TxDOT proposes halting Lincoln Center demolition until Oct. 1

EL PASO, Texas - The demolition of the Lincoln Center could be halted until Oct. 1 if the Texas Department of Transportation's offer is accepted by the City of El Paso.

Joe Weber, TxDOT executive director, and Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton met with State Sen. Jose Rodriguez Friday morning at the Lincoln Center and toured the building.

Weber and Houghton then delivered a letter to Mayor Oscar Leeser.

The letter stated that TxDOT is willing to halt the demolition until Oct. 1 if the City withdraws the lawsuit it filed this week.

A spokesman for Rodriguez said that TxDOT also is willing to work with the City to remove historic and culturally significant items from the center, including murals.

"I would like to thank Chairman Houghton, Lt. General Weber, and the Texas Department of Transportation for listening to the concerns of the Lincoln Center advocates. I also want to thank all City Council for their support in this effort," Leeser said in a statement Friday.

City Council will discuss the Lincoln Center at its meeting on Tuesday.

On May 21, the City obtained a restraining order to halt the building's demolition.

The request was filed that morning and granted immediately by Judge Thomas Spieczny. Soon after it was granted, City Reps. Eddie Holguin and Lily Limon went to the Lincoln Center and presented the contractors with the injunction.

About four dozen protestors stood outside the Lincoln Center chanting, praying and singing as TxDOT officials and workers with the asbestos removal contractor removed demolition equipment from inside the vacant building.

On May 21, TxDOT spokeswoman Veronica Beyer sent a short email to media stating the agency was suspending all actions in the initial phase of the demolition of the Lincoln Center. "While the condition and location of the building remain a concern for TxDOT, our contractor has ceased operations while the courts consider the matter," the email stated.

The temporary restraining order is good until 1:30 p.m. May 29 when a hearing will be heard in the case. In the request for a restraining order, the City argues it has legal standing because it's a "governmental entity that has notified TXDOT of its intent to acquire this building pursuant to TXDOT'S promise and offer."

In October 2013, TxDOT publicly announced its plans to delay demolition of the center for one year to allow a local government entity to assume responsibility of the building and to allow other community stakeholders to come up with a viable financial plan for the center.

Also last October, Leeser wrote a letter Houghton informing TxDOT of the City's plan to identify a community partner - possibly El Paso Community College - to work with to acquire the building from the state agency.

City officials said TxDOT broke its promise when seven months after their commitment, TxDOT announced it would begin the asbestos removal and demolition process.  

Limon called it a slap in the face.

"It was shocking, it was a slap in the face, it was worse than a betrayal," Limon said on May 21.

Houghton refused to answer any questions about the Lincoln Center on May 19 after he was approached by the media following an award ceremony. "I've said all I've got to say," he said as he walked away from reporters.

On May 19, TxDOT's District Engineer for El Paso, Bob Bielek said safety concerns had become imminent since the October decision to delay demolition for a year. He said TxDOT is concerned a car can fall off the ramp and on to the Lincoln Center area because the railing in that part of I-10 is older and about a foot shorter than other areas of the freeway

It was a concern Houghton mentioned on May 19 during an award ceremony presentation. A TxDOT spokeswoman pointed to an incident involving a Coca-Cola semi-truck that dangled on a nearby ramp on U.S. 54 May 20 as an example of the risk.

Limon said the newly voiced safety concern is a "scare tactic" by TxDOT.

Related Content:

History of Lincoln Center as presented at City Council in 2011

2011 Lincoln Center microbial investigation report

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