Category Archives: business news

Early vote is over; now let’s await the MPEV verdict

ballpark

Early voting is not my thing.

I prefer to vote on Election Day. But I’m delighted at what I’ve read and heard so far about the early vote turnout for next Tuesday’s big municipal election, the one that decides the fate of the ballpark that’s included in the proposed multipurpose event venue planned for downtown Amarillo.

It’ll be interesting once all the ballots are counted to learn (a) whether the ballpark fails or passes and (b) whether the total number of ballots actually produces anything resembling a “mandate” one way or the other.

Years ago, Texas made it so very easy for voters to cast their ballots early. The idea then was to boost turnout in this state, which traditionally has been quite pitiful. From my catbird seat over many years, I’ve determined that the turnout really hasn’t increased; early voting, though, simply has meant that more voters cast their ballots early rather than waiting for Election Day.

The MPEV vote might change all of that next Tuesday. That’s my hope, at least.

***

At issue is that $32 million MPEV, which includes the ballpark.

I’ve been all-in on this project since the beginning. It’s a good deal for the city on more levels than I can remember at the moment. It’s an economic development tool; it would provide entertainment opportunities; it would spur further growth downtown; it would help — along with the downtown convention hotel that’s also planned — remake the appearance and personality of the downtown district.

The campaigns mounted by both sides of this issue have been vigorous. They have told the truth — most of the time.

There’s been a bit of demagoguery from the anti-MPEV side concerning the role the one-time master developer, Wallace-Bajjali, has played in all of this. The developer vanished into thin air this past year over a dispute between the principals who owned the outfit. They parted company and one of them, David Wallace, has filed bankruptcy.

This MPEV idea, though, was conceived long before Wallace-Bajjali entered the picture, but there’s been plenty of loose talk about nefarious motives relating to the company and its association with the downtown revival effort.

I get that David Wallace proved to be “all hat and no cattle” as he sought to sell his company’s track record when he and his partner arrived on the scene. The planning and execution of this project has involved a lot of other home-grown individuals and groups who are invested deeply in this community.

***

I want the MPEV to earn the voters’ endorsement. If it doesn’t, well, we’ll have to come up with another plan … quickly!

As the campaign comes to a close, though, I remain hopeful that a significant number of Amarillo voters are going to weigh in with their ballots. Do I expect a smashing, presidential-year election-scale kind of turnout? Hardly.

My hope is that all of this discussion — and even the occasional temper tantrums from both sides of the divide — will give us something that resembles a mandate.

And that, friends, is how a democracy is supposed to work.

So … why are pledges for MPEV suites a bad thing?

MPEV

Here it comes. Some conspiracy theorists are now putting out allegations that businesses pledging money up front to use luxury suites at the proposed multipurpose event venue in downtown Amarillo are, um, buying votes.

Let’s take a breath, eh?

First, I want to make an admission. I got ahead of myself in an earlier blog post about the MPEV suites when I wrote that they’d been “sold out.” Although I noted in my blog post that no money had changed hands, the headline indicated the suites had actually been sold. My mistake.

Here’s the earlier post

Back to today’s issue at hand.

A leading opponent of the MPEV, David Kossey, wondered why the suites are being “sold” or “reserved” prior to the citywide vote on the MPEV, which is set for Nov. 3. He said that normally, the suites would be put up for the public to decide whether to purchase the suites. The implication is that businesses are pushing their way to the head of the line.

The co-chair of the pro-MPEV political organization, Vote FOR Amarillo, Paul Matney, told NewsChannel 10: “We’re finding out that businesses want to support the ballpark by committing to a suite. There’s no contract and this is not a commitment to an operator, just simply to the idea.”

So, I’ll pose this question. Why is the commitment from business interests in a venue that they want built a bad idea?

The $32 million MPEV construction will be financed with revenue bonds that the city will repay through a variety of funding sources. Hotel occupancy tax is one of them; rental revenue is another.

And, oh yes, revenue from the selling of these luxury suites is yet another payback method.

MPEV suites gobbled up

The interest expressed by business owners is what it is: a commitment to a concept they believe will benefit the city and the region. Is there some of what I like to call “enlightened self-interest”? Sure there is. They want to provide their business customers/clients with some quality entertainment. So what?

The bottom line is the bottom line. They’re helping finance an entertainment complex that its supporters believe will spur greater economic activity in the city’s downtown district.

That is a bad thing? No. It’s a very good thing.

 

 

 

Case builds for approval of MPEV

amarillo MPEV

Roger Cox is a man of strong feelings … and he possesses the ability to express them with great effectiveness.

The Amarillo lawyer has done so with an essay published in the Amarillo Globe-News. His topic: the multipurpose event venue and the ballot measure set for voters’ decision on Nov. 3.

Making the case for MPEV

Cox’s essay is on point at many levels, but the one point that resonates most clearly with me is the funding mechanism that will operate the MPEV once it’s built.

