UT System regents to consider Asarco purchase

UTEP would acquire property for campus expansion

Photo by Melody Parra
Old administration building
The only building left standing at the former Asarco smelter is the historic administration building, built of adobe in 1887.

By Robert Gray El Paso Inc. staff writer

The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Thursday will consider purchasing the 450-acre former Asarco property.

According to the Board of Regents meeting agenda, the purchase would be for the future expansion of the University of Texas at El Paso, which borders the property.

The board, which governs the University of Texas System, is making a rare visit to El Paso this week, as UTEP’s Centennial Celebration draws to a close. It meets at UTEP Wednesday and Thursday.

The visit includes a meeting of the entire board, as well as committee meetings, which will all be webcast live on the UT System website.

The regents are scheduled to consider the Asarco purchase when the entire board meets at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday. The item appears toward the end of the agenda and is not expected to be considered until after lunch.

The $80-million cleanup of the old Asarco copper smelter has entered its final phase and is set to finish by the third quarter of 2015, according to the bankruptcy trustee overseeing the project, Roberto Puga.

The landmark is hardly recognizable now that the towering stacks are demolished and nearly all signs of the industry that was once a pillar of El Paso’s economy has been wiped away.

UTEP is mostly landlocked, hemmed in by Interstate 10 to the southwest, residential neighborhoods to the south and North Mesa Street to the east.

So UTEP’s leaders have long had an interest in the former Asarco property although they have downplayed their interest in the property publicly, expressing an interest only in the mountainous, undevelopable portion of the land immediately to the northwest of the university.

MountainStar Sports Group, the owners of the Chihuahuas baseball team, has also expressed interest in the former Asarco property. The group launched a public campaign last month to court Major League Soccer.

But to accommodate a team, a new stadium would have to be built in El Paso, and MLS has said it prefers Downtown locations. One possible location, MountainStar has said, is the former Asarco property.

“It is an obvious location that is close enough to Downtown,” MountainStar president Alan Ledford told El Paso Inc. last month “Whether or not it is the ideal location has yet to be determined.”

He said there are “two or three areas” in Downtown, in addition to the former smelter site, that could also work for a stadium. But he said it is too early in the process to say which ones specifically.

In Southern California, there is an interesting partnership between StubHub Center and California State University’s Dominguez Hills campus.

That center, which includes a 27,000-seat soccer stadium, is home to MLS’s Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA.
The $150-million complex was built on university property in 2003 by a private company, Anschutz Entertainment Group, and with private financing. The Los Angeles-based sports and entertainment company leases the land from the university and is responsible for its operation and maintenance.

The deal earns the university $500,000 a year, Robert Fenning, the university’s vice president of administration and finance, told El Paso Inc.

Ledford was familiar with the StubHub Center but said last month that it was way too early in the process to say if something similar could be done in El Paso between MountainStar and UTEP.

The agenda item reads:

“U.T. El Paso: Discussion and appropriate action regarding the purchase of approximately 443 acres of land out of the J. Baker Survey #10 and the I. F. Harrison Survey #54, located on Paisano Drive and Interstate Highway 10 in El Paso, El Paso County, Texas, commonly known as the former ASARCO smelter site, from ASARCO Texas Custodial Trust, for future programmed campus expansion.”

The entire agenda for regents meeting is online at: http://www.utsystem.edu/sites/utsfiles/offices/board-of-regents/board-meetings/agenda-book-full/11-2014ab.pdf

Source: http://www.elpasoinc.com/news/local_news/article_cc84b966-63ae-11e4-8ea8-001a4bcf6878.html