opinion. Statements of opinion turned into shouting matches within the crowd that turned into wisecracks about the proposed Stanton Street trolley line that would just be used to ferry Mexicans to study at UTEP.

Wow. Credit to El Paso’s older folks — they are legion and they’ll show up to speak their mind. But, yeah, they went there a couple of times.

Progress, thy name is not Jud or Cora.

You want to know who decides local elections? Take a good look at this picture, taken a few minutes before the action started.

Duke Keith

Younger El Pasoans who whine about there being nothing to do here but don’t recognize that it takes two to tango (or jitterbug, or foxtrot, or even twist) need to understand it’s grandma and grandpa who will vote to keep things nice and quiet, and with lower tax rates.

If you want something different, kiddos, come to meetings like Thursday’s and show ‘em how to Dougie.

You might not change anybody’s mind. I haven’t changed mine. But arguments like this are necessary in a democracy. If it gets downright nasty it only shows how much people still care. I was surprised that we had a standing-room-only crowd, but maybe that’s to my shame.

That said, despite the gray wave of temper at a city government they say should have come to them first, I left Richardson Center more convinced than ever that the decision to build the ballpark was the right one.

Jud and Cora believe the downtown they visited back in the 1950′s through the 60′s won’t come back, in part because it’s overrun with Juarenses. They believe City Council is pulling a fast one by not putting the funding of the ballpark to a vote. They believe MountainStar Sports — specifically, Paul Foster and Woody Hunt — are sticking it to them to make money. They believe Cohen Stadium is fine. They believe City Hall is fine, too.

Thing is, they kept believing all that even after Byrd — who showed both her class and her steel Thursday night — showed them they were wrong and why.

If you don’t try to make downtown worth going to, then it won’t change.

The Pacific Coast League wouldn’t have thought twice about awarding the San Diego Padres Triple-A team to another city ready to bid, so time was of the essence. That was a lesson learned the first time Mountain Star tried to bid for the same franchise a couple of years ago…to be placed at a renovated Cohen Stadium.

Why not Cohen? Because the PCL wants a steady paycheck from its franchises. Cohen is a donut-style stadium — a ballpark near the edge of town surrounded by a giant parking lot. The PCL has discovered, time-and-again, that teams playing in this style of ballpark don’t generate the same revenue as teams playing in downtown stadiums that create opportunity around them.

The success of downtown ballparks begets the success of surrounding businesses, and each feeds off the other.

At those ballparks, you can walk and find restaurants, bars and shopping. At a ballpark like Cohen, you can walk and find your car.

Byrd explained that Foster and Hunt swung and missed the first time because they backed Cohen.

So, what do we do with Cohen Stadium? Actually, I think the place still has plenty of potential.

As for City Hall, remember in 2009 when they were about to make it a hotel and move somewhere else? Three years later and, listening to the rec center crowd, you’d think City Council was ready to raze the Taj Mahal. Fact is, that location is perfect because the city owns the property, so it doesn’t have to buy or condemn anyone else’s.

Were the members of council who voted in favor of building the ballpark trying to pull a fast one? I think they knew if this was on a ballot it would be shot down like a Scud missile by some old Patriots, but the clock was ticking and the window of opportunity was narrow. That made it necessary, not sneaky, despite what the crowd at the rec center thought.

Jud and Cora may not ever go to the new ballpark, but I don’t foresee a problem. Most of the games will run well past their bedtime, anyway.

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