Category Archives: business news

Texas Tech announces vet school plan for Amarillo

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When he was chancellor of the Texas Tech University System, Kent Hance ventured to Amarillo and made a fascinating pronouncement.

Amarillo, he said, is ready to support a full-fledged medical school campus, rather than a campus for upperclassmen and women — as it does now.

It would require community support to make it happen, Hance said. He went back to Texas Tech’s “mother ship campus” in Lubbock and the subject has been pretty much dormant ever since.

Then this happened today: The current chancellor, Bob Duncan, ventured north to Amarillo and announced concrete plans to develop a college of veterinary medicine right here.

OK, so Texas Tech isn’t yet announcing a plan for an expanded health sciences operation here, but the veterinary school announcement is pretty darn big.

Reports have been circulating for the past few days. Texas Tech is aiming to serve a significant audience by bringing such an academic institution to Amarillo. The city sits in the heart of some of the richest agricultural land in the nation. Rural residents own lots of animals — large and small — that need medical attention.

The veterinary school would be poised to train “animal doctors” to care for these patients.

Chancellor Duncan has made a significant pledge to the Amarillo region with today’s announcement and has pledged to deepen Texas Tech University’s footprint in the Panhandle, which by itself is going to bring a major economic development boost to the region.

 

Construction crane: sign of downtown progress

amarillo downtown

There used to be a time when I ventured into downtown Amarillo daily.

I worked there full time. I would see the same sights as I drove toward my place of employment. When you see the same things each day you don’t always notice changes while they’re occurring.

These days I get downtown far less frequently. It’s usually once per week to attend a Rotary Club meeting at the Chase Tower.

Those downtown sojourns, though, are producing a visual treat for me. I’m noticing the changes more readily. I cannot say I notice them week over week, but I do sense some serious changes — for the better — in our downtown district.

The most obvious change has been the sight of that construction crane over a major project going up on Buchanan Street. It’s the new Xcel Energy office complex. They’ve laid the foundation and have begun framing the multi-story structure. Xcel will move into the building in 2017.

OK, there’s more.

As I drive down Polk Street, I get the sense of more activity on what used to be the city’s “main drag.” It’s nothing I can define point by point. It’s just a feeling in my gut.

The last time I saw Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner, I told her how proud I am of the courthouse complex renovation. She’s clearly proud of it, too. And she should be.

The Commerce Building at Eighth and Tyler is going to be transformed into an urban branch campus for West Texas A&M University.

My anticipation is growing as well as I await the start of actual construction of the Embassy Suites hotel, where they’ve “broken ground.”

And, of course, we have this multipurpose event venue that’s now planned for construction at the site of the vacated Coca-Cola distribution complex across the street from City Hall.

I’ve long believed that any city’s future depends on the health of its downtown district. Show me a city with a dilapidated downtown and I’ll show you a city in serious decline. Believe me, I’ve seen my share as I’ve traveled through Texas over the past 31 years.

I’ve also seen cities with vibrant downtown districts that also reflect the health of their communities.

My hope for Amarillo is that the momentum I sense is increasing in its downtown district will continue and pick up speed.

That Xcel Energy construction crane is a huge start. I’m ready to see more of them.

 

Cuba opens door to business for Texans

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott could have responded differently to President Obama’s decision to restore normal relations with Cuba.

The governor could have dug in his heels and condemned the move — as many of his fellow Republicans have done — as a sop to a repressive dictatorship that has a horrible human rights record.

Instead, he chose the more pragmatic approach. He sees the move as a potentially huge boon to Texas business and industry, which is why he’s leading a large trade delegation today to the island nation.

Abbott is no dummy. He believes that Cuba presents Texas with a growing market for state-produced goods and commodities, which is why he has decided to hang his partisan hat on the rack.

A Texas A&M University study says that increased trade between Texas and Cuba could produce as much as a $43 billion total impact on the Texas economy and more than 250 permanent jobs.

The long history of frostiness between the United States and Cuba is well known. The communist government has been deemed an “enemy” of the United States. There once was a missile crisis on the island that brought the world close to a world war.

