What do thriving cities have in common?

The answer to the question posed in the headline is easy to discern.

Downtown. They all have thriving downtown districts in common. Show me a city with bustling, living, vibrant central business and entertainment district and I’ll show you a city on the move — in the right direction!

I am happy to reaffirm that Amarillo, Texas, where I lived for 23 years, is making a significant move toward a bright future because it is redeveloping its downtown district, which is slated to look like the rendering that accompanies this blog post.

I cannot stress enough how delighted this makes me feel about Amarillo, a community I grew to love during my time there.

We arrived in Amarillo in early 1995 and found a city that was, well, nice enough. It has nice people, which usually is a euphemistic way of saying that the city didn’t have much else to offer. That more or less described the Amarillo my wife and I discovered when we settled there.

Over time, though, it has changed. The most dramatic change occurred when the City Council decided to get off its collective duff and infused some public money into downtown redevelopment.

The city created something called a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, which uses property value appreciation — and the tax revenue it generates within the TIRZ — to pay for public infrastructure improvements.

The council began walking the downtown redevelopment walk, rather than just talking about it.

It held a citywide non-binding referendum on whether to build a downtown ballpark/multipurpose event venue. The measure passed. The council made good on its pledge to adhere to voters’ wishes. The MPEV construction is proceeding.

The city will welcome a Double A minor-league baseball franchise next spring.

Meanwhile, business owners and private investors are pouring money into new development along Polk Street, the one-time Amarillo “main drag” downtown. Restaurants are popping up like spring flowers. A hotel developer built a four-star hotel across the street from City Hall, next to the city’s performing arts center. Loft apartments have opened up along 10th Avenue.

Another hotel is proposed to move into a renovated structure, the Barfield Building, at the corner of Sixth and Polk.

Many other cities can boast of similar improvements. They also can look back on when their prosperity commenced. They, too, can trace their rebirth to when their governing councils made the conscious decision to invest emotional capital, political capital and actual capital in their downtown districts.

Amarillo is going to join a number of cities that have revived themselves. It will get there eventually, of that I am certain.

I look forward to the day when Amarillo no longer will be known primarily as a place with nice people. Yes, the people are wonderful. They also are going to have a lot of entertainment options to explore in their newly vibrant city.

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