When El Paso voters overwhelmingly passed $470 million in Quality of Life bonds in November 2012, they made what has been called a “generational” investment.
Spanning a dozen years, the city would see nearly half a billion dollars spent on citywide projects designed to enhance daily life, provide cultural enrichment, generate tourism and economic development, and generally make El Paso a better place to live and work.
The array of projects was vast, from rehabbing the San Jacinto Plaza downtown and opening the country’s first “digital wall,” to building a children’s museum, improving the city zoo and refurbishing neighborhood parks.
Residents Invest in Themselves
“It’s a very large investment and speaks very loudly for El Pasoans’ willingness to invest in themselves and their community,” says Bryan Crowe, chief executive officer of Destination El Paso, the marketing and venue management organization for El Paso. “These are significant projects in that they take us to the next level in terms of offerings for our citizens. But it’s also going to attract additional economic development for the community as well.”
Several of the dozens of projects are well underway or finished. The Downtown Pedestrian Pathway now connects the Downtown Arts District to the Union Plaza District, turning a 20-minute detour into a 5-minute stroll through landscaped, art-filled public space. The El Paso Museum of History opened a remarkable permanent exhibit in February 2015, a “digital wall,” modelled after a similar project in Copenhagen, Denmark.
“’Digie’ is the first interactive digital wall of its kind in the United States,” says Martin Bartlett, a public affairs coordinator for the city. “It will allow El Pasoans and visitors to interact with El Paso’s unique history through five 95-inch, LED touch screens networked with the Copenhagen wall. Visitors to the walls can upload their own memories, pictures, films, music or text, and share their community’s unique stories.”
Completion, Construction, Planning
San Jacinto Plaza, in the heart of the city, is undergoing dramatic redesign and renovation, which includes putting utilities underground, adding a bike-share hub, a splash pad, a protective canopy over the iconic “Los Lagartos” sculpture by Luis Jimenez, a stage, native landscaping, game tables, better seating and more open space. The plaza is expected to reopen in fall 2015.
Several major projects remain in the planning or design phases of development. Sites are under consideration for a new 12,000-plus seat downtown arena, a children’s museum and an Hispanic Cultural Center, which will roll out gradually over a period of years.
One of two world-class natatoriums is under construction, and another is in the design phase. The 92-acre Eastside Regional Park near Montana Avenue and Hueco Club Road is also being designed. When completed, several years down the road, it will contain indoor and outdoor pools, a lazy river and splash pad, a rec center, rock climbing wall and flat fields for sports.
“We wish we could get all these projects to come online overnight -- people want these things yesterday – but this is a generational investment,” Crowe says. “It will take time, and we want to have the community engaged in this process. Over the past few years the city has been making major improvements in infrastructure, and it’s very exciting to be part of it.”