Rep Battle – Could Leeser, Lilly Arena Tiff Be a Good Thing?
¡Puro desmadre! This downtown arena business is getting downright nuts!
Actually, it has always been nuts. El Paso has gone round-and-round on a new arena forever. How big should it be? How will we pay for it? Where should we build it? How many feasibility studies does it take to screw in a 240-volt, 100,000-lumen arena-ready light bulb?
But now Mayor Oscar Leeser calls the cops on the 79-year-old husband of former city rep Ann Morgan Lilly?
E.R. "Rut" Lilly allegedly pushed the mayor's wife, Leesa Leeser, after an argument over city council deciding not to take out most of Duranguito to build the downtown albatr...excuse me, arena.
And it all went down at Thyme Matters! Sure, they have a bar there; but they also serve the Mediterranean Trio -- roasted eggplant dip, hummus and tabouli served with pita bread, for $13.50. Not the kind of place where you'd think anybody would throw down, much less a city father. Or city grandmother.
It all started innocently enough, according to the mayor. Leeser says he and his wife came over to the Lillys' table to be sociable, but that Mrs. Lilly laid into him for not using eminent domain to make the arena happen.
For her part, Mrs. Lilly accuses the mayor of not being such a good boy.
Mayor Leeser says Mr. Lilly called him a wimp. Mrs. Lilly says the mayor called her husband a "rich boy" and was brandishing his cell phone. Like, what, he was going to call his posse and pay a visit to the Lilly's table, damn the sautéed tilapia?
Now, a man pushing a woman is wrong. But first, even the mayor stated he thought Mr. Lilly was reaching for his cell phone, not for his wife.
And did Mrs. Leeser feel the cartilage popping at the moment of contact?
Third: speaking as one who's had "Duke of Earl" sung to him since second grade, umm...Mrs. Leeser? Julia Guglia would like a word.
Look, we've talked about building this arena for at least as long as I've been in El Paso. In the meantime, I met my wife here, raised four kids here and am now a grandfather. Three generations of Keiths, arena bond money in the bank, and building this thing is getting harder, not easier!
Perhaps my great-great grandchildren will be able to enjoy the majesty of a 14,000-seat jewel of empty space that displaces a neighborhood so it can exist downtown. That is, if our politicians and their spouses can sit down to their Merlot and brie without throwing up gang signs and reppin' their gold "915" chains at each other.
Before you think this is an anti-downtown-beautifying screed, I was ALL FOR the baseball stadium from the beginning and remain in favor of the revitalization that continues there. As much kvetching as there was, El Paso did the right thing at exactly the right time and the results are even better than we had hoped they would be.
But I have also never been in favor of a downtown arena, in part because -- ahem -- we already have three of them that seat over 7,000 within an hour's drive!
Really, does NO ONE remember this? Downtown revitalization is great, but adding a fourth arena makes no sense.
Say what you will about the El Paso County Coliseum, but when we finally elected commissioners who actually wanted to represent the county and replaced the hole in the Coliseum's roof with real HVAC, that building became a money-maker. Acts big and small utilize it consistently and many promoters love the size because they don't have to worry about filling 14,000 seats.
Then there's the Don Haskins Center (12,000 seats) and the Pan American Center in Las Cruces (12,500 seats). You think the El Paso Sports Commission, UTEP and New Mexico State won't bid less for many of the same acts that city council (and perhaps some in the commissioners court) would like to see come to a big, new downtown barn?
"Hello, Sir Elton? UTEP, here. What did the downtown arena folks quote you? Is that so? How about we lower that by 15 percent and throw in an assortment of oversized fuzzy-frame sunglasses from the mercado in Juárez? Deal? Great! See you at The Don!"
What about an anchor tenant? You think an NBA D-League team would work with UTEP playing up the r...okay, never mind. Forget I brought that up.
And if this new arena is the same size or slightly larger than the other two big boys, why are we bothering?
Really, why have we ever bothered?!
Sure, the bond money will pay for it, if they can stop using it to do feasibility studies and get the arena built before costs go up. But how much more money will a new arena need to keep the lights on?
How about we use that $180 million for something other than a downtown arena, huh?
Or maybe check the legality of using the bond money in association with UTEP and making the Don Haskins Center a real palace. The way things are going, Miners hoops crowds could easily fit back in Memorial Gym during renovations. It'd sure help the game night atmosphere.
But no, we get our mayor and a former city councilor and his wife and her soon-to-be octogenarian husband going hammer and tongs and smart phones at an upscale restaurant and the arena seems further and further away, and maybe, hashtag, It's All Good, El Paso!
No, really. Maybe it's good that it seems further away so maybe some folks can take a step back and see this isn't the way we need to spend our money, and never was.
When push comes to shove, we should do better.