By Adair Margo
A great deceit has occurred among members of El Paso City Council, one that has thwarted the will of El Paso voters. On Jan. 3 – the first meeting of the year – Representatives Alex Annello and Joe Molinar placed item 13 on the agenda to “re-evaluate and repurpose … the now-insufficient funds for constructing a new Multipurpose Performing Arts and Entertainment Center.”
But wait, how did they know there were insufficient funds when the feasibility study they’d ordered to answer that question had not yet been presented? Oops! Mayor Oscar Leeser noticed the contradiction and asked for an agenda change, putting item 14 first, which called for “discussion and action on the … Multipurpose Arts and Performance Center Programming and Feasibility Study.”
Up to the dais they sprinted – the world-class Gensler team, who oversaw the building of El Paso’s beautiful new Weststar Tower that glows in the nighttime sky. Charged by City Council at an April 2022 council meeting, they’d worked eight months doing a feasibility study to determine whether the multi-purpose center could be built with available bond money after years of litigation; and, whether the historic properties on the MPC site (called “Duranguito”) could be repurposed as part of the design.
City architect Daniela Quesada and local historic preservation architect Jennifer Countryman joined Gensler in sharing what they’d found. They did their best to cover the $800,000 study in the 15 minutes allotted. They were rushed but excited to share the good news.
- 89.1% of El Pasoans still want the MPC if it preserves El Paso history.
- The $153 million in available bond money can build an 8,000-seat indoor-outdoor MPC and restore seven historically eligible buildings.
- The MPC will enliven downtown and restore “Duranguito”.
- The MPC increases El Paso’s Downtown tax base and economic opportunity.
The splendid report was met with silence. There was no discussion as the Gensler team returned to their seats. I wanted to jump up and shout, “This Is the plan! Historic preservation and an economic driver! This is what we’ve been waiting for!”
City Council members sat stoned faced as the mayor moved immediately into public comment on agenda item 13, cynically adding that it was important for every voice to be heard. Not one of the over 80 individuals who spoke over the next six hours had absorbed the Gensler report just presented. Instead, they repeated talking points and misinformation ad nauseam that had clearly been addressed.
When City Council went into executive session in the late afternoon, most of us went home. It had been a long, wasteful day. As Dee and I were sitting by the fire later that evening, his phone beeped and he read the news alert – City Council abandons Duranguito. Newly elected representatives Art Fierro and Chris Canales had joined Molinar and Annello in the fifth and final motion: to “repurpose” the “now-insufficient funds for constructing a new Multipurpose Performing Arts and Entertainment Center.”
The will of 71.67% of El Paso voters in 2012 was to have a multi-purpose center. The will of 89.1% of El Pasoans surveyed by Gensler in 2022 was to have a multi-purpose center alongside historic preservation. Yet four City Council members overturned the will of the voters.
Adair Margo is the former first lady of El Paso who Chaired the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and served on the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO during the presidency of George W. Bush.