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ABC-7 Xtra: Alternatives for revitalizing the Duranguito neighborhood

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- Sunday on ABC-7 Xtra, host Saul Saenz looks at two alternatives for revitalizing the Duranguito neighborhood in Downtown El Paso now that city leaders have chosen not to build the controversial multi-purpose performing arts center at that location.

The Duranguito area has long been a battleground between preservationists who want to maintain the historical integrity of the area while another group looks to redevelop it into an economic engine, more attractive to young families and the business community.

In 2012, El Pasoans approved a quality-of-life bond. Within that bond, voters approved funds for constructing a multi-purpose performing arts center, or MPC. The City purchased buildings in the neighborhood and relocated all but two of the residents living there.

The battle for the Duranguito turf moved from the streets to the courts, led by historian and UTEP professor Max Grossman and Houston businessman JP Bryant, known for his preservation efforts.
Seven years, 17 million dollars, and a new balance of power on the city council later – a significant turn during the first council meeting of 2023.

The previous city council had already commissioned a feasibility study to define what the Duranguito area could look like. The City paid the Gensler group, an international architectural firm, almost $800 thousand taxpayer dollars. On January 3, with three new members on the council, and a new majority against building an arena, the plan was unveiled.

It would include a venue for events, and mixed-use buildings for businesses and residents, and a majority of the buildings with historical significance would be incorporated – all with the money the City still had in the budget for the project, according to the plan.

A side-by-side comparison with the old Chinese laundry and what the neighborhood could look like. There were three proposals for a multi-purpose venue, in purple, including an amphitheater with 4-thousand seats indoors and the same outdoors -- far less than the 12-thousand-seat arena first envisioned, but a viable project to spur economic development, according to Gensler.

After nine hours of listening and legal consultation, newly sworn-in representatives Art Fierro and Chris Canales joined Alexsandra Annello and Joe Molinar in moving the project away from the Duranguito area. Brian Kennedy abstained, citing a potential conflict of interest. Representatives Cassandra Hernandez, Isabel Salcido and Henry Rivera dissented.

Their requests to allow for public vetting of the study, to postpone the vote, and to find out what it would take to take the project to the voters – all failed.

That 800-thousand feasibility study now sits like the dormant and untouched neighborhood.

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Saul Saenz


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