A new scientific poll of ABC-7 news viewers shows a significant increase in apathy over whether a downtown arena should be built in the Duranguito District.
The issue remains tied up in the courts. Historical preservationist Max Grossman and billionaire J.P. Bryan have been entrenched in a legal battle with the City of El Paso in several courts over the last five years. Legal battles have even involved the Texas Historical Commission.
Currently, both sides have been asked to provide the Texas Supreme Court with full briefs on the matter. The two sides have also met in mediation more than once since last November, although Grossman tells ABC-7 the most recent meeting, with attorneys for both sides present, was months ago. He adds no future meetings are scheduled at this time.
The legal battle stems from a 2012 Quality of Life Bond passed overwhelmingly by El Paso County voters. The bond included several signature projects, including the construction of a Multipurpose Performing Arts and Entertainment Center.
ABC-7 has conducted the scientific research four times in the last five years. The question posed to El Paso news viewers each year: Are you in favor or opposed to the construction of a downtown arena in the Duranguito District? Here are the results:
The poll, conducted by research company Magid, has a maximum margin of error on a sample size of 300 of 5.6%. In 2022, 314 El Paso County news viewers were polled.
"The fact that here we are in 2022 and only 26% of El Pasoans are in favor of demolishing Duranguito for a multipurpose arena, I think that speaks volumes," Grossman said. "That is a very small number compared to 71%, right? I think that vindicates what I'm doing."
Critics of Grossman say he is wasting taxpayer money and time as he ties up the project in the courts.
"Yes, the City has spent $3.3 million fighting me. Okay. But, I'm saving the taxpayers well over half a billion."
That's because Grossman estimates building an arena in today's economic climate would cost nearly triple what's left to spend. The bond was originally passed to earmark about $180 million. About $150 million of that remains.
CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP COULD IMPACT ARENA'S FATE
An increase in apathy is not the only thing that has changed in the battle of Duranguito. Leadership within Grossman's primary opponent is different.
El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser says he does not support building an arena in Duranguito and instead wants that remaining money diverted elsewhere.
"I believe that we need to have, to redo our convention center, to make it a performing arts center and incorporate Abraham Chavez Theatre because that's what the citizens want," Leeser said.
It's not what voters passed in the bond election in 2012, but Leeser qualifies today's sentiment with: "They want something that will attract people to downtown."
That is a stark contrast in position from his predecessor. Former Mayor Dee Margo fervently opposed Grossman and said the will of the people was to build the arena.
Leeser says he believes we are no closer, ten years later, to building an arena in Duranguito and sees diverting the money for upgrades to the Abraham Chavez Theatre and convention center as a more cost-effective move, citing the recent redevelopment of several downtown hotels.
LEGAL BATTLE LIMBO
But still, nothing can move forward until the legal battle is resolved. Despite Leeser's position seemingly aligning more closely with Grossman, an end still may not be in sight.
"I don't feel we're any closer," Leeser said. "At the end of the day, both sides need to give a little so we can get to the middle. And, again, stop wasting taxpayer's money."
Leeser says he envisions Duranguito to eventually look something like San Antonio's Riverwalk with a district of thriving shops and restaurants.
"Sometimes the City says, 'Grossman has lost most of his cases.' Last time I checked the neighborhood is still there," Grossman said.
He envisions an old town that attracts heritage tourism.
"I think what we're going to see is an economy downtown that will accommodate both old and new, that will accommodate shiny new hotels, maybe a new convention center, maybe a revamped Abraham Chavez Theatre, but also taking care of what we've inherited from our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents."
CITY HIRES CONSULTING FIRM
As the fate of Duranguito remains tied up in the courts, the City of El Paso recently revealed the findings of a feasibility study for the MPC.
Part of that study is also asking for public input, which you can take part in.
The survey is only asking about the footprint in the Duranguito District and does not include any discussion of the Abraham Chavez Theatre or convention center.
Nearly ten years later, the future of Duranguito remains very much up in the air. Both sides appear to be interested in reaching a resolution. The question remains: how much longer will it take to achieve that?