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streets won’t be touched and may actually have more customers when the plan is implemented. But with big-box stores poised to come in, shopkeepers know it’s only a matter of time before they’ll go the way of the dinosaurs. “The first time I saw the plan, I thought it looked nice,” says Son D. Smith, who operates a lingerie shop. “But we’re going to lose when the big companies come in?’ In December 2006, the city took another giant step toward implementing the plan, passing an ordinance declaring that 188.42 acres in the redevelopment district are “unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted;’ and making them part of a tax increment reinvestment zone, or TIRZ. Within this zone are 40 houses, 10 duplexes or triplexes, 48 apartment buildings, 254 commercial properties, and three industrial properties. Overseeing the TIRZ will be a 15-member board that will review the proposed projects. A couple of weeks later, Sanders and six other businessmen formed a REIT called the Borderplex Community Trust. Investors who had a net worth of more than $1 million or incomes of at least $200,000 were invited to join. \(Ted Houghton, a member of PDNG and a Perry appointee to the Texas Transportation Commission, says he It didn’t take long for the Borderplex REIT to raise $30 million. In a move that was highly symbolic, one of the REIT’s first purchases was the 18-story Chase Bank Building, one of the tallest buildings in downtown El Paso. Sanders’ real estate firm, Verde Realty, has offices there. Asked recently who some of the investors were, Wilson says, “Well, I mean, some of the private sector businesses who have approached us are in confidential negotiations, and so I am certainly not going to disclose that right now:’ Demands Blaugrund: “Why would that be confidential? That’s a perfect example of the city knowing information and refusing to disclose it to its citizens.” Blaugrund and others are frustrated by all the unanswered questions, including how much the plan is going to cost taxpayers. “How can you not know a year into the plan how much it’s going to cost?” It’s still not clear which buildings are going to be rehabbed and which demolished. Under the original plan, for example, the Centro de los Trabajadores Agricolas Fronterizos, an 8,000-squarefoot building sandwiched between the two international bridges that provides services to farmworkers, was scheduled to be demolished and replaced with a parking lot and big-box store such as Wal-Mart or Target. After Carlos Marentes, the center’s executive director, made it clear he wanted nothing to do with the plan, City Councilwoman Susie Byrd said the center wouldn’t be destroyed. But Mayor John Cook said the center still could be razed. “The commitment I made to them is that if it makes more sense to put a parking lot where your building is, we’ll have to build you another one that’s bigger and better;’ Cook said. It’s also not clear how the city is going to cope with all of the displaced persons. One city document shows that $3.6 million has been budgeted for the “relocation of residents;’ or about what the city plans to spend on engineers and consultants. As a consequence, a lot of neighbors have quit making home improvements, skipping the coat of paint they had planned to put on the bedroom, forgoing the new water heater or swamp cooler. Byrd says the plan calls for 3,000 new downtown housing units, 30 percent of them affordable. “The coolest part is this: You will have a downtown El Paso after implementation where there will be more opportunity for lowerand moderate-income families to live than there is today, and it will be quality housing.” Like the other council members and the mayor, Byrd says she’s opposed to using eminent domain to get rid of viable businesses so the chain stores can move in. Yet she won’t take eminent domain off the table. “Blight is a gut reaction;’ she adds. “I represent neighborhoods where the property owners are so irresponsible and so negligent that it contributes to the decline of the whole neighborhood. I’m not going to let those folks drive the agenda for downtown?’ Blaugrund says the threat of eminent domain weakens property owners’ ability to negotiate fair prices. “What the government is doing is forcing the sale of private property from one person to another. It’s not using eminent domain in the traditional sense for a highway, a hospital, or a school;’ he says. “Here, they’re forcing people to sell properties under duress or have it taken away in a condemnation action?’ The city hasn’t used eminent domain yet, but it’s about to turn up the heat. One tool the city could use, Cook said recently, is to report all property offers to the appraisal district. “I don’t have to use eminent domain;’ the mayor says. “All I have to do is take the offer down to the Central Appraisal District and allow the property to be taxed at its real market value.” The city’s also going to start sending zoning and building inspectors into the redevelopment area to inform owners of code requirements. “If necessary, police and fire departments will assist in explaining and enforcing violations,” a city document stated. Wilson says the inspections aren’t meant to pressure owners. But she does admit the inspections were related to the redevelopment plan. “Part of the implementation strategy is to start code enforcement in conjunction with the investments taking place;’ she says. Though the bulldozers haven’t appeared yet, many of the most fervent opponents of the redevelopment plan feel it’s just a matter of time until the Segundo Barrio slips into history alongside its inhabitants and occasional gueststhe lovely Teresita Urrea, the fierce military chieftain Pancho Villa, and Francisco Madero, who barely could see over a horse’s withers, but remains a towering figure in both Mexican and American history. “I’m not one who expects to get something for nothing,” muses longtime resident Charles Ponzio. “But I hope what El Paso gets is more than just taking out the local players for corporate America.” MAY 4, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21