Category Archives: business news

Downtown hotel design gets ‘certified’

This is one of the more fascinating steps so far in the quest to rebuild downtown Amarillo.

The proposed convention hotel has received something called a “certificate of appropriateness.”

The downtown design committee has signed off on the concept for the looks of the proposed Embassy Suites hotel that will be built near the Civic Center, the proposed multipurpose event venue — aka MPEV — and a multi-story parking garage.

It’s all coming together, the city and its design consultants say.

The design panel needed to ensure that the hotel fit the city’s aesthetic standards.

I’ve seen the renderings of what the complex is going to look like. They are impressive, to say the least.

The funding of the project remains as stated: hotel-motel tax revenue will fund it, along with tax breaks granted by the city and, presumably, by Potter County, given that the district lies inside the county line.

Some skeptics remain out there, thinking nefarious thoughts about who did what to and for whom and whether it’s all on the up-and-up. I’m not one of them.

I continue to embrace the concept as it has been presented. I will continue to hold onto my faith that the city’s funding formula will hold up and I will continue to hope for the very best that the city — along with the developers and investors it is trying to recruit — will deliver the goods as promised.

Just make sure, folks, that it’s all, um, appropriate.

Government is no business

I just have to share this tidbit from a friend and fellow blogger.

Jon Talton writes a blog called “The Rogue Columnist.” This is what he said about Carly Fiorina, a recently declared Republican candidate for president of the United States of America.

“So wealthy Republican Cara Carlton Sneed, aka “Carly Fiorina,” is running for president. She represents everything wrong in an America run by oligarchy, including running venerable Hewlett Packard into the ground and laying off tens of thousands of people.

“The two businessmen who became president were Warren G. Harding and George W. Bush. In fact, government can’t and shouldn’t be run like a business. A business, especially a big business today, seeks only its own growth and increasing stock price. Too many of its leaders, Fiorina included, are sociopaths with no notion of the public good. So she’ll fit right with the Republican contenders.

“It tells us something that this supposed titan of technology forgot to register her domain name.”

Here’s the link to Jon’s blog.

President Harding’s administration was tainted by scandal and near-impeachment because of the “business” he conducted while serving as president from 1921 until his death in 1923. Does the name “Teapot Dome” ring a bell?

President Bush? Well, I don’t recall him espousing too loudly his “business acumen” after he was elected in 2000, although he seemed to take his eye off the financial sector as it was lending lots of money to folks who couldn’t repay the loans, which likely contributed to the economic collapse that occurred near the end of his presidency in 2008.

Jon is right about government being run like a business. It can’t be done. Government’s mission is to “serve the people.” The core mission of every business in America — if not the planet — is to make money.

These missions, as near as I can tell, are mutually exclusive.


Welcome aboard, Carly Fiorina

The Republican Party’s presidential field has grown by one — or maybe it’s two — candidate.

Carly Fiorina is running for president next year. She is citing her business experience as the reason for electing her.

She knows the ins and outs of the economy, she says.

I’m your woman, Fiorina notes.

Is she? Well, she served as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, the giant techno-firm. Then the company got into some financial trouble. It merged with Compaq and the HP board decided Fiorina was leading the company in the wrong direction, or something like that.

She was forced to resign.

Fiorina, though, portrays her tenure at HP as a success, although it’s a bit of a reach to come to that conclusion. The company jettisoned a lot of jobs. Still, the says the company’s stock value grew during her time in the HP driver’s seat.

Her political career? She was a key adviser to Sen. John McCain in 2008 during the GOP nominee’s losing bid for the presidency. Fiorina then ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010 … and lost that race too.

Oh, but she says she’s not a “professional politician.” Actually, she is, by virtue of her running now for elective office for the second time in five years. Hey, I’m not quibbling, just stating what I understand to be the definition of the term “politician.”

Fiorina’s personal story is gripping. She’s a cancer survivor and she has endured the tragedy of losing a stepdaughter to drug abuse. Those events surely have steeled her for the tough campaign that awaits.

I heard this morning that Ben Carson is about to join the Republican field, so he’s going to take a bit of the attention away from Fiorina, whose poll numbers are pretty low as it is.

I’m now going to wait for her Republican debate opponents to ask her to explain how her checkered business record commends her for the job of running a multitrillion-dollar enterprise called The Federal Government.


Estate tax is worth keeping on the books

Time for a confession, which some of you might already have suspected.

I used to write editorials for daily newspapers that ran counter to my own beliefs and principles. Why? Well, as a former colleague once told me: If you take the man’s money, you play by the man’s rules.

So, there you have it. I was getting paid to write editorials for newspapers that had different slants than mine, so I wrote the words, gritted my teeth on occasion — and then accepted the paycheck.

One issue with which I had a disagreement with our newspaper’s editorial policy was the estate tax, or “death tax,” as some have called it. My bosses wanted it repealed. My former publisher at the Amarillo Globe-News (not the guy who runs the place now, but his predecessor) was adamant that we repeal the estate tax. Why punish heirs to estates, he argued, when the person who built the wealth wants to be able to hand it down to his or her heirs?

