You may think you know El Paso. You may even have been to El Paso. But Brooke Underwood, director of convention development for Destination El Paso, has a message for you: get ready to have your paradigm shifted.
Thanks to a $500 million Quality of Life bond deal, resulting in significant improvements in facilities and visitor amenities, the area has reinvented itself. And the El Paso of today, a vibrant, Instagram-worthy hot spot, is on an upward trajectory and ready to welcome the teams.
“I think if you haven’t been here in the last three years, and lots of people probably haven’t, you won’t recognize it,” says Underwood. “So much has changed.”
Planners and events rights holders, she notes, are looking for different destinations and they have a specific wish list. “They want a new community, a nice convention center, good sports venues, great weather, restaurants, lots of hotel rooms and plenty of opportunity for exploring.”
El Paso can check off all those boxes, plus a few more. And this is one city that won’t be pigeonholed by any specific type of sport. In fact, events hosted include the following:
• Annual Hyundai Sun Bowl Football Game for the last 80-plus years
• Gildan Triple-A National Championship (2015)
• Showtime Championship Boxing: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. vs Marcos Reyes (2015)
• United States Bowling Congress Open Championships (2015) and Women’s Open Championships (2010)
• Conference USA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships (2011 and 2014).
And El Paso isn’t even close to finishing its evolution. A number of excellent facilities have come online to enrich the city’s offerings. The 36,000-square-foot Westside Natatorium, an international and NCAA championship-level championship facility, has locker rooms, seats 780 spectators and has movable bleachers along the deck area for as many as 224 competitors. The incredibly flexible facility (it features a movable bulkhead) can be configured to result in a 50-meter course, 25-meter course and 25-yard course. A separate area of the same venue offers warm-up areas, a water polo course, synchronized swimming course, recreation pool and general lap swimming area.
The Westside venue, which opened this season, “is a beautiful oasis in our desert climate and has gotten some great interest,” says Underwood, who notes that the city already has shovels in the ground for its second aquatics facility, the Eastside Natatorium. That facility, she adds, will incorporate a bold change: diving facilities. “We talked to USA Swimming and asked them what they wanted in a pool and they said they were looking for more venues with diving facilities because a lot of the new builds don’t have those. They really wanted to see a destination invest in that.”
Wish granted. In addition to a diving well and platforms of varying heights, the new facility will offer seating for at least 800 spectators and deck space for up to 400 competitors, giving it a good shot at hosting major national events.
“We are super excited about that,” says Underwood, “and we’re aggressively marketing it.”
It’s only the beginning. El Paso offers sports facilities on dry land – both indoor and outdoor – to fill the needs of planners, no matter where their sport plays out. The Westside Sports Complex has 13 natural grass fields that can be configured for multiple uses, including football, soccer and softball. It also includes permanent concessions and public restroom facilities and has more than 1,000 spaces for free parking.
“Soccer is a strong sport in El Paso,” Underwood notes. “We’re getting a USL team, and that should really be popular as well.” (The city’s Minor League Baseball club, the El Paso Chihuahuas, are one of the city’s most popular attractions.)
And as soccer grows, so does El Paso’s ability to accommodate it. Coming soon is the Eastside Regional Park, a 92-acre venue expected to have four baseball/softball diamonds, six flat fields, four volleyball courts, 12 handball courts, a skate/BMX amphitheater and volleyball courts, a skate/BMX Amphitheatre, climbing wall and community center.
El Paso, in fact, is brimming with top-level venues. Sun Bowl Stadium: a 51,000-seat masterpiece, is home to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) Miners football team and can also host championship soccer, boxing, lacrosse and rugby, as well as offering concession facilities, press space and more. The $74 million, 7,500-seat Southwest University Park is not only the downtown home field for the Chihuahuas, but it can handle softball. Kidd Field is an eight-lane track and field-specific venue surfaced in Mondotrack.
The Northeast El Paso Park/Skatepark has a 25,000-square-foot skate space and was built by the same company that designs the X-Games courses. The park also features lighted basketball courts, baseball diamonds and flat fields. El Paso County Sportspark hosts competitive leagues in baseball, softball and tee-ball. A dozen golf courses and a driving range are also available in El Paso.
Need indoor space? El Paso has plenty. The Judson F. Williams Convention Center, located in the heart of El Paso’s vibrant downtown, has more than 130,000 square feet of flexible space, including 80,000 column-free space. It also has 28-foot ceilings and plenty of parking. Tournaments requiring championship-level venues can explore the 12,000-seat Don Haskins Center (which the UTEP basketball team calls home), which also has hosted championship wrestling, NBA preseason games and even concerts. The El Paso County Coliseum, with 19,000 square feet of column-free space, meanwhile, can accommodate everything from cheer and dance to wrestling and arena football. (Fun fact: it’s the longtime home of the El Paso Livestock & Rodeo too). Memorial Gym, on the campus of UTEP, has a 5,200-seat capacity, configurable for events ranging from boxing to MMA to cheer and dance events. In addition, it has six racquetball courts, concessions, locker rooms and other amenities. Its Auxiliary Gym is the size of two volleyball courts. And the 79,000-square-foot Dream Arena indoor/outdoor venue can accommodate everything from futsal to kickball to martial arts and more.
Clearly, El Paso is a destination that is growing and thriving. Planners will find that Destination El Paso (the organization incorporating both Visit El Paso and El Paso Live) stands ready to support sports planners and to leverage local assets to help craft winning events.
“We are a great liaison for all these facilities,” says Underwood, “and we can help make sure people not only feel welcome but know all about the city and what it has to offer.”
The area’s inventory of hotel rooms is proliferating rapidly. Within six to nine months, there will be more than 1,200 available, and a new convention center hotel “will be a game changer,” says Underwood, “for a total of 10,000 rooms.”
Getting to El Paso is easy too. El Paso International Airport is serviced by major carriers, including Southwest, United, American, Delta and more. And the city wants to make sure visitors get around easily during their stay by using some of the historical trolleys that circulate throughout El Paso.
El Paso, Underwood adds, is a family-friendly destination with plenty to do before, between and after the games are done. The charming downtown area is filled with shops, unique restaurants and multiple attractions, including the El Paso Zoo, Zin Valle Vineyards and the El Paso Museum of Art. Those who want to explore outside the city can visit Franklin Mountains State Park and ride the Wyler Aerial Tramway, from which it is possible to view two countries and three states. There is also a water park, amusement park, working cattle ranch and trampoline park. In addition, El Paso was named one of the safest cities in the U.S., based on data from the FBI and U.S. Census.
“There’s also our cultural aspect,” says Underwood. “We have missions that are over 400 years old, making them the longest continually working missions in the country. You see people posting on social media about where they’re traveling and they’re always trying to one-up each other. This is where two countries and two cultures come together, and you just can’t find that anywhere else.”
Of course, there’s something else that shows up on social media and it comes totally free: El Paso’s high desert climate. “We have ideal weather,” says Underwood, “with 310 days of sunshine a year. We’re typically golfing in shorts through Thanksgiving.”
To discuss bringing your event to El Paso and playing under those sunny skies, go to visitelpaso.com. SDM