Not surprisingly, Max Grossman, the chief antagonist of El Paso City Hall’s frustrated plans to build a Downtown arena, isn’t going to let the recent unfavorable decision by the Texas Supreme Court go unchallenged.
Nor are the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid attorneys representing current and former residents of Duranguito, the historic neighborhood where the city wants to build a multipurpose center that could accommodate sports.
At a press conference in front of City Hall on Monday, Grossman announced that he has added two attorneys to his legal team, including former Texas Supreme Court Justice Craig Enoch, to make another run at the state’s court of last appeal.
If they fail, it could mean an end to the court fight over the city’s plans for a new arena Downtown that has cost both sides millions of dollars and held up the project for three years.
It would also lead to the demolition of historic buildings in Duranguito, the Union Plaza neighborhood that historians say is the birthplace of El Paso.
Now numbering five, Grossman’s team has until March 4 to come up with an argument that will change the Supreme Court’s mind about hearing his challenge of the 2018 decision by the state’s 3rd Court of Appeals.
That decision overturned an Austin trial court judge’s finding that the city could not use funds from the sale of bonds to “design, construct, improve, renovate or equip the facility in Downtown El Paso to be suitable for a sports arena.”
“I really do feel that we have the best possible team in place to re-present this suit to the Texas Supreme Court,” Grossman said. “We expect this proceeding to go on for many, many weeks.”
A UTEP art professor and historian, Grossman has led the effort to block the city’s plan to build a multipurpose arena and to preserve what’s left of the Duranguito neighborhood.
He’s been able to wage his litigation campaign in El Paso and Austin courts with financial backing from J.P. Bryan, a retired Houston oilman and avid supporter of historic preservation.
But the Grossman team is down to two appeals, one before the state Supreme Court and another before the 8th Court of Appeals in El Paso over the archaeological survey the city would have to conduct before beginning construction of the arena.
Last week, City Attorney Karla Nieman told El Paso Inc. that the city’s legal bills total close to $3 million, about half of which is related to litigation and the other half to property acquisition.
She clarified that in a statement Monday, saying the city has spent “a little over $1.7 million” related to multipurpose center litigation.
But Grossman said the city passed that spending mark early last year and that it’s got to be over $3 million now.
He notes that the city initiated the litigation in 2017 with a bond validation suit in an Austin district court, hoping to settle the legal questions and get on with the arena project.
Instead, that judge ruled against the city, finding that the ballot language failed to tell voters enough about what they were voting on.
The city contends that voters understood enough to overwhelmingly approve the 2012 bond proposition for a “multipurpose performing arts and entertainment” center, and Nieman said as much again in her statement Monday:
“The Texas Supreme Court agreed with the attorney general’s response that stated interpreting ‘entertainment’ to include sporting events was ‘reasonable’ and that the ordinance calling for the 2012 Quality of Life Bond election and the language on the ballot was appropriate.
“We are not surprised by the opposition’s continued efforts to further prolong the litigation, which unfortunately continues to delay the project, increase the cost to taxpayers and impacts our community’s economic development.”
At the time of the 2012 election, the city put a $180 million price tag on an arena and called for a facility “with a target capacity of 15,000 fixed seats” in a request for qualifications for architectural and engineering services.
Mayor Dee Margo has said a facility with that capacity that would meet the city’s various needs could cost $250 million or more.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.