Category Archives: local news

Civic Center renovation? Absolutely! It needs it!

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!

A new Civic Center in the works

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.

This ‘life experience’ will last forever

I am not inclined to publish blog posts such as what I am about to post today, but given that I note that High Plains Blogger includes “life experience” among its topics, I thought I would share this experience with you.

It goes like this.

I had just returned from the Army the previous summer of 1970. I enrolled in college, wanting to restart the civilian life that was interrupted by induction into the military two years earlier, and which included a tour in Vietnam.

One day I was sitting in the student union, taking a break from my studies. Then I saw this girl. I decided in that moment that I wanted to meet this young woman. As luck would have it, that opportunity presented itself in short order.

We found ourselves sitting at a table with a mutual acquaintance. He amused us both. We made eye contact, winking and chuckling at the stories this fellow was telling.

I introduced myself. She did as well. We liked each other right away.

We dated for a time. Our relationship matured and developed rapidly. It evolved quickly into a loving relationship. Then we decided to get married. The marriage occurred on Sept. 4, 1971 in a small Presbyterian Church in southeast Portland, Ore.

The preacher who married us told us the ceremony would take 22 minutes. It was — dare I say it — the quickest 22 minutes of my life. 

Just like that, we were husband and wife. Our sons would come along soon.

It has been the greatest ride imaginable. Neither of us could have imagined the places we would see, the things we would do, the path our combined life would take.

It all happened 48 years ago.

What is the life experience I learned? I tell young men a simple fact, which is that you shouldn’t go looking for the girl of your dreams. She will appear when you least expect it.

I am living, breathing proof of that fundamental truth.

Happy anniversary, Kathy Anne.

Sod Poodles still packin’ ’em in

I need not wax too gloriously about this next item, so I’ll keep it brief.

That Texas League baseball team that calls Amarillo home has drawn more than 400,000 fans to its Hodgetown ballpark in its initial season in the Texas Panhandle.

They won another game Friday night at the downtown Amarillo ballpark. The Sod Poodles are heading for the playoffs, having won the first half crown; they’re on track to win the second half title as well.

I am immensely proud of the Sod Poodles’ success. I am equally proud of how Amarillo’s baseball community has filled Hodgetown’s seats during the team’s maiden season.

What’s in store for the future? Well, I figure the marketing geniuses who brought the team from San Antonio to Amarillo will need to figure out a way to capitalize on the team’s success this year … and make it shine even brighter in the seasons to come.

Well done, folks.

First season winding down; looks like Sod Poodles will stick

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — We’re on the road, visiting briefly a city with a curious link to the Amarillo Sod Poodles, a AA minor-league baseball franchise that is completing its initial season.

You see, Colorado Springs used to be home to a AAA baseball franchise, but that franchise has moved to San Antonio; therefore, that meant the San Antonio Missions had to find a new place to play hardball.

They moved to Amarillo. The Texas Panhandle city had offered substantial financial and  tax inducements to bring the team there.

Then they had to build a ballpark. The city selected a site downtown, across the street from City Hall. The decision required the relocation of the Coca-Cola distribution center to a site near Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

The Sod Poodles, which is the name chosen, won the Texas League’s South Division title in the season’s first half. They’re trying to wrap up the division’s second half title.

All told, I’d say the Sod Poodles have enjoyed a marvelous initial season. They’re playing before large crowds at a ballpark named Hodgetown in honor of former Mayor Jerry Hodge and his wife, Margaret; they are leading proponent of downtown revival and they lobbied hard for the Missions to move to the Panhandle. The postseason playoffs are just around the corner.

Not a bad start to a new era of baseball in Amarillo, Texas.

DMV: Legislature’s next big project?

Texas state Rep. Scott Sanford came to our Rotary Club in McKinney the other morning to provide an update on the accomplishments of the 2019 Legislature.

Then he took a question from the audience about an issue that has been in the news of late in North Texas: insufferably long lines at Department of Motor Vehicles offices.

What is the Legislature going to do about that? How do Texans avoid having to wait in line for hours on end to get a new driver’s license or to do any kind of business at DMV?

Sanford, a McKinney Republican, didn’t have a quick-and-easy answer. He is acutely aware of the problems that have plagued Collin County DMV offices.

News reports in recent days, noting the 100-degree temperatures logged all across the state this summer, told of people waiting six or seven hours. Some of them waited until the DMV office closed, denying them the chance to get finish their business at the state office.

