Via a news release on Wednesday, preservationists announced that 11 properties owned by the City of El Paso and one property owned by a private party in Duranguito are being nominated to the Texas Historical Commission (THC).
Should the properties be approved as State Antiquities Landmarks, the archaeological remains below ground receive legal protection under the Antiquities Code of Texas.
The nominators are Dr. Max Grossman, Dr. David Carmichael, Mr. Harry W. “Skip” Clark, and Ms. Elia Perez .
Dr. Grossman shares, “This is an important step in the process of preserving archaeological sites in Duranguito for all El Pasoans…we are confident that the THC will approve the nominations in the near future.”
The structures in the area – as well as the archaeological sites buried just below the foundations of the buildings – are within the footprint of the proposed downtown arena, which is currently in legal limbo.
Preservationists cite several surveys and original plats from the mid- to late-19th century, that indicate the locations of historic remnants – including Juan Maria Ponce de Leon’s original ranch and the two acequias (irrigation ditches) that were used for irrigating the fields that existed long before the towering skyscrapers of Downtown El Paso.
According to the preservationists, a 1998 archaeological survey conducted by the City of El Paso identifies the probable remains of Ponce’s 1st ranch, just below the surface.
They add, “The same survey included a ground-penetrating radar study conducted by archaeologist Mark Willis. That study identified probable structural remains (architecture) in the area of Chihuahua Street and [also] West Overland Avenue.”
In addition to the studies, actual excavation in the area revealed more of the city’s long-buried history.
In the release announcing the nominations, Dr. Grossman shares:
“Archaeological excavations in 1970 and 1984 immediately to the north and east of the Arena Footprint identified the physical remains of the “Acequia Madre,” which is a second acequia that traversed Duranguito further to the north, where the Convention Center is now located. The Convention Center excavation confirmed that the 1827 stratum lies very deep below ground.”
The group goes on to explain that the nomination process is quite different from a historical designation.
“The Texas Antiquities Code and Texas Natural Resources Code are complex and require much attention to understand…archaeological sites are not the same thing as structures above ground. The law provides that nominating a structure as a State Antiquities Landmark (SAL) requires registration on the National Register of Historic Places…this is NOT required for archaeological nominations.”
Any citizen can nominate a public property or a private property (with the owner’s consent) as an archaeological SAL provided the criteria are met.
As a Dane I have had the privilege – since 1978 – to visit the US maybe 30 times. Often I write articles about America along the way. I love and respect America.
A couple of weeks ago I visited El Paso for the first time. It turned out to be a great experience. I stayed at the Gardener hotel – next to John Dillinger’s room – visited the most interesting art museum and I saw the Magoffin Home. I bicycled all over town enjoying the kindness and safety of this great city.
Visiting Duranguito, however, I was surprised- not to say shocked – to learn that the most interesting part of this neighborhood is going to be demolished. The idea seems to be to build a sports arena on the ruins of that neighborhood. A sports arena sounds like a great idea. But it seems to me the location chosen is so wrong.
I have studied the history of Duranguito and here is what I found out:
Duranguito is El Paso’s oldest platted neighborhood and tells the story of the origins of this border community like few other places. It’s roots go back to indigenous peoples including Apache, Pueblo and Manso Indians. It is the site of the Ponce de Leon ranch in 1827 and was located right down the middle of major trails that traversed this gateway city from the four cardinal directions. Including the Camino Real Trail and the Butterfield Overland Wagon Trail. The homes that are currently standing include 130-year-old structures and sites of memory from the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), the first major social revolution in the twentieth century. Duranguito and other South El Paso neighborhoods has been called the Ellis Island of the border because immigrants from all over the world lived here. The Chinese laundry constructed in 1901 is one of the last remaining landmarks to El Paso’s Chinatown from the early twentieth century. La Morena Grocery was run by Syrian immigrants in the 1920s. Many other buildings in this historic neighborhood were the residences of Italian chefs, German-Jewish merchants, Mexican writers, Japanese immigrants, etc.
In this sense Duranguito represents not only local and regional history, but world history as well.
I am convinced that people from Europe and other parts would rather come to learn about this history if it were highlighted and explained in historical museums, small gift shops, bookstores, traditional mercado and performance spaces rather than a big box arena that isn’t at all unique to the area.
For this reason but first and foremost because the people of El Paso have a right to their own history, I kindly suggest that the plans to tear down Duranguito are being reconsidered and hopefylly skipped. Instead this beautiful and interesting neighborhood should be restored to its former glorry days.