The Soviet Union has disintegrated. Cuba remains one of the few Marxist nations on Earth.

However, Cuba no longer presents a direct threat to the United States.

Instead, it presents opportunities for the U.S. government and private businesses — not to mention individual state governments and businesses — to exploit.

Go for it, Gov. Abbott.

 

Gov. Abbott sheds the dogma … and heads to Cuba

cuba

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is using his office the right way while steering away from some of the dogma we’ve been hearing from those in his party about a particular issue.

Abbott is going to Cuba next week on a mission to promote Texas-Cuba trade.

Abbott is a proud Republican. But unlike some of his GOP brethren, he is putting common sense and what I call “enlightened self-interest” ahead of posturing.

Some prominent Republican politicians — namely Texan Ted Cruz and Floridian Marco Rubio, who are running for president — have called the re-establishment of relations with Cuba virtually a pact with Satan himself. These two Cuban-Americans still seem to fear the island nation that is governed by dedicated communists.

Why, how can President Obama grant those commies any favors while they still have one of the world’s worst human-rights records? That’s part of the mantra we’ve heard from some on the far right about this sensible diplomatic initiative.

Gov. Abbott often has joined some on the far right on a whole host of topics with which to criticize the president.

Not this time. Good for him. Better still, good for the state he governs.

The Texas Tribune’s Aman Batheja reports: “Texas was once a leading exporter to Cuba in a quiet partnership that helped produce hundreds of jobs and millions in revenue for the Lone Star State. Even following the implementation of the U.S. trade embargo more than 50 years ago, the relationship continued to thrive for decades.”

That stopped in the early 1960s when the United States ended all relations with Cuba in the wake of Fidel Castro’s takeover of the island nation’s government. The deep freeze in U.S.-Cuba relations lasted through eight American presidencies; meanwhile, Fidel Castro and his brother, Raul, have remained in power.

President Obama made the right call to restore relations. The Cold War is over. Cuba presents no threat to the United States. It’s still dirt poor. Yes, it’s still run by communists, but Cuba is far less of a threat to U.S. interests than, say, the People’s Republic of China, a nation with which we’ve had relations since 1978.

Texas has a lot of goods and commodities it can sell to Cuban interests. Let me think … what can we sell them from, oh, this part of the state? Oh, how about some beef, or maybe cotton for starters?

Travel safely, governor.

 

Start thinking creatively about MPEV uses

MPEV

The cockamamie decision to merge the Amarillo minor league baseball team with the team in Grand Prairie seems to have gummed up the works in Amarillo’s planning to develop its downtown event venue.

It shouldn’t.

By definition, the place would be home to multiple uses. Hence, the name “multipurpose event venue.”

The City Council has ratified the voters’ decision to proceed with the MPEV. The ball — so to speak — is now in the hands of the Local Government Corporation, which the council created to carry out council policy.

The baseball franchise merger was announced as being for the 2016 season. The Thunderheads and the AirHogs will play 50 “home” games, with 25 of them in Amarillo and 25 in Grand Prairie. The league where the teams play said in a statement that it expects the teams to return to their home fields perhaps by 2017. We’ll see about that.

Does this mean the MPEV is a non-starter, that the ballpark element no longer will be applicable? Not in the least.

Multipurpose, remember?

The $32 million venue will have 4,500 or so permanent seats. That’s enough to accommodate a well-run Class AA baseball team. Once they break ground on the venue, my hope would be that the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention and Visitors Council, Center City, Downtown Amarillo Inc., City Hall’s senior administrative staff and anyone else with a bright idea or two start a coordinated marketing effort to bring that franchise to Amarillo.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of other opportunities to use that complex. There has been talk of “family nights,” of church-related events, downtown-related parties and perhaps even outdoor concerts occurring at the MPEV.

Are any of these out of the question? Not by a long shot.

Like a lot of other Amarillo resident, I also am scratching my head over this franchise-combo idea. On the surface it looks for all the world like a loser for both cities. To be candid, I don’t know how this is going to work well.

