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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 January 3, 2023 -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!

  • Yes! 89.1% of El Pasoans still want the MPC if it preserves El Paso history!
  • Yes! the $153,000,000 in available bond money can build an 8,000 seat indoor-outdoor MPC and restore seven historically eligible buildings!
  • Yes! there are options!
  • Yes! the MPC will enliven downtown and restore “Duranguito”!
  • Yes! 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 nauseum 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 i-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 5th 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 4 city councilmen overturned the will of the voters, and it is interesting to note that Art Fierro carried 2.44% of his district and Chris Canales 3.20%.

About the Author:

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 two-term presidency of George W. Bush. She was honored by the DAR for outstanding achievement in historic preservation in 2019.

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One reply on “Guest Editorial: The Great Deceit at El Paso City Council: An open letter from Adair Margo to the media”

  1. “whether the historic properties on the MPC site (called “Duranguito”) could be repurposed as part of the design”
    Weird argument, saying that tearing down something historic is absolved by making a modern recreation. Wait, not even a recreation, just something that might have a few facade elements in common. Let’s tear down a couple of blocks in Manhattan Heights to build a new shopping center. Don’t worry though, we’ll repurpose some of the historic properties of those houses into the design!

    “Yes! 89.1% of El Pasoans still want the MPC if it preserves El Paso history!”
    What a loaded question attached to that statistic, just inviting participants to misunderstand. “If it preserves El Paso history” meaning the facade job? Meaning a new location? What was the actually wording of the question? And if it was as you wrote it, why did they get someone so bad at asking polling questions?

    “Yes! the $153,000,000 in available bond money can build an 8,000 seat indoor-outdoor MPC and restore seven historically eligible buildings!”
    I was not there to hear this, and I don’t have a copy of the report to read. And costs of arenas are hard to pin down, especially for one of this size. Closest I could find in the US of similar size and recent is Acrisure Arena, 10k seats for $290 million, or $29k a seat. An 8k arena with a similar per-seat cost would be $232 million. Maybe we don’t need such a nice arena here though, and that $80 million difference can be cost reduced away. Restoring buildings is expensive work, so I’d be curious to see how much is earmarked for that. I will at least for now be skeptical of this position, until I can get a copy of the expert report. And yes, I saw your organization’s presentation that doesn’t really say much.

    “Yes! there are options!”
    Including not building it, yes.

    “Yes! the MPC will enliven downtown”
    By what standard?
    -People who visit downtown at night? I don’t think an arena can claim credit for all of any sort of uptick. Downtown was already growing in nightlife before Southwest Park was built, and it continues to grow even when that stadium is closed.
    -Taxes? Study after study shows arenas to be negligible at generating taxes, with most not making as much money as it costs to build and maintain. In El Paso, Southwest Park does not generate enough to cover its debt (at least according to the latest El Paso Times articles I can find).

    ” and restore “Duranguito”!”
    … Restore Duranguito to what? What it was? We’ve already evicted everyone who lived in those buildings, and have started demolishing it. I think gentrify is a better word than restore. From this, it seems like you think that restoring it means replacing it with something better than it is, not making what is there like it used to be.

    “Yes! the MPC increases El Paso’s downtown tax base and economic opportunity!”
    See above. Most stadiums lose money for the cities that build them. And economic opportunity for whom? You’re displacing people with little to build entertainment venues for people with some, and moneymaking opportunities for people with a lot. You want to saddle El Paso with debt, so that people who have money can come in and make more on city property.

    I’m not even completely against cities building arenas. It can be considered an investment in the happiness and lives of its citizens. But stop with the half truths and misleading points ending with exclamation marks in your attempts to sell your agenda. And stop thinking you can gloss over the gentrification going on with buzzwords and promises to consider the building and lives removed from Duranguito.

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