On Tuesday, the El Paso City Council approved a preliminary site plan for a proposed arena, but not without some controversy.
At the end of last week, we noted that El Paso was pursuing a new arena in the city’s downtown area. Surrounded by West San Antonio Avenue, South Santa Fe Avenue, West Paisano Drive, and Leon Street, the arena would be built close to several existing ammenities, including the El Paso Convention Center and Southwest University Park.
The vote does not finalize the project, but it gives city officials the authorization to move ahead with acquiring properties. One controversial element of that plan is that the council’s vote effectively makes eminent domain available in this project. The city says it does want to use eminent domain, and will look to relocate residents and businesses affected by the project, but some–including El Paso mayor Oscar Leeser, who did not have a vote in this instance–objected to the use of eminent domain.
Another issue is whether El Paso has been thorough enough in evaluating the historical nature of affected properties. More from the El Paso Times:
City officials have said the area does not have buildings with historical designation, although historic preservation advocates said several could qualify for the designation and should not be torn down.
“Although the city attorney said this is not urban renewal, it has all the characteristics of urban renewal,” University of Texas at El Paso history professor Yolanda Chavez Leyva said at the City Council meeting.
Preservation advocates have said that in addition to the old Fire Station No. 11 by Trost & Trost and built in 1930, the area’s historical assets include the Mansion built in 1904 and said to be the last standing former brothel in El Paso, and various tenements and Victorian-style buildings from the late-19th and early-20th centuries.
“Your failure to ensure a historical survey has doomed possible architectural treasures to the wrecking ball, thus robbing us of our history,” Rodney Linkous told the council.
The city opted out of conducting a historical and architectural survey of Downtown El Paso last year. The County Commissioners Court in February approved funding for a survey as a first step toward obtaining a National Historic District designation in the Downtown area that could help property owners secure federal and state tax credits to restore historic commercial buildings.
The arena was previously approved as part of a quality of life bond bill in 2012. It would likely open in 2019 or 2020.
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