Arena Update From Max Grossman

Dear Friends,

2,452 El Pasoans cannot all be wrong! That is the number of citizens who signed our petition to establish a H-overlay historic district in Duranguito, El Paso’s oldest residential neighborhood. The text of the petition was personally drafted by the leader of our legal team, Frank Ainsa, Jr., who specializes in real estate law (No, Ms. Firth, you will not find any errors). 22 volunteers worked tirelessly to satisfy all the petition requirements outlined by Section 3.11 of the City Charter. The volunteers of Paso del Sur deserve most of the credit for the success of this effort, as they gathered more than 80% of all the signatures; and one of their volunteers single-handedly gathered 636!

All the major local media, with the exception of one newspaper, covered the submission of the petition to the City Clerk and the press conference which followed . We guess the El Paso Times forgot the address of their former headquarters! It has become clear to us that the Times, as of late, is deliberately minimizing the reporting on this critical issue while their competitors are keeping the sports arena controversy front and center. Apparently the return of “Fluffy” the comedian to the Haskins center, our other arena, deserves more attention…

Here is one critical fact that has not yet been reported by anyone. More than 75% of all eligible El Pasoans we solicited for signatures signed the petition. In some precincts that number approached 90%. It is fair to state that we conducted a very comprehensive “poll” of El Pasoans on the arena issue and the verdict is out: the City Council is among a minority of El Pasoans who support dispossession, expropriation and mass demolition. Our representatives will continue to proclaim that 73% of El Pasoans supported the Quality of Life Bond, which was obviously designed to mislead us, and that multiple studies identified Union Plaza as the best arena location when, in fact, only the two oldest studies did (and one was drafted by local investors). Whatever they say and however many useless public information meetings they host, the fact is that under 20% of El Pasoans support what they are doing. Our municipal government is tyrannically imposing its will upon the people who pay their salaries.

The City Council and its attorneys are well aware of the danger of spending bond money on a sports arena that was not approved by the voters. Why else would they file a declaratory judgment action in Austin in order to validate the bond language in an attempt to prevent legal challenges? We look forward to challenging the City and presenting our arguments in court.

Amazingly, our City has chosen the most expensive and burdensome option among all the possibilities for the sports arena location. In addition to the $180 million price tag for the project, there are the $20 million earmarked for the acquisition of private property (which would not have to be spent if the City used its own property), the $1 million+ for “relocating” the residents of the barrio, the millions more in sacrificed infrastructure that was paid for through a federal “Living Cities” grant, the destruction of critically important historic building stock and archeological remains dating back to the origins of El Paso, the moneys spent for useless PR and–on top of all that–there is now the expense of litigation, which could cost millions more. The City has hired an entire team of attorneys from Norton Rose Fulbright, which is a hugely expensive legal firm. The question is why? Very soon, we will all discover the true reasons why our City Council representatives have chosen to litigate against their own constituents.

Have a great day.


Max Grossman
El Paso History Alliance


  1. Wow… I hope Mr. Grossman’s ability to research history is better than his ability to do statistics.

    Saying that 75-90% of the people that they asked for signatures on their petition is not the same thing as saying that 75-90% of residents or even registered voters in the City support their petition. In fact unless they documented how many people declined to sign the petition you can’t really infer anything from that, apparently made-up, statistic. It is not a critical fact (it’s barely even a claim) and at the very least it suffers from obvious selection bias (i.e. From Wikipedia: the bias introduced by the selection of individuals, groups or data for analysis in such a way that proper randomization is not achieved, thereby ensuring that the sample obtained is not representative of the population intended to be analyzed).

    Unless he performed another, statistically valid survey that he didn’t tell us about, he is lying when he says that “the fact is that under 20% of El Pasoans support what they are doing”. I don’t know the exact numbers one way or the other but anyone saying that under 20% do and calling that a fact is lying (or at the very least being hyperboolic with their language). The fact that this is coming from someone in academia, someone who should know how to do statistics and how to present actual written facts is rather disturbing. I wonder how the UTEP administration would feel if they could see one of their people playing so fast and loose with statistics in order to manipulate public perception and sentiment?

