Category Archives: business news

Watching the rebirth of a city’s downtown

I don’t get back to Amarillo, Texas, as often these days. My wife and I are getting set to plant new roots in a home in Collin County.

We aren’t going to cease returning to the city we called “home” for more than decades. I am getting anxious to witness the rebirth of its downtown district.

You know already that I am a big supporter of the changes that are under way in the Texas Panhandle community. I am heartened by the expected completion of Hodgetown, the baseball park that will be the home field for the AA minor-league Amarillo Sod Poodles baseball squad; the Sod Poodles open their home season on April 8. As an aside, my wife and I will be in Amarillo that day, getting ready to shove off in our fifth wheel for a trip downstate and then to New Orleans; hmm, I might look for a way to attend that opening-night game.

I simply am amazed that the city has embarked on this urban revival journey. When we arrived in Amarillo in early 1995 we saw little evidence of a municipal appetite for the pro-active approach we have witnessed unfold there. City Hall operated on a policy of letting private business fuel any significant change. The city took a hands-off approach; it didn’t want to invest public money on what it considered to be a private venture.

That has changed to a large degree at City Hall. Two mayors, Debra McCartt and Paul Harpole moved the City Council forward in pushing for development of the ballpark. It promoted what it called “catalyst projects” that would bloom in the wake of the ballpark’s completion. Those projects appear to be bearing fruit.

The city welcomed the opening of a first-class hotel; it is pledging to make major improvements to the Civic Center; Polk Street — once known as Amarillo’s “main drag” — is coming back to life; renovated buildings on Polk are welcoming something called “pop up” businesses; the Barfield Building is in the process of being repurposed into a Marriott “boutique hotel.”

This all makes my head spin.

And I don’t even live there!

Every return to Amarillo we make these days fills us with surprises. We’ll be back again soon. I await the next jaw-dropper.

Huge future awaits downtown Amarillo

I am beginning to believe I might have set the bar too low in seeking to project the future of downtown Amarillo, Texas and, by extension, the rest of the city.

The picture linked to this blog post is a rendition of what Hodgetown — the name of the new ballpark that is nearing completion — is going to look like. It is going to be the home for the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the AA minor league baseball team that begins its season on April 8 in the new venue.

I don’t get back to Amarillo as often these days. I have driven by Hodgetown and seen it taking shape along Buchanan Street just south of City Hall.

It looks like a fabulous venue.

So, what does it mean for the city? It means it will attract crowds of residents from throughout the Texas Panhandle into the downtown district. The crowds will watch the Sod Poodles play some baseball and then perhaps they’ll wander around the city center in search of a meal, or a beverage or some music.

Downtown Amarillo — like downtowns in cities throughout the nation — used to be retail centers. Department stores did business downtown. Residents flocked into downtown Amarillo to shop. Then came the arrival of those once-ubiquitous shopping malls. Westgate Mall opened on the far west side of Amarillo, attracting those department stores away from downtown.

The city’s downtown district is re-emerging in a new form. It’s going to be more of an entertainment district than it used to be. Take my word for it, the city’s downtown district has sprinted far from the pale ghost of a central district it was when my wife and I arrived in Amarillo in 1995.

How did that happen? In my view, it occurred when the city began investing public money in its downtown district. Amarillo had an organization called Downtown Amarillo Inc. that did a lot of the grunt work that prepared the city to move forward. DAI eventually dissolved. Center City has stepped up, along with a City Hall reorganization. Amarillo established a tax reinvestment zone that channels property tax appraised value back toward improvements inside that zone.

Downtown has continued to advance.

We have moved away. However, I am continuing to watch the city’s progress toward a future that looks even brighter than I envisioned just two years ago.

It’s a thrilling sight to see. I have said it before, but it bears repeating: Show me a thriving city in America and you’re likely to see a city with a thriving downtown district.

How about that DJIA, Mr. POTUS?

Donald J. Trump keeps telling us about his business acumen and, I presume, his wisdom about big-ticket market activity.

So, why does he keep yapping about something that has happened dozens of times while he has been president?

He tweeted self-congratulations when the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 25,000 points. He did the same thing a year ago. He’s done it several times.

The DJIA has this cyclical aspect to it. The Dow goes up. It goes down. The president is delighted to tell us when the Dow climbs. He falls into a Twitter stupor when it plummets.

How active was Trump when the Dow was cratering though much of December 2018? We heard the proverbial crickets.

Now the Dow is back up. Trump is all over it. He’s taking credit he doesn’t deserve. In actuality, that doesn’t bother me so much any longer. What’s annoying is that a guy with all those business smarts (allegedly) is getting worked up over a recurring fiscal event.

