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The El Paso Historic Landmark Commission suggests the city reconsiders arena location

Union Plaza residents fight to save neighborhood
Michaela Román
Flor de Luna Gallery is located at the corner of Chihuahua street and Overland street. It is in the center of the city officials approved arena location. The gallery sits next to the last-standing former brothel in El Paso.

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a three-part series on efforts being made to save the Union Plaza neighborhood. 

The El Paso Historic Landmark Commission met again on Monday, Nov. 7 to hear both city officials and residents from the Union Plaza neighborhood to arrive at a formal stance on the city’s proposed arena location.

This followed a previous meeting on Monday, Oct. 24 where a few HLC commissioners felt they did not know enough about the history of the area and would postpone making any decision.

Commissioner Charles Stapler made a motion to recommend to city council that they “reconsider this particular project” and Commissioner Joseph Longo seconded the decision. Commissioners William Helm, Edgar Lopez and Don Luciano recused themselves from the vote. The motion then passed with no opposition followed by cheers from supporters in the crowd.

City Attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth and City Manager Tommy Gonzalez, along with Deputy City Attorney Theresa Cullen spoke and explained why they chose this specific location.

After considering four different locations, each failed for reasons such as closures of major streets and exceeding the established budget. In the end, the El Paso City Council approved, in a 7-0 vote, on Oct. 18 that the $180 million downtown arena—supported by the Quality of Life Bond voters approved in 2012—would be built in the Union Plaza district.

The decision to enact eminent domain has caused controversy amongst El Pasoans because it will displace residents and business owners in the area.

In her presentation to the HLC, Borunda Firth discussed the 1998 Archaeological Technical Report for the Sun Metro Transit Authority, where author John Peterson amongst others found 18 sites and structures in the Union Plaza that they claimed should be deemed historic. Seven of these can be found in the area approved for demolition.

Borunda Firth is unsure why a survey was never conducted after this study came out.

“For the record—I’m gonna say it again—I didn’t say there was nothing historical. I said there was nothing in there with a historic designation,” Borunda Firth said.

Members against the demolition of the neighborhood murmured disapprovingly following Firths remarks.

Michael Patino, Owner of the Rock House Café and Gallery—that sits on the 400 block of Overland Street—was amongst those satisfied with the HLC’s decision. His business and residence sit just outside the arena footprint.

Patino spoke to both city council and the HLC to defend his neighborhood.

“I’m glad we are recognized as a historic community,” Patino said. “We’ve shown that it’s a victory for people that do live in the area to give them some kind of calmness to their nerves.”

Patino considers his neighbors he would lose from the arena family.

“They wouldn’t call the police. They would call me ‘Ay some creep is on the porch.’ That’s the unity we have in our neighborhood,” said Patino.

Advocates against the arena got together Friday, Nov. 4 at the Rock House Café to listen to stories from residents as they fight to stay in their homes. The event was hosted by Paso Del Sur, which is a 10-year-old organization that works for the rights of residents and workers of El Paso’s barrios against displacement and demolition.

Last Tuesday, Nov. 1, Mike Leibbrand showed up to City Council’s meeting where his neighborhood was on their agenda.

“I would like is to have all the addresses of all the people that are here so that we can very quickly confirm to them whether they are within or without the footprint area,” Borunda Firth said. “We may be able to put some minds at ease.”

Leibbrand wrote down his phone number to find out if his apartment was within the boundaries but never heard back from anyone.

“I never received a phone call. I haven’t heard anything. I’ve heard that my apartment complex is in the boundaries and that it’s not, and that I don’t really have to move but then I hear that eminent domain and everything else is going to happen but I’m handicap and so is my roommate,” Leibbrand said.

Another supporter for saving the neighborhood at the event was Max Grossman, vice chair of the El Paso County Historical Commission. He assured the group gathered at the Rock House Café that his commission would do everything they can to make city council change their mind.

“There’s absolutely no compelling reason why it must be right here,” Grossman said. “There’s no compelling reason why 150 people have to be displaced and why 27 historic buildings have to be demolished so that we can be entertained here instead of over there.”

City representatives will hold their first community meeting to answer any questions or concerns from the community and address arena plans at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 14 at the old fire station at the corner of Santa Fe Street and Paisano Street.

Patino is planning to protest at the meeting.

“We’re not negotiating, plain and simple. There’s plenty of people in opposition in my neighborhood to actually say we’re not for sale—and I’m one of those people,” said Patino.

Michaela Román may be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Michaela Román
Michaela Román, Editor-in-Chief
Michaela is a Senior Digital Media Production major at The University of Texas at El Paso. As the Editor-in-Chief, and former Photo Editor of The Prospector, she has learned to stay organized, manage a staff of writers and photographers, meet deadlines, cover events and network with others. She also has freelance experience and a personal photography business. Michaela aspires to work as an editor for a large media outlet and one day go to graduate school to teach photojournalism.
Gaby Velasquez, Photo editor
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The El Paso Historic Landmark Commission suggests the city reconsiders arena location