Three Big Questions Still Remain for El Paso’s Downtown Arena
Yesterday, El Paso received some good news as a Texas appeals court ruled that the city's proposed downtown arena will be able to house sporting events. The decision reversed the ruling last summer from judge Amy Clark Meachum. The city has started to install fencing around the proposed site in Duranguito and they will soon start an archaeological study of the site. Max Grossman has not given up on his fight to save Duranguito, although he is running out of time since demolition could start after November 19th.
Despite the good news that sports can be held in the multi-purpose facility, there are still three big questions left.
1. When will the City break ground and how long will construction last?
2. What will the arena's seating capacity be?
3. What sports teams and leagues will play as anchor tenants?
First, my guess is that the arena is at least another three years away from being completed. Grossman simply will not go away, and he will fight for Duranguito until every last dollar or court attempt has been exhausted. Even when he is finally defeated, the archaeological study will take months and then the city will need to entertain bids from various construction and design companies. 2022 might be a more realistic date for the arena to be built, which would be 10 years after it originally passed in the Quality of Life bond issue.
Since we are still not close to breaking ground, I do not think anyone has a good idea of what the seating capacity will be for the arena. Some people wanted it as large as 20,000 while others have said it will be as small as 8,000. The NCAA men's basketball tournament has booked their tournaments for the next four years, and Spokane's arena has the smallest capacity with 12,600. Ft. Worth has a new 14,000-seat facility opening next year and they will be hosting first and second round games in 2022. I still believe that the best solution is to have various seating configurations that could be as small as 8,000 and as large as 15,000, depending on the event. However, by the time they break ground, I am not sure what capacity $180 million will bring. For example, the arena in Ft. Worth was supposed to be built for a price tag of $450 million and that total is now $540M. It does not seem logical to build a new state-of-the-art arena in Downtown El Paso if it has a smaller capacity than the Don Haskins Center.
Once downtown El Paso gets their long awaited multi-purpose facility, who will be the anchor tenants? The once thriving Arena Football League is close to dead, and only four teams remain in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, and Albany. The NBA G-League currently has 27 teams all over the country, but attendance usually does not top 4,000 per game. Professional Minor League Hockey is another option, although the El Paso Rhinos have developed the perfect model for succeeding on ice with their Junior A team playing in the 2,500-seat arena next to the County Coliseum.
Even if Mayor Margo issues additional certificates of obligation (CO's) bonds with City Council approval to raise an additional $70-million and bring the arena cost to $250 million, what will he get for the money? Especially when Ft. Worth is paying more than half a billion dollars for their new 14,000-seat arena.