El Paso

Group accuses City of misleading public, AG about plans for sports arena

Group accuses City of misleading...

EL PASO, Texas - The group opposed to building a new Downtown arena in Duranguito is alleging the City told the public they were building one thing, but told the Attorney General they were building something completely different.

"The City has had plans for some time for a sports venue," Duranguito opposition attorney Cassandra McCrae said. "Yet somehow, the word sports never made it into the ordinance that actually authorized them to spend taxpayer dollars and sought voter approval."

Court documents filed by activist Dr. Max Grossman, and obtained by ABC-7, point to an email exchange between the City and Attorney General's office, which makes sure bond proposals are what they say that they are. A judge in Austin recently ruled the City could build an arena in Duranguito but it could not include sports.

According to court documents, the City originally indicated in the exchange about how to properly group the bond proposal to be presented to El Paso voters it wanted to include the proposed $228 million arena in "Park and Recreational" not the "Museums, Libraries, and Cultural Facilities" proposition. The City further clarified "it would be a multipurpose facility which will accommodate arts, entertainment and sports."

The Attorney General's office expressed concern, according to court documents, about including the "arena" in "Parks and Recreation" proposition and suggested it be its own stand-alone proposition. The City responded it "would like to group that with like facilities (cultural/performing arts) if possible."

Later, the Attorney General's office asked, according to court documents, "Would the City be able to certify -- at least with respect to its current intent -- that the arena will be 'primarily' used for cultural enrichment events such as the performing arts."

The City's response: "For the foreseeable future, the City sees very few sporting events being held at the multipurpose facility and City staff currently believes that performing arts/entertainment events will be the primary events being held there."

Court documents point out that contradicts former City Manager Joyce Wilson's testimony that "voters understood" the City's intent to build an arena to be used primarily for basketball.

Court documents further state: "If that is indeed what the 'voters understood,' then the City was telling the citizens one thing and telling the Attorney General something entirely different in order to obtain necessary approval."

"Very simply, our claim was that there  had been a bait and switch on the part of the City here," McCrae said. "It's quite clear the City has had plans."

El Paso City Attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth told ABC-7 the City doesn't see a problem.

"The Attorney General ultimately says as long as (the arena) is multipurpose in nature, and is not primarily for sports, there is no problem," Borunda Firth said. "So they pre-cleared it and that's our consistent position, that it has always been intended to be multipurpose in entertainment, with a little bit of sports."

The City Attorney further stated, "We believe that everybody understood that, that any voter you spoke with always expected there to be some sort of sport in the facility and it's always intended to be multipurpose in nature."

As for widespread interpretation the judge in Austin said the City could not hold sporting event at the arena, Borunda Firth said, "She didn't say no to sports. She said it is not a sports arena and we'll get more clarification on that August 1st. But she didn't say no to sports, she said no to a sports arena."

Borunda Firth said there is no evidence the City was trying to hide the word "sports."

"Council was concerned about the number of ballot propositions and was trying to group things together," the city attorney said, "There's no evidence otherwise. We have always intended to turn it over to an operator who will go out and secure all the tenants and uses."

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