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City renews efforts to get large manufacturer on 1,042-acre site in Northeast El Paso

Vic Kolenc
El Paso Times

A vacant, 1,042-acre, city-owned site in far Northeast El Paso is in play again as a potential location for a large manufacturer.

More than a decade ago, the city acquired the land from the El Paso Public Service Board and set it aside as a possible site for an automotive manufacturer. But nothing ever materialized, and the land faded into the background.

However, the City Plan Commission Sept. 9 unanimously approved the city’s request to change the zoning on the property from agricultural to heavy manufacturing despite an objection from El Paso's largest residential land developer with a nearby residential development.

The Plan Commission’s recommendation will go to El Paso City Council, which has final say on zoning changes.

The city of El Paso is in the process of trying to rezone 1,042 acres of vacant, city-owned land in far Northeast El Paso to attract a large manufacturer. The land is along Stan Roberts Sr., Ave., and off of U.S. Highway 54.

“This property is a very attractive property for a future tenant (company) and (we’re) in discussions and pursuing multiple leads from the state for this property,” Sam Rodriguez, city chief operations and transportation officer and city engineer, told the Plan Commission.

The vast expanse of desert land is located along a little-used portion of Stan Roberts Sr., Ave., and just off of U.S. Highway 54 — not far from the New Mexico state line. El Paso Electric's Newman power plant is located further down Stan Roberts — about five miles from the land's western boundary near U.S. Highway 54. 

Rodriguez indicated the city does not have a company for the site.

“We want to make sure we have a tenant before we proceed with any formal plans on extending a rail line to the site, which is a “very costly investment that would be required” for the industrial development, he said. He said city officials are in discussions with Union Pacific Railroad about a rail line extension from Dyer Street. 

Sam Rodriguez, city chief operations officer and city engineer.

However, Philip Etiwe, director of the city Planning and Inspections Department, hinted city officials know the property’s “end user.”

“We think we know, but it’s not public knowledge yet,” he said. “We’re just trying to get this shovel ready.”

In an email after the meeting, Rodriguez said site consultants and companies recommended the city rezone the land to make it more attractive "when pursuing a company."

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A city conceptual plan for the site has several manufacturing buildings, water-retention ponds, a water recycling plant, and office buildings. However, it would be up to whoever locates there to come up with a detailed site development plan and get it approved by the Plan Commission, city officials said.

Northeast El Paso site marketed as automotive factory site more than a decade ago

Bob Cook, an El Paso-based industrial site-selection consultant and former head of the former El Paso Regional Economic Development Corp., or REDCo., more than a decade ago helped market the Northeast acreage as a potential site for an automotive manufacturing plant.

He played a part in getting the city to acquire the land in 2009 from the El Paso Public Service Board, which oversees El Paso Water, the city-owned water utility.

City officials hope to attract a large manufacturer to 1,042 acres of vacant, city-owned land, right, in far Northeast El Paso. It's located along Stan Roberts Sr., Ave., and U.S. Highway 54.

The site was certified by McCallum Sweeney Consulting, a now-closed South Carolina automotive industry consulting firm, as an auto-manufacturing site, Cook said.

“Two different companies, one in automotive, and one in the energy industry, looked at the site” years ago, but nothing ever materialized, Cook said.

“The rezoning needed to be done. It’s a good move by the city” because it shaves a number of months off the development process if a company wants to put a facility there, Cook said.

Possible electric vehicle battery manufacturing site?

“That site would be a good contender” for companies looking to locate battery factories for electric vehicles, Cook said.

“I’m aware of several large battery (manufacturing) projects looking for sites all across the United States,” said Cook, senior vice president for Site Selection Group, a Dallas-based site-selection consulting firm. However, Cook said, he’s not aware of companies looking at El Paso as a battery plant location.

In the spring, published reports indicated Pegatron Corp., a Taiwan electronics manufacturer, had selected El Paso to open a factory to make components for Tesla electric vehicles. However, Pegatron officials, in a statement to the El Paso Times in early May, said the company had not decided on its overseas plans. Nothing new has been reported about the company's plans.

City officials hope to attract a large manufacturer to 1,042 acres of city-owned, vacant land in far Northeast El Paso. It's located along Stan Roberts Sr., Ave., and off of U.S. Highway 54.

An El Paso factory could conceivably supply a Tesla auto factory being built in the Austin area, which is about 600 miles east of El Paso.

Ford Motor Co. and Korea-based SK Innovations are looking for a battery factory site in the United States for its new joint venture, BlueOvalSK.  Published reports have indicated Ohio and Texas are areas the joint venture is looking for sites.

When asked in an email if Pegatron, BlueOvalSK, or other companies have shown interest in the site, Rodriguez said in an email, "There is no information we can share at this time."

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El Paso Realtor Juan Uribe, a member of the City Plan Commission, said at the Sept. 9 meeting that Northeast El Paso is not an attractive area for manufacturing plants “because it’s too far from the (international) bridges and Interstate 10.” It would be better used for residential development, he said.

City officials hope to attract a large manufacturer to 1,042 acres of city-owned land located at the right in this photo, along Stan Roberts Sr., Ave., in far Northeast El Paso.

Plan Commission Chairman Chris Cummings and member Carlos Gallinar, former deputy city planner, said El Paso needs other industrial sites, and this one is suitable for such development.

Major land developer opposes plan

Douglas Schwartz, chief executive officer of Southwest Land Development Services Inc., the city's largest residential land developer, told the Plan Commission he's opposed to the rezoning because the city is "putting the zoning before the horse, without having any known users" for the land.

A portion of his Vista del Norte development is within 300 feet of the proposed factory site. Having heavy manufacturing nearby would hurt the development and future homeowners, he said in an August 10 email to the city planning department.

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Priscilla Hernandez, senior vice president of Classic American Homes, in an Aug. 11 letter to the planning department, said her company opposes the manufacturing site proposal because of potential harm to its plan to build homes in Vista del Norte. She did not speak at the meeting.

Vic Kolenc may be reached at 546-6421; vkolenc@elpasotimes.com@vickolenc on Twitter.