Tag Archives: AA baseball

Amarillo’s downtown no longer recognizable

I made what I consider to be a startling discovery in downtown Amarillo, Texas.

After parking my car on a lot behind the brand new Embassy Suites hotel, I walked along Fillmore Street and turned the corner onto Sixth Avenue. I glanced across the street at a row of mostly empty storefronts along a shiny new wall — which I realized after a second or two was the north face of a new parking garage.

I glanced eastward toward the Civic Center just to be sure I hadn’t become disoriented. There it was. The Civic Center restored my bearings.

The discovery? It is that downtown Amarillo bears next to zero resemblance to the district I’ve come to know during my 22 years living in this Texas Panhandle community.

The Embassy Suites is now open for business. The parking garage is finished; indeed, I saw vehicles parked inside the structure.

My reason for venturing downtown this evening — in the rain — was to attend a retirement reception for a longtime friend and source I relied on when I worked for the Amarillo Globe-News. Gary Pitner is retiring as head of the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission; I’ll have more to say about Gary in a later blog post.

My point with this post is to take note of the immense change that has occurred in downtown Amarillo — and the change that is still occurring.

Downtown Amarillo’s evolution is a highly positive event. I sort of think of it as a butterfly that emerges from some sort of cocoon. I don’t want to sound mawkish here, but that moment as I made the turn toward the Embassy Suites door also was a realization that the evolution is real.

There’s much more to come, of course. That ballpark is going to be built across the street from City Hall. They’ll take about a year to build a 4,500-seat multipurpose event venue. By April 2019, the MPEV will be done and they’ll toss out the first pitch for a AA minor-league baseball season.

I’m beginning to think when that time arrives that downtown Amarillo will be even less recognizable then that it is today.

That will be a very good thing.

How does downtown revival boost an entire city?

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson will get a chance soon to explain — I hope in some detail — an important question facing the city’s civic, business and political leaders.

How does downtown improvement ripple its benefits across the entire city of roughly 200,000 residents?

Nelson is going to deliver what’s being billed as a State of the City speech on Oct. 3 at the Civic Center Grand Plaza Ballroom. It’s a breakfast event that lasts an hour beginning at 7:30 a.m.

There has been a lot naysaying going on around Amarillo for the past, oh, half-dozen years or so ever since the city began getting serious — finally! — about reviving its downtown business/entertainment district. I keep hearing the bitching about non-downtown neighborhoods being “neglected” for the sake of downtown improvements.

The mayor, newly elected this year along with the entire City Council, has a chance to offer a serious explanation of just how downtown revival can — and will — deliver benefits to neighborhoods in all directions.

Amarillo will break ground shortly on a new downtown ballpark, which is being touted as the crown jewel of the city’s downtown revival. In April 2019, they’ll throw out the first pitch for a minor-league AA baseball game to be played at the venue. That’s not the only type of activity planned for this venue. Many folks have designs of it being a place for community events featuring music and assorted forms of entertainment; it’ll be a gathering place for folks to sell their wares.

Already the downtown area has been improved and gussied up far beyond what it was two decades. What in the world is wrong with that?

I know this only anecdotally, but my experience has told me as I’ve traveled around the country over many decades is that thriving, lively cities generally have a single thing in common: a thriving, lively downtown district. Is Amarillo a shining city on a hill — to borrow President Reagan’s phrase — devoid of problems? Of course not. The mayor will need to deal with that, too, as she talks to us.

Explaining all of this is what Mayor Nelson faces as she delivers her first State of the City speech. My hope is that this is the first of many such conversations that our city’s presiding elected official has with her constituents.

My hope, too, is that it continues well beyond the time Ginger Nelson wields the gavel at City Hall.

A glimpse of Amarillo’s future?

I acknowledge readily that I don’t get out as much as I should.

Retirement has turned me into a bit of a homebody, except when my wife and I hitch up our RV to the back of our pickup and hit the road for points hither and yon.

Today, we did venture out. We went downtown. We met our son at Amarillo’s Community Market that was up and running in front of the Chamber of Commerce building at 10th Avenue and Polk Street.

I have high hope that today we might have gotten a glimpse of Amarillo’s future. It’s one that bodes well for the city’s health.

They’re going to break ground pretty soon on that ballpark/multipurpose event venue across the street from City Hall. The MPEV will need to get done in a hurry, in time for the 2019 minor-league baseball season. They’ll toss out the first pitch in April 2019 when the city’s new AA baseball team takes the field.

What’s in store for the future of the city? The MPEV won’t just be a ballpark. The “multipurpose” element of the structure tells me they have plans to play host to events such as, oh, the Community Market and other events where folks from Amarillo and points beyond can enjoy themselves.