City set for a smashing new year

Beth Duke is a longtime friend of mine; I’ve known her since January 1995 when I first moved to Amarillo, Texas, to become editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, where she was serving as features editor and later as city editor.

Thus, I feel safe in saying that Duke is doing what she now is getting paid to do: She is talking ever so positively about the prospects for the city’s downtown business and entertainment district. As director of Center City, that’s her job.

There. Having said that, I totally agree with her assessment that 2019 is shaping up as a potentially Earth-shattering year for the city’s downtown district, as work continues full throttle on projects aimed at injecting new life into the district.

I no longer live in Amarillo, but my interest in the progression of the city’s downtown rebirth hasn’t abated in the least. I am delighted at what I see happening there and to be candid, Duke and her organization have played a significant role in that effort.

According to the Globe-News: “Last year, 2018, was a great year for Center City with the construction of the MPEV (multipurpose event venue),” Duke said. “People can finally see what venue is a catalyst project.”

The Amarillo Sod Poodles, the city’s new AA minor league baseball team, opens its Texas League season in early April. My hunch is that the ballpark under construction on Buchanan Street will be full on opening day. The “catalyst” hopefully will ignite lots of related activity downtown and, thus, boost the city’s image, fatten its wallet with sales tax revenue and provide the city with additional resources to develop other parts of the city.

Businesses are slated to begin filling the ground-floor storefronts at the parking garage that was erected across the street from the MPEV. Work has begun on the Barfield Building, turning that rotting structure into a Marriott hotel. It will join the Courtyards by Marriott at the Historic Fisk Building as a place that has breathed new life into a historic structure. The Embassy Suites hotel across from the Civic Center is attracting conventions.

Polk Street is coming back to life. Potter County’s refurbished courthouse is a thing of beauty and the county now is beginning to discuss openly options related to replacing the Courts Building.

Yes, I hear about some of the grumbling from those who want the city to invest in other neighborhoods and quit concentrating on downtown. I am empathetic to their concerns. My hope today is that City Hall is listening.

However, none of that should disparage the progress that’s been made downtown. My mantra remains the same as it always has been: Show me a city on the move and I am virtually certain that the city possesses a vital downtown district.

Amarillo clearly is on the move. Its downtown business district is setting the pace.

Now, how about the Herring Hotel?

You’ve heard it said, “If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they, um, make the trains run on time?”

Amarillo, Texas, might have a “put a man on the moon” metaphor of its own. It could go something like this:

“If they can find a way to rehabilitate and reopen the crappy hulk of a structure known as the Barfield Building, why can’t they do the same thing for the Herring Hotel?”

The Barfield Building — which is a rotting 10-story structure at the moment — is going to be repurposed as a Marriott boutique hotel.

Meanwhile, the Herring Hotel, once the city’s go-to place for every social event of consequence, also is rotting. It’s dark. It is foreboding.

A friend of mine, Bob Goodrich, has owned the building since the 1980s. He bought the abandoned structure with the hope of finding someone to invest big-time money to rehabilitate and revive it. He says he has scored some near misses. He’s been disappointed. He pays the taxes annually on it. The building isn’t quite the eyesore that the Barfield has become.

I’ve been through the first two floors in the Herring. Granted, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. It is in surprisingly decent condition, however.

Some contacts I used to have who were involved in downtown revitalization have told me they foresee a viable future for the Herring. Many of those folks have moved on. I am not familiar with many among the current crop of brainiacs who are talking among themselves about what to do about the Herring.

Nor am I familiar with all that has taken place to date.

I simply am amazed that a hospitality management company has actually taken control of the Barfield and has actually begun work to bring that miserable hulk of a structure back to life.

I consider the Barfield to be among the worst examples of urban rot in downtown Amarillo. If they can find a new purpose for the Barfield, isn’t there a future to be found for the Herring?

It’s actually begun: work on the Barfield Building

This story remains a serious head-scratcher for me.

I’ll be glad to be proved wrong if and when the story concludes.

They have begun work on a 10-story eyesore in downtown Amarillo, Texas. The Barfield Building, which has gone through many fits and starts as it has decayed over the course of many years, is now in the first stages of a major makeover.

It will become a boutique hotel run by the Marriott company, which also operates a hotel down the street in the historic Fisk Building.

To be candid, I never though this project was possible. The Barfield, a once-proud structure on Sixth Avenue and Polk Street, has been shuttered while would-be developers have shuddered at the prospect of bringing it back to life.

The building’s former owner, Todd Harmon, sought over the years to get something done. He failed. Coury Hospitality is now the management partner and is handling the makeover as it proceeds.

My pal Dan Quandt, vice president of the Amarillo Convention and Visitors Council, told KFDA NewsChannel 10 that “We’ve been crying” for years for something good to happen to the Barfield. “It sadly went from being a proud lady to a kind of an eyesore and now they’re going to be redoing that.”

