Tag Archives: Amarillo City Council

Hodgetown earns honor, sending Center City director ‘over the moon’

Beth Duke is beaming with pride … and why not?

The Amarillo Center City director nominated Hodgetown, the city’s new downtown ballpark, for recognition as the best downtown construction project in Texas. Hodgetown then got the honor.

Duke, a lifelong Amarillo resident and a big-time promoter of its downtown revival, should be proud. So should the city for this latest honor granted to the shiny new ballpark that is home to the city’s championship-winning Texas League baseball team, the Sod Poodles.

The award comes from the Texas Downtown Association. It honors the ballpark’s look, its ambience, the attraction it proved to be for baseball fans and other Texas Panhandle residents.

As Duke told the Globe-News, where she worked for more than 30 years before taking over the Center City directorship: “I think you all know how proud I am of every building and the progress we’ve made in our beautiful downtown. I nominated Hodgetown for Best New Construction in a Texas (city) of more than 50,000 people. I was so gratified to be a finalist and the night we won, I was just over the moon.”

She should be over the moon.

I have taken great joy in applauding the city’s effort to build this structure, formerly known as the “multipurpose event venue.” It is a gorgeous home field for the Sod Poodles. More than that, it is a fabulous addition to downtown’s urban landscape.

Hodgetown came to fruition after a sometimes-rocky ride. I am more than willing to acknowledge harboring a doubt or two that the city could complete the project. There was turmoil on the City Council relating to the future of what was called the MPEV. Top-level city management went through a wholesale change with resignations of key personnel, including the city manager.

Despite the occasional ruckus at City Hall, the ballpark was completed. Hodgetown opened this past spring. The Sod Poodles played some great Class AA baseball in a ballpark full of cheering of fans.

Now comes a high honor from a downtown group that bestows honors that cities can use to their marketing advantage.

Beth Duke is the perfect advocate for Amarillo’s downtown district. She is a happy woman today. I am proud of her and of the city for the steps it has taken toward rebuilding its downtown business and entertainment district.

Well done.

Might the Herring have a future, too?

The Barfield Building renovation is proceeding toward a spring opening of the one-time rotting hulk of a structure. It will be reborn as a “boutique” hotel.

By all means, downtown Amarillo, Texas, has much more work ahead of it. I am going to wonder aloud whether there might be something in the wind regarding the Herring Hotel Plaza, which sits a few blocks north of the Barfield.

This isn’t an original thought. I heard it from a little birdie/Amarillo snitch the other day, but I want to share it with y’all.

Amarillo city officials are looking around for someplace to relocate City Hall. They say they want to find an existing structure where they could move what’s left of the city administration still operating at the current City Hall into another location. Much of the administrative work is being done at the Jim Simms building, leaving City Hall with essentially a skeleton crew.

So, here’s a thought: Might there be any interest in relocating City Hall into the Herring Hotel site, along with a mixed-use development that could occupy the rest of the once-grand structure?

City officials are maintaining a code of silence on what they’re thinking, or so I have been advised. They are pondering whether to present a bond issue proposal to voters next spring that would total more than $300 million. They want to renovate the Civic Center, dress up the Santa Fe Railroad Depot and, oh yeah, relocate City Hall.

The Herring Hotel has been dark for a very long time. Its owner, a retired academician named Bob Goodrich, has sought to find a suitable developer; he has come up empty. Goodrich pays the taxes annually on the building and tries to keep it secure against trespassers and transients who seek shelter from the elements.

The Herring used to be the place to go, to see and to be seen. It played host to lavish parties and once was a first-class hotel.

Downtown Amarillo does not lack suitable locations for City Hall. I understand there’s some interest in some bank structures scattered around the downtown district.

However, would it not be a masterful public relations stroke of genius to identify a way to convert the Herring into a usable office building, combined with housing and perhaps a smattering of retail business?

I believe there remains a significant bit of nostalgia for the Herring around Amarillo. Heck, I even have changed my mind about the building. I used to believe it needed a wrecking ball; I no longer hold that belief. Surely there can be some use for the structure.

If City Hall is committed to relocating into an existing downtown structure, officials have a grand building looming a few blocks away.

Psst … hey, City Hall, be sure to tell public where you’re going

A little birdie has informed me of a development that needs some fleshing out up yonder in Amarillo, where city officials are pondering a way to present a bond issue to voters that could drastically remake the shape and location of municipal government.

At issue is a discussion over a potential $300 million-plus bond issue that would involve an expansion/renovation of the Civic Center, renovation of the Santa Fe Depot and the relocation of City Hall.

It’s the last item I want to discuss briefly.

I understand from my source that the City Council is keeping its relocation options quiet regarding where it wants to relocate City Hall. The city wants to move the government operations center into an existing structure downtown.

So, you might be wondering: Where? Which building? What’s involved in the renovation of that structure into a workable municipal complex?

City officials are looking at a possible May 2020 bond issue election date. That’s not too far out there, folks. It seems to me that the site of new City Hall would need to be known to the public that would decide whether to spend that kind of money.

