Controversy Over El Paso's Downtown Redevelopment Plan

The city's 'segundo barrio' -- a historic Mexican-American neighborhood -- is the focus of a major redevelopment effort that opponents say is trying to 'white wash' the community.

The Segundo is "a tightly knit community of churches, schools, medical clinics, libraries, stores, and families who have lived and worked there for generations."

"Through peso devaluations in Mexico and recessions in the United States, the small businesses in the Segundo have managed to survive by catering to customers no one else cares about: low-income Mexicans who walk over to El Paso to shop for the day, and residents of the barrio itself."

"Some of the historic buildings are in need of renovation or repairs. Miraculously, many have escaped the wrecking ball. Now a powerful alliance of wealthy businessmen, aided by local politicians, is on the brink of seizing the barrio. If it's successful, hundreds of residents will be forced out of their homes. Businesses will be relocated. And the Segundo Barrio and surrounding neighborhoods gradually will be erased-"de-Mexicanized," some call it-and replaced with an arena, parking garages, condos, lofts, town homes, a "lifestyle retail" district, a "mixed-use" zone, a "mercado," and an "urban retail" outlet rumored to be a Wal-Mart or Target."

""El Plan," as it's become known, was received with enthusiasm by El Paso's elected officials..."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."

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