Erik Boel, Danish Tourist
To submit your letter to the editor, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The findings of fact surrounding the albatross sandwich of the arena in the Duranguito neighborhood should outrage all El Pasoans.
Such facts as those concerning the manner in which the properties were acquired, the secrecy needed to accomplish demolition and, now, city leaders willing to jump off the proverbial cliff to make this project happen regardless of court decisions.
If we take a step back, we must understand that it is incumbent upon us to preserve and capitalize on our history—a history that begins the story of Texas. Capitalizing on heritage tourism works. The benchmark for El Paso’s success has long been San Antonio, a city that built an entire heritage tourism industry on the back of the Alamo and then established other heritage clusters throughout its center.
The arena debacle has turned into a larger conversation about vision and leadership. Thanks to “outsiders” like J.P. Bryan and Max Grossman, who have exposed the city in a way that has never been done before, the days of “business as usual” are over.
Sadly, we have politicians who are told what to do and how to do it by individuals with an agenda which, though certainly progressive, risks eliminating major cultural assets, either inadvertently or intentionally.
When I came back to El Paso in 2007, I was eager to get involved in our community. Indeed, something special was happening in El Paso and I was happy to have a front row seat. As time passed, however, I realized that I was part of a movement that included only a few hundred people, incredibly gifted folks (some that are dear friends) who were helping to dictate direction and policy for our community.
In our minds we had the solutions and knew what the city needed to be better and everyone who was in disagreement either was clueless or didn’t care. Our arrogant position was an easy one to take because, obviously, we had volunteered hundreds of hours, attended several events showcasing our city, and made countless donations to all types of causes to make El Paso better.
I certainly subscribed to that mindset. It was the kind of thinking that lay at the heart of the Quality of Life bond and brought it to fruition. A group of caring and dedicated individuals worked hand-in-hand with the city to create something that would function as a lynchpin for future development.
The problem is that one cannot build trust and engage an electorate with this attitude—an attitude that has been alive and well in El Paso for decades now. We have a population that is often described in political circles as apathetic, and I have come to believe that is an excuse used by politicians who are unable to connect with the people they represent.
We, as a city, are divided. There is a clear line being drawn between leadership and the people.
It was only a few years ago that we had a city manager, another “outsider”, who was so eager to push through the QOL bond that language was used to intentionally mislead the voters, and this has been proven in court. She created a bully culture (D.Crowder. “Retired firefighters bring attention to hazing” El Paso Inc. 2/5/18) in our government and I recall attending meetings where she would make fun of the opposition.
That culture continues to this day, so that when citizens like J.P. Bryan and Max Grossman take a stand, they are vilified. By contrast, when our political leaders are called to account, somehow the deck is reshuffled and these same people end up in different leadership positions throughout the city, with the same disdain for the people who balk at their policies.
It’s time to abolish the culture of “business as usual” in which mediocre politicians are told what to do by their powerful donors and act over the objections of the majority of El Pasoans. We need to hit the reset button and work towards prosperity, together as one family, in a manner that showcases what makes our community unique and authentic.
We are, after all, from the World’s Famous West Texas Town of El Paso and we can, and must, do better.
Written by: David E. Saucedo
Saucedo is a native El Pasoan, Cathedral and Notre Dame Graduate who returned to the Sun City with an accounting degree to help run his family’s century-old locksmithing business.
Staff Report December 13, 2017NewsComments Off on City Hires Archeological Firm to Begin Work Required by the Texas Antiquities Code
The City has contracted Houston-based Moore Archeological Consulting, Inc. to conduct an archeological and historical review of the site located within the Multipurpose Performing Arts and Entertainment Center (MPC) footprint as required by the Texas Antiquities Code.
The firm has conducted more than 700 major archeological projects and specializes in completing archeological investigations in urban settings.
“This is another major milestone in the development of this voter-approved bond project,” Laura Foster, City of El Paso Chief Architect, said. “Moore Archeological Consulting is a world-class firm and highly credentialed in the field of archeological and historical preservation. Welcoming these nationally-recognized experts to our team shows we are true to our commitment to remain respectful and in compliance with requirements of the Texas Historic Commission.”
The City also remains steadfast in complying with court orders related to the MPC.
A judgment issued in August 2017 by an Austin judge allowed the City to proceed to build a new multipurpose facility in the Union Plaza area in downtown.
The archeological review of the proposed MPC footprint is part of the development process for the project – the largest of the three signature bond projects overwhelming approved by voters. A total of 71.67 percent of votes cast were in favor of the bond project.