I’ll mention Collin County because it’s where I live. It’s also a rapidly growing part of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. The county’s population sits at right at 1 million residents. DMV needs to do a much better job of responding to residents’ needs; that’s what I have heard in our brief time living there.

It’s the kind of question that confronted Rep. Sanford. He couldn’t provide much assurance that relief is on the way.

My hope is that he takes those concerns with him to the 2021 Legislature, presuming of course that he gets re-elected next year. My sense is that DMV should be high on lawmakers’ to-do list when they return to work.

Happy Trails, Part 166: Avoiding a catasrophe

I thought originally I would keep these next few thoughts to myself. Then I changed my mind, which I am entitled to do.

They involve a near-catastrophe on U.S. 287 just west of Wichita Falls, Texas.

We were tooling along the highway per our normal speed of around 60 mph; we never take our pickup/fifth wheel assembly to the posted speed limit of 75 mph. We also are quite aware of the distance we should keep between our truck and the traffic ahead of us.

So … we’re on our way to Amarillo, having been told earlier in the morning that wildfires had closed Copper Creek State Park, where we intended to spend the night before tooling into the Big A.

Traffic was moving along nicely. We approached a rise in the highway. Then, in an instant — and a frightening instant at that! — we saw a car that had just crashed; it was facing the wrong way on the highway.

What does one do when he spots something like that, with traffic in the other lane? I’ll tell you what I did. I slammed on the brakes! Hard! I stood on ’em!

The truck by itself would have stopped quickly. Not this time! We were hauling our fifth wheel, which weighs, oh, several thousand pounds. The truck would not stop!

I kept maximum pressure on the brakes … until we brought it to a full stop — about five to six feet from the driver’s side door of the car that had just crashed on the highway.

My wife and I sat there for seemingly forever. I had to catch my breath, as did my poor wife. The young man in the car in front of us appeared dazed from the impact he had endured. His vehicle’s air bags had deployed and I reckon he was jarred by the device designed to save his life.

I rolled down the window and asked him if he was all right. He said he was “just waking up.” He looked for all the world as if he didn’t know where he was at that moment.

At this moment, I cannot recall how much distance we had to bring the truck/fifth wheel assembly to a complete stop. Nor can I tell you precisely how I managed to get our rig around this fellow without tipping the fifth wheel; the highway sloped sharply to our right. Other motorists were stopping to aid the young man. We had our hands full and our minds focused intently on one thing only: bringing our truck to a stop.

I do hope he’s all right.

I am happy to report two things coming from this near-miss. One is that the fifth wheel trailer brakes worked perfectly; the other is that the entire assembly stayed in proper alignment as we sought desperately to avoid crashing into this young motorist’s vehicle.

I do not need to be petrified any more than I was in those perilous few seconds once we spotted trouble.

We now shall sally forth. With caution.

Happy Trails, Part 165: RV becomes interchangeable

Our fellow retirees perhaps have fielded the same question that we get on occasion: How do you like traveling in a recreational vehicle?

My wife has come up with the perfect answer: It becomes whatever we want it to be. She then will explain how our fifth wheel becomes our “home” by the lake, or in the mountains, or on the beach. It’s interchangeable. It becomes wherever our travels take us.

When we lived in Amarillo, we had many friends who would talk of spending weekends at their “mountain cabin.” They drive off to Angel Fire, or Red River, or Taos, or Santa Fe. During our years in Beaumont, our friends would love to escape for a weekend at Crystal Beach, or Bolivar Peninsula.

Now that we are foot loose and able to do what we want, when we want we are able to enjoy the unique ambience that all those places bring.

It’s easy to do. We just hook up our fifth wheel to the hitch in the pickup we named Big Jake, grab a few groceries and a few changes of clothes … and then we hit the road.

RV travel has its assorted challenges, to be sure. You can guess what they present: mechanical issues, inclement weather, traffic delays … all those sorts of things. We deal with them as they present themselves.

It also brings much joy and relaxation.

Among the matters that bring smiles to our faces is the knowledge that we can enjoy the vast variety of nature’s splendor that awaits us as we travel along the open road.

Will this highway work ever end … ever?

AMARILLO, Texas — OK, we haven’t been away all that long from the city we called home for more than two decades.

However, upon our return for a brief visit, my wife and I had hoped to see some tangible progress in the seemingly interminable construction that is ongoing along Interstate 40.