The goofiness of this decision, though, need not preclude the attractiveness of a new sports/entertainment venue in downtown Amarillo. If it means doing business with another league and another baseball franchise, then that’s fine.

The task, though, rests with the marketing experts who can make it work.

 

 

MPEV might need a new name

amarillo hotel

Dan Quandt isn’t fond of the acronym “MPEV.”

He runs the Amarillo Convention and Visitors Council and, quite naturally, is glad the proposed $32 million multipurpose event venue received the voters’ endorsement earlier this month.

But as he told the Rotary Club of Amarillo this afternoon, he wishes city planners could have come up with a different name for the facility to be built across Seventh Avenue from City Hall.

But, hey, as long as we’re stuck with the acronym, Quandt suggested it stand for “multiple people entering our vicinity.”

Therein lies his belief in the MPEV. It’s going to bring people here. They’re going to spend money, generating sales tax revenue and additional revenue from the city’s hotel occupancy tax — aka the HOT.

He noted that 60 percent of the city’s revenue comes from sales tax collections — and a good portion of that revenue comes from those who don’t live here. They are traveling through the city or are spending a night or perhaps longer here.

Quandt also noted something most Amarillo residents likely don’t know. It is that Amarillo has as many hotel rooms as Arlington, a city of nearly 400,000 residents sitting, as Quandt said, “in the heart of the Metroplex.” He also pointed out that Arlington is home to the Texas Rangers and a “professional football team that plays there”; he must not be a Dallas Cowboys fan. Whatever …

Amarillo’s fortunes are bound to improve with construction of the MPEV and the completion of the new Embassy Suites hotel across the street from the Civic Center, which he said is in line eventually for some “long-awaited” improvements and expansion.

One would expect Quandt to speak well of the MPEV and the city’s downtown future. He’s in the business of promoting the city.

However, from where I stand, Quandt and other city boosters are going to have quite a bit more material with which to lure visitors to our city.

 

City makes important move forward with MPEV

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Amarillo’s City Council seems to have been stricken with a sudden case of sanity.

Word is out that the council, meeting tonight, voted unanimously to move ahead with a $32 million multipurpose event venue that drew the endorsement of most city voters in a Nov. 3 citywide referendum.

Has hell frozen over … or what?

Here’s the deal. The council comprises three new members who had opposed the MPEV in its current form — which includes a ballpark. The three men constitute a majority on the five-member council.

But the City Council really had no choice but to ratify the results of what was officially a non-binding vote. To do otherwise would invite serious political retribution.

So, what happens now?

As I understand it, the council now hands off to the Local Government Corp., which is appointed by the council to implement the policy decisions handed down by the council.

There’s been some concern expressed about the LGC’s capability to dot the i’s and cross the t’s needed to ensure that the MPEV gets built, that it is done in accordance with sound practices and can be done at or under budget.

I am heartened, though, to learn that the City Council has managed to rally as a united body behind the will of those who took time earlier this month to support the MPEV — and the ballpark that goes with it.

Let’s keep moving forward. Shall we?

MPEV drama might just be getting started

ballpark

It had been my hope that a citywide election that decided the fate of a multipurpose event venue would draw the curtain down on the drama that preceded it.

Silly me.

I’m hearing some street talk that the “fun” is just beginning.

On Nov. 3, voters approved a non-binding referendum that called for construction of the MPEV, which includes a ballpark, at an estimated cost of $32 million.

A majority of City Council members sent the issue to the ballot hoping — I am certain — that voters would reject it. Well, they didn’t.

So, will the council march ahead and follow the will of the majority that spoke in favor of this project?

Quite possibly … not in the near future.

The Local Government Corporation — which is tasked with implementing city policy regarding downtown initiatives — has a new lineup. Most of the LGC comprises individuals who are aligned with the council majority; one of the new LGC members happens to be City Councilman Randy Burkett, who’s arguably the most vocal anti-MPEV spokesman on that body.

Complicating the issue is the absence of three critical senior city administrator who should be playing a key advisory role in counseling the council and the LGC. City Manager Jarrett Atkinson soon will be gone; the assistant city manager’s office has been vacant since the retirement of Vicky Covey; City Attorney Marcus Norris quit and now is working for a large private law firm in Amarillo.

