Tag Archives: AEDC

Vet school plan ‘coming together’

The late actor George Peppard once portrayed a TV character, Hannibal Smith, on the series “The A-Team,” who was fond of saying he loved it “when a plan comes together.”

Well, ladies and gents, a Texas Tech University plan is coming together for Amarillo and the rest of the Texas Panhandle.

The Texas Tech Board of Regents has authorized Tech President Lawrence Schovanec to execute an agreement with the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation sets aside as much as $69 million to help finance construction of a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo.

Is that cool? Or what? Of course it is!

AEDC delivered a monumental pledge to Texas Tech to help move the vet school program forward. Tech is planning to build a vet school in Amarillo that will cost an estimated $90 million. It will be located near Tech’s existing campuses near the medical center complex in west Amarillo.

This is huge deal for Amarillo. And for Tech. And for the future of large-animal veterinary medicine in the Texas Panhandle.

The project ran into some resistance from another university system, Texas A&M, where its leaders didn’t want Tech to proceed. A&M has the state’s only school of veterinary medicine and I suppose they wanted to keep its monopoly on that form of higher education.

Texas, though, is a large and diverse enough state to accommodate more than a single school of veterinary medicine. Thus, Tech’s plan is a good fit for Texas, not to mention for the Panhandle.

As the Amarillo Globe-News reported about the May 8 decision by the Amarillo City Council to proceed with the project: “This investment by the EDC ensures the vet school will happen and also challenges industry and community partners to join in the success of making this vet school happen,” Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson said at the time. “The timing of Amarillo’s investment before the legislative appropriations request will increase the momentum of private fundraising and hopefully assist the legislative funding request. Funding for the project will come from annual tax revenues, which is sales tax, recognized by the EDC. The estimated annual economic impact for the veterinary school of medicine will be $76 million annually to Amarillo.”

Yep, a huge plan is coming together. Hannibal Smith would be proud.

AEDC keeps earning its spurs

Amarillo has just witnessed yet another example of the wisdom its voters exhibited in 1989 when they approved the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation.

AEDC has pledged $69 million to Texas Tech University as an inducement for the construction of a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo.

For the past 29 years, AEDC has had its share of successes of varying degrees of significance. Has it batted a thousand? No. There have been some misfires. But the Tech vet school initiative is a big deal that over time is going to rank up there with another huge catch that AEDC managed to reel in.

I refer to the Bell/Textron aircraft assembly operation along Airport Boulevard, next to Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. AEDC kicked in about $45 million in 1998 to bring Bell back to Amarillo from Fort Worth.

Critics of that initiative bitched out loud about it. But the funding mechanism that AEDC uses was put to good use when Bell decided to build the assembly plant where it puts together the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft; the Bell operation has expanded as well, with work on various military helicopters.

AEDC collects money from a half-cent sales tax derived from the purchase of goods and services. Over many years, AEDC has built a significant fund that it invests to allow it to grow and which AEDC then uses to lure prospective businesses to Amarillo — and to the greater Panhandle region.

The Hilmar Cheese project is another AEDC project that has paid off handsomely for the region. Yes, the plant is in Dalhart and AEDC’s involvement in granting public money did attract some negative response. Then-AEDC head Buzz David dismissed the criticism, noting correctly that the jobs created by the cheese operation would ripple across the Panhandle and, yes, into Amarillo. And they have.

Amarillo voters delivered a visionary endorsement at a time when the city — indeed, the region and the state — were going through a difficult economic period. The late 1980s was an unhappy period in Amarillo, but the creation of AEDC perhaps demonstrated a community’s need to roll the dice on a new endeavor that at the time presented only the promise of a better day.

That promise has been delivered.

Texas Tech vet school? Call it a ‘done deal’

You now may say that Texas Tech University’s plans to build a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo is a done deal.

The Amarillo City Council’s decision Tuesday to sign off on a $69 million pledge to Tech puts the city’s seal of approval on a plan that the university says will generate tens of millions of dollars annually to the Panhandle economy.

It also will educate hundreds of veterinarians who will care for animals vital to the region’s lifeblood.

Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, along with a charitable trust, stepped up to donate land and to guarantee as much as $69 million for the $90 million project.

This, I submit, is a big day for Amarillo’s future growth and prosperity.

Do you remember the push back that Tech got from a competitor, Texas A&M University, which at this moment operates the only veterinary medical school in Texas? It appears that A&M, led by Chancellor John Sharp, has relented. Sharp had expressed opposition to Tech’s desire to build a vet school.

To my reckoning, Sharp and the A&M hierarchy never made the case that Texas couldn’t possibly play host to two schools of veterinary medicine. This is a big state, full of aspiring students who want to work for their communities. Texas Tech has now given a segment of them a chance to do exactly that.

