ESC Region 19 bets on attracting major conferences | Local News


The Region 19 Educational Services Center held its first conference Thursday and Friday at its new $30 million Starlight Event Center, attracting more than 500 educators and parents.

The two-day Together for Autism conference provided an opportunity for parents of students with autism, educators and other community members to hear about some of the latest tools and strategies to help students with autism spectrum disorders.

It also gave everyone their first public glimpse of the facility, with five floors of parking just below a 50,000 square foot conference center with views of mountains by day and city lights by night.

“It’s a pretty incredible sight,” said ISD Fabens high school teacher Jesus Alvarez. “They’ve had this in the works for a few years to expand the capabilities of Region 19, and obviously they’re going to have a lot more training and events here.

“The amenities of this place and the size are amazing.

Angelica Rodriguez, director of special education at Episd, was also impressed.

“I think it’s beautiful,” she said. “It compares to other sites in the state I’ve been to. This is a state-of-the-art conference center that El Paso needed. The view is beautiful. You get to see the whole city.

“Now, I hope with the space that Region 19 has, it will attract more national and state conferences. The other thing too is that the location is right next to the airport, and you have all kinds of hotels here. You don’t even need a car. The location is perfect. We needed a nice venue, especially for large conferences, as we are the westernmost town in Texas.

Probably no one is more proud of the new event center than Armando Aguirre, executive director of Region 19, which serves all nine school districts in El Paso County and five others in West Texas, from the District from Del City to Fort Hancock to the south and west. Anthony Independent School District of El Paso County.

As its lease expired, the Episd moved its headquarters downtown. Its former headquarters was demolished and the covered dirt site now serves as a parking lot near the Starlight Event Center.

So how was the decision to build the Starlight made?

In the end, Aguirre told El Paso Inc. that was the easier route. Because it was the first of its kind, it was also the most difficult.

“Let me start with that and say $30 million is a big prize,” he said. “And it’s a very unusual type of installation. I don’t know if there are any others like this in the state.

The road to the Starlight Event Center began eight years ago, he said.

“That’s when we were notified by the city that our lease was going to expire here,” he said. “As many know, El Paso ISD had to demolish their headquarters right across from us.”

Formerly located at 6531 Boeing Dr., EpiSD had paid nearly $26,000 a month for the location and acquired a 10-story building downtown that belonged to El Paso Community College.

The city’s lease for Region 19 was coming to an end and its situation was little different from that of the PISD, he said.

“The only difference was that we were able, through conversation and negotiation, to get the city and the airport to agree to an extension of our 40-year lease if – and this is the kicker – if we agreed to renovate our facilities. “, he said. “But our building was a very nice building.

“I said, ‘What else did you want us to do?’ They said they were trying to use Smart Code, and that includes everything that’s happening around us now.

Eight years ago, the development of Smart Code was a hot concept across the country and at El Paso City Hall, which was urging developers to use it when redeveloping an area or developing a property. from zero.

El Paso’s best-known and most successful Smart Code development is Montecillo on North Mesa, and the idea was—and still is—to consolidate entertainment venues, apartments, and single-family homes into a walkable community. Alamo Drafthouse development through Mesa is still ongoing.

Near the airport and in the area around the leased site of Episd and Region 19 as well, the city wanted to see the development of Smart Code – not more sprawling parking lots around hotels and offices.

“They were like, ‘For you to stay there, you have to build or renovate your area until it becomes Smart Code compliant,'” Aguirre said.

And that’s what the Starlight Event Center is – a venue that includes the headquarters of Region 19 with the parking lot occupying the exact same site, without surrounding it.

“Remember, that was eight years ago when we had a conversation about extending our lease,” he said. “So we are renting this property. We don’t own it.

“The only reason we’re able to build like this is because it’s a 40-year lease. The other thing is, when you think about our event center, it’s really going to benefit our district because we have a place to hold conferences that’s bigger than what we do here.

Aguirre and Region 19 are also betting on Starlight Center by taking advantage of the fact that there are only a few places in El Paso to hold big events.

Aguirre mentioned the El Paso Civic Center downtown, UTEP’s Don Haskins facility, and Grace Gardens in the Upper Valley.

“We couldn’t have done this 500 person capacity training,” he said, referring to Together for Autism. “We couldn’t invite other state conferences to come here because we didn’t have facilities. Now we have this opportunity.

And that’s why, he said, he and Region 19 aren’t worried about paying rent or paying off Starlight’s debt — because it’s going to be very busy.

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