Back when Amarillo’s civic, business and political leadership were talking up the need to build a event venue/ballpark downtown, one could hear grumbling from some quarters that went something like this: Why don’t you do something with the Civic Center? It needs improvement … badly.
Hodgetown has been built; the Amarillo Sod Poodles have completed their initial regular season of AA minor league baseball before virtually packed houses every night. Downtown Amarillo’s evolution is progressing nicely.
The City Council is now proposing a major renovation, reconstruction of its 51-year-old Civic Center. It’s going to cost some money, about $300-plus million. The city is planning to conduct a bond issue election in May 2020 to ask for residents’ permission.
Ahh, but that ain’t all of it. The city wants to renovate the old Santa Fe Railroad Depot structure next to the Civic Center. Here’s my favorite part: relocation of City Hall to an existing downtown structure; no building a new City Hall from scratch. The city thinks it can find a suitable existing structure to house its municipal offices. I have thought just a bit about what might be available, but I am coming up empty.
You want ambition? You want proactive government? This is it, folks!
I happen to support the notion in principle. OK, I don’t live in Amarillo any longer. I just happen to be a Texas Panhandle ex-pat who returns to Amarillo on occasion to see family and friends — and to witness the progress I envision for the city my wife and I called home for more than two decades.
The Civic Center was built in 1968. The Cal Farley Coliseum is a fine venue for truck pulls, along with hockey and indoor arena football. The coliseum’s roof isn’t nearly far enough off the deck to suit event planners.
From what I have seen of the concept being kicked around, the council is talking about an extreme makeover, with tens of thousands more square feet of convention space and some serious green space landscaping around the structure.
Here is what I also hope the city does not do: I do not want the city to break up the project into bite-sized morsels. Please, city officials, do not separate the Civic Center complex job from the Santa Fe Depot job, or from the new City Hall location.
Residents ought to be able to determine whether they want all of it. Amarillo has gone down this a la carte method before. Residents have been picky about what they like.
To its credit, the city planning some “public feedback forums” to give officials some guidance on how to proceed. My other great hope is that residents show up and offer their comment — while at the same time avoiding the implication that the city is proceeding in secret.
This project — all of it — is likely to bring untold benefit to a city I believe is on the move. As for the Hodgetown naysayers, here is your opportunity to campaign hard for a project you said you wanted in the first place.