UPDATE: Since this story was originally published, the El Paso city council approved a proposal to build a Triple-A ballpark.
The city council voted 6-2 to partner with MountainStar Sports Group LLC on a $50 million downtown stadium to be built on the site of the current city hall. The group plans to finance the ballpark with a proposed hotel tax increase, which will go on the ballot in November, and hopes to have the ballpark completed by the start of the 2014 season.
The investment group, which is headed by local real estate magnate William Hunt and oil and gas tycoon Paul Foster, still needs to secure a franchise. The only Triple-A team on the market is the Tucson Padres, which is owned by former Padres CEO Jeff Moorad. Pacific Coast League president Branch Rickey would not confirm which team MountainStar is interested in, but says the league has been contacted by the group.
"We’ve been approached by an investor group in El Paso that would like to buy a PCL franchise and relocate it to El Paso," Rickey said this afternoon. "We are planning to have a meeting with them."
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The city that saw its Double-A Texas League affiliate leave town after the 2004 season for a new ballpark in Springfield, Mo., is considering building a new $50 million stadium of its own to play host to a Triple-A franchise. The city council is expected to vote today on whether to move ahead with the project, which will be contingent on voters approving an increased hotel tax in November.
The project will also be contingent on the local investment group MountainStar Sports Group LLC, which is led by real estate magnate William Hunt and oil and gas tycoon Paul Foster, purchasing a Pacific Coast League franchise to bring to El Paso. The only PCL franchise on the market is the Tucson Padres, which former San Diego Padres CEO Jeff Moorad purchased two years ago when the club was forced to leave Portland, Ore., after then-owner Merritt Paulson converted its ballpark into a soccer-only facility. Moorad had hoped to relocate the team to a new ballpark in the San Diego suburb of Escondido, but financing for the project fell through amid California’s budget crisis and Moorad has since left his post with the Padres after MLB rejected his bid to purchase the team.
Minor League Baseball had considered moving the Portland franchise to El Paso when it was looking for a temporary landing spot for the team after the 2010 season. MILB ultimately passed on El Paso amid concerns about where the team would play and the city’s demographics—in particular it’s high poverty rate—and settled on Tucson, which had lost its PCL franchise just two years earlier.