Tech had plenty of help, from AEDC and from the family of Amarillo philanthropist Mary Emeny, which donated the land where Tech will build the school.

As the Amarillo Globe-News has reported: “This investment by the EDC ensures the vet school will happen and also challenges industry and community partners to join in the success of making this vet school happen,” Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson said. “The timing of Amarillo’s investment before the legislative appropriations request will increase the momentum of private fundraising and hopefully assist the legislative funding request. Funding for the project will come from annual tax revenues, which is sales tax, recognized by the EDC. The estimated annual economic impact for the veterinary school of medicine will be $76 million annually to Amarillo.”

I am willing to bet real American money that “industry and community partners” will welcome Tech’s expanded presence in the Texas Panhandle.

AEDC steps up … big time

If Amarillo manages to reel in a project being pitched by Texas Tech University, it can possibly look at its economic development arm as a big reason for the success that will follow.

Texas Tech wants to build a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo; it would be the second such school in all of Texas, the other one being run by Texas A&M University.

The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation has ponied up $69 million to incentivize Tech even further to build the vet school in Amarillo. Moreover, a significant land donation made possible by the family of Mary Emeny has sweetened the pot even more for Texas Tech.

This is precisely the kind of project that AEDC has helped bring to Amarillo since its creation in 1989. Voters then approved creation of AEDC, which collects a half-cent of sales tax revenue generated in Amarillo and uses it for job-creation projects.

Without question, AEDC’s biggest success to date is the Bell/Textron aircraft assembly project next to Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. In the late 1990s, AEDC came up with a $45 million inducement that lured Bell/Textron from Fort Worth to Amarillo and … the rest is history.

The Texas Tech vet school is aimed at educating Panhandle residents to learn a profession of untold value to communities throughout the region. Veterinarians could remain in the Panhandle to care for the livestock that populate our region’s ranches and which fuel the agricultural economy.

AEDC has stepped up in a major way once again for the city and the region. Its contribution will be augmented by private donations that local business, civic and political leaders are gathering.

And just as the Texas Tech School of Pharmacy has borne plenty of economic efruit for the region, so would the school of veterinary medicine, which has gone from “possibly,” to “probably” and is on its way to “likely” coming to Amarillo.

Is a vet school on its way? Maybe? Possibly?

I don’t rely on my trick knee as much as I did in the old days. It’s led me astray too many times, such as when its throbbing told me Hillary Rodham Clinton would be elected president of the United States in 2016.

It’s throbbing yet again. The source of the pulse happens to be a possible — or perhaps it’s now probable — school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo.

Texas Tech University wants to build a vet school in the Panhandle. It already has a pharmacy school and a health sciences center in Amarillo. A vet school could add a huge new rung on Tech’s educational ladder in the Panhandle.

We might be witnessing the tangible benefits of having an economic development corporation at work on behalf of Amarillo. The Amarillo EDC is expected to step it up Tuesday in its effort to persuade Tech to build the veterinary medicine school here. The project is expected to cost about $90 million.

What’s more, the Mariposa Village Community Land Trust has donated the land for the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine. That, dear reader, is a huge development.

The Amarillo City Council is expected to make some announcements soon, possibly Tuesday, about the the Texas Tech project. I’ll wait along with the rest of the community that is interested — and supportive — of Tech’s possible new academic addition to the Texas Panhandle.

Meanwhile, my ol’ trick knee keeps on throbbing.

Downtown health: key to cities’ well-being

Gary Jennings returned to Amarillo years ago from the Texas Gulf Coast and then plunged into a project he knew would consume much of his time and energy.

It has been worth all of it. And then some.

He has turned a one-time dilapidated structure on the edges of downtown Amarillo into a showpiece. He owns the Firestone Building at the corner of 10th Avenue and Tyler Street. It used to be a tire shop. It has been turned into a “niche” complex of apartments, with retail space on the ground floor.

My point in bringing Jennings up with this blog post is to relay something he told the Rotary Club of Amarillo this past week. He said that a city’s health depends largely — if not exclusively — on the health of its downtown district. He ticked off a few successful American cities and asked, rhetorically, what they had in common. The common denominator was a vibrant downtown district.

To which I wanted to shout from my seat in the crowd, “Amen, brother!” I held my tongue. Of course.

I have enjoyed watching from the peanut gallery over the past five-plus years as Amarillo’s march toward the future has progressed nicely, despite a hiccup or two along the way. I had a more-or-less front-row seat at the Amarillo Globe-News until August 2012. Then I quit the newspaper and have been viewing this progress since then from the cheap seats.

