Tag Archives: Amarillo City Hall

MPEV sprouts like a weed in downtown Amarillo

Holy cow! We haven’t been gone all that long  from Amarillo. We’re coming back for a quick visit and we’re going to see the change taking place at a rapid pace in the city’s downtown district.

A friend sent me this picture. It is of the multipurpose event venue — the “ballpark,” if you will — that’s under construction across the street from City Hall.

I am beginning to believe that, by golly, they’re going to be ready for the first pitch to be tossed in April 2019.

The ballpark will be home to an as-yet unnamed AA minor-league baseball team that’s affiliated officially with the San Diego Padres of the National League. I’m still pulling for Sod Poodles to be the new team’s name. So help me I don’t know why, but I have changed my initial opinion of that name that showed up on a list of finalists under consideration.

The ballpark continues to be very big deal for the city. It will cost an estimated $44 million. It will seat about 5,000 baseball fans. My hope — perhaps it’s even my hunch — is that the ballpark will be full of fans when someone throws the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day of the Texas League season in Amarillo.

I look forward to casting a gaze up close when we venture to Amarillo in a few days. We’ll be back just a few weeks later to attend a concert at the Civic Center.

I won’t be surprised to see that the ballpark/MPEV has sprouted even more dramatically as the city marches its downtown district to a bright future.

I hate wishing for a drought to continue in the Panhandle of Texas, but another dry winter — such as what the Panhandle experienced this past winter — will enable the contractor to finish the job on time.

Is this a one-issue race for governor?

Honest to goodness, I usually don’t vote for public office based on a single issue. I regret, though, that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott might have tossed at my feet the one issue that might make me vote against him.

Gov. Abbott said not long ago that the Texas Legislature needs to rescind its earlier approval for cities in the state to deploy red-light cameras at dangerous intersections to help deter motorists from running through stop lights.

If he’s re-elected, Abbot said he would ask the 2019 Legislature to pull the plug on the cameras that have been deployed in cities across the state.

To be fair, I have been looking for a reason to support Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez. The campaign for governor has been so devoid of compelling issues, I cannot commit fully to supporting the former Dallas County sheriff.

Back to Abbott … I wish he wouldn’t have ignited the red-light camera discussion. I continue to support cities’ attempts to deploy this technological ally in their effort to curb dangerous motorists’ behavior. Amarillo, where my wife and I lived until this past spring, is one of those cities.

A former city commissioner, Ellen Robertson Green, once declared that the best way for motorists to avoid getting slapped with the $75 fine is for them to “stop running red lights.” Duh!

Abbott says the cameras haven’t improved traffic safety sufficiently. He said something, too, about an increase in rear-end wrecks at intersections as motorists try to avoid running through yellow lights that turn red.

What about city officials’ concerns about the hazards created by those who continue to run through these street lights? And don’t Texas Republicans traditionally cede these decisions to local authorities, preferring to keep the state out of matters that can be decided locally?

I’m still grappling with how I’m going to go on this race for governor. I hate the idea of leaving that ballot spot vacant when it comes time to vote.

I also hate deciding an important election campaign on the basis of a single issue. However, if I must …

MPEV occupant lines up a big-league affiliate

The San Diego Padres are coming back to Amarillo, Texas.

Amarillo’s upcoming minor-league baseball season has cleared yet another hurdle. The Padres used to be affiliated with an earlier Amarillo baseball franchise. They’re back in the fold with the new team that doesn’t yet have a name.

It is getting a ballpark, though. Bit by bit, the multipurpose event venue is going up along Buchanan Street. They hope to have the venue complete by April 2019, when the AA season commences in Amarillo.

Given the progress I’ve seen — albeit from some distance these days — I am no longer going to doubt the project will be done in time for the team to toss out the first pitch next spring.

The San Antonio Missions are moving to the Panhandle from South Texas; San Antonio will be home to a new AAA franchise that is relocating from Colorado Springs, Colo.