The ordinance calling for the election stated the multipurpose center would be located in downtown.
On Monday, City of El Paso announced the completion of its review of signatures on a petition filed to try to impose historic designation zoning on the site selected by City Council for the Multipurpose Performing Arts and Entertainment Center by placing the matter on the ballot of the next general election.
The petition was filed on September 11, 2017. The City Clerk’s office authenticated a total of 1,974 signatures of registered voters on the petition. The process was completed within the 20 working days as required by the City Charter.
The City Clerk’s office certified that the necessary number of signatures required under the City Charter, 1,666 signatures, have been submitted but the certification does not automatically place an item on the ballot.
The City Council is the body required to call an election. The matter will be placed on the agenda for the City Council meeting to be held on October 31.
The proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance included in the petition seeks to create a new Historic District and related use restrictions in the area bounded by San Antonio Avenue, Paisano Drive, Durango Street and South Santa Fe.
Via a news release, city officials said, “On June 27, the Council was advised about what Texas law provides in regards to attempts to impose or repeal zoning by initiative or referendum…Texas Courts have consistently held for decades that zoning matters have been removed from the field of initiative and referendum, irrespective of broad Charter provisions.”
The group Paso del Sur, who submitted the petition on behalf of residents of Duranguito, released the following statement:
Today the Citizen’s Initiative submitted by Paso del Sur on behalf of the residents of Barrio Duranguito on September 11, 2017 was validated by Interim City Clerk Laura Pine.
This second petition was signed by more than 2,200 El Paso voters, and went through a 26-hour validation process by members of Paso del Sur prior to submission to ensure the validity of all the signatures collected.
The City Clerk validated 1,974 signatures, exceeding the required number of 1,666 signatures.
The first petition, which was submitted on May 15, 2017, contained over 2,400 signatures and called upon City Council to establish a historic overlay in Duranguito. City Council refused to take action, which triggered the second round of the petition initiative. With this second petition City Council is bound by its own charter to present the item for a vote in the next general election as a ballot item.
Thousands of people have supported the petition initiative across two rounds. Both petitions were made possible by a diverse group of volunteers ranging from students, elders, and members of grassroots community organizations. Volunteers were able to reach the required number of signatures needed despite the fact that they were limited to only gathering signatures of registered voters who had voted in the May 2017 election – a day with a record-low voter turnout. Apart from signing petitions, hundreds of El Pasoans have also spoken at City Council, attended neighborhood meetings and community events, and have written letters to voice their opposition to the City’s reckless and fiscally irresponsible push to destroy El Paso’s history.
We await City Council’s response in hopes that they will respect the wishes of their constituents who demand that Duranguito be protected from demolition and established as a historic district.
No matter where you stand on the issue of the arena, one area that we can all agree on is the rule of law. It is the central pillar upon which our country is built.
If you disagree with a law or court order, you are allowed to appeal the order, to protest, to voice your opinion, and even – if necessary – have an entirely new law is written or court order issued. This applies generously to both sides in any legal debate.
It may take time, it may delay a process, but it’s a central theme to our getting along civilly in this society.
So when a member (or members of a community) violate that compact – the reaction is swift. A law or court order has been broken, and the means to remedy that action are very clear.
Now – again I say – regardless of where you stand on the arena debate, we should be able to agree that the courts now have jurisdiction here; the competing sides will have their sides heard by an impartial judge and the rule of law continues as it has.
Those sides include, to varying degrees, the Duranguito preservationists, the city, and the property owners within the footprint of the arena. All have agreed – if not themselves personally – but through actions by those that represent their side to follow the rule of law.
The city (and those arena supporters) have been patient through this long, legal process – as have the preservationists. Even when in direct disagreement with one or more of the court’s decisions, they have followed the rule of law. Protest, appeal, make statements, appear in court. Rinse, repeat.
So in light of Monday’s decision, it was thought (or hoped) that all sides would continue this pattern; the city went so far as to issue a letter to the lawyer representing the owners of the property (Ltr to M Shane.) asking them to follow the rule of law.
Early this morning, supporters of the arena and preservationists alike got their answer in the form of demolition equipment tearing into the heart of the arena’s footprint where the privately-owned homes are located.
Social media calls for supporters to rush to the area came too late, preservationists were only able to catch the aftermath and a few photos of the demolition equipment leaving the area.
So now the questions arise: was this a ‘simple mistake?’ Did the message not get to the demolition company in time to stop their contracted duties?
