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Artist Francisco Delgado works on a new mural at the Sagrado Corozon Gym. photo by Bruce Berman Pasoan who rims a Web-based technology business. “Wouldn’t it be fun if there was this neat urban center with lots to do downtown? That’s what we’d like to see for El Paso,” says Kathryn Dodson, the city’s economic development director. “It would be great for El Pasoans to go to a Starbucks downtown.” The people whose homes and businesses might be razed to make way for latte-drinking Web surfers don’t think the plan’s so neat. Nor do politicians who once called the area home. “This does not pass my smell test. It’s too heavily slanted toward a few wealthy families in El Paso,” says Democratic state Rep. Paul Moreno, who grew up in the barrio. “I don’t want to leave the impression that I don’t want to see El Paso beautified. I just hate for people to come in and try to make El Paso like an Austin or a San Antonio. Our poverty does not permit it.” Stuart Blaugrund, a Dallas lawyer who grew up in El Paso and represents a group of downtown businessmen, calls the proposed project the “largest land grab” in recent Texas history. The city of El Paso, he maintains, is a willing partner because it refuses to take the threat of eminent domain off the table. “All those stores, which no one in their right mind could say are blighted, are now vulnerable to being expropriated by the government and transferred from one private partythe ownerto another private partythe developer.” 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MAY 4, 2007 Walter Kim, who heads the Korean Chamber of Commerce and has worked in the area for 25 years, led one of more than a dozen protests and rallies against the plan. “During the peso devaluation, we really struggled and suffered. No one helped us. We had to work hard every day, 365 days a year, 10 hours a day, to make downtown work. Now they love downtown and want to take it away from us. Come on, this is wrong. Right?” For several years, people in El Paso heard persistent whispers of a plan that would put El Paso on equal footing with world-class cities such as Miami or Chicago. But the plan remained an urban leg end until March 31, 2006, when between 500 and 1,000 wellheeled members of the city’s ruling class filed into the renovated Plaza Theatre. There, a group of San Francisco architects unveiled its futuristic vision of downtown, which actually didn’t look much different than scores of other American cities: cybercafes, outdoor restaurants, a modern arena, art exhibitions, tree-shaded sidewalks, verdant parks, and urban hipsters. The taxpayers who were kept in the dark paid for the bulk of the costs associated with preparing the plan and conducting publicity efforts. \(The city of El Paso contributed $250,000; another $260,000 came from a state Economic Development Administration grant, and the remaining $252,000 was put up