El Paso, Texas - The Texas Supreme Court handed the City of El Paso a major victory Friday when it declined to hear a case that had stalled the construction of a downtown arena for nearly three years.
With this step, the appeals court decision remains the last word, allowing the city to build a multi-purpose entertainment center downtown and with funds from the 2012 Quality of Life bond election. Also important, the city will be allowed to use funding from other sources to complete or enhance the facility for sports use. Mayor Dee Margo has said that is a huge deal as the city could tap into other revenue streams like naming rights and such.
"I am very disappointed with this outcome as it bodes poorly for bond elections because Texas cities can apparently issue bond ordinances and interpret the language within them however they wish, to the detriment of Texas taxpayers and their interests," said historian Max Grossman, who has led the effort to stop the construction of the arena.
The Quality of Life bond plan allocated $180 million for the facility. It is the plan's signature project.
Critics argued the city misled voters when it specifically avoided the use of the word "sports" as it placed the item on the ballot and described it as a "multipurpose performing arts and culture center."
The city has been embroiled in a fierce legal battle against Grossman who insists the neighborhood the city selected for the arena --the area known as "Duranguito"-- has historic significance and is worth preserving.
The area has been vacant since the city relocated most of its residents in 2017 and private owners evicted their tenants. As ABC-7 recently reported, one of the buildings appeared to be inhabited by vagrants and was in severe disrepair.
It is unclear why the Texas Supreme Court declined to hear the case. A notice posted on the court's website Friday reads "Petition for Review disposed ." A clerk with the court explained to ABC-7 it takes six out of nine justices to grant a petition. In this case, two of them declined to weigh in, Justice Paul W. Green and Justice Eva Guzman. The court provided no document explaining its decision to not hear the case.
Grossman and his supporters, including famed philanthropist and historian JP Bryan who is covering most of the legal costs, are battling the city on multiple fronts and in various courtrooms. They first asked the state's highest court to hear the case almost exactly one year ago. Court records show Bryan sent a brief to the justices just last week pleading they wouldn't allow the city to build its "basketball boondoggle."
"This is the only location in Texas which five separate cultures have called home," Bryan said of Duranguito which historians say was once home to Native Americans, Spanish Conquistadors, Western settlers, Mexican-Americans and Chinese immigrants.
"How hard is it for the city of El Paso and its Mayor to be truthful with its citizens? Very hard. How easy is it for all objective individuals to see through this financial fraud? Very easy," he wrote.
It's unclear how this step affects the other pending cases, but Mayor Margo told ABC-7 the city will let the legal process play out.
“We’ve got to follow the legal process. Unless the courts have given us free reign we’re not about to move ahead until we have the legal precedent to do so," he said.