Or was this a calculated move, on the part of the property owners, to force the hand of the city.
In either of those scenarios, the law was quickly and definitively broken and the remedies are clear. But an important line has been crossed.
One could probably make the argument that the company simply did not know the demolition had been delayed by the courts; but that would require that everyone involved completely ignored the ruling, the letter from the city to the property owner’s lawyer, traditional media reports from across all the outlets here in the city – as well as the instant-information of social media and the internet.
And one could possibly say that the uninformed demolition crews started their work at one site, only to be told of their mistake, and they immediately stopped.
But the crews didn’t start on one building, they moved from site to site, ripping structurally-important pieces of the structures out. And then left the area, leaving debris, stunned preservationists and confused law enforcement in their wake.
The actions of Tuesday morning have an unfortunate air to them, and are similar – if not in content, but in execution – to the way this project has been seemingly rushed from the start; from site selection to vote, it all feels forced.
And it’s time for two things to happen.
First, the judge in the case needs to come down hard – and fast – on the violators in this case. From the property owners, to whoever it was that did (or did not) give the order to proceed. They all need to pay the legal price for their actions.
Second – and more importantly – this is no longer about the need of a downtown arena, or the preservation of a once-thriving neighborhood, this is about the lengths some will go to, in order to get their way.
If ‘someone’ decided to allow the demolition to continue even with the court order, what is to stop the next someone from ‘deciding’ to go ahead and build the arena with enough space for the much-discussed NBA G-League team (or other sports-based team) in violation of that court decision? How long would that half-built structure stand as lawyers fight it out?
The legal ‘what ifs’ are enough to give everyone headaches for years to come and the lawyers on all sides plenty of business.
No one person or group is above the law; to that end, this process must be stopped here and now and the entire project sent back to the drawing board and the voters.
And while it may cost a bit more in the long run, at the very least – and more importantly – the rule of law will have been followed.
Below are statements from Preservationist Max Grossman, Mayor Dee Margo, and the City of El Paso
I sent one of my attorneys, Lisa Hobs, to Duranguito this morning with court order in hand to stop the demolition. The demolition has been halted, but more than a half-dozen buildings have been gravely damaged by the demolition company. We had to call the police to help enforce the court order.
Make no mistake about it. The City of El Paso and the two property owners, Dr. Roberto Assael and Alejo Restrepo, have violated a court order signed by all three judges of the 8th Court of Appeals. The demolition action this morning was a blatant act of cowardice and a violation of the law. We filed contempt of court charges at 10:29am and have requested a hearing today. I am on way to Duranguito now to assess damage – Max Grossman via email
“The series of events regarding the MPC has been unfortunate. The City of El Paso is complying with the Order issued by the Eighth Court of Appeals. The City does not yet own or control the properties within the MPC footprint, and did not initiate the demolition scheduled for September 12. The property owners were not part of the order; however, the City issued a letter to their attorneys requesting they not proceed with the demolition. The City will continue to comply with the law regarding the MPC.” – Mayor Dee Margo
The City of El Paso is complying with the Order issued by the Eighth Court of Appeals which prohibits the City from taking steps related to the demolition of privately-owned properties within the MPC Footprint.
Last night, the City Attorney’s Office contacted the attorney representing the private property owners and requested that the property owners comply with the order, even though the property owners are not named in the order, and that the property owners not proceed with the demolition of the properties.
Earlier today, the appellate court amended the order to add an address which had not been included in the original order requested by Mr. Grossman’s attorneys. – Statement released by the City of El Paso
Senator José Rodríguez released the following statement Monday, in response to a ruling by an Austin judge that would allow the City of El Paso to build a multi-purpose facility it plans to build in the Duranguito neighborhood, but the facility cannot be intended for sports:
The judge has clearly told the city it cannot build a sports facility, which the city clearly had been planning. Enough is enough. Duranguito can be restored and become an asset to both residents and visitors.
How? It can be done through the development of the neighborhood itself as a cultural and performing arts facility.
In conjunction with the neighborhood’s historically important buildings, and the Mexican American Cultural Institute at the Abraham Chavez Theater, this could be a walkable, living historical community that would be an international heritage tourism attraction. The city must not allow any further destruction of this neighborhood, especially in light of the preliminary findings of the historical survey.
If the city wants to build a sports facility, it should let the public know clearly that’s its intention, and it should start that process over in an open and transparent way.
