By Dr. Oscar J. Martínez*
Despite the crushing financial downturn faced by the city as a result of the covid-19 crisis, on April 28, 2020, by a vote of 6-2, the El Paso City Council rejected the Annello/ Rodríguez proposal to stop the fiscal bleeding by suspending the building of two non-essential and costly projects, the $400-$500 million arena and the $16 million cultural center.
Council members Svarzbein, Morgan, Rivera, Salcido, Hernández, and Lizárraga voted to prevent the hold on the projects. What were they thinking? If the projects go forward, El Paso’s bloated debt will reach astronomical levels, deepening the distress already felt by overburdened taxpayers and possibly bankrupting our city.
The main reason given by the six representatives for their mystifying vote is that the city needs to “make good” on items that El Pasoans “authorized” in the 2012 bond-election—in this case, the arena and the cultural center. However, the voters did not approve what the six representatives—and the mayor—now envision, which is to build a sports arena downtown in Duranguito and to squeeze a cultural center into the downtown library.
The words “arena,” “sports,” “downtown,” “Duranguito,” did not appear in the 2012 bond ballot language, nor did the phrase “cultural center to be jammed inside the library.” It is dishonest to misrepresent what the voters approved. The city’s bait-and-switch tactics are unacceptable. Duranguito must be preserved, the library must be kept whole, and if ever built, the cultural center must have its own building.
In the process of making false claims, proponents of the manipulated projects have disrespected the Mexican American community, which has an inherent interest in saving Duranguito, where El Paso originated at the time that Mexico had jurisdiction over this area. Mexican Americans want a historic district established in that location, not an arena. They also reject the idea of the cultural center becoming an attachment to the library. Duranguito would be an ideal spot for a stand-alone cultural center.
The above-named city leaders, the Mountain Star Sports Group, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Borderplex Alliance need to stop misleading El Pasoans and insulting Mexican Americans through insensitivity to the group’s heritage. Amends can be made by abandoning the plan to place the arena in Duranguito. Instead, work to establish a historic district there; such a project will generate far more economic development benefits than a sports center. Build the arena someplace else and do it with private money.
Mountain Star Sports Group, El Pasoans do not want more neighborhood destruction and high-priced boondoggles. We recall how our city hall building was demolished a few years ago to make room for a baseball park stadium that you hoisted on the city, one that continues to drain our scarce tax revenues.
Listen to the people! Past petitions and polls have shown that a majority of El Pasoans do not support a tax-funded arena. The current online “Terminate the El Paso Sports Arena Project” petition has already gathered nearly 1,600 signatures.
Dr. Oscar J. Martínez, a retired professor, has written numerous books about El Paso-Ciudad Juárez and the borderlands.