Advocates for preserving the Durangito neighborhood remain hopeful after several tumultuous weeks saw construction crews begin demolition of various buildings, culminating in an Austin judge’s ruling that the proposed $180-million dollar arena cannot be used for sports.
District Judge Amy Meachum recently reiterated her July ruling that voter-approved bonds in 2012 cannot be used to build a sports arena.
Lloyd Lacy, a Navy veteran and UTEP student said: “I’m gonna take a stand to protect our culture, protect our heritage. Barrio Duranguito was basically a safe haven for many people of color, be they black, be they Mexican, Native American, Asian,”
Meachum ruled that “a sports arena does not comport with the quality-of-life purpose the voters approved.”
The city of El Paso issued a statement saying it plans to appeal the judge’s decision “to fulfill the wishes of the voters of the 2012 bond election.”
Meachum’s ruling and reiteration have bolstered the spirits of Durangito advocates.
Lacy typifiies the concern the advocates have for the cultural and diverse history of Duranguito,
“It was a safe place where we could grow and thrive without racist encroachment on what we built.”
A construction crew worker Sept. 12 for JMR demolition – a contractor hired by property owners Roberto Assael and Alejandro Restrepo – rammed his bulldozer into the side of five buildings, leaving the structures with gaping holes.
This led to a standoff between at least 70 protesters and about 50 police officers. Ingu Hazlewood, an artist and Duranguito advocate who was present during the standoff said groups of protesters were trying to stop the demolition.
“I remember holding them off down on the other side of the street on Leon” he said. Hazlewood also describes the slow build up of protesters starting from around 20 when construction crews first arrived, to a gathering of about 70.
“It just kind of kept on growing and growing until it got to this out of control point” he said.
Hazlewood saw the rise in tension start with police officers and “intimidation tactics.” Halewood said police officers threatened protesters with arrest.
“It was a scary moment we were in real danger of being tear gassed, real danger of being arrested, real danger of harm coming to us,” he said.
Duranguito advocates are now in the midst of a legal battle that looks to preserve the neighborhood.
Local author and historian David Dorado Romo said the issue of Duranguito will be decided by El Paso voters.
“We are going to place this whole issue as a referendum so that people from all parts of the city will vote on whether or not this should be protected as a historic site.” A petition recently was submitted to the City Clerks office with more than 2,000 signatures. The petition will be presented to City Council for consideration on the next election ballot.
Meachum ruled that the language in the 2012 bond did not give the city power to build a sports arena. Meachum stated that “sports” was not in the bond rule, and what voters approved was a multipurpose center which revolves around performing arts, such as dance, music, and theater.
The judge went on to state that the city cannot use bond money to “design, construct, improve, renovate or equip the Facility with ice-skating rinks, basketball courts, soccer fields, tennis courts, and the like, which are not structures suitable to a performing arts facility.”
Duranguito advocates remain camped out across the street from the partially demolished buildings. They fear that if they leave the street unguarded, demolition crews will return, advocates said.
They regularly hold cultural and art events promoting the diversity and history of the neighborhood. Romo’s family goes back three generations in El Paso’s south side and says the struggle to preserve Duranguito is bigger than just saving old buildings.
“It really is about saving our roots, this sense of belonging, that we have a connection to this place this is our community this belongs to all of us,” Romo said.