People who voted in the most recent mayoral election are eligible to sign Paso del Sur’s most recent petition in support of creating a historic district in Barrio Duranguito.
The petition can be signed at the District Office located at 100 N Ochoa St. Suite A.
Staff Report June 22, 2017NewsComments Off on Sacred Heart Church to Hold Procession Honoring the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Duranguito
Fr. Rafael García, S.J., of Sagrado Corazón Catholic Church will lead a procession honoring the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in solidarity with the vulnerable people of barrio Duranguito tonight at 7 p.m.
The participants will walk, reflect on Scripture and pray the rosary for the safety and well-being of the impacted residents of the neighborhood who have been struggling to maintain their community in the face of evictions and the imminent threat of demolition.
For over a century, Sagrado Corazón Catholic Church has served the people of South El Paso, including Duranguito.
Sagrado Corazón stands with the vulnerable residents of Duranguito, who are typically of low-income and immigrants, as well as for the preservation of historic neighborhoods and architecture in our city. In the words of Pope Francis:
“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 19)
The procession will begin at 7:00 p.m. at Firemen’s Memorial Park, 316 West Overland and proceed through the neighborhood. The matachines, Danza del Sagrado Corazón will join the event.
For more information, interested persons can contact Fr. Rafael García, S.J., Associate Pastor and Ministry with Migrant and Refugee Persons, at Sacred Heart Church at 915-532-5447.
Paso del Sur (PDS), a coalition to preserve Duranguito in Union Plaza, will be submitting over 2,400 signatures to the City of El Paso, in hopes of saving the neighborhood in downtown, slated for demolition for the proposed arena.
The petitions are the result of several weeks of collection and request that a Historic-overlay be established in Duranguito, creating the historic district that the city’s own architectural survey had recommended 19 years ago.
According to the group’s news release, the coalition includes “residents of Barrio Duranguito, the small business owners of El Tiradero Market, Paso del Sur, the El Paso History Alliance, as well as the people of El Paso who stand against the displacement of our communities and the erasure of our history.”
PDS Officials go on to state, “This petition is a direct call by the registered voters of El Paso County to Mayor Oscar Leeser, City Council Representatives Peter Svarzbein, Jim Tolbert, Emma Acosta, Carl L. Robinson, Dr. Michiel Noe, Claudia Ordaz, Lily Limon, Cortney Niland and their successors to designate Duranguito as a historic district and prevent the demolition of El Paso’s first and oldest neighborhood.”
“The city propaganda machine would have us believe that the fight for Barrio Duranguito has been lost—that there is only one holdout in the neighborhood unwilling to sell. However, with the submission of this petition we will show that the people of El Paso stand firm, in solidarity with the residents and small business owners in Duranguito, calling on the Mayor and City Council Representatives of El Paso to move the arena, not the people.” PDS officials added.
The petition will be submitted to City Clerk Richarda Duffy Momsen at her office Monday afternoon. Officials say that immediately after the petition is turned in, a statement will be given to the media in front of City Hall.
To read our previous coverage of the arena saga, click HERE.Photo gallery courtesy Jon Eckberg
The residents and small vendors of Duranguito invite all El Pasoans to celebrate the rich culture and history of their neighborhood. To that end, the residents have organized a ‘Save Barrio Duranguito Festival.’
There will be activities and cultural workshops for the whole family, food trucks, educational booths, historical walking tours of Duranguito and music from 4 to 10 pm on Friday, May 5th – the day before City elections.
Residents are invited to come listen to son jarocho, Chinese dance performance, an all-women mariachi group, danzantes Aztecas and more. The evening will end with an open air performance by Frontera Bugalú.
When: May 5 from 4 to 10 pm
Where: Mercado Tiradero/Duranguito Arts Market (corner of Paisano and Chihuahua Street)
4:00 Bienvenida and Opening Remarks
4:15 Blessing/Oración Fr. Garcia
Followed by a bilingual Historical Tour (Dr. David Romo & Dr. Max Grossman)
5:00 Danza Azteca Omecoatl
5:30 Performance by the Ai-Hwa Chinese School
6:00 Fandango con Maria, Yahvi, Rubi, and Leo /Dr. Max Grossman
The following is the text of the statement read during public comment at Tuesday morning’s El Paso City Council meeting on behalf of state Sen. José Rodríguez:
The City of El Paso is growing. As it does, we consistently are faced with decisions at every level about how to support the growth, how to encourage it, and how to manage it for the benefit of our residents and newcomers.
