DALLAS – A minor league baseball team from Tucson, Ariz. will be the tenant for the downtown stadium that will replace the El Paso, Texas City Hall if voters approve an increase the city’s hotel tax next month.
The additional tax revenue would support $50 million of certificates of obligation to finance the downtown stadium. The plan includes $15 million of tax-exempt debt and $35 million of taxable debt.
A group of El Paso investors said Thursday they had purchased the Tucson Padres of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League and will move the team to El Paso for the 2014 season.
The team would play in Arizona next season while the El Paso stadium is under construction.
The El Paso City Council agreed in June to build a 9,000-seat stadium if MorningStar Sports Group acquired a team for the facility. The stadium will be built on the site currently occupied by El Paso City Hall and Insights El Paso Science Center, a science museum.
The City Council approved a stadium lease agreement with MorningStar on Sept. 18. The agreement stipulates that the team’s new name, which will be chosen in a contest, must include El Paso.
The increase in the hotel tax rate to 17.5% from the current 15.5% will be on the November ballot along with the city’s $473.3 million general obligation bond referendum. The two-part GO program includes $245 million for park and zoo projects and $223.3 million for a downtown multi-purpose event center as well as library and museum facilities.
The GO bond package includes $20 million for a new science museum to replace the one being razed to clear space for the baseball stadium.
Branch Rickey, president of the Pacific Coast League, said officials were at first concerned about the move over security problems at the stadium due to its proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border. Visits to El Paso allayed those fears, Rickey said.
Alejandra de la Vega Foster, one of the team’s new owners, said the location of the stadium is a benefit because baseball is popular in the border city of Juárez and throughout northern Mexico.
“This binational region where we are bound by ties among families, friendships, and businesses will be the new home to a team in a sport that’s king,” de la Vega said.
Former Mayor Ray Salazar and others filed a federal lawsuit against the city Oct. 4 seeking a permanent injunction to prevent the demolition of City Hall and the science museum. The filing contends that El Paso voters and not the city council should decide whether to issue debt for the stadium project.
El Paso attorney Raymundo Eli Rojas filed a criminal complaint Oct. 9 charging that the city is using its web site to mislead voters and promote passage of the hotel tax increase.
The investor group must provide legal documents to the city showing they are the sole owner of the team by Oct. 31. The lease agreement between El Paso and the baseball team also must be approved by the Pacific Coast League and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.
El Paso’s general obligation credit is rated AA by Standard & Poor’s and Fitch, and Aa2 by Moody’s Investors Service. The city’s outstanding debt includes approximately $600 million of GO debt and $217 million of certificates of obligation.