The structure would cost $32 million to build. It’s intended to include a ballpark and would be used for a variety of activities designed to attract people to the downtown district.

Cox writes: “As a landlocked city, we are what we build. People come to Amarillo not for the mountains, lakes or coastline but because of the public facilities, entertainment and other features that we and our predecessors have built.”

He notes as well that city government relies heavily on sales tax revenue to fund the services it provides residents — and visitors. The MPEV, he reckons, will generate more sales tax revenue through the goods and services purchased by visitors who come to Amarillo.

He writes: “So anything that generates sales tax, especially paid by visitors from other communities, is OK by me. Most local retailers will tell you that anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent of their business comes from out of town — ditto for sales tax. It doesn’t matter whether that money comes from Dallas or Dumas, it spends the same.”

Allow me, then, to add that those who come here from distances too far to travel in just a single day would generate additional revenue from the hotel occupancy tax that would then would be used to maintain the MPEV.

Planners have pledged until they’ve run out of breath that the MPEV, the downtown convention hotel (where officials are about to break ground) and the proposed parking garage will not result in an increase in property taxes.

There’s been a bit of trickery involved with the ballot language. The vote will decide whether to build an MPEV that includes a ballpark. If voters say “yes,” then the city moves forward; if they say “no,” then the project stops.

As Cox notes: “There is no Plan B. A negative vote sends our city back to the drawing board.”

More from Cox: “Will a baseball stadium in downtown Amarillo be a panacea? Of course not. But it is a major piece of a larger puzzle.”

I join my friend Roger Cox in endorsing this proposal.

 

DAI getting the political ‘boot’

amarillo downtown

Downtown Amarillo Inc. is becoming a political football.

I’m not sure it’s as durable as the pigskin that gets kicked around on the field of competition.

The individuals kicking DAI around are members of the Amarillo City Council. Three of those members — a majority — dislike the panel dedicated to helping improve the future and the fortunes of the city’s downtown business district.

The other two support DAI fully.

My own preference would be for DAI to remain on the books, working hand in hand with the council and business interests and seeking to move downtown’s future forward.

City Councilman Randy Burkett wants to eliminate DAI. He has said some highly critical things about it.

Councilman Mark Nair proposed the other evening for a three-month waiting period and then an evaluation of how DAI is doing its job. Mayor Paul Harpole — one of the two council members who supports DAI’s effort — said three months doesn’t give DAI enough time to do anything substantial.

But then came Elisha Demerson, who said it is folly to “cut off the head” if DAI fails “to hit the mark.”

DAI presents a valuable asset to the city’s downtown planning efforts. However, DAI foes keep bringing up the specter of the failed master developer, Wallace Bajjali, and its role in downtown development — before it vaporized.

Wallace Bajjali no longer plays a role in anything, let alone in Amarillo’s march forward.

The city will decide on Nov. 3 the future of its proposed multipurpose event venue in a non-binding referendum. It is about to break ground on the new Embassy Suites downtown convention hotel. Xcel Energy has begun building its new multi-story office complex.

Plenty of positive events are unfolding in downtown Amarillo to justify the planning that’s being done by DAI.

It need not become a political football.

 

Is Trump … a socialist?

income tax

Let’s see how this goes.

Donald Trump wants to eliminate the tax burden for individuals who earn $25,000 or less annually, and for families that earn $50,000 a year. He would allow them to pay no federal income tax — none, zero.

He wants to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 to 15 percent; wealthy Americans would get a reduction in their income tax from 39.6 percent to 25 percent.

But … he vows to eliminate hundreds of loopholes that he says in effect will generate more revenue for the government and grow the economy. Trump said his plan is going to “cost me a fortune.”

Is the leading Republican presidential candidate a socialist in the mold of, say, Barack H. Obama, who also has argued for reducing the tax burden low-income Americans?

My strong hunch is that the GOP faithful are going love this plan, as it’s coming from a Republican. When something like this comes from a Democrat, well, he’s just another wealth-distributing socialist who’s intent on “destroying the American dream.”

Uh, Mr. Trump? What about that national debt?

Trump tax plan

Fiorina: business miracle worker or misfit?

carly

Carly Fiorina is giving me fits.

I happen to think several good things about the Republican presidential candidate.

I like her stage presence. She’s a commanding individual. She’s articulate and unafraid. She holds up well when asked tough questions. She claims to be friends with several world leaders.

I believe Fiorina has acquitted herself beautifully during those two joint appearances with the other GOP candidates.

Then I run into this little thing about her business experience, specifically her tenure as head of Hewlett-Packard.

Fiorina boasts about her leadership of the computer giant. I can’t understand why.

She was forced to quit by the H-P board. Why? Board members said the company stock value had declined precipitously; earnings were down; they disagreed with her about the company’s overall performance and, finally, they disliked her refusal to delegate more authority to division heads.

Fiorina sweeps all that away.

However, I keep coming back to the fundamental question: If Fiorina is such a brilliant business mogul, why did her bosses on the Hewlett-Packard board of directors feel the need to push her out of the way?