Actually, Dan, there’s no “kind of an eyesore” description needed. The building is a serious eyesore.

It’s going to carry the name of Barfield Marriott when it’s all done.

I no longer live in Amarillo, but my desire to see downtown Amarillo progress and evolve into something different and, hopefully, exciting hasn’t wavered. The Barfield project is a huge step forward for the city, which has granted serious tax credits and other financial incentives to help push this project forward.

Let us hope this task gets completed. I am hoping to be pleasantly surprised when they cut the ribbon and welcome the first guests into the new digs.

Then perhaps the city can turn its attention to another rotting structural hulk just a few blocks north. I refer to the Herring Hotel.

Might there be a brighter future in store there as well?

That darn public domain is tough to shake loose

Oops!

I feel compelled to borrow the famous line from the 2012 Republican presidential primary from then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry who famously suffered the brain freeze while trying to name the three agencies he would terminate were he elected president.

It now applies to something that 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump said about a foundation run by Bill and Hillary Clinton. He called the Clinton Foundation the “most corrupt enterprise in political history.”

Oh, brother. Now this comes forward.

The Trump Foundation has been shut down because of a “shocking pattern of illegality.”

The Trump outfit was collecting money to service Donald Trump’s myriad “business and political interests.”

I now shall ask: Does this make the Trump Foundation the most corrupt enterprise in political history?

Oh, probably not the “most corrupt.” It does seem to be pretty damn corrupt nonetheless. It’s corrupt enough for the New York attorney general, Barbara Underwood, to order it shut down . . . immediately!

Let’s wait for the president to respond to this latest embarrassment. It ought to be a doozy.

Tax returns: the gift that keeps on giving

Tax returns have, um, returned to the top of our awareness.

Not my tax returns. Or yours. I refer to the president of the United States.

You’ll recall when Donald Trump stiffed 40 years of political tradition by refusing to release his returns for public scrutiny. He said dubiously that he was under audit by the Internal Revenue Service. That was more than two years ago! He still hasn’t released them. He is showing not a single indication that he’ll do so voluntarily.

Presidential candidates of both parties since 1976 have released their tax returns in the spirit of full transparency. Trump talks about being transparent, then hides his returns.

They’re increasing in relevance to what has developed. The special counsel, Robert Mueller, likely knows what is in those returns. He likely knows about whether the president has invested in “Russia matters.” He likely knows whether the president has benefited materially from his office, which could be in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, the part that says presidents cannot accept money from foreign governments.

We’ll know in due course whether Mueller has those returns. We’ll know also in due course whether the special counsel has anything incriminating regarding those returns.

The idea that Trump has refused to release those returns because of an IRS audit falls apart on two levels. First, he’s never produced any evidence that the IRS is even auditing his tax returns. Second, the IRS — which doesn’t comment on individual audits — has made it clear that an audit does not preclude any public figure from making those returns public.

My direct plea to the special counsel is this: Make those returns available to those of us who want to know the truth behind our president’s financial dealings.

Self-awareness is MIA

Donald John “Smart Gut” Trump’s jaw-dropping absence of self-awareness is on full display this week.

He has taken aim at the man he selected this past year to lead the Federal Reserve Board. Jerome Powell took the hit for the reeling stock market, giving Trump the headache of watching people’s retirement funds — such as mine — shrink before our eyes as investors sell off their stocks.

Chairman Powell is not giving anything back to Trump, the president complained. Trump said he is quite unhappy with the selection of Powell to lead the Fed.

For starters, the Fed is an independent agency that doesn’t answer to the president of the United States. Trump doesn’t understand that, along with all the other elements of government he doesn’t understand.

Then he said he has “a gut” that tells him more than “anyone else’s brain” can tell him.

Oh, really, Mr. President?

Well, did your gut tell you to invest in all those endeavors for which you filed bankruptcy before you entered political life? How did Trump University or the Trump Taj Mahal resort work out? Not too well.

Trump’s “gut” let him down . . .  again and again and again!

GM owes its existence to government?

Donald John “Smart Gut” Trump has blasted General Motors for closing plants and for announcing plans to lay off as many as 15,000 employees as part of a company restructuring.

I laughed when I heard the president declare that the government “saved” GM “and this is the thanks we get.”

Oh, wait! That rescue mission was launched during the first term of President Obama. Do you remember that one? The auto industry was in trouble. The new president got Congress to approve a massive bailout for automakers. The money propped them up, helped preserve them; it saved them from collapse.

Then the automakers paid the government back for the money they received!

I guess what rankles Trump the most is that GM’s decision to lay off those workers turns one of the president’s signature campaign promises into, well, an empty campaign promise.