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El Paso

Leeser signals downtown arena isn’t a priority, but won’t intervene on Duranguito historic district

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A sign erected by supporters of the embattled Duranguito neighborhood.

EL PASO, Texas -- El Paso's new Mayor Oscar Leeser signaled Wednesday night the first major policy shift of his administration from that of his predecessor Dee Margo.

Leeser waded into the fray over the Duranguito neighborhood's inclusion in a proposed downtown historic district, which could impact plans for the arena project championed by Margo.

In a statement, Leeser made clear that building an arena was not a priority item on his agenda. Instead, the new mayor reiterated that he feels 2012 bond money approved by voters for a multipurpose performing arts and entertainment center should be utilized to fund "improvements to the Abraham Chavez Theatre and convention center."

Such a move, Leeser said, would make El Paso "able to attract larger conventions and other events that our community needs. This would have a positive economic impact not only downtown, but with businesses and service providers throughout our region."

But despite his personal views, Leeser didn't seem inclined to change the city's official position with the Texas Historical Commission. Margo sent a letter to the commission last month saying the city opposed including 13 Duranguito properties in the historic district; those properties are in the arena footprint and would be leveled to build the new facility.

Leeser noted that Margo's letter "reflected a decision made by the City Council of El Paso on September of 2020 – and reaffirmed by Council vote in December – supporting the nomination, with the exclusion of (Duranguito)."

El Paso’s Historical Landmark Commission voted unanimously earlier this week to take a different position than City Council, saying Duranguito should be included in the historic zone.

Some local historic preservationists and Duranguito activists had also hoped Leeser would send the Texas Historical Commission a new letter reversing the position Margo took.

The state body is set to make its boundary decision at the end of week for the proposed downtown historic district.

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Jim Parker

Jim Parker is the Director of Digital Content for ABC-7.

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