One way to do that is through quality-of-life investments. Most recently, municipal voters in 2012 gave the City of El Paso permission to sell bonds for almost $500 million in projects. Included in that were more than $200 million for three signature projects.
Those were the Children’s Museum, Hispanic Cultural center, and a multipurpose performing arts and entertainment facility, which was introduced under the heading of “Museum, Cultural, Performing Arts, and Library Facilities.”
El Paso voters gave this permission because they wanted to invest in themselves. I myself was one of them. We wanted quality of life amenities at both the neighborhood level in the form of parks and other amenities, and at the regional level in the form of museums and other cultural facilities.
We still want this. However, we require two things to make it happen the right way.
We need to know that these projects will enhance our community, which means respecting the people, places, and history that is so special and unique to El Paso.
We need to know that we are getting exactly what we asked for, that there was a process that was consistent, transparent, and inclusive every step of the way.
People did not vote for an arena. They voted for a “multipurpose center” meant for performances and cultural events.
Down to the terms used for the facility, the process has lacked transparency.
The vote to impose the facility on Duranguito was Oct. 18, 2016, only days after a proposed location was announced not by the Mayor or any City Council members but by city staff.
On that day, members of the public were able to see a presentation regarding the site selection for the first time. This presentation was not included as backup on the agenda. There was conflicting information regarding whether property owners and residents had been contacted, and what they had been told.
There were questions about parking and traffic. There were inconsistent assertions made about efforts to discuss other properties, specifically the railroad; spokesmen for Union Pacific had to clarify incorrect statements made about contacts made with the railroad, and about supposed demands by the railroad for a number of crossings to be closed.
The extent and nature of the facility “footprint” itself, and the impact on surrounding areas has not been clear throughout the process. Neither has the question of federal beautification monies put into the neighborhood not for economic development, but for the residents themselves.
And importantly, there is the question of respect for history. That has been particularly concerning to me. Both the major bodies set up to help restore, protect, and nurture El Paso’s historic neighborhoods voted to oppose the location, as did the City Plan Commission, and the city itself in 1998 called for detailed study and long-term preservation. Yet, the city is moving towards the destruction of an irreplaceable piece of the “First Ward,” part of the first Anson Mills plat map of 1859.
These questions pile on top of the original question – the nature of the facility City Council put forth and the voters approved – and are of such deep concern that I am in support of whatever means may be necessary to stop an irreversible action that will wipe out history and community.
The City is hosting open-house style meetings, one per representative district, to increase community awareness about the multipurpose center project history, including the studies indicating the best location for the facility.
For nearly 20 years, studies conducted by the City have recommended a downtown multipurpose center, or arena, as a catalyst for economic development and attracting quality events and entertainment.
According to city officials, via the news release, “The location for the multipurpose center was set in November 2012, when voters approved the bond proposition for the 2012 Quality of Life Bond election.”
“The language of the full bond proposition stated the multipurpose center would be “located in downtown.” The ordinance and the election results supporting the bond program formed a contract between the City and the voters. Not delivering the project in downtown would break the City’s contract with voters, violate state law and expose the City to potential lawsuits,” officials stated via the release.
Studies conducted in 2001 and 2006 have identified the Union Plaza area as the preferred site for a multipurpose center. In 2012, Plan El Paso identified the Union Plaza area as a location that should be considered for a multipurpose center. A 2015 study reinforced finding by the 2001 and 2006 studies by identifying the Union Plaza area as the most favorable site for the MPC.
WHO: City of El Paso
WHAT:Open House Meetings
WHEN: 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: March 23: Andress High School, 5400 Sun Valley, cafeteria
March 27: Pebble Hills Elementary, 11145 Edgemere, gym
March 29: Mesita Elementary, 3307 Stanton, cafeteria
March 30: Bel-Air High School, 731 Yarbrough, cafeteria
Via an email news release, local Architectural Historian Max Grossman announced a new push to keep a portion of Downtown El Paso from demolition to build a multi-purpose arena.
“I am pleased to announce a citizens’ initiative to establish a “Duranguito Historic District” on the edge of downtown El Paso,” Grossman writes, we wish to see implemented the recommendations of the 1998 City of El Paso survey, which includes creating a historic district within the boundaries of Union Plaza”
“The H-overlay district will recognize and commemorate the history, culture and people of the historic barrio.”
Grossman says the petition drive is co-organized by the El Paso History Alliance, Paso del Sur, and Save the Union Plaza Neighborhood in tandem with “friends and allies from throughout the community.”