I’m sure my ex-boss is happy with the U.S. House of Representatives voting this week to repeal the estate tax.

I am not.

As Paul Waldman writes in the Washington Post: “Republicans say that they aren’t really trying to help wealthy heirs; instead, this is motivated by their deep concern for the fate of family farms and small businesses. But today, the first $5.43 million of any estate is exempt from taxes. That’s the single most important fact to understand about this tax.”

Did you get that? Nearly $5.5 million of any estate is tax exempt!

My congressman, Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, Texas, has been at the forefront of the estate tax repeal effort since joining Congress in 1995. He’s got a dog in that hunt. His family owns a lot of ranch land in Donley County and he doesn’t want any of it taxed when the day comes to hand it over to his heirs. I understand Thornberry’s interest in repealing the estate tax.

Here’s a bit more from Waldman: “According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, ‘In 2013, the most recent year for which final numbers are available, there were 2.6 million deaths in the United States, and 4,700 estate tax returns reporting some tax liability were filed. Thus, taxable estate tax returns represented approximately one-fifth of one percent of deaths in 2013.’”

One-fifth of one percent!

Is that enough of a tax to call for its outright repeal? If yes, then who benefits from it? I reckon it’s the extremely wealthy who have estates valued at far more than $5.43 million, which already is exempt from taxes. Remember?

What will be the fate of this repeal effort? If the Senate approves it as well, President Obama will veto it.


Iran nuke deal makes economic sense

Oil prices could drop by as much as $15 per barrel of crude if the Iran nuclear agreement becomes final.

Who knew this agreement could be beneficial to our pocketbooks?

This bit of news comes from the Energy Information Administration and it portends even greater savings for American motorists — such as yours truly — who are continually looking for more disposable income.

“If a comprehensive agreement that results in the lifting of Iranian oil-related sanctions is reached, then this could significantly change the … forecast for oil supply, demand, and prices,” the EIA said in a report. “However, the timing and order that sanctions could be suspended is uncertain.”

The key, of course, is the sanctions issue. Iran has a good bit of oil. The sanctions imposed by much of the world have prevented Iran from pumping and selling oil around the world. Suppose the sanctions are lifted and Iran returns to the energy-producing community of nations, thus putting more oil on the market.

Whether the sanctions get lifted in a timely manner could have an impact on the price of crude oil worldwide. The lifting of those sanctions, of course, depend entirely on Iran’s ability to comply with the agreement announced April 2 by the United States and its negotiating partners.

The framework agreement reduces Iran’s nuclear production capability significantly, with the intent of prevent the rogue nation from producing a nuclear bomb — which it has all but threatened to use against Israel. The Israelis, naturally, take those threats quite seriously — and those threats have contributed to Israel’s outright opposition to any deal with Iran.

Let us not forget that delays could come from the U.S. Congress, which comprises members who act as though they’d rather bomb Iran than talk to it.

The deal needs a chance to work. If it does, then one leading energy agency thinks oil consumers all around the world are going to reap some benefit.

What about consumers of oil?

The media and others keep reporting about the impact that the collapsing price of oil is having on the oil industry and those who work in it.

I feel for them, with their jobs on the line. It’s getting less cost-effective to explore for oil and produce it when the price falls from $100-plus per barrel to less than $50.

But what about the consumer? What about the family that is now spending considerably less for gasoline then it was a year or two ago? How about those folks who suddenly find themselves with more disposable income, money to spend on other essentials — such as, oh, food and clothing?

The recent uptick in fuel prices is now expected to revert to recent trends as the nation’s oil glut continues to grow. It’s been an amazing spectacle to watch as street-corner gasoline dealers drop prices as many as three times daily.

I’ve talked here about the “new normal” in gas pricing being elevated to heights none of us imagined when we were much younger and were spending about four bits for a gallon of gas. I remember my parents pulling up to the gas pump and telling the attendant, “I’ll take a dollar’s worth of regular.” We won’t return to those days, but we’re a lot closer to them today than we were in 2013.

It’s that result that prevents me from crying too heavily over the fortunes of those who work on the oil field pipelines or at the refineries that turn crude oil into gasoline or diesel.

My wife and I will keep driving our hybrid motor vehicle — just like millions of other Americans — and will keep working to build up that supply of fossil fuel that contributes to the plummeting price of gasoline.


What have you done for us lately, legislators?

Texas Panhandle Days is coming up.

An entourage of Texas Panhandle residents is going to travel to the state’s capital city, Austin, sit down with legislators and tell them what’s on their minds. They’re going to tell them what kind of legislation they want passed and they’ll inform our elected representatives of the results they expect to get from their efforts.

The Amarillo Chamber of Commerce puts it on. The link kinda/sorta talks about Panhandle Days’ mission.

I’ve never attended one of these events. The only way I’d ever be invited would be as a journalist covering it for my employer. I’m out of the full-time journalism game now.

So I’ll pose a two-sided question: What really and truly gets accomplished at these events and how the folks who organize measure their success?