As we meandered around the downtown area today we noticed lots and lots and lots of construction under way. A bit north on Polk, they’ve gutted an old retail store to make room for new shops. Farther west on 10th we noticed the old Firestone structure has been gutted out, too, in anticipation of more loft dwellings.

Yes, we have that Embassy Suites hotel about to open. The parking garage is all but done.

The hundreds of folks with whom we mingled today ought to be sure to keep coming back downtown once all those projects are completed.

I’ve said before in this blog that downtown Amarillo bears little resemblance to the district my wife and I first saw when we arrived here in early 1995. Indeed, the central district on this day looks a bit more spry than it did just two or three years ago.

The not-so-good news for us is that we likely won’t be Amarillo residents when all this work is done. We plan to relocate downstate. It’s not all bad as far as we’re concerned. That RV we own travels pretty well in this direction and we intend to be frequent visitors to the city we’ve called “home” for the past two-plus decades.

We believe we got a glimpse of what lies ahead for the city’s downtown district — and we are going to look forward to seeing it come to pass.

Amarillo inches closer to a bigger league

baseball

It’s not big-league baseball.

But what the Amarillo City Council has endorsed has taken the city closer to a bigger league-brand of hardball.

The council today voted 4-0 to proceed with the pursuit of a Class AA baseball franchise that would play in the yet-to-be-built ballpark in the city’s downtown district.

http://www.newschannel10.com/story/31882848/aa-baseball-vote-passes-lgc-to-move-forward

Will it be the San Antonio Missions, a franchise that would vacate the Alamo City as it seeks to welcome a AAA franchise?

Possibly.

The council has decided to accept the more expensive price tag attached to the multipurpose event venue, which city voters endorsed with a citywide referendum this past November. The MPEV price tag was listed at $32 million on the ballot measure, but the price has increased to more than $40 million as the AA franchise became part of the community discussion.

The council’s decision instructs the Local Government Corporation to proceed with the design and construction of the ballpark. City Councilman Randy Burkett said construction won’t begin until the city has a signed contract with a franchise.

I happen to be quite pleased with this development.

The city has been jerked around by the owners of the independent franchise that is still playing its home games at the Potter County Memorial Stadium. This season, though, the Amarillo Thunderheads are going to play half of their “home” games in Grand Prairie.

That’s some commitment to Amarillo, yes? Well, no.

The AA franchise being considered most actively is affiliated with the San Diego Padres of the National League. The Padres could bring some serious professionalism to the baseball climate here.

I am gratified that the council has decided to move forward with seeking to lure a serious baseball franchise to this city.

There remains much work to do and many commitments to be collected. The LGC has been handed a huge task.

My hope is that the organization is up to the challenge that’s been delivered.

AA baseball may come to Amarillo … and that’s a bad thing?

baseball

I’ll admit to sitting in the peanut gallery these days while events swirl around Amarillo City Hall.

Thus, I am not privy to many of the details to all that is happening in our city in transition.

The news out of San Antonio, though, has piqued my curiosity about the future of Amarillo’s pending downtown project. I refer, of course, to the multipurpose event venue, aka the MPEV and/or The Ballpark.

I understand the San Antonio Missions are departing that city, which is going to welcome a little better grade of minor-league baseball. The Missions play AA ball; San Antonio is recruiting a AAA team to relocate to South Texas.

Now, as I’ve read in the local media, Amarillo is the only place the Missions are considering as a new home. Amarillo Mayor Paul Harpole has said something about the “stars lining up” to lure the Missions here.

The prize being dangled in front of that franchise? The prospect of the team playing in a shiny new ballpark downtown, next to City Hall, across the street from a new convention hotel, and just blocks from Polk Street, which is being reconfigured into an urban entertainment district.

The price tag on the MPEV/ballpark has escalated past the $32 million price tag hung on it when it went to the voters this past May in a non-binding citywide referendum. Voters said “yes” to the MPEV and plans are proceeding to develop a firm design and cost for the project.

Yet I keep reading on social media and hearing some gripes around town about the deal.

I’m trying to understand why the lure of a minor-league baseball franchise affiliated with a Major League Baseball organization is somehow a bad thing for Amarillo.

The Thunderheads — the independent team formerly based exclusively in Amarillo — is going to play half of its home games this season here and in Grand Prairie. The games they’ll play in Amarillo will take place at the rat hole/dump formerly known as the Dilla Villa next to the Tri-State Fairgrounds.

The way I see it, if the city can maneuver itself into building a first-class baseball venue downtown and then link it to an arrangement with a AA franchise that will play some good old-fashioned hardball, then it looks to me as though the city has scored a significant victory.

So, again I ask: Why is that a bad thing?