“It is our hope that once the City has verifed the signatures on the petition that the City Council will enact the proposed ordinance. If not, the City Charter provides us with a path to place the ordinance on the ballot of the next general election specified in State law, Grossman adds.
To help get the petition off the ground, supporters will host a closed-door training session at the Rock House Cafe at 400 West Overland Avenue, in the heart of Duranguito, at 12:00pm.
All members of the general public are invited to assist with the petition effort; volunteers are asked to bring a laptop computer with Microsoft Excel installed. Shortly after the training session, supporters will be setting up petition stations at strategic locations and will continue collecting and verifying signatures until they reach the number required by law.
In order to create the district, Grossman and other preservationists are invoking Article 3.11 of the City Charter, and organizing petition. The petition reads:
We, the undersigned, being registered voters who voted in the last general election of the City of El Paso do hereby sign this petition pursuant to Section 3.11 of the Charter of the City of El Paso. We request the City Council of the City of El Paso to place the proposed ordinance described below on the City Council agenda for a City Council meeting to be held within thirty (30) working days after receipt of this petition, which contains the names, addresses, dates of birth and signature dates of the petitioners, all of whom are registered voters who voted in the last general election of the City of El Paso. We affirm that we are registered voters who voted in the last general election of the City of El Paso. The proposed ordinance is as follows:
THAT THE AREA WITHIN THE CITY OF EL PASO WHOSE BOUNDARIES ARE WEST SAN ANTONIO AVENUE ON THE NORTH, PAISANO DRIVE ON THE SOUTH, DURANGO STREET ON THE WEST AND SOUTH SANTA FE STREET ON THE EAST IS HEREBY DESIGNATED AS AN HISTORIC LANDMARK AND AN HISTORIC DISTRICT (ALSO KNOWN AS AN H-OVERLAY DISTRICT) AS PROVIDED IN SECTION 20.20.040 OF THE EL PASO CITY CODE AND SHALL BE SUBJECT TO THE PROVISIONS OF SECTION 20.20.080 OF THE EL PASO CITY CODE. THE AREA DESCRIBED HEREIN SHALL BE KNOWN AS THE DURANGUITO HISTORIC DISTRICT. THE BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT ARE SHOWN ON FIGURE 5.52 ATTACHED HERETO.
Late Thursday evening, the City of El Paso released a statement from Mayor Oscar Leeser, regarding several issues brought to light regarding the Downtown arena.
What follows is that release/statement, in its entirety.
To ensure El Pasoans have the correct information with regard to the Quality of Life Bond Program, particularly the Multipurpose Cultural and Performing Arts Center (MPC), Mayor Oscar Leeser today is clarifying misinformation about this signature bond project.
“When I took office in June 2013, it was my duty to carry out the desires of the voters. With the passage of the 2012 bond election, as Mayor, it is my responsibility to ensure that all of the projects are executed and to the highest quality,” Mayor Oscar Leeser said. “Unfortunately, there have been many misconceptions of what is required under the passage of bond and in fact, how quickly my Administration has acted to rollout the projects.”
Clarification on Why Downtown?
The ordinance calling the 2012 bond election was approved by City Council on August 14, 2012. The proposition called for “Museum, Cultural, Performing Arts, and Library Facilities” called for a “Multipurpose performing arts and entertainment facility located in Downtown El Paso.” Due to the location designation within the ordinance, the MPC must be located within the downtown footprint.
Clarification on Timeline
When the City of El Paso originally promoted the bond election, the bond was a 15-year initiative. The arena, as originally proposed was one of the last projects to be completed.
On February 5, 2013, the previous City Council approved a three-year rollout plan for bond program projects totaling approximately $101.4 million.
The rollout plan for the bond program may be modified. The City has the ability to accelerate or slow down the construction based on its ability to pay back the debt, or bonds issued for the projects.
During the third-year of the rollout plan, City Council decided to accelerate the projects, and on January 26, 2016, City Council voted on an 8-year rollout for the remainder of the projects.
This final phase identified $416 million in projects, including $204 million in signature projects.
Clarification on Funding to Accelerate Projects
Original debt models showed Quality of Life bond project funding out to 2028, essentially a 15-year initiative. In late 2014, in order to take advantage of a favorable bond market, staff worked at the direction of City Council to come in within a 10-year rollout with specifications that land acquisition dollars and for the MPC be allocated in the early years.
