El Paso

Council votes to exclude Duranguito neighborhood from list of possible arena sites

BREAKING: Council votes to exclude...

EL PASO, Texas - City Council voted 4-2 Tuesday to study alternate sites for the Downtown arena, including the Downtown Convention Center complex.

In a move that drew heavy applause, Council also voted to take the historic Duranguito Neighborhood and the Abraham Chavez Theater off the list of possible sites for the arena.

Mike Leibrand was at the council meeting and elated he will not have to sell his home and move.

"It's a relief. A much needed relief I wasn't sleeping at night. My friends wasn't sleeping at night. And it's relief for the holidays. It's like getting Christmas early," Leibrand said.

Building the arena in the historic neighborhood near Union Plaza would have forced dozens of people to move out of one of the city's oldest neighborhoods.

A group of residents and historians opposed the original location, arguing people would have to relocate, businesses would have to close, and historical buildings would be torn down.

Some 50 people spoke against the original location for the arena during public comment at Tuesday's city council meeting.  A woman who would have to move to make room for the arena told representatives "I do not want to sell my house. The walls are part of me."

The original "targeted footprint" for the arena would be bound by West San Antonio Avenue, South Santa Fe Street, West Paisano Street, and Leon Street. Opponents are against the city demolishing buildings with a historical and cultural value in order to build the arena there.

Another woman told the council and Mayor Leeser, "I hope you think about the future and what kind of memory you want to leave for the next generations. Your mother Mr. Mayor, your mother said you were a good boy. Your mother who resembles many elderly people here. She told me to vote for you because you were going to be a decent human being."

City Representative Cortney Niland put the topic on today's council agenda. Rep. Niland became emotional after listening to dozens of people talk about why they did not want to leave their homes and their neighborhood.

"It made me feel really bad today that people are scared about losing their home as we face the holiday season. And that was never our intention. Never. And I can't stand here and represent the neighborhood and move forward in this direction knowing what I know today. And I won't," Niland said. "When it was brought to our attention that people were being evicted from their homes, I think every single one of us was aghast. Because we were reassured on several occasions that would not be the case and that would not take place."

Niland and the other council representatives are now considering alternative sites for the downtown arena.

"We can look to other communities like Omaha, Nebraska, who said, 'Why not combine the two? Why not have an arena and a convention center in the same facility? You don't have to pay maintenance on both. You don't have to pay utilities on both,'" said Niland in an interview

Niland has said the council may have something exciting to announce at the City Council meeting.

"What I think we can tell the community, or what I hope to be able to tell the community tomorrow is that we are listening to you, we hear your concerns. We are going to sit down and have a dialogue. We are going to look toward other solutions," Niland said.

Union Plaza community members came together Monday night to celebrate a Christmas posada and discuss how to save their neighborhood.

The tradition is one the community fears will be lost if one of the city's oldest barrio's is erased.

Concerned resident Michael Patino opened his Rockhouse Cafe and Gallery for the posada and to his neighbors, determined to convince the city to move the arena to a different location.

"You can't stop the customs of the people and destroy this by a swipe of a pen," Patino said.

Leticia Herrera has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years and does not want to leave. Herrera is happy the city is considering other sites, such as the convention center, for the new downtown arena.

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