    Ultimately it doesn’t really matter if Max can do math or statistics, but I find it irritating when someone is insulting other people and then turns around and does the exact same thing. This whole Arena controversy would end pretty much overnight if he could convince a dozen or so property owners that selling their land to the City was a bad idea. That’s all it would take and “Duranguito” would be saved since the City has repeatedly indicated that they don’t have the stomach for going after properties using eminent domain. Oddly enough though that’s not an option. Instead we are talking about having a referendum to designate something as historic, against the wishes of the property owners (who in Texas would normally be the ones asking to have something designated as historic).

    Personally I loathe Billy Abraham but as someone who has owned multiple properties in historic districts I have to sympathize with him to some extent. He chose to withdraw his petition to designate the old Chinese laundry building as historic and that’s his right to do so. The main reason that he had time to do this is because people were able to question what was going at the county historical commission thanks to Max and Bernie’s interesting interpretation of state and county regulations. Right or wrong the THC balked due to how things were handled and it gave Billy time to back out. Who knows what else went on, but clearly he isn’t interested in playing their games any more.

    Given that it sounds like almost all the other property owners are cutting deals with the City it makes me wonder why we (as a community) can’t convince enough of them to preserve these supposedly historic structures? Maybe because folks like Max try to manipulate and lie to the public with statistics and numbers just like they claim the City does and at the end of the day the City is willing to pony up some money whereas no one else gave a shit about “Duranguito” until the arena came about.

    Now it feels like Max wants to have the last word as a way to justify breaking the rules and failing to uphold his responsibility to the historical commission when he could have done so much to preserve “Duranguito” for all those years he was involved before the Arena came into the picture.

    I don’t necessarily think the Arena is a good idea, but I know that almost no one cared about “Duranguito” until they heard about the arena. No one cared about substandard rental housing until it became a “cause celebre” and they could get in front of cameras and feel important for fighting to “preserve our heritage”. I want to see people get involved in preserving other endangered neighborhoods BEFORE they find out that the big bad evil City has a plan for revitalizing an area and without making a big fuss about it so that they can feel important.

    1. Actually, we kept careful track of our stats as we gathered signatures. Pretty neat, huh? You are such a blowhard, and an anonymous one at that. I am an unpaid volunteer who has donated thousands of hours to try my best to improve my community. And I am only one of many. And those property owners are not just private investors. They are custodians of our historical patrimony and the oldest barrio in El Paso, facts which are apparently beyond your understanding. You also conveniently ignore that the City was prepared to force the said property owners to sell at appraised value, so there is a degree of coercion in the mix, and that goes triple for Billy, who owes the government millions. Duh.

      But to the point, who the hell are you and what have you done for El Paso that you feel you can crap on volunteers you never met?

      CORRECTION: For the record, the “under 20%” figure is should read “under 25%”. We corrected this on our pages shortly after I sent out this letter some time ago. Apologies.

      1. So where is your data? How many people did you talk to and how did you select the people you spoke to? Did you make sure that you had a good cross section of the City so that you could justify your numbers?

        Why does it matter who I am? I’m crapping on your (apparent lack of) methodology and questioning the validity of your “statistics”. I’m staying anonymous in order to avoid any sort of appeal to authority unlike you DR. Grossman. I’m not interested in comparing credentials with you and trying to prove who is the biggest brain, I’m interested in trying to fight against ideas and arguments that I feel are dishonest or at the very least disingenuous.

        The simple fact of the matter is that you do NOT know how many people in El Paso support or don’t support the arena. Hell, we don’t eve know how many people absolutely don’t give a shit about it. You know that 70-90% of the people that your group spoke to were willing to sign your petition. The number that you needed was pulled from a percentage of people who have previously voted and as a percentage of the community that is a pretty pathetic amount. Roughly speaking you know what 0.4% (i.e. 0.0035) of the residents of El Paso think about the arena.

        You are lying with your “statistics” and I’m calling you out on that. I’m not necessarily for or against the arena, but I am against heavy-handed arrogant blowhards who try to mislead people in order to get their way.

      2. Oh and you might want to read up on eminent domain. The City can NOT force someone to sell at appraised value without going through a court case. If someone wanted to they could drag out an eminent domain case for YEARS and that can effectively kill almost any project. The City might have talked about making people sell their land, but its not like they can just cut them a check for the appraised valued and be done with it in a few days.

