The law firm Kemp Smith, LLP has led the effort to kill the County’s plan to establish a National Register Historic District in Downtown El Paso, which would make available generous federal and state tax credits for the restoration of numerous historic buildings.
The firm has solicited and obtained objection letters from downtown property owners in a bid to prove that a majority of them object to the creation of the proposed district, and that would effectively kill the project.
The firm has gathered and forwarded these objection letters to the Texas Historical Commission and, more recently, the National Park Service.
On January 26, attorney Mark Osborn told KTSM 9 News with a straight face that he and his firm conducted this effort free of charge: “I care about El Paso, I care about Downtown, I do a decent amount of pro-bono work.”
On February 17, Mark Osborn and Gene Wolf wrote to downtown property owners warning them that establishing the new district would cause City ordinance 20.20.080 (A) (1) to become applicable to them, imposing local regulations on National Register buildings. (see doc. 1 attached)
But on February 21, Assistant City Attorney Russell T. Abeln confirmed for City Council and the public that the proposed historic district will not cause City ordinance 20.20.080 (A) (1) to become applicable to property owners in the proposed National Historic District. You can see his eight-minute presentation here, starting at the 2:47 mark.
Osborn and Wolf became aware of this presentation but failed to correct the misstatements made in their February 17 letter about City ordinance 20.20.080 (A) (1).
Additionally, Osborne and Wolf sent another letter to downtown property owners, on March 4, attacking the County for its “
belligerent and uncompromising position.” Now they focused on the proposed half-billion-dollar “Multipurpose Performing Arts and Entertainment Facility,” claiming that the new district would prevent it from being constructed in Duranguito because steps would eventually be taken to protect the buildings within the “Arena Footprint.”
Meanwhile, Kemp Smith still wanted us to believe that they were acting alone, out of a sense of altruism and civic duty. Please pass the Pepto-Bismol!
Yet it appears that they have been representing the business interests of a small number of investors.
They let the cat out of the bag on April 5, when they filed a lawsuit against the Texas Historical Commission over the status of the objection letters they were collecting. (doc. 3 attached)
I obtained a copy of their filing through an ORR that had to go to the Attorney General before approval.
HOCUS-POCUS! Kemp Smith now had six plaintiffs:
323 Chihuahua, LLC (represented by Peter Spier)
Urban Lion, LLC (represented by Ben Marcus)
Marcep Group, LLC (represented by Ben Marcus)
Hunt Oregon, LLC (represented by Josh Hunt)
R. B. Wicker Tire and Rubber Co. (represented by Tom Wicker)
John P. Kemp
Incredibly, the County, which nominated the historic district, was not even notified about the lawsuit, and the media and public are still unaware!
After the nomination was sent by the Texas Historical Commission to the Keeper of the National Park Service in Washington, D. C., Kemp Smith petitioned the Keeper, on May 4, to accept any objection letters that are not notarized. (attached doc. 4) In the petition, Kemp Smith names the same six clients cited above.
Now we know the identities of the six plaintiffs actively working to kill the historic district, and the media, business community and public at large deserve to know.
Also interesting is the signed declaration of Yolanda Giner at the end of the lawsuit filing (doc. 3, last page). As Executive Vice President and General Counsel with Franklin Mountain Investments, owned by Paul Foster, she admits her involvement in “efforts to secure objections from owners of private property within the nominated El Paso Downtown Historic District.” So Paul Foster is apparently involved as well, which comes as no surprise, considering that in January he appeared in person before the Texas State Board of Review of the THC to oppose the historic district.
Have a nice day.