The ballpark construction is under way; an Amarillo Economic Development Corporation official told the Rotary Club that it’s “a week ahead of schedule.” I won’t quibble over how he knows such a thing this early in the project that is supposed to conclude in time for baseball in April 2019.

So much has happened downtown. It gives me hope that Amarillo is moving forward at a steady — if not accelerating — pace toward a future few of us saw more than two decades ago. I arrived here in early 1995 and, so help me, I saw few tangible signs of forward movement in the city’s downtown district.

That has changed. The hustle, bustle and sizzle along Polk Street — the one-time “main drag” — provides plenty of evidence of forward movement.

Jennings’ list of forward-thinking American communities didn’t include one that I know quite well. It’s my hometown of Portland, Ore., where I believe a once-young and innovative mayor — the since-disgraced Neil Goldschmidt — set the gold standard for urban planning.

Goldschmidt disappeared after being caught up in a hideous sex scandal a few years back. In his day, however, when he was a 30-something Portland mayor, he set his sights on redeveloping a once-moribund downtown district.

Goldschmidt decided in the early 1970s to veto a freeway project through the southeast quadrant of Portland. He said the city would instead direct its resources — meaning public money — into developing a viable mass transit system. It would create a bus system that served the downtown district. His goal? To turn downtown Portland into a destination.

Goldschmidt’s strategy worked. My hometown’s central business district thrives in a way I couldn’t possibly imagine when I was growing up there.

I cite this example as proof of what Gary Jennings said this past week. He is correct in asserting that a city’s health depends heavily on the health of its downtown district.

We don’t yet know where Amarillo, Texas is heading after the last project is finished … whenever that occurs. I remain confident in the extreme that it will be in a different and far better place than when the work began.

Randall County set to open a new shop

In just a few hours, they’re going to unlock the front door at a Texas Panhandle county complex.

It will mark the beginning of a new era.

Randall County’s new courthouse annex will open for business as the county vacates its former annex. The new site will be on Western Street and Paramount Boulevard. It will be about six times larger in terms of floor space than the other place. It will be essentially a “full-service county government operation.”

As a resident of Randall County, I am delighted that County Judge Ernie Houdashell’s hard work and hard-nosed negotiating skills have borne fruit.

The new annex will sit on a parcel that used to be home for an insurance firm. The firm went bankrupt and moved out. Houdashell set about negotiating with the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation to buy the building.

AEDC finally sold the site to the county for $2.5 million. That was nearly two years ago. The county then tore the old building apart and has turned it into a state-of-the-art government complex.

Whereas the old annex, at Georgia Street and the Canyon E-Way, comprised the tax office, a justice of the peace court and a small sheriff’s office presence, the new place is much more complete.

It will contain all of the above. It also will have a county clerk operation, a district clerk office, a county court-at-law, a second justice of the peace courtroom; the district attorney will maintain a presence there as well.

It’s full service, all right.

Randall County’s population is around 125,000 residents; it has overtaken neighboring Potter County in size.

Although the Randall County seat is in Canyon, about 80 percent of the county population resides in Amarillo, providing about 80 percent of the county’s total revenue in taxes and fees. It makes perfect sense for the annex to provide more county government services for the vast majority of the county’s taxpaying residents. It saves them drive time to Canyon and provides better service closer to home.

What happens to the old annex building? It will be taken over by the Texas Panhandle War Memorial board, which operates the memorial next to the Georgia Street complex. Houdashell told me the War Memorial board plans to use the annex as a chapel, while it continues to raise money to erect its long-planned education center next to the garden and the monuments that honor Panhandle residents who’ve fallen in battle in defense of our country.

I guess all that’s left to say is: Well done, Ern.

Enjoying a front-row seat of progress

Our new “home” across the way from Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport and the Bell Helicopter aircraft assembly plant has given me a front-row seat to an amazing display of engineering and economic progress.

My wife and I have been living at an RV park within spittin’ distance of AMA and Bell. From our living room we are able to watch jets fly in and out of the airport while also witnessing test flights of a state-of-the-art combat aircraft that is put together right here on the High Plains.

I refer, of course, to the V-22 Osprey, the notable tilt-rotor aircraft that’s seen plenty of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years. The Marine Corps has been using the bird to ferry troops and supplies on and off battlefields in both countries for, oh, about the past decade.

The Osprey hasn’t been without controversy. Many of us recall the terrible crash in Arizona that killed nearly 20 Marines on a test flight.

The Osprey, though, has been re-engineered since that crash. It has been improved. It has been modified to some degree. Today, from what I have heard, it has performed its mission well. The aircraft gives American fighting personnel quicker entrance and exit from the battlefield.