The next big question now appears to be: What are they going to call this new Amarillo baseball team?

I’ve done a 180 on this one. I once hated the Sod Poodles name that showed up on the list of finalist names being considered by the Elmore Group, owners of the new Amarillo team.

I am not entirely crazy about the name today, but the thought of the name has grown on me. I now officially hope that Sod Poodles, or some derivation of the name, becomes the name of the new team that will take the field.

But … the city that is remaking its downtown district — with new hotels, entertainment venues and a serious dressing up of street corners — has a new major league baseball affiliation about which it can boast.

Not bad.

McCartt no longer stands alone as one who defies natural law

I long have held up a former Amarillo mayor as the model for defying certain natural laws. How? By being everywhere at once.

That’s what former Mayor Debra McCartt managed to do during her time as the city’s chief elected official. McCartt, the city’s first female mayor, seemingly was able to attend multiple events simultaneously while representing City Hall, advocating for the city, rooting for interests being promoted by municipal management and the City Council.

Debra McCartt might have to move over, making a place for another politician.

He is Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. O’Rourke is challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who is running for re-election to his second term. Indeed, it seems as though Cruz has been in the Senate forever, even though he’s just a rookie lawmaker.

O’Rourke has been on TV shows left and right: Stephen Colbert; Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Fallon. He’s been interviewed by MSNBC, CNN and various broadcast network talking heads.

Has Beto cloned himself? Well, no. He hasn’t. It just seems as though he has.

I get that Cruz has been tied to his desk in Washington. For that matter, O’Rourke should be, too. Except that the House of Representatives, where O’Rourke serves, has taken some time off; the Senate, though, was kept on the job by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who canceled the Senate’s annual summer recess.

O’Rourke’s defying of these natural laws — visiting all 254 Texas counties  and appearing on every TV talk show under the sun — might explain partly why he is making this U.S. Senate contest so damn competitive.

I still hold former Mayor McCartt in high regard for the ability to be everywhere at once that she demonstrated while advocating for the city. However, she no longer stands alone as the public official who manages to be everywhere at the same time.

Gov. Abbott, have you lost your mind?

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has given me a reason to vote against his re-election. I mean, doggone it, anyhow!

Abbott wants to unplug the red-light cameras that have been deployed in cities throughout Texas. The cameras are meant to deter motorists from breaking the law when they run through stop lights and, thus, endanger other motorists and pedestrians.

This is a deal-breaker, Gov. Abbott. Have you gone around the bend?

Cities charge violators $75 when they run through intersections. The Legislature established strict rules on how cities should spend the revenue they collect: They pay the vendors who operate the equipment and then dedicate the revenue specifically to improve traffic enforcement and other matters related to that critical issue.

But then the governor says the cameras aren’t working as they should. He wants the state to pre-empt local communities’ desire to use technology to help police officers enforce traffic laws. Some cities have taken the cameras down. Others, such as Amarillo, where I used to live and work, have stayed the course. Good for Amarillo!

“Red light cameras have been like the white whale for many conservatives who have tried to ban them in Texas by arguing they harm individual liberty or are unconstitutional,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “Eliminating red light cameras is a low cost way to appeal to conservative legislators whom the governor will need to pass his agenda.”

Harm individual liberty? We don’t allow motorists to drink and drive. We require drivers and passengers to wear seat restraints. Do those rules “harm individual liberty”? I wish the professor was kidding. I also wish Gov. Abbott is kidding when he says the state needs to unplug the cameras.

Sadly, they aren’t.

They work for you, not the other way around

The more I think about it, the more I hope the Amarillo City Council abandons a nutty notion about meeting at 7 in the morning every Tuesday at City Hall’s council chambers.

City Manager Jared Miller has this idea that he can save the city money by avoiding overtime pay for staffers who need to attend council meetings; so he has pitched the idea of meeting at 7 a.m. instead of at 5 p.m., which has been council’s policy for the past few years.

