Upgrading the 80-year-old El Paso County Coliseum and possibly adding an Ascarate Park amphitheater that could hold about 5,500 people are being studied by El Paso County officials.
Renovating the 5,250-seat coliseum, which hosts concerts and other events, and making other improvements on its 20-acre campus in South-Central El Paso, and the proposed amphitheater were examined in a $90,000 study. It was done for the county by Hunden Strategic Partners, a Chicago real estate development consulting firm.
El Paso County Commissioners Court Wednesday held a special meeting to learn more about results of the study, given to them earlier this year, and provide ideas and guidance to county staff on next steps.
The coliseum campus upgrades would cost an estimated $54.1 million, the study found.
That would include turning the adjacent Sherman Barn, now used for storage, into a boutique music venue with 1,500-2,000 seats, adding a second ice rink, and adding on-site restaurants.
Upgrades to the coliseum building would be an estimated $15.1 million of the total $54.1 million cost.
The proposed amphitheater in Ascarate Park in the Lower Valley would cost an estimated $24.3 million, including a parking area.
Michael Hernandez, county economic development director, told commissioners the coliseum structure is sound, especially since it was built to be a bomb shelter. It would be cost-prohibitive to demolish and replace it, he said.
It’s become an important and nostalgic place for many people in the community, public sessions held as part of the study found, Hernandez said.
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The consultant’s report also noted that if the coliseum isn’t improved soon it will continue to lose events and eventually become obsolete.
The idea behind the improvements at the coliseum campus and adding an amphitheater is to capture concerts and other events that are bypassing El Paso, Hernandez said.
The coliseum, operated by the nonprofit El Paso Sports Commission through a contract with the county, has been losing around $1.8 million a year, the study reported.
County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said whatever improvements are done should embrace the coliseum’s historic feel and long history as a music venue where Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and a host of other stars performed.
“I am more excited that we capture what we have and embrace it” and not make it look modern, he said. “This is an opportunity to differentiate ourselves” among other event venues in the country, he said.
He suggested a music museum be part of renovation plans as a way to showcase not only famous stars who performed in the arena, but also local artists who’ve made names for themselves, he said.
Commissioner Iliana Holguin said upgrading the coliseum and its grounds should take priority over adding an amphitheater at Ascarate Park.
That proposal also could be difficult because county officials recently learned that an amphitheater apparently is in the works in Sunland Park, N.M., on the border of El Paso’s West Side.
Officials with the town of Sunland Park could not immediately be reached to determine if such a venue has been approved for the area.
The Ascarate Park amphitheater proposed in the consultant’s study would have 1,260 seats and attached lawn for about 4,300 people.
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Commissioners Court took no action Wednesday.
Hernandez and County Chief Administrator Betsy Keller said staff would use the commissioners’ input to help develop future proposals for them to examine. Which projects would be done and how they would be financed are questions yet to be answered. The county also would have to seek specific designs for projects, the officials said.
Vic Kolenc may be reached at 546-6421; firstname.lastname@example.org; @vickolenc on Twitter.