        Also as far as our historic patrimony, why didn’t you do anything to save or preserve “Duranguito” during all the years you were on the EPCHC? You don’t know anything about me but you feel comfortable insinuating that I’m unable to understand the value of historic preservation even though I’ve been involved in various ways at the City and County levels of gov’t for years and I never saw any real interest from anyone in most of downtown. Really if it wasn’t designed by Trost it seems like no one cared about it until the arena came around.

        I’ve worked on actually preserving historic properties and finding ways to keep them historically accurate while helping to make them functional for modern needs. I care about our history but I also recognize that this is Texas and we need to win over the property owners in order to really preserve historic properties. We need to encourage folks like Lane Gaddy and Paul Foster to invest in the areas we care about so that we can improve our downtown (or other parts of town). We won’t get anywhere by trying to lie with statistics the way you are trying to because many of these property owners see right through your hand waving.

        1. I will provide you with nothing because of your vulgarity and your refusal to identify yourself. Try being a gentleman and asking politely when you wish for information from someone you do not know.

          What did we do for Duranguito on the EPCHC? We spent years preparing a County architectural survey, which will finally begin next month, in Duranguito. This will lead to new National Register nominations, freeing up generous tax credits for historic preservation. We also raised public awareness of the neighborhood. You did not even know its original name before we began publicizing it and the neghborhood’s history.

          We and our attorneys understand eminent domain law quite well. Property owners can delay proceedings for some time and in rare cases successfully challenge appraisal values, but that is all.

          I agree with much of what you state, but you are a very vulgar person. Too bad. This could have been a productive and interesting discussion. Have a great day.

          1. You mean the architectural survey that was shot down by downtown property owners when it went before the City? If anything that seems to prove my point that we, as a community, aren’t pursuing this the right way. We got lucky that the County commissioners and judge saw the benefit of the architectural survey but that was the 2nd attempt to make it happen. The first attempt fizzled out much like getting the Chinese Laundry designated as a historic property. You want credit for the architectural survey so you get credit for not managing to convince the right people that it was worth doing when it went before the City.

            I find it fascinating that you can’t respond to my accusation that you are being dishonest with your use of statistics. I don’t disagree with the benefit of historic preservation but I’ve been listening and watching to all the news coverage and I find your tactics distasteful because they are not at all dissimilar to what you accuse the City and others of doing. Is it any wonder that so many people are disillusioned with any form of public involvement when it seems like everyone misleads the public at large just to advance their particular agenda?

            It’s too bad that you can’t have a conversation without vetting who I am. It shouldn’t matter if I’m someone with 30 years of experience working in the public sector or a high school student or a homemaker with 3 kids. You insistence that you need to know who I am makes me think that you want to know who I am so that you can try to knock me down based on the fact that you have a PhD. I’ve heard you use the the appeal to authority before and just because you are an expert on european history doesn’t mean that you are an expert on municipal policy, city planning, El Paso history, or any of a dozen other specialty subjects that are touched on by this arena debate.

            For example, you seem to understand that fighting eminent domain through the courts can delay the process but you don’t seem to appreciate that the City has painted itself into a corner by insisting that it won’t force anyone to sell if they don’t want to. You also don’t seem to be aware of how long the process can take when it involves so many potential arguments and issues. This isn’t a simple eminent domain situation and once you factor in the “court of public opinion” component it should be apparent that someone could fight the arena quite effectively by owning enough property and refusing to sell.

            Finally you accuse me of being vulgar because you don’t seem to like what I have to say but I think you’re being dishonest disingenuous due to how you are manipulating statistics in your original letter. However I’m willing to engage and try to point out the problem with what you are doing because I feel strongly that I have a point. I suppose it’s easier to just claim that I’m too vulgar and anonymous to respond to so that you can preserve the illusion that you’re an expert on all things historical.

          2. Mr. (Ms.?) Geek,

            Let me suggest that Dr. Grossman’s likely methodology was to identify the voters eligible to approve an historic overlay – i.e., those who voted in the last citywide general election – and asked them to sign the petition. Of those he and his associates contacted, three out of four agreed to sign.

            I think it’s not a stretch to extrapolate that those people who signed the petition are against putting the arena in Duranguito.

            You restate the issue in new terms, but you don’t offer any solutions. The way you frame the problem renders it unsolvable. All we have to do is convince the real estate speculators to maintain their properties? That’s not an answer. That’s impossible.