City Council has accelerated the funding for the projects since early 2016 with the current debt issuance standing at $248,975,328 out of the $473,250,000 authorized. According to the debt issue schedule presented to Council in 2014, to date we would only have issued $83,363,000 if Council had not accelerated the rollout of the projects.
A total of 44 quality of life bond projects have been completed to date. The majority of those projects are nestled in neighborhoods where they can be enjoyed by residents. Accelerating the signature bond projects compliments projects completed and provides the community with the best of both worlds.
The land for the Children’s Museum has been acquired. It will sit on the former Greyhound Lines, Inc. maintenance facility in downtown. The facility has been demolished to make way for the museum.
The Mexican American Cultural Center site has been identified. The center will be established at the Abraham Chavez Theater, which will be renovated.
Clarification on State Incentives
The City is looking at the area near the convention center to take advantage of state incentives. To be eligible for the incentives, the City would have to have a convention center hotel within the 1000 feet of the convention center property line. The convention hotel and the convention center would in essence create a convention center campus.
The state rebates would come from revenues from the businesses located within the convention center campus footprint.
The state incentives may be used toward various projects such as the MPC and or any additional public improvements that can enhance the convention center campus.
The MPC project would be considered an amenity that is in support of the convention center campus. The proximity of the MPC to the convention center would have to be at a location that is reasonable enough to show the State Comptroller’s office that it is an amenity in support of the Convention Center campus.
Clarification on Council’s Action
City Council’s recent action allows the City to continue moving forward with the exploration of identifying other feasible locations within the downtown area.
Which got me thinking, ‘this seems familiar, somehow…’ Information, but no real details. ‘Very familiar, indeed…’
The city, as far back as November 4th, hinted at – but didn’t come completely clean – on the ‘cataclysmic’ changes to come to the beloved Christmas lights.
“We are excited to bring a brand new lighting display to historic downtown SanJacinto Plaza! This year we will celebrate the 101st anniversary of the park, and will celebrate the holidays with this new version of lighting,” said El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser.
Vague, but encouraging…something to look forward to.
On December 3rd, within minutes of Mayor Leeser flipping the switch on the Christmas lights in the heart of the city, residents immediately put the spotlight on what wasn’t there. Photos were taken, as families wandered the newly renovated area, all in a search of the Baby Jesus and his parents.
It was all for naught, as the city had decided months earlier to modernize the light display, in the same vein as the revamp of the entire plaza, leaving the Holy Family out in the cold.
For many El Pasoans, this could not…would not…stand.
Outraged residents commented on countless Facebook posts and photo galleries; local TV stations jumped in, as did radio morning shows. “War on Christmas” was even uttered by some. By Monday, December 5th the city realized the error of their lighted ways.
“The City of El Paso will install the nativity scene that’s been displayed at San Jacinto Plaza as part of a longtime tradition. The nativity scene will be visible as you drive on North Mesa.” Interim Managing Director Quality of Life, Dionne Mack.
And all was well with the world.
Except for a one-and-a-half block (or four block depending on the day/release) area of Downtown El Paso. Where real people live, and have lived since the first saplings were planted at the original San Jacinto Plaza, nary a plastic Holy Family in sight.
Is this a “1970’s-style urban renewal project involving mass demolition”? No. This question seems to ask whether the City is wiping out an entire “old” neighborhood to replace it with something new. This project is being designed to fit in the smallest footprint possible, incorporate existing facilities, and create foot traffic to support local businesses.
Sure, there’s been outrage and protests, meetings and charrettes all chock full of impassioned prose and the murkiest legalese money can buy; but the decision stands: We’re building there, and you are out.
“Everyone impacted will be relocated in accordance with the law,” City Attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth said. “It is absolutely our goal to negotiate in good faith with property owners to reach agreement on purchase prices. We will work diligently to develop a relocation plan that works for each situation, keeping those who want to remain downtown in the area.”
There is irony here.
Some of those residents, who can take a stroll and see the newly reinstalled Nativity Scene, are set to lose their homes right about the same time the lights will be pulled down in 2017.
Real people, set to lose their homes, staring at plastic people who have a place in downtown – thanks to a change of heart by the city.
Such outrage, and then quick action, to resolve a decision that a majority of the public deemed a mistake. All over the physical representation of a displaced family, denied lodging at every turn, finally given only the barest shelter at their most vulnerable point in their lives.
The same could be said over the decision to put the arena in that place. Same outrage. Same posts. Same fury. Different outcome.
It would seem that our elected officials – and some of our fellow El Pasoans – are more concerned over plastic people and their shelter, rather than living human beings and their homes.