“In her guest column dated Nov. 5, Adair Margo accused me and Dr. David Romo of spreading lies about the historic neighborhood the city hopes to demolish to clear space for a multipurpose basketball arena.

What is driving the former First Lady to defame me and other academics so publicly regarding this issue?

She cites the report by Lester Holt of NBC Nightly News focusing on the Hispanic Access Foundation’s listing of Duranguito as one of seven sites that deserve protection because of their cultural and historical significance to the Latino community of the United States.

So why doesn’t Margo complain to Holt or the many other journalists with national stature who have reported on the city’s plan to demolish its own birthplace?

She seems to be driven by her own personal animus against scholars whose research into the Union Plaza neighborhood has refuted her assumptions about the origins of El Paso and fueled opposition to her husband’s political career.

The truth is that Margo knows precious little about the history of the city’s First Ward and its architectural development. She is woefully misinformed.

However, she is correct that the National Trust for Historic Preservation supports saving the buildings within the “Arena Footprint,” as do the Texas Historical FoundationPreservation Texas, the El Paso County Historical Society, the El Paso County Historical Commission, and the city’s own Historic Landmark Commission and City Plan Commission.

Moreover, the recent county architectural survey revealed that seven of the buildings are individually eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, with another five eligible to be contributing.

Yet Margo only sees “three deserted blocks” and presumes to know better than the professional organizations and historians.

What she and her allies fail to grasp is that there are other stakeholders in our urban neighborhoods besides the local business elites and their bankers and attorneys.

There are the residents who face displacement from their tenements, such as 93-year-old Toñita Morales; and there is Romelia Mendoza, who is threatened with expulsion by eminent domain from the home she has owned since 1978.

There are tens of thousands of other El Pasoans who genuinely love our cultural assets and want to live in a community that values its history, uniqueness and authenticity.

Many are outraged by our city’s deceptive conduct. They are asking how “a state of the art arena with a target capacity of 15,000 seats for basketball games” (described as such in the city’s 2016 RFQ) was disguised as a “multipurpose performing arts and entertainment facility” and placed on the November 2012 ballot under a proposition titled “Museum, Cultural, Performing Arts, and Library Facilities.”

Even a cursory examination of the comps for multipurpose basketball arenas built since 2016 shows that our “MPC” cannot be completed for less than $500 million. In order to raise that kind of money, the city would have to increase our bonded indebtedness and raise our property tax to a new record high, potentially putting El Paso’s AA credit rating at risk.

Of course, it is not Margo or her developer friends who would pay for this project any more than they paid for the structure of the ballpark. That burden would fall upon the taxpayers at large, who already suffer from the second highest property tax rate among the 50 largest cities in America.                                    

In El Paso, there is a pervasive culture of exploiting local government to advance the private agenda of a handful of powerful families.

The “Arena” has generated a great deal of controversy these past five years because El Paso voters sense they have been duped into paying for a project that is not only costly and destructive but is clearly for the benefit of wealthy investors.

Margo rightly praises the recent restorations of a number of grand downtown buildings designed by Trost & Trost and other notable architectural firms, but she finds little value in the many historic vernacular buildings and the humble working families who live within them.

Sadly, she is unconcerned by the displacement of vulnerable El Pasoans who have little voice and by the prospect of sacrificing some of our most precious cultural assets.”

Max Grossman holds a doctorate in architectural history from Columbia University and serves on the boards of Preservation Texas, The Trost Society, and Restore Sacred Heart Church.