The El Paso City Council voted to approve about $29,000 in funding to secure two buildings that were damaged within the Downtown arena project site. 

The action is a part of the overall negotiations to settle a long-time legal battle that has prevented the city from moving forward with building an arena or multi-purpose center in Duranguito. 

After executive session Tuesday, the council voted six-to-one to approve the funding. City Rep. Peter Svarzbein was not present for the vote. City Rep. Cassandra Hernandez voted against the motion.

The two buildings that will be secured are the Chinese Laundry located at 212 W. Overland and the Flor de Luna Building at 300 W. Overland.

The legal fight between the city and Max Grossman started in 2017 after the city chose the Duranguito neighborhood located in the Union Plaza area of Downtown El Paso to build the 2012 quality of life signature bond project — a $180 million multipurpose cultural and performing arts center.

Grossman, a University of Texas at El Paso art history professor who has been active in historic preservation efforts, has argued that the buildings and land in Duranguito have historic value and should be preserved.

Grossman declined to comment “in the spirit of my good-faith discussions with the City of El Paso.”

The move to resolve the litigation comes after a City Council directive in November that, in part, asked for a cost estimate for the 2012 quality of life bond project that has been stalled by litigation for years. The directive also included negotiations to resolve the legal battle regarding the Duranguito neighborhood and buildings.

Several of the Duranguito buildings were damaged in 2017 by demolition crews hired by the then-owners of some of the properties. The area was later fenced in and the damaged buildings have been deteriorating since.

The city issued a new request for qualifications in January as part of the November City Council directive that asked for a firm to develop programming “as part of the reimagining of the Multi-Purpose Cultural and Performing Arts Center from a one-use facility into a site development with various programs.”

Part of the request asked for the firms to explore a combination of indoor and outdoor spaces within the existing built environment and strategies for adaptive reuse of some of the buildings.

Early requests for qualifications in 2016 called for the design of “a mid-sized arena with a target capacity of 15,000 seats for basketball games.” The initial request for proposals later scrapped the term “arena” for “facility,” but was ultimately canceled because of the ongoing litigation.

City officials said the bid issued in January would help the city move forward with negotiating with Grossman and his attorneys.

The city will be entering into an agreement at the end of April with a consultant to develop the new program/project vision as part of the feasibility study.

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