I’ve known many individuals — from business and industry, from government, civic leaders, professional do-gooders — who’ve attended these Panhandle Days functions in Austin. They all come back and say what a “great time” they had. By “great time,” I suppose that means fellowship, consuming adult beverages and nice meals — all of that kind of thing.

But they’re not the only regional group that goes to Austin to receive the royal treatment. The Metroplex sends a delegation, as does San Antonio; Houston sends its posse to Austin; same for the Piney Woods and the Golden Triangle (where I formerly lived and worked); Coastal Bend sends a team, along with El Paso and the Permian Basin.

They all get their “days” in Austin, their time to slap a few backs, tell each other proud they are of what they’re doing and schmooze a bit with key state government movers and shakers.

They all have specific needs and interests. They’re all competing for the same pool of money to hand out. They’re all trying to get their legislators to pull strings for their interests.

Who are the big winners — and the big losers?


Mixed bag with big Xcel Energy plans

The news about downtown Amarillo hasn’t been good of late, what with the master developer hired by the city vaporizing into thin air in the span of a 24-hour day.

But it’s not all bad.

Xcel Energy announced plans to build a $42 million office building, which is the first large-scale office construction project in more than three decades.

Good news, right?

Yes. But there’s a catch.

Xcel is going to vacate the several floors it occupies at the Chase Tower, that huge 31-story skyscraper that juts out of the downtown Amarillo skyline.

I ran into my old pal Wes Reeves recently at the coffee shop on the ground floor of the Chase Tower. He made some cheeky remark about the appearance of the new structure. Actually, it looks attractive — at least to my eyes. It’ll comprise four stories and 114,000 square feet at Seventh and Buchanan. Three floors of office space will sit atop a parking garage that will hold at least 500 vehicles.

Xcel plans to move in by the spring of 2017.

I’m glad to see the activity picking up downtown.

What about the floors that will be vacated at the Chase Tower? Developers there have done a great deal to improve the appearance of that skyscraper. It’s a bustling hub of activity now. However, West Texas A&M University is moving its Amarillo campus operation of out there eventually to a new site where the Commerce Building sits.

The exit of WT and now Xcel will vacate about a dozen floors of the Chase building.

That’s an unacceptable level of darkness in a building that towers so tall over our city.


David Wallace: All hat and no cattle?

David Wallace talked a good game when he came to visit us at the newspaper.

I think it was around 2011. He was a partner in this high-dollar development company. He brought his game to Amarillo and pitched it to local civic, government and business leaders. He and his partner, Costa Bajjali, would be the “lead developers” in the city’s effort to rebuild, revive, renovate and resuscitate downtown Amarillo.

He persuaded many of us that he had the goods. He could make it happen. I recall quite vividly the crux of his statement — which I cannot quote verbatim today — that Wallace Bajjali was not in the business of failure. He didn’t make all that money, Wallace implied, by putting the screws to communities that hired him and his company.

Well, guess what? Wallace Bajjali is now history. The firm’s relationship with the city has gone kaput. The Local Government Corporation has declared the firm to be in default. Wallace and Bajjali have had a serious falling out. Wallace has disappeared. So has Bajjali. The city is left holding the bag, so to speak, on a parking garage it still intends to build — despite the absence of Wallace Bajjali as the can’t-miss master developer.

I read in the paper today that Richard Brown, the current president of the LGC, said everyone — including the media should have done a better job of vetting Wallace Bajjali. I guess Brown is trying to shed some of the responsibility for this mess-up by suggesting the media deserve some of the blame for getting entangled with this company.

But the city did lay out some dough. I understand it totals about $1 million. For that kind of money, I think the public deserves an explanation on what in the world happened to this one-time supposedly fail-safe partnership.

I know we can’t force Wallace or Bajjali to spill the beans on each other. But as a taxpayer and as a one-time member of the media who was sold a bogus bill of goods, I’d like some answers to what went so terribly wrong.

What? Cities can't decide these things?

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has signed a law that bans cities from enacting municipal minimum-wage standards for businesses within the city.

That’s strange. I have thought Republicans, such as Fallin, were categorically opposed to what they call “government overreach,” that local control should trump bigger-government control whenever possible?

Oklahoma cities, like cities in all the other states, do have this thing called “home rule charter” form government. I believe that enables cities to set the rules inside their corporate limits. Do I have that wrong?

Gov. Fallin’s signature on the bill now disallows cities from making that call.

It reminds me a bit of the Texas statute that used to prohibit cities from deploying red-light cameras if city officials perceived a problem with people running red lights, causing accidents and putting local residents in danger. That law has been amended and some cities — such as Amarillo — are using the cameras to catch those who run through red lights.

Those who support the Oklahoma minimum-wage ban say it “levels the playing field” for all cities. A GOP state representative said, “An artificial raise in the minimum wage could derail local economies in a matter of months. This is a fair measure for consumers, workers and small business owners.”

Sure thing. But if business owners agree that the $7.25 hourly wage is too low and are willing to pay more, don’t they have the right to do so if the city where they operate grants them permission?

Local control, man. Local control.

I thought that was preferable to patronizing Big Government.