Silly us.

I am acutely aware that civil engineers can see progress. I don’t want to speak ill of the hardworking construction crews, particularly as they toil in 100-degree and the incessant wind that rips across the Panhandle; so I won’t speak ill of them.

Our drive along I-40 from near Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport, though, was fraught with discomfort as we pulled our fifth wheel RV westward toward the RV park where we will spend the next couple of nights.

These heavy-duty jobs send my mind into flights of fantasy. I keep trying to picture in my mind’s eye what the finished interstate highway will look like once it’s done. I had hoped to get a clear vision of what awaits when we arrived in Amarillo. Sadly, I am not there … yet!

Hey, maybe I need to see some renderings. Or some detailed plans.

We’ll depart Amarillo soon for points north and west. We don’t know when we’ll return. I fully expect, though, to hear plenty of griping and moaning from our former neighbors here as they seek to weave their way through the construction barrels along the narrowed construction lanes.

I’ve preached patience before about these projects. The payoff will be a highway that presumably will be safer, roomier and more conducive to safe highway travel.

I’m just waiting — with my own brand of patience — to see greater steps toward its conclusion.

Time for answers in young man’s death

Thomas Kelly Brown’s loved ones — his family and his friends throughout Hemphill County, Texas — need more than what they apparently got from the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

The AG says Brown, who disappeared on Thanksgiving 2018, was not the victim of “foul play.” Never mind that his body was found far removed from his laptop and his backpack. As others have noted already, this case has “foul play” screaming from it.

Yet the AG says there was no “evidence” that foul play occurred.
OK, so how did this young man die? Shouldn’t the attorney general, who along with the Texas Rangers and Hemphill County authorities searched for clues surrounding the young Canadian High School senior’s disappearance and death, provide some form of closure to the young man’s death?

Hey, these aren’t just a gaggle of nosy Noras wanting to satisfy their idle curiosity. They have a serious emotional stake in this matter.

They are entitled to a full explanation into how the authorities reached what many of us believe is a faulty conclusion.

Canadian teen’s loved ones get punched in the gut?

I will have to step aside for any detailed analysis of what the Texas Attorney General’s Office has concluded about the mysterious and heartbreaking death of a Canadian High School senior, Thomas Kelly Brown.

The expert on this tragedy is my friend and former colleague Jon Mark Beilue, who wonders aloud whether how in the world the AG’s office could find that “there is no evidence that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that foul play led to the death of Thomas Kelly Brown.”

He disappeared on Thanksgiving Day 2018. His body was discovered near Lake Marvin. His laptop and other personal belongings were found miles away from where police found Brown’s body.

So … the AG’s office says that Brown did not die as a result of someone doing him harm. No evidence? Good … grief!

As Jon Mark Beilue said in his social media post: These findings go “beyond the pale.”

The powers that be — the AG’s office, the Texas Rangers, the Hemphill County Sheriff’s Office — all need to come up with some plausible explanation for what happened to this young man.

Here is Beilue’s rant. It’s worth your time to read it:

“…There is no evidence that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that foul play led to the death of Thomas Kelly Brown…”

You mean except for the fact that his body was found near Lake Marvin and his vehicle was found miles away with video evidence of it being driven that night, or that his backpack and laptop computer were found several more miles away?

Who wrote this, the Attorney General’s office of Texas or Deputy Barney Fife? Unfortunately, it was the former in an announcement on Wednesday.

As someone while with the Globe-News who wrote multiple stories on Thomas Brown, the Canadian senior who suddenly went missing in the early hours of Thanksgiving 2016, this is beyond the pale.

It is absolutely unconscionable that a reasonable person would not conclude that foul play was involved. This whole case has all but screamed of foul play since the very murky outset. Investigators said time and again they knew it to be foul play, but could not bring sufficient evidence.

Suppose the powers that be go ahead and tell the public exactly why a reasonable person should not conclude foul play was involved? Or is this just a way of throwing up your hands and saying we can’t solve it.

I feel for those closest to Brown in all of this. I can’t imagine what this latest bit of news brings. I could go on and on, but just leave it at this. To paraphrase the AG report: “Any reasonable person can conclude that someone got away with murder in Hemphill County in the death of Thomas Kelly Brown.”

Thomas Brown’s family and all of those who loved him have been kicked squarely in the gut.