            Ruminating on how we got here doesn’t solve anything. If you’ve got answers, bust them out.


  2. Amazing that you seem to think something was grossly wrong with the Historic Commission. At the time of the “purge”, the County Attorney, the County Administrator, and Veronica Escobar herself said that the commission members had not been properly trained. As far as the point about the fight over eminent domain, it’s rather odd that the people most involved in wanting the arena there have been buying up property at low prices for the last 10 years. Rather suspicious that, isn’t it? As a matter of fact, a member of the Foster family bought the tenement on Chihuahua Street 3 weeks before the announcement of the location. Furthermore, the ONLY survey on the location that suggested Durangito was one done by the Paso del Norte Group, at the same time they were trying to buy up Segundo Barrio to build an upscale shopping mall downtown. Complicating the whole matter is the fact that the city has lied the whole time. The city’s attorney saying there were no historic buildings in the area, the city’s attorney saying they’d had discussions about the rail yard, the original bond issue saying nothing about location. As for Billy Abraham, he owes 2.4 million dollar to the city, you think they MIGHT have put pressure on him to change his mind? Nah. He didn’t conduct a poll and what he said in that article is that 75 to 90% of the voters they talked to were against the arena going there. He makes a valid point in that about 12% of the eligible voters voted for the arena but NONE of them voted on where it would be placed. Chuco Geek, it sounds like you have a vested interest in this project which means that what you say should be taken with a grain of salt.

  3. Chuco Geek,

    The property owners aren’t interested in historic preservation because they have one goal in mind – making as much money as possible as quickly as possible. Historic preservation in an investment that can take years to pay off. It’s clear to me that many of the property owners in that area knew through their channels that the City would chose that area. Some of the property was purchased in the past year. They want a quick sale. One property owner purchased multiple properties and did nothing with the buildings except wait. Wait for the City to start negotiating price. The City and downtown property owners knew this was coming. The voters were the last to know.

    Why did Billy Abraham change his mind on requesting historic designation for his building? Follow the money. He is currently in litigation with the City over another of his buildings (the old American Furniture building). It’s very likely the City agreed to be “kind” in its negotiations with him over chronic code violations at this building. Just a guess, but one based on years of watching how things work in El Chuco.

    1. That’s the problem though. We have let too many greedy asshats monopolize the properties in the downtown area and since this is Texas, the rights of property owners are pretty substantial even when it comes to historic preservation. Texas law will let you tear down just about anything if you own it and you really really want to.

      What we should do is encourage folks like Lane Gaddy and even Paul Foster to invest in downtown and encourage them and others like them to lift up the area instead of trying to bully the City or other property owners with fake numbers. Why do some folks let their properties fall apart as they try to maximize their profit? Because they know that very few people actually care what happens downtown and because they know they can. What needs to happen is that enough other people own properties in the area and they force the slumlords to improve the area. Unfortunately large chunks of downtown (like Duranguito) are largely owned by slumlords and they just try to get the City to spend money on sidewalks, lights, and roads without wanting to invest any of their own money on their own properties.

  4. The property that wasn’t purchased in the last year was deliberately allowed to delapidate by slumlords, Kemp and Solize property management. You see, the chronic problem lies more in how the city allows buildings to decay, while investors rake in cash. The poor keep getting poorer, while.. well I’m sure you get it. El paso is in debt. Meanwhile we have multiple eyesores that are actually already owned by the city and county. They need rehab. We owe money to places like union pacific. It isnt that we dont want the “arena”. Its that we dont want our tax dollars funding a dog that wont hunt. Why? So paul foster has something to show his buddies? No thanks. He already has the ball park for that. As soon as courtney niland pulls her head out of his trousers, she needs to be investigated thoroughly.

  5. Chuco Geek, the blame points right back to the city. When the owners of the Muir Building wanted to take it down, a survey by the city’s own Historic Landmark Commission found it was in remarkably good shape with the original facade under the new facade. They refused to let it be torn down. The owners then went before city council for an override of the Landmark Commission and they voted 8-0 to go ahead. The city has inspectors who either don’t do their jobs or do their jobs then get told by the city council not to bother. The system of inspections and sanctions is so burdensome and cumbersome that it’s almost impossible to fine someone. Then the city departments are actively helping the landlords tear down their buildings in the dead of night without saying a word, just handing them the demolition order. You’ve said things on here that aren’t true, you’ve stuck up for the landlords then backed up on that, you’ve insulted the former and current members of the County Historic Commission, and you’ve Insulted Max Grossman. His question is an honest one, why are you hiding behind a secret identity? I don’t think you’re Superman but I do think you’ve got some skin in the game.

