The city has not made attempts to negotiate a resolution to the legal battle over the site of the Downtown arena since the City Council directed staff to do so in November, attorneys representing Max Grossman said in a letter to the city on Monday.

“More than three months have now passed, and the city has not taken any steps to begin discussions with Dr. Grossman that could lead to settlement of the pending lawsuit,” said attorney Carlos Cárdenas, who is representing Grossman along with attorney Francis Ainsa Jr.

In a statement Tuesday, city spokesperson Laura Cruz -Acosta said they are seeking a consultant after the City Council requested an assessment of the cost of completing the arena project proposed for the Duranguito neighborhood. The city will wait until after that consultant is  hired before negotiating with Grossman on his lawsuit, she said.

Cárdenas is also alleging the city is deliberately neglecting to protect or safeguard the buildings.

“Especially disturbing is the fact that the City Council has taken no action to protect the buildings in Duranguito from damage caused by the elements or from potential damage from vagrants,” Cárdenas said.

In November, the City Council voted on a series of motions aimed at the Downtown arena project, which has been stalled in the courts for years. Voters approved a multipurpose center in a 2012 bond election, but the project has been stalled by legal fights waged by Grossman after the city chose Duranguito as the site for the arena.

Among the directives was for the city attorney’s office to negotiate a possible resolution to the lawsuits by Grossman, a University of Texas at El Paso art history professor who has been active in historic preservation efforts. Grossman has argued that the buildings in Duranguito and the site have historic value and should be preserved.

Grossman’s attorney said he and the city entered into an agreement designed to prevent the city from demolishing the buildings in Duranguito until and unless the Texas Supreme Court decides whether to hear the city’s appeal of a lower court ruling, according to the letter.

Cárdenas said the purpose of the agreement is to prevent the city from taking action under its permit issued by the Texas Historical Commission that would result in the demolition of the buildings in Duranguito.

City-owned properties in the Duranguito neighborhood have little protection beyond a chain-link fence around the neighborhood. Some of the buildings were damaged in 2017 by demolition crews. (Robert Moore/El Paso Matters)

“The city appears to have decided to allow the buildings in Duranguito to be demolished by the elements by neglecting to take any protective action as recommended by city staff,” Cárdenas said in the letter.

City Council recently dropped plans to take measures to safeguard the buildings from further damage from the elements.

The effort to safeguard the buildings was part of the November vote that included having city staff find out how much it may cost to stabilize the damaged buildings within the fenced-in area of the arena site located in the Duranguito neighborhood in the Union Plaza area of Downtown.

Several of the buildings were damaged in 2017 by demolition crews hired by the then-owners of some of the property.

Grossman’s attorney said they may take further legal action against the city if they do not begin negotiations, or take steps to safeguard the buildings.

Cárdenas is requesting a meeting with the city to begin negotiations for an agreement to safeguard the buildings within 10 business days as of Feb. 14 and wants an agreement within 20 business days that corrective action to safeguard the buildings will be completed by March 25, 2021.

This story was updated at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 15 with comment from a city official.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly that the city owned buildings when they were damaged by demolition crews in 2017. The city acquired the properties after they were damaged.

Cover photo: The Duranguito neighborhood, which is mostly owned by the city, has been fenced off for several years as legal fights over its future continue. (Robert Moore/El Paso Matters)

Elida S. Perez is a senior reporter for El Paso Matters. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities...