El Paso

City of El Paso to appeal Austin judge's ruling regarding Downtown arena

EL PASO, Texas - El Paso City Council voted Tuesday to appeal the ruling made by an Austin Judge regarding the Downtown Arena.

The judge ruled Monday the City can build the new $180 million Downtown multi-purpose facility, but the arena cannot be built in a way to accommodate sports.

According to a news release, as part of the action taken by council, the City of El Paso will:

  • Appeal Judge Meachum's ruling
  • Continue to work within the MPC site and the acquisition of the properties; while working with the state's historic preservation commission
  • Seek clarification through the appeal as to what it can provide in the MPC and how we can fund it
  • Design a multipurpose center that can feature a variety of special events.

City Reps Alexsandra Annello and Samuel Morgan voted against appealing the judge's decision. City officials told ABC-7 they believe an appeal could take up to a year.

City Representative Michel Noe told ABC-7 the City does not have a year. He expects the City to enter the design phase soon and said construction could begin as soon as the design is approved.

El Paso Mayor Dee Margo called the judge's decision ambiguous and confusing.  "There is a great deal of ambiguity in the decision handed down by the judge, for instance, if we want to have a Disney on Ice, does that preclude us from having a hockey game. We don't know. That's the reason for the appeal," Margo said.

Attorneys with a group representing Duranguito residents disagree. "I've been, frankly, surprised to hear the City say that the order is ambiguous," said Cassandra McRae, an attorney with Rio Grande Legal Aid, "I think it's quite clear and I think Judge Meachum was quite clear: the ordinance did not authorize a facility to be designed or constructed primarily for sports."

Judge Amy Clark Meachum stated in her ruling Monday that "no funding from other sources may be used to modify, complete or enhance the Facility to make it suitable for a sports arena."

The City of El Paso recently changed its certificates of obligation policy, non-voter approved debt, to allow Council to supplement funding for quality of life projects in the future.

The City argued the arena would primarily be used for performing arts, but could also host entertainment like sporting events.
   
Opponents argued voters were misled about the City's intentions, claiming the City never mentioned the word "sports" in the 2012 ballot describing the project.
   
In court documents filed prior to the ruling, opponents of a sports arena proposed several ways to keep sports from creeping back into the picture later. One was to ensure the design does not include locker rooms or other sports specific features. The other was preventing the city from issuing certificates of obligation to pay for enhancements or completion of the facility later on.

While the City was finishing up its meeting Tuesday, the Paso del Sur Group opposing the construction of the facility in Duranguito was holding a news conference to discuss the ruling.

Historian and Paso del Sur leader David Romo said the city had already spent $741,000 dollars as of mid-June and that figure -- paid by taxpayers -- has risen since the City added more high-dollar big name attorneys to their legal team. ABC-7 asked the City if Romo's figure was accurate. The City has not replied.


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