Let’s back up a bit. Miller’s new to the city, so he might need just a bit of perspective to throw into the mix.

The council — formerly known as the City Commission — used to meet at 3 p.m. every Tuesday. Some residents complained because they couldn’t attend council/commission meetings during the middle of a work day. Over time, the council decided it would change its meeting schedule to accommodate more residents’ desire to listen in and to possibly comment to council members if they had a concern that needed the city’s attention.

Sure, the change in schedule came with some cost. The city needed to pay staff members who needed to attend these evening meetings. I reckon the city manager believes it’s too much money.

I get that. I have some sympathy for those who don’t like paying city staffers overtime. But understand: I no longer am one of Amarillo’s taxpaying residents; my wife and I have relocated to the Metroplex.

My feeling all along — and will continue to be — is that elected city officials don’t operate in a vacuum. They answer to the residents/voters who put them into office. In Amarillo, council members work essentially for free: $10 per public meeting, which makes their service a “labor of love,” if you want to call it that.

That doesn’t lessen for an instant their responsibility to ensure that everyone gets a decent chance to attend their public meetings. I keep thinking that 7 a.m. is a tad early to be rousting residents out of the rack if they want to attend a council meeting.

This 7 a.m. “trial” is going to start on Sept. 4. My hope is that they deliver a verdict of “non-starter” and return to a time that is more commensurate with residents’ ability to attend — and to have their voices heard.

Council to meet at 7 a.m.? Really?

Let me stipulate that I don’t really have a dog in this fight, given that I no longer live in Amarillo, Texas.

That doesn’t disallow me from speaking out on what I believe is a strange policy shift at City Hall.

The City Council, beginning Sept. 4, is going to start meeting at 7 a.m. Yep, that’s seven bells after midnight. That’s early in the day, man!

Why the change? I guess City Manager Jared Miller is up for a change just because he can change the meeting time at his discretion.

The city is seeking to save money, given that some city staffers have to attend council meetings. So, rather than pay them overtime to attend a 5 p.m. council meeting — which is after hours for staff members — Miller believes that staff members will be on the clock already so they can attend council meetings.

I get that. But what about the constituents who want to attend council meetings? They have children to prepare for school. They have to do their own prep to make themselves presentable at the start of a work day. When does someone roll out of the rack? Five? Six? Can they get ready in an hour before motoring down to City Hall?

The City Council is going to launch this new meeting schedule for a 90-day trial. Good luck with it. I have to agree with the complainers who dislike the 7 a.m. start for City Council meetings.

It’s too early!

Are there more deals to be struck?

Almost without fail, when I look at the Santa Fe Building in downtown Amarillo, I think of an innovative elected public official whose persistence brought the old structure back to life.

Then I wonder: Are there more deals like that to be had in rehabilitating other old structures in the city?

I moved to Amarillo in 1995 to take a job as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, which at the time published two newspapers daily. Almost immediately I became acquainted with Potter County Judge Arthur Ware, who at the time had been in office less than four years. The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve gunnery sergeant had been activated for service in the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91 — just after he was elected to for the first time — so he did his duty and came back to resume his day job as an elected public official.

Ware wanted to show me the Santa Fe Building. It was a vacant hulk in early 1995. It had been vacated by the Santa Fe Railroad many years earlier. The building, which was erected in 1930, was dark inside. Here’s the thing, though: It was built like the Bastille, which I told Ware when we walked through the building.

Ware wanted to purchase the structure and relocate several county offices in it.

Here’s the deal Ware struck: He managed to purchase the building and the property where it sits for $400,000. Yep, four hundred grand for a 12-story structure in downtown Amarillo! Then he applied for a historic preservation grant that would finance fully the exterior renovation of the structure. The Texas Historical Commission grant came through and so the county then went to work on the Santa Fe Building.

Over time, the building was finished. Yes, it ran into some hiccups along the way; the building had some cost overruns. The interior was restored, too. Indeed, many of the floors — under terms of the state grant — were restored to their original appearance. Other offices were completed with contemporary designs.

