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   DOWNTOWN EL PASO RENAISSANCE
 
 
 
2010 - Volume 1 Issue 2
Vida Fronteriza
Community
 
Article: Charlotte Tallman
Photos:
courtesy of El Paso CVB
 
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In 1881, the City of El Paso became a booming town, the population growing with the arrival of Southern Pacific, Texas and Pacific and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroads. Prostitution and gambling flourished, but the city also became home to businessmen who saw an opportunity to make money. Soon mining and other industries began to develop because of the abundant land and the proximity of the river, but it wasn’t until the 1920s and 1930s that El Paso saw major business development, growing even more following World War II. Traditionally, El Paso has seen its fair share of ups and downs as far as growth goes, but as is typical for a city that refuses to remain in an economic decline, El Paso is once again reviving with a strong focus on the downtown area.

    El Paso is centering on a robust economy in a historic and unique area.
   
  In the downtown area, the city welcomed a new $78 million United States Federal Courthouse, a nine-story building.
   
  There are important
transportation initiatives
taking shape in downtown
El Paso. A state-of-the-art
transit transfer terminal by
Sun Metro, the city's public
transit provider, opened
last year at the corner of
Santa Fe and Third Streets
within the 2015 Plan area.
“We are currently moving in the right direction,” says Mike Breitinger, executive director for the El Paso Central Business Association, about the growth of the downtown area. “The downtown area is all local and it’s all unique. The changes are serving as a driver and creating momentum. Once the downtown area is complete it will change the dynamics of the area.”

Mike, who has been with the association for 12 years, has seen a resurgence of growth in the downtown area because of the city’s Downtown 2015 Plan. The 2015 Plan, adopted in 2006, was designed to revive the area as the center of commerce, culture and tourism. By bringing people to the downtown area to live, play, work and shop, El Paso is centering on a robust economy in a historic and unique area. Despite a downward trend in the economy, the 2015 Plan has revitalized redevelopment, and the city has already seen an increase in property value in the downtown area.

More than $203 million in public and private investments has been placed into the revitalization of the downtown area focusing on 14 major projects and there has been an individual increase in dining, entertainment and cultural areas.

“We’ve seen more clubs and several restaurants come into the downtown area and it’s encouraging that people want to put their money here,” Mike says. “We have seen major changes because of renovations in the downtown area, including the renovation of the former International Hotel and the Mills Plaza development.”

The Doubletree Hotel City Center, formerly the International Hotel, is a 17-story, 200-room hotel that was a former eyesore for downtown El Paso. The hotel features a scenic ballroom on the top floor and a seventh-floor Sunset Terrace, which includes a swimming pool and fire pit. The hotel also features a full-service, 180-seat restaurant called Fire with an in-house lounge called Liquid Bar.

The Mills Plaza development is the largest development of the area bringing a business, restaurant and retail district at the heart of El Paso’s downtown area, focused around the Mills, Centre and Plaza Hotel buildings.

The Anson Mills Building was designed by renowned architect Henry C. Trost, and built in 1911. At the time it was built, the 12-story Mills Building was one of the largest all concrete buildings in the United States and was the tallest skyscraper in El Paso. The Centre Building was also designed by Henry C. Trost and was formerly the White House Department Store. The most recent acquisition of Mills Plaza Properties, the Plaza Hotel, also a Henry Trost design, was the first high-rise Hilton Hotel, built in 1929. Upon completion, the hotel was the tallest building in El Paso and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

In addition to retail and entertainment focuses, the downtown area is also bringing people to live in the area. “In the past we did not have that type of residential core,” Mike says. “Now we are hoping that by developing the restaurants and the clubs, as well as the retail in an area that is unique and pleasant to visit, we will begin seeing the development of more housing.”

The Magoffin Park Villas are planned at the site of three former vacant lots in the Magoffin Historic District. The villas will provide rental units and a high-end loft-style development with residential amenities such as private covered parking and a rooftop terrace overlooking the city's skyline. The First Avenue Lofts is a second housing development to be located at the corner of First Avenue and Florence featuring condos on the building’s second and third floors and retail on the ground floor.

“Everything being done in the downtown area is creating energy for bigger and better things. The renovations are creating a lot of buzz and the clubs and restaurants are bringing people and money to the area,” Mike says. “This kind of momentum is exciting.” ///
 
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