Amarillo used an interesting — and occasionally mocked — economic tool to lure Bell/Textron to the High Plains in the late 1990s. The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation offered a lot of money that it collects from sales tax revenue to Bell/Textron, which ended up receiving about $45 million in various inducements, including tax abatements and free land next to AMA.

Bell returned to Amarillo, where it once repaired and maintained Huey helicopters during the Vietnam War.

AEDC hit a home run when it lured Bell/Textron to the region. We have seen it grow over the years, expanding its mission.

I think of all this on occasion as I watch the Osprey take off and land. I recall the ridicule we heard from the Fort Worth area that lost the Bell operation, thanks to Amarillo’s aggressive and creative marketing campaign.

I also look with some pride at what this community has been able to accomplish for its local economic health as well as contributing to the nation’s vaunted military establishment.

I spoke once with a Marine pilot who was stationed in Amarillo to test-fly the Osprey earlier in its development. He mentioned to me how this aircraft was so hard to learn to fly, but once he got the hang of it, the Osprey has turned out to be a lot of fun to fly.

On occasion I think of that Marine as I watch the Osprey glide through its paces above us, and I wonder how much fun they’re having overhead.

AMA: economic lure for Amarillo

I read with some interest a story this week about the Amarillo City Council approving a contract with American Airlines that sets up direct flights between Amarillo and Phoenix, Ariz.

The non-stop flights begin in April. The contract will be for one year; American Airlines will decide at the end of that year whether to extend it depending on its profitability.

My sincere hope is that American keeps the jets in the air between AMA and PHX.

Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport has been a favored lure for the city as an economic development tool. The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation once subsidized American Airlines jet service between AMA and Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport; AEDC took a portion of the sales tax revenue it collects and paid the airline to maintain jet service.

AEDC eventually ended the subsidy. The airline dropped jet service for a brief period, but since has restored full jet service to DFW. It now will fly jets out of Amarillo to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

I’ve long touted the value of Amarillo’s air service to my friends and colleagues for as long as I have lived here. We don’t have many air carriers serving this community — American, Southwest and United. But two of those carriers, American and United, have plenty of international flights. When you depart AMA aboard either of those carriers, you are essentially just one stop away from connecting to flights that will take you anywhere on Earth.

Southwest is a highly profitable regional carrier and AMA gets service not just to Dallas Love Field, but also non-stop jet service to Las Vegas, Nev.

While much of our attention — mine included — has focused on downtown revival and on the extensive highway reconstruction along Interstates 40 and 27 as well as on Loop 335, we also can look with considerable pride at the airport that serves the Texas Panhandle.

I once spoke with Sarah Freese, the former aviation director at AMA, about the possibility of getting more carriers to serve this airport. She was hopeful at the time of attracting at least one more carrier. Freese has since moved on and I don’t know the status of the city’s effort to lure more carriers here. I hope it hasn’t withered away.

Amarillo’s airport remains a potentially big draw that will lead to the city’s brightening economic future.

Campaigning for city’s brighter future

Every now and then I get responses to my blog posts commenting on Amarillo’s progress from those who look a bit skeptically at what gets my attention.

I will post something hailing the development downtown. I like looking past the highway headaches we experience along Interstates 40 and 27. Then I get the responses from my fellow Panhandle residents who aren’t as supportive of what I see happening.

That’s their call. Just as my blog posts are my call.

I suppose it’s an unwritten policy of High Plains Blogger to offer positive commentary on Amarillo, where my wife and one of my sons and I have have lived for more than two decades.

I want the city to succeed. I have noticed a decidedly different approach from the city’s governing council regarding Amarillo’s growth and the role that municipal government is playing.

The council once operated under a policy of letting private enterprise carry the ball forward. The city took a more hands-off approach to public involvement. I assumed my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News in January 1995 and felt a decided slow-down of inertia at City Hall.

That appeared to change with the election of Debra McCartt as the city’s first female mayor. It continued through her time in the mayor’s office and was picked up by her successor, Paul Harpole. This past year, Ginger Nelson took over and seems set on continuing the city’s more proactive approach.

I fully support this form of “good government” and I will continue to use this blog as a forum to express that support.

Some of the more critical observers of Amarillo’s business activity perhaps think of this blog as a forum for a Pollyanna. If that’s the case, well, I would disagree in strong terms.

I’ve been known to toss a brick or two at local political interests when opportunities present themselves. I also have snooped around and found those opportunities hidden in places most folks cannot find.

I won’t assign nefarious motives just for the sake of stirring up trouble. To date, as I’ve watched the city move forward with downtown redevelopment and the myriad other initiatives under way throughout Amarillo, I remain in wholehearted support of what I consider to be a march toward a brighter future.