Downtown Revitalization Dead

By Richard Ruiz, El Paso Metro

The pronouncement by Mayor Ray Caballero that revitalization of downtown is a cornerstone of his agenda is bad news for El Paso according to Lynn Franklin, an attorney.  “Millions have been pumped into Union Plaza and the only tenants there are ones that were there prior to the investment.  Public dollars are being flushed down a black hole.  Now the Mayor is signaling that he will be putting more money into downtown.  The fact is that local government will never become the economic generator of downtown revitalization.  The private sector has to do it.”  The City can only assist the private sector to redevelop according to the demands of the marketplace.  The notion that if “we build it, they will come” has been consistently debunked by the reality of the urban experience in America. “El Paso is ripe for an explosion of creativity and private sector activity but the problem is government red tape and the numerous layers of impediments to full market growth,” according to Richard Spier, a west side businessman.  “The backdrop of political conflict undermines genuine cooperation among businesses.

The Chambers of Commerce have failed to achieve their primary mission.  They are supposed to be the catalysts of cooperation, the filter for new ideas and the guide for new projects.  They have instead become elite, self-serving clubs that look first to their immediate interest instead of the interest of the community as a whole.”

There are important segments of the central, valley and northeast districts that suffer from neglect, urban blight and lack of investment.  Over the last 50 years, none of the City plans have proposed specific solutions to the problem.  The growth of the east side has been attributed in large part to the abundance of affordable land and a strong investment in basic infrastructure.  The phenomenon has hurt the older, established neighborhoods.

“The fact is that the situation can be turned around into a win-win for all districts if local political leaders stop trying to redevelop the city according to old formulas that respond to vested interests,” advised Ernie Franco, an insurance salesman on the east side.  “The reality is that each district can develop its own “downtown” or “business districts” if attention were given to the natural growth patterns that emerge from the private sector entrepreneurial activity.  Unfortunately, the creativity of the hometown entrepreneurs is immediately “crushed by the bureaucracy of the city and the narrow competing interests of local monopolies.”

“No hacen ni dejan hacer,” complained Jesus Suarez, a burrito salesman in the manufacturing district off Hawkins.  In Spanish, he continued, “I am having to constantly struggle to continue to sell my product.  I tried to get a permit but they made it very difficult.  It is very hard to get anyone to help you.”  Enrique Lopez, a loan broker, added, “No one in town helps you with working capital.  I have hundreds of applications from people who need a little working capital and usually it is the out-of-town lenders that will help.  The problem is that the interest is always higher.  I have tried working with the One-Stop Shop but quickly figured out that they are helping those that would have gotten helped anyway.  Sometimes they help people to get into businesses that are already obsolete like TV and VCR repair.  It costs more money to repair a TV and VCR than to buy a new one.  They are lying to people and wasting taxpayer money.”

The continuing bad economic news is affecting the community with higher unemployment, reduced access to capital and diversion of millions of tax dollars to unproductive and wasteful revitalization efforts.