The El Paso Downtown Ballpark and The Blame Game
What will be the long term effect of Tuesday’s 5-3 vote by City Council to approve $52.8 million in bonds to finance the new downtown ballpark? When the Council first approved $50 million to allocate for the stadium last summer, many people felt the amount would cover all of its construction costs. However, when City Council was told about the additional $10 million to cover additional expenses, they balked at adding to the large tab. Forget about the street and sidewalk work around the stadium, or a party pavilion for families, or a bar and restaurant. Those amenities would give a first class touch to the new downtown ballpark, but City Council was not willing to cover the extra cost.
"The blame game" started when City Manager Joyce Wilson and City Engineer Alan Shubert were blasted by City Representatives for not communicating to them the possibility of an increase in the stadium’s budget. This is a microcosm of the downtown project’s biggest recurring flaw: a lack of communication. Since the ballpark was rushed through last summer amid a firestorm of controversy, city leaders should have gone out of their way to make sure that there were no additional surprises pertaining to the ballpark. When the $10 million additional price tag was added to the total projected cost last week, even the most loyal city representatives to the downtown stadium felt betrayed by Wilson. The situation was so bad that she asked Council to remove the additional funding from Tuesday’s agenda.
That is where things started to get even more interesting. Wilson continued “the blame game” by accusing Mountain Star Sports Group of asking for extra amenities like more box seats that were not part of the original design. Wilson also added that she informed MSSG two months ago that she would not ask council for additional money. Mountain Star Sports Group’s Paul Foster told KVIA TV that he was never asked to share in the cost of the additional amenities of the ballpark.
The truth is that we currently do not know how much the downtown ballpark will cost. It could come in under budget, right at the total, or exceed the $40 million price tag. As of today, only 20% of the project has been bid on and it will be at least a month before the final ballpark numbers are calculated. The $5 million in contingency funds were discussed just in case the project goes over budget. However, when Shubert painted a doom and gloom picture of what would happen to the ballpark if the increased funding was not passed, people assumed that final result would be less than acceptable.
I would expect the Mountain Star Sports Group to announce in the coming days or weeks that they will provide the contingency funding for the ballpark that City Council would not pass. The Fosters and the Hunts do not want their new stadium to be less than what they envisioned for the new Triple-A baseball team. With Thursday's sold out Groundbreaking Ceremony, MSSG is fully aware how baseball fans in El Paso cannot wait to start attending games in their new downtown ballpark.