By David Stout
City Council on Tuesday will make a critical decision whether to proceed with the ill-fated “arena.” The proposal essentially duplicates existing venues aside from luxury boxes and ownership. A small group of people wants control of your tax dollars for their entertainment.
To get there, they used projects the public really wanted – such as a children’s museum, expanded library, and Mexican-American cultural center – as bait. In a 2012 bond issue, those items passed overwhelmingly, and the arena, ill-defined and with no location given, went along for the ride.
But time passed without much movement on many of the projects, especially the arena. It wasn’t until 2016 that the city announced a location, setting off a six-year battle. On one side, a handful of Downtown developers, and on the other side, a broad-based coalition of grass-roots community organizers, historians, preservation advocates, neighborhood associations, artists, educators, and elected officials.
On Oct. 15, 2016, City Manager Tommy Gonzalez had a press conference to announce that he had picked Duranguito, the first platted neighborhood and the birthplace of modern El Paso.
This neighborhood, low-income and predominately Mexican American, had previously been used by the city for its demographics, which made it eligible for millions of dollars in federal grants meant for communities that – wait for it – had been previously abandoned and/or paved over by cities. That’s why the area has great sidewalks, historic street lamps, benches, and parks, to name a few improvements.
On Oct. 18, 2016, disregarding these facts and the dozens of El Pasoans who showed up to protest the proposal, City Council approved the location. As an aside, there was a presentation at that meeting prepared by city staff, but it was not posted with the agenda and was seen for the first time at the meeting.
Shortly after that meeting, the city’s own Historic Landmark Commission voted unanimously in opposition to the proposed location. The El Paso County Historical Commission did the same in 2019.
The public response continued. In summer 2017, community advocates led by the Paso Del Sur collected more than 2,400 signatures on a petition seeking an election to create an historic overlay for Duranguito. Each time the issue came up at City Council, the overwhelming majority spoke in opposition.
While many residents were moved out by the city, two women living on Chihuahua Street continue to hold out to this day, working with their supporters to create art and cultural events on what is left of their block.
I say “what is left of their block” because in fall of 2017, the city facilitated an attempt to demolish the neighborhood. The attempt failed because of hundreds of outraged community members who stopped the bulldozers, but the City damaged multiple buildings, closed the street, and fenced most of the block in.
It has taken the efforts of many, many people – including, yes, a very loud art historian and his ability to access the legal system – to keep the city from destroying Duranguito.
I am proud to be part of the movement to save this neighborhood. I have a track record of supporting heritage tourism, arts and culture-oriented small business, and historic preservation. My record also reflects overwhelming support for the many taxpayer-subsidized incentives requested by the same developers seeking an arena.
In this case, it’s not “progress” to destroy an irreplaceable community asset, treat people as disposable pieces to move around, and spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer funds for Downtown luxury boxes.
There is no authentic desire or need by El Pasoans for an expensive arena that duplicates existing facilities and wipes out a neighborhood that could never be duplicated.
In fact, the desire runs counter, and hopefully, on Tuesday, a new City Council will finally reflect the majority will of the public.
David Stout has represented Precinct 2 on El Paso County Commissioners Court since 2015.