Historic Commissions set to discuss Downtown Historical District, may have implications for Duranguito

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Heavy implications weigh on what historical preservationists say about the Downtown Duranguito neighborhood next week.

The Texas Historical Commission and the city’s Historical Landmark Commission are set to discuss a proposed Downtown historical district in the upcoming days. The HLC is scheduled to discuss the issue at 4 p.m. on Monday and the THC is set to discuss it at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Both commissions’ decisions will be important for the proposed district and future of the city’s proposed Multipurpose Performing Arts and Entertainment Center. The county’s survey has indicated that 13 properties in the Duranguito neighborhood, where the city plans on building the project, have historical significance and could be a part of a historical district.

The center is one of three signature projects proposed from the 2012 Quality of Life bond initiative. The city has maintained a position that the buildings in the neighborhood do not have historical significance.

El Paso County’s survey intends on creating one of the largest historic districts in the country with more than 1,000 properties that both standalone and contribute as historical treasures.

The survey and neighborhood have intertwined over the years as the county has looked to finalize the district proposal, along with Duranguito against the city’s wishes.

Groups supporting the county’s efforts have requested the THC approve the proposal and groups supporting the city have requested the THC grant the city’s wishes removing the Duranguito properties from the district.

On Friday, the Downtown Management District sent its own letter to the THC asking the Duranguito properties be removed from the district.

“With the future use of the properties within the MPC footprint already determined, and with no intention to utilize any benefits associated with the designation, their exclusion from the proposed Downtown El Paso Historic District is logical,” Joe Gudenrath, the DMD executive director wrote. “To include them at this point could cause public confusion and create unnecessary challenges for the implementation of the proposed MPC project.”

El Paso County Commissioner David Stout of Precinct 2 said once the district is established, it will create opportunity for all properties recognized as historically significant. But a favorable outcome will have to come from the THC on Saturday to make that happen, he added.

Stout said if the THC were to exclude the neighborhood’s properties from the district, the county would likely have to redo the process for a historic district because it is set to expire before the THC meets again. It could cost the county up to $200,000 to redo the application process, he added.

He said outgoing mayor Dee Margo’s December letter to the THC was ridden with untruths about the neighborhood.

“We’ve, unfortunately, come across many barriers over the last number of years since we started this,” Stout said. “We are in the last stages of getting this done.”

Austin-based Hardy-Heck-Moore & Associates began the survey of Downtown El Paso in 2017 and identified over 1,000 properties that could be part of a National Register of Historic Places district.

National Register designations are primarily honorary and generally do not place restrictions on property owners. A designation typically frees up historic tax credits and federal dollars to renovate properties.

A letter from the THC prompted the city of El Paso’s response to the Downtown historical district designation. Former mayor Dee Margo received a letter from the THC’s federal programs coordinator on Nov. 10.

The letter states the city’s chief elected official and local historic preservation commissions are required to separately notify the THC and Texas Certified Local Government Programs of their opinions. It mentioned that a response could be issued by Jan. 15.

Margo wrote to the THC claiming the county represented the neighborhood to be in “good condition,” but mentioned several properties eligible for historical designation were currently deteriorated to the point that could “no longer be suitable or secure for any type of use.”

“The current condition of the MPC site prevents Duranguito from contributing to the significance of the proposed district and further damages the integrity of the proposed El Paso Downtown Historic District,” he wrote.

But Margo’s letter was submitted during the “lame duck” period where he had already conceded his campaign for reelection to current Mayor Oscar Leeser. Throughout his campaign, Leeser seemed to favor preserving the Duranguito neighborhood.

KTSM 9 News has reached out to Leeser for comment.

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