AUSTIN, Texas - The City of El Paso is closer to obtaining a judge's decision on whether it has the authority to build a new multipurpose performing arts and entertainment venue in the Duranguito neighborhood or not.
To the judge's surprise, attorneys for the City on Monday also asked the judge to weigh in on a second matter: does Texas law prohibit the use of resident petitions to rezone an area?
Advocates of the Duranguito neighborhood have gathered thousands of signatures in efforts to force council to put the item on a ballot for all El Pasoans to weigh in on whether Duranguito should be designated a Historic district, thus stopping demolition and construction of the new arena.
Judge Amy Clark Meachum, referring to the issue as "a big power," seemed uncomfortable and asked attorneys to present background information and research whether there was any precedent for the decision.
Tuesday, the City suffered a blow when the judge said she will not make a ruling on the petition the City wants to stop. "l try very hard not to wade into political fights or give advisory opinions. And I'm going to decline to do so here," the judge said.
The judge's decision now leaves the door wide open for those against the Downtown Arena to possibly delay the process even further. Another petition could possibly put the arena back on the ballot for a second vote.
In June, City Council declined to take any action on a petition, with more than 2,400 signatures, to designate Duranguito as a historic neighborhood. The city was hoping the judge would rule in its favor and not allow another petition to be filed.
Mike Sutter, the chief financial officer for the City of El Paso, took the stand to answer questions about the tenants within the arena footprint.
Sutter said practically everyone is gone, accepting the city's relocation packages.
Of the 40 residential tenants, 39 accepted the terms, Sutter said. So have 65 of the 66 individual businesses.
Sutter further stated all but one of the 22 properties within the footprint are under contract.
Also Tuesday, Brian Crowe, with Destination El Paso, testified modern multipurpose arenas are able to host different types of events and activities.
Crowe said performing arts is a broad term, encompassing anything from concerts to special events like Cirque de Soleil.
Crowe also testified the arena will consist of 15,000 seats but could hold up to 17,000 people when floor seating is included.
"Modern multi-purpose facilities are really intended to be dynamic, you want to be able to host different types of events and activities," Crowe said. "Certainly, performing arts is a really broad category. It could really include a number of different type of events."