If the only Republican woman running for president intends to stay in the game, she’s going to have to answer for that — and explain in detail how her business history at H-P doesn’t disqualify her from taking command of the world’s greatest economy.

I’m all ears, Carly, er, Ms. Fiorina.

 

State visit in peril? So what?

hacked1

Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to pay a state visit to President Obama.

He might back out if the United States punishes China over its computer hacking of U.S. companies.

My reaction? Big deal.

The possible cancellation of the state visit, that is.

Chinese hackers have been bedeviling U.S. government and business interests for too long already. The Obama administration is considering leveling some economic sanctions against the People’s Republic of China in retaliation for the hacking.

It creates “bad optics” for President Xi to visit at a time when the United States is lowering the boom on the world’s No. 2 economic power.

“The Chinese right now are getting very concerned because they understand this will create embarrassing optics around the visit for them,” said Samm Sacks, China analyst at the Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting firm, who has advised government agencies on Chinese tech policy.

While I don’t care particularly if China’s head of state cancels his visit over possible punishment, a private meeting between the Chinese leader and President Obama might be fruitful if the two leaders can have — as it’s called in diplomatic parlance — a “frank discussion” about why this hacking behavior cannot be tolerated.

Perhaps the president could ask his Chinese counterpart: What would your government’s response if the roles were reversed?

 

Lower gas prices: more positive than negative

gascosts

Did you see what I saw this morning while driving to one of my four part-time jobs?

The price of regular unleaded gasoline has dipped to less than $2 per gallon in Amarillo.

Good news, yes? Well, I think so.

Motorists such as my wife and me do not enjoying shelling out big bucks for gasoline. Our Prius hybrid has more than paid for itself in fuel efficiency. We’ll keep for as long as we possibly can. Heck, it might live me.

But I get the downside of the lower prices, particularly in states — such as Texas — that rely on oil revenues to fund things such as, oh, state government.

State Rep. Four Price, an Amarillo Republican, told the Rotary Club of Amarillo the other day that the next Texas Legislature is likely to receive some not-so-cheery news from the comptroller’s office when it convenes in January 2017. It will be that oil revenue will be down sharply from the current budget cycle and that the state likely will not have the projected revenue surplus it got when the 2015 Legislature convened.

Gas prices plummet

I get that. I also understand that $100-per-barrel oil is more profitable to pump than, say, $42-per-barrel crude — which is about what it’s drawing these days.

But you know what? I am not going to waste too much emotional energy worrying about those ancillary effects when my household is getting a significant break in its weekly expense obligation.

 

Obama got the blame … where’s the credit?

oil prices

Let’s flash back to around 2010.

Oil prices were spiking. They surpassed $100 per barrel of crude. The price of gasoline also skyrocketed. It passed $4 per gallon in some parts of the country; it got nearly that high in the Texas Panhandle.

Who got the blame? President Barack H. Obama. His congressional critics, namely the Republicans, kept hammering the president over the price spikes. Why, they just couldn’t stomach the idea of watching these gas prices heading into the stratosphere and they had to blame someone. Obama was the target.

Then something happened.

Automakers began making more fuel-efficient cars after they were bailed out partly with federal government stimulus money. Research on alternative energy sources ramped up. Other oil-producing nations’ economies began to falter, diminishing demand on fossil fuels around the world.

The price of oil today is less than $40 per barrel, less than half of where it was five years ago. The price of gasoline? Today in Amarillo, regular unleaded is being pumped at $2.26 per gallon in most stations.

Is the president getting the “blame,” let alone the credit, for any of this?

Not on your life.

How come?

 

Blue Hole: an opportunity missed?

blue hole

SANTA ROSA, N.M. — The attraction pictured here is one of the cooler places I’ve ever seen.

It’s an 80-foot hole in the ground. It is surrounded by rock. The water is about 80 to 90 feet deep. A spring feeds it and the water temperature is at a constant 64 degrees.

The Blue Hole is just off of Historic Route 66 in this tiny community about 150 or so miles from Albuquerque and about 55 miles west of Tucumcari.

My wife and I took a dip in the Blue Hole. The water is, shall we say, bracing.

The Blue Hole is known as a mecca for scuba divers. On the day we visited, we saw several classes of divers being instructed by experts. They dove deep into the hole, practicing rescue techniques. There were others, such as my wife and me, who were there just to get wet and jump into the crystal clear water from the ledges above its surface.

I came away from visiting the place wondering how a community such as Santa Rosa doesn’t capitalize on the obvious attraction that this place is to many people. We drove all along Route 66 through town and couldn’t find a single dive shop, or other specialty outlet that caters to divers who come here — presumably — from great distances away just to partake in a thrilling activity.

The marvelous natural attraction gives visitors bureau officials loads of incentive to build marketing campaigns around efforts to lure tourists here.

From my vantage point, I didn’t see any advantage being taken to cash in.

Rather odd, actually.

But it’s still quite a sight to see.