    1. The problem with the Muir building example is that at the end of the day we are in Texas. I have seen many cases where City Council does not want to approve something and the legal department has to come in an explain why they can’t actually disapprove something because of state law. When you go back and look at the voting record sure you get 8-0 in favor of something but without the context of what the debate was it’s hard to know why.

      I have a fair bit of knowledge/experience in historic preservation and I can tell you that in Texas If you own something you can tear down just about anything you want. I’m not sure what you meant about me supporting landowners and then not but the point I was trying to make is that they have a lot of power and some are asshats who are only in it for the $$ and some can probably be persuaded to be better stewards of their properties but we can’t strong arm them into doing it because we live in Texas. That’s why I think we need to make more of an effort to change the cultural attitude of the property owners instead of whining about how the City doesn’t do enough. At the end of the day the City can’t do a lot.

      Hell look at our favorite poster boy for bad historical stewardship, Billy Abraham. The City is actively going after him for millions of dollars and they haven’t been able to collect any money or make him do any meaningful improvements to his properties. I’ve spoken to inspectors and folks on things like the BSC and they get very frustrated that Texas law allows for property owners to fight the City a long time. They have to jump through a lot of hoops to make anyone do anything if that person is willing to fight them. You don’t know much about how the City handles demolitions because they don’t just hand over demolition permits (or any other permit) unless they have to. If they have to then yeah they just hand them over but that’s always a function of following City/State/Federal law. Yes supervisors can direct them to do some things but I’ve talked to quite a few people at the City, County, etc. and many of them really do care about historical preservation but a lot of times their hands are tied. Once you factor in the relatively high turnover among inspectors and other folks at the administrative level it’s no surprise that many cases get dropped because the people involved on the City side move on and it’s hard to keep these things going when they can take years and go through many people.

      Again with the anonymous thing. Why does it matter who I am? How much “skin” can I possibly have in “the game” to be posting on a random blog that doesn’t even belong to me? I thought that was the beauty of the internet? We are supposed to be able to have a discussion about ideas and thoughts without it mattering who I am or what I look like. It doesn’t matter who we are, we can just talk about the stuff we are interested in (whether we agree or disagree) I don’t know anything about you or what your credentials are (and I don’t care). I don’t know anything about elrichiboy either. I notice that you aren’t linking to a webpage or anything like that so you’re basically as anonymous as I am. Either one of us could make up any story we want about our credentials/experience. Would it matter if I said that I had a PhD in astronomy if I was telling you that the universe revolves around the Earth? I’m sure some people may agree with some of what I say and many may not but no one is going to make a major change to City policy based on what Chuco Geek said on this or any other blog.

      For the record I have questioned/insulted Max’s ability to do statistics and his use of those flawed numbers to lie about the level of support for his point of view. I find it annoying when someone like Max tries to claim that because he has credentials his statements in all things are beyond reproach. That isn’t the way that academia or science actually work. You need to be able to backup your assertions and you need to do statistics the right way so that the results are menaingful. Otherwise I can say that 100% of the people that I’ve personally spoken to (which would be 3) about this situation think that Max doesn’t know how to do statistics. If you think that I’m wrong then the easy solution to that is to explain why I’m wrong and what his methodology was so that he can say that less then x% of El Paso residents support something. Continuing to attack the fact that I’m anonymous is what you do when you don’t have a defense of the actual issue in question.

      As far as the EPCHC, I stand by my comments that it was their slipshod methods that lead to things like the Chinese Laundry not being approved as a historic structure. I could tell you all the ways that they were in violation of State/County policies and procedures and it ultimately lead to them (inadvertently) having a “straw poll” that may have violated the open meetings act. Personally I think that’s making a mountain out of a molehill but that’s why you can’t be so cavalier with the rules. As soon as they got involved in a contentious issue other people used their loosey goosey way of handling their commission as a way of attacking them and their results and ultimately forcing a bunch of them out. I don’t agree with what was done, but I’m not surprised that this happened since they left themselves open to that type of attack.

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