I don’t know how far along the city is in its determination of where to relocate City Hall. My hope would be that once the city administration and the council decide that they all would reveal in detail to the public what it has in mind and how it intends to accomplish its goal.

The city already has peeled off a lot of its administrative functions from City Hall, moving many of those functions into the Jim Simms Administration Building. So it would appear that the city doesn’t need as much space for a new City Hall as has at its current site across the street from Hodgetown, the Sod Poodles’ ballpark.

But … first things first.

Be sure to let the public know what the council has in mind and where it intends to place it. The sooner the better.

Hodgetown stands as potential icon for city’s downtown area

The Amarillo City Council, led by Mayor Ginger Nelson, gave a State of the City presentation and, quite naturally, spoke of all the good things that have happened in Amarillo in the past year.

There are initiatives designed to improve the San Jacinto neighborhood, efforts to dress up other underserved neighborhoods around the city and, of course, the downtown renovation effort that is ongoing.

I want to extol the virtues of that ballpark they built on Buchanan Street.

Hodgetown is a shiny new entertainment venue. It served as home field for the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the new AA minor league baseball franchise that won the Texas League championship in their first year playing hardball in Amarillo.

The structure cost a bit more than it was advertised as costing when Amarillo voters approved a non-binding referendum in November 2015. It was pitched as a $32 million venue, but ended up costing more than $45 million. I believe even at the greater price Hodgetown is still investment worth making.

There’s no way to know whether the Sod Poodles will repeat their initial success with another league title in 2020. That’s not the point. Fans will show up in the thousands for games in Season No. 2, just as they did in the team’s initial season.

I was unable to attend any games; I no longer live in Amarillo.

Hodgetown, though, does stand as a tremendous addition to the city’s downtown district. I have had the pleasure of admiring the structure on return visits to Amarillo.

City officials have much to commend their service to the public. I maintain the idea that downtown revival will ripple its way throughout Amarillo. It’ll take time, but the city’s investment in downtown is bound to bring significant reward even to those neighborhoods where residents contend the city has ignored.

Hodgetown is just one of the jewels in the city’s investment crown.

Get ready for huge celebration at start of next baseball season

OK, so there won’t be an Amarillo-wide party for the city’s championship baseball team, the Sod Poodles.

The Sod Poodles won the Texas League Class AA championship over the Tulsa Drillers. They came from behind to win the fifth and final game of the championship series in the Sod Poodles first season in existence.

The city’s baseball fans went nuts. The city, though, chose not to stage a party.

Fine. I get it. I won’t belabor that point any longer.

Here is what ought to happen at the start of the 2020 Texas League season. The Sod Poodles need to stage a huge rally at Hodgetown at the start of the season home opener.

Present the championship trophy to the team that will take the field. Bring back as many of the players who won the championship for the Sod Poodles as you can get. Let the fans shower them with love, applause and plenty of cheers.

It remains a wide open question about the team that takes the field for the Sod Poodles next season. The San Diego Padres, the National League team affiliated with the Sod Poodles, likely will promote many of the championship-winning players to AAA baseball or, what the heck, maybe even to the Big League club.

Still, bring them back to Amarillo to soak up the love of the city’s baseball fans.

I won’t say any more about this until next season approaches.

The Elmore Group, the team owners, along with the City Council, the Convention and Visitors Council, the mayor’s office, the city manager’s office … all of ’em have time to plan a big-time blowout.

Get busy, folks.

Amarillo Matters shows that it really matters

A couple of years ago a group of Amarillo civic and business leaders got together to form a political action committee dedicated — according to its mission statement — to the betterment of the city.

They called themselves Amarillo Matters. Some critics in the city spoke out against the group, suggesting some sort of nefarious motivation was driving the organization’s agenda.

But what has happened since Amarillo Matters came into being in 2016?

It endorsed a slate of City Council candidates prior to the 2017 municipal election. All five of the individuals endorsed by Amarillo Matters won that election. They all ran for re-election this year and, with Amarillo Matters’ blessing yet again, they all were re-elected.

How has the city done? Quite well, based on my observation.

Downtown’s district renovation has proceeded apace. They built that ballpark along Buchanan Street. The Amarillo Sod Poodles played baseball at Hodgetown, drawing huge crowds at every home game and, oh yes, they won the Texas League pennant after a thrilling come-from-behind victory in the fifth game of the championship series against the defending champs, the Tulsa Drillers. I know … Amarillo Matters didn’t have a thing to do with the Sod Poodles’ success on the baseball field.

Amarillo Matters’ mission calls for the development of “positive opportunities for Amarillo and the surrounding area.” Man, that sounds pretty damn sinister, don’t you think?

Yes, I questioned Amarillo Matters along the way, too. I wondered in an earlier blog post about the identity of the individuals who comprise its leadership. I called on Amarillo Matters to be more transparent and to reveal their identities to the public. The IDs have trickled out, but I will presume that some critics still contend that Amarillo Matters remains too secretive.

