University of Texas regents take no action on former Asarco land

By Lindsey Anderson / El Paso Times

It would take the University of Texas at El Paso about a year to acquire the former Asarco land if UT regents decide to approve such a purchase, officials said Thursday.

For now, UTEP and the regents are merely discussing the possibility of buying the 440 acres Asarco owns near Sun Bowl Stadium and across Interstate 10.

UTEP President Diana Natalicio said she briefed the regents on the possible acquisition Thursday during the board’s executive session, which is closed to the public.

The regents discussed the matter afterward in a public meeting, but took no action.

“It really was just a matter of bringing it to the attention of the board, and making sure they’re all in agreement” that the purchase would be beneficial, regents Chairman Paul L. Foster said.

About 210 acres of the land was once a copper smelter between I-10 and the Rio Grande, and cleanup of that parcel is scheduled to be finished in November 2015, site trustee Roberto Puga said previously.

Foster, an El Paso businessman, said the purchase of the property, if approved, would happen after that environmental work is finished.

“That transaction is far from being finalized,” he said.

Regent Ernest Aliseda, of McAllen, said he was glad to see the regents consider purchasing the land.

“I think this would be a great opportunity and a great benefit for UT El Paso,” Aliseda said.

If purchased, the land would easily double the size of UTEP’s campus, Natalicio said. UTEP is landlocked, framed by businesses, I-10 and the mountain.

It’s no secret that UTEP has had its eye on the property, especially the parcel east of I-10, Natalicio said. Puga said UTEP officials have been talking with him about the land since 2010.

“It’s certainly a very big step for us, and obviously this is property that for a long time hasn’t been available and now is,” Natalicio said.

Crews demolished the iconic Asarco towers in April 2013.

Asarco also owns the land near the Sun Bowl, which is close to dorm buildings that are in the works and current athletic facilities. Natalicio said it could be a good site for more housing or recreation areas.

UTEP officials will evaluate the condition of the property and keep an eye on the cleanup before making a recommendation to the board on whether to purchase the land, Natalicio said.

No price has been disclosed.

The regents Thursday approved using $2.7 million in Permanent University Fund bond proceeds to demolish UTEP’s Barry and Burges halls.

Both buildings, near the Sun Bowl Drive roundabout, were originally student dorms built more than 50 years ago. A federal grant helped convert Burges Hall into office space, but it was difficult to transform small dorm rooms and bathrooms with showers into offices, UTEP Executive Vice President Richard Adauto said.

Barry Hall has sat empty for more than 25 years due to the “significant cost of complying with life-safety directives issued by the State Fire Marshal for residential facilities,” according to the meeting agenda.

UTEP officials plan to build a research center where the two buildings stand. Tuition revenue bonds, which require legislative approval, would fund the center.

“The funding provided today was to raze the two buildings in anticipation of the request being approved,” Adauto said.

The Legislature has not approved tuition revenue bonds since 2006. The bonds are the main source of construction dollars for universities and are paid with universities’ future tuition and fees revenue or state appropriations.

Barry and Burges halls have space constraints and would be expensive to renovate, Adauto said.

“It’s literally cheaper to raze those two buildings and build something in its place,” he said.

Lindsey Anderson can be reached at 546-6345.