The building is a fabulous testament to Arthur Ware’s persistence and his love of the downtown district where he worked as county judge until 2015. A massive stroke slowed Ware down significantly in his final years as county judge.

If there is a legacy that Ware might want to stand the test of time, it has to be the Santa Fe Building. My hope is that there might be other opportunities on which city or county officials could seize as they look toward guiding the city and the county toward the future.

Looking forward to watching downtown transform itself

The structure in this picture is of the Santa Fe Building in downtown Amarillo, Texas. It is one of the two most architecturally interesting buildings in the downtown district; the other is the Courtyard Hotel that is housed in the historic Fisk Building just down the street.

What’s the purpose of this post? Well, my wife and I have moved away from Amarillo, but we haven’t severed our ties with the city. We intend to return regularly. One of our sons lives there and works in the Santa Fe Building.

This blog intends to point out how much I look forward to watching downtown Amarillo evolve. Given that we won’t see it do so daily, we’ll be able to watch the evolution occur over periods of time. I look at it as watching the city change in a sort of time-lapse fashion.

The Santa Fe and Fisk buildings over time might lose their standing as the downtown district’s most prominent structures. Yes, the city also has that 31-story tower that eventually will be called the First Bank Southwest Tower once the bank moves into its ground-floor digs.

With all the activity that’s occurring downtown, my hope is to watch all this unfold in larger chunks. They’re building the ballpark on Buchanan Street. They’ve already opened the Embassy Suites Hotel across the street from the Civic Center.

Other buildings along Polk Street are being rehabbed, rebuilt, re-purposed.

We’ll be on the road to this or that destination, but we will return to Amarillo to pick up and then deliver our recreational vehicle.

Yes, I look forward to watching the city remake itself.

We lived for more than two decades in Amarillo. We enjoyed our life there. However, for most of that time, downtown didn’t appear to take many steps forward. There was a sense of stagnation and at time apathy toward the center of the city.

No longer. The city is moving forward at an accelerating pace.

I will be thrilled to watch the progress taking tangible shape each time we return.

MPEV under budget? How about that, sports fans?

Amarillo apparently is going to take its next step toward its future ahead of schedule; what’s more, it well might cost a little less than originally projected.

Does it get any better than that?

The multipurpose event venue project that’s under construction is slightly under budget, according to city officials and contractors. The MPEV had been budgeted at about $40 million for construction, but officials say the cost is slightly less than that; the total cost of the project is estimated at $45.5 million.

As for the timetable, Mother Nature has dealt construction crews a winning hand. A lack of precipitation over the winter helped greatly. The spring has been mostly dry, although I understand some rain has fallen in recent days.

I ran into former Mayor Paul Harpole the other day on Sixth Avenue and he said the MPEV is set to be finished in February 2019, well ahead of the opening of the minor-league AA baseball season that commences in April.

I am enjoying being able to watch this project take form, even from some distance these days. I no longer live in Amarillo; I no longer pay taxes there. Despite our relocation to Collin County, I remain emotionally invested in the MPEV and in downtown Amarillo’s future.

The Amarillo Globe-News reports: City Manager Jared Miller said the general contractors set the tone for the project being under budget.

“I just want to highlight the work of and express appreciation to Western Builders and Hunt Construction,” he said. “These guys put in the time and work. We’ve been working five or six months now, knowing when we first got the pricing for building this building, it was significantly higher than it is right now. They’ve worked hard to bring this number down so the construction number was below $40 million. I cannot say enough good things about the team at Western Builders and they have done yeoman work. And Kudos to our architects, Populous.”

Most of its momentum developed after I left daily journalism. Still, I was able to watch it take root while I lived within shouting distance of where the MPEV/ballpark will open.

Even though I have moved away, I remain delighted to watch this project proceed on a pace that puts it ahead of schedule and, yes under budget.

I am rooting hard for its successful completion.