However, the result of the group’s mission is worth noting, too.

Amarillo has made tremendous progress over the past few years, even pre-dating Amarillo Matters’ emergence as a political force in the city.

Does a group of business leaders deserve all the credit for the city’s success? No. However, neither does it deserve the brickbats that some critics have hurled at it.

Amarillo has fared well. Amarillo Matters deserves some of the credit for the success that has come Amarillo’s way.

Downtown revival will drive the city’s future

I feel quite comfortable making this prediction on the city I used to call home: Amarillo’s future will rely on the progress that has been made — and will continue being made — with its downtown district.

I have moved away but I am enjoying the sight of the city repurposing much of its downtown district into something that has yet to be defined fully.

The Amarillo Sod Poodles have completed a successful season playing AA baseball in a shiny new ballpark on Buchanan Street. Polk Street is undergoing a major makeover. The Potter County Courthouse Square has been remade and the county is looking seriously these days at building new District Courts Building to replace the structure that former County Judge Arthur Ware has called “The Grain Elevator.”

Now the city is getting into the game in a serious way. It is pondering whether to renovate the Civic Center, re-do the Santa Fe Depot and relocate City Hall into an existing downtown structure. Psst … I hear the Globe-News Building at Ninth and Harrison is available.

I long have subscribed to the notion that successful cities all have one thing in common: They boast vibrant downtown districts.

Yes, the city’s effort at remaking downtown has its critics. Imagine my (non)surprise. I just want to offer this admonition: The entire city will reap the reward once the work gets done downtown.

Amarillo’s governing council for too long look askance at investing public funds into its downtown. It believed that the private sector should carry the load virtually exclusively. Beginning with the mayorship of Debra McCartt, continuing through that of Paul Harpole and now with Ginger Nelson pounding the gavel, the city has taken a more proactive approach to downtown redevelopment.

That is to everyone’s credit. It will be everyone’s benefit as well.

I cannot predict when this will happen. I just believe as sure as I am writing these words that it will.

Do not split this bond package into bite-sized bits

Whatever decision comes from the Amarillo City Council regarding a theoretical bond issue to fix the Civic Center and relocate City Hall, my hope stands eternal.

Do not break this bond issue into small pieces, giving voters a chance to shop for which of the projects they prefer.

Put it all out there under a single measure. Make the voters swallow all of it or spit it out.

The city is pondering a bond issue that would total more than $300 million. Under discussion is a plan to renovate the Civic Center, built in 1968 and in dire need of an upgrade; renovation of the Santa Fe Railroad Depot building next to the Civic Center, turning into a showplace; relocation of City Hall into an existing downtown structure.

I don’t know what the cost will be. It’s likely to be well north of $300 million. I do believe the city needs the projects it is considering.

I suppose the city could decide to forgo some of the ideas under consideration. At the very least the city should proceed with the Civic Center project. The Cal Farley Coliseum is too small, too cramped and too old to be good for much more than what it hosts already: arena football and minor-league hockey. As for City Hall’s relocation, perhaps that project can be sold, too, as an essential need that would enable the city to provide better service for its 200,000 constituents. The Santa Fe Depot job? That might be a debatable point.

Still, whatever the decision, the city shouldn’t bust up the projects into bite-sized morsels for voters to ponder.

The city is considering putting this bond issue on the ballot in May 2020. That’s as good a date as any.

Just keep the bond issue proposal all together, city leaders.

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.

Amarillo College, city score a winner with free bus rides

When I heard of this news item from up yonder in Amarillo, I’ll admit to a reaction that might seem a bit unflattering.

It was: What took ’em so long to enact this one?

Amarillo City Transit, the public bus transportation system, is soon to offer free transportation for Amarillo College students. The idea is so brilliant yet so simple, I was struck by the length of time it took for someone to pitch it to the City Council.

Who might be the biggest beneficiaries of this initiative? I figure it’s got to be the students who attend classes at AC’s main campus on Washington Street, just south of Interstate 40. You see, parking at that campus has been a serious problem for as long as I can remember.

I have known several AC presidents over many years, starting with Bud Joyner; then along came Fred Williams, Steve Jones, Paul Matney and now Russell Lowery-Hart. They all grappled with the parking nightmare at the main campus, as did the AC Board of Regents. College enrollment grew, but the parking capacity didn’t keep pace.

The way I figure it, if the college and the city promote this new benefit aggressively and effectively, it will fill the buses with students coming into town to attend classes. It also well could alleviate the parking problem with fewer motor vehicles being crammed onto the parking lots and along the city streets surrounding the campus.

I also must admit to a failing of my own. You see, I worked as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News for nearly 18 years and I don’t once recall ever having a discussion with my boss, or the editorial board, or with college administrators and city officials about enacting such a plan for students.

So I’m left to ask while kicking myself in the backside: Why didn’t I think of this idea long ago?

I am hoping this idea works well for the students … as well as for the college.