After a 9-0 vote by the members of the State Board of Review of the Texas Historical Commission (TCH), El Paso County’s request that Downtown El Paso become a National Register Historic District was approved Saturday morning.
As part of El Paso County’s proposed Downtown Historic District, almost 300 properties – including properties within the proposed Downtown Arena’s footprint in Duranguito – are ‘historical treasures’ and should be preserved.
The proposal did have opposition, even sparking a last-minute lawsuit against the application by 60 property owners on Friday. Speakers opposing the request were City Engineer Sam Rodriguez, City Architect Daniela Quesada, Mark Osborne of Kemp Smith LLC, as well as Jim Scherr, Paul Foster, David Jerome, Miguel Fernandez, and Adam Frank.
Even former Mayor Dee Margo sent a letter to the commission opposing the inclusion, alleging that city had not been notified promptly, and that several buildings in Duranguito neighborhood were damaged by demolition crews in 2017.
Mayor Oscar Leeser released a statement earlier in the week, essentially saying he would not interfere with the nomination process.
“I was very open during my campaign that I support improvements to the Abraham Chavez Theatre and convention center, which will allow us to expand its purpose to a true multipurpose performing arts and entertainment center (MPC), able to attract larger conventions and other events that our community needs. This would have a positive economic impact not only downtown, but with businesses and service providers throughout our region. My position has not changed…”
A portion of the discussion and opposition focused on the inclusion of properties within the much-debated Arena footprint, previously approved by voters via the 2012 Quality of Life bond.
THC Executive Director Mark Wolfe indicated that nomination procedure was being properly followed and it would move forward.
Speakers who supported the request included County Commissioner David Stout, City Rep. Claudia Lizette Rodriguez, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, Cynthia Renteria of Paso del Sur, Max Grossman of Preservation Texas and The Trost Society.
Via a news release, preservationist Grossman shared, “This is the most significant preservationist initiative in the 148-year history of the City of El Paso and it will help transform our downtown into an economic engine for growth and a center for heritage tourism.”
A 2017 survey Downtown El Paso by firm based in Austin identified more than 1,000 properties that could be part of a National Register of Historic Places district.
With the vote, the area will be presented to the National Park Service for addition to the National Register of Historic Places. According to the NPS website, inclusion in the Register assists the owners in preserving the properties via available grants.
“Listing in the National Register is the first step towards eligibility for National Park Service-administered federal preservation tax credits that have leveraged more than $45 billion in private investment and National Park Service grant programs like Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America.”