Who’s on board to advise the council and the LGC? Who is there to prepare requests for proposals to demolish the old Coke distribution center that sits on the property that eventually — maybe — will include the MPEV?

How is the city going to draft plans? And will those plans be completed by architects who can keep the costs somewhere near the price tag that voters approved earlier this month? Suppose the price tag comes in at, say, $50 million. Do the City Council and the LGC then say, “Dadgum, we can’t build it at that price”?

The city has made a tremendous emotional commitment to rebuilding, revamping and rehabilitating its downtown district. The effort — contrary to what critics have alleged — been done in a vacuum. The public has been brought along the entire way.

The individuals who comprise the City Council majority, though, sought to put the brakes on that effort with this referendum.

It is my fervent hope that the election we’ve just completed wasn’t a waste of time, effort and — oh yes — public money.

OK, so  the election didn’t produce a smashing mandate. However, it was enough of a mandate — meaning a clear majority of those who voted — to keep the process moving forward.

 

Keystone decision makes sense

Keystone-Pipeline

Politicians’ positions can “evolve,” yes?

That means bloggers can change their mind, too, I reckon.

So it has happened with the Keystone XL pipeline. I once blogged in support of the notion of running the pipeline from Canada, through the heart of the Great Plains to the Texas coast.

The price of gasoline was skyrocketing. We needed some way to put more fossil fuel into the international market, I said back then.

What has happened? Jobs came back. Oil prices fell sharply. So did the price of gasoline.

The need for the pipeline? Well, it’s no longer compelling.

President Obama said “no” to the pipeline this week. The fallout has been reduced significantly because of economic and environmental factors that have turned in our nation’s favor.

I now believe the president’s rejection of Keystone makes sense.

The president nixed Keystone because it wouldn’t help the U.S. consumer market, given that the oil would be refined here and then shipped offshore to … wherever.

Plus, there is that environmental concern about possible spillage and leaks from a pipeline that would coarse through nearly 2,000 miles of U.S. territory. Those things do happen, you know. The damage is significant.

Oh, and the jobs it would create? They now appear to have been minimized because private-sector job creation has been heating up nicely over the course of the past half-dozen years.

So, good bye to Keystone.

Sure, our Canadian friends are unhappy. So are some refiners on the Texas Gulf Coast.

The rest of us? Well, I think we’ll be all right without building the Keystone XL.

 

Down to the wire with the MPEV

amarillo MPEV

This conversation occurred today between yours truly and someone I know who’s in the commercial real estate business.

I wasn’t taking notes. I did not tell the individual I would post this commentary on High Plains Blogger. So, with that I’ll protect his identity.

As has been the case with many folks I know who are involved at some level with the municipal election that’s coming up Tuesday, the question comes to me regarding the $32 million multipurpose event venue proposed for downtown Amarillo: How do you think the election is going to go?

I told my friend the same thing I’ve told others who’ve asked me the same question: I have no idea.

Then our conversation went something like this:

Me: I am not very good at predicting these things. I tend to speak more from the heart than from the head. My heart wants the MPEV to be endorsed. My head, well … it’s telling me something else might happen tomorrow.

Friend: Me, too. What do you think of the turnout for early voting?

Me: Again, I don’t know. My gut tells me that the big early vote turnout means those who otherwise might sit the election out have been motivated to vote. Who’s doing the motivating? My sense is that it’s the pro-MPEV side that’s getting the message out. They seem to have the momentum.

Aw, heck, I don’t even know what I’m talking about.

Friend: (Laughter). Yeah, you do. But you know what? I’ve learned over many years that no matter what the voters in Amarillo decide, we’re going to be all right. It’ll turn out the right way for us. We find a way to get through whatever issue of the moment is driving the discussion.

I’m not suggesting my head is predicting a defeat for the MPEV. My noggin instead is telling me to corral the heart talk, rein it in just a bit.

I’ll go with that … while still hoping that my heart has been telling me the truth all along.