Tag Archives: Amarillo City Hall

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.

Young people have fallen silent again

I want to share this blog post once again. I’ve attached it to this item.

It speaks to the dreams of young Amarillo residents who took their case to the City Council. They pitched the idea of building a multipurpose event venue, of erecting a downtown convention hotel and of turning Polk Street into an entertainment district.

They wanted the city to deliver a reason for these young people to stay here after school. They don’t want to move away.

The good news? Much of what the young’ns argued for is happening.

The bad news? They’ve reduced their public presence. What happened to ’em?

City hears from the young and, until now, the silent

They have fallen silent yet again.

Sod Poodles? Let’s play ball … but hurry up!

AMARILLO, Texas — We’re all entitled to change our minds, right? Politicians do it all the time, saying their views have “evolved.” Or, in the case of Donald John Trump, his views change according to whatever his closest friends or his children tell him.

But … I digress.

I have done a nearly 180-degree about-face on the finalist names for the AA baseball team that’s going to play in a structure that at the moment is nothing more than a very large hole in the ground across the street from Amarillo City Hall.

None of the names excited me at first. Upon reflection, though, I am leaning toward Sod Poodles, the so-called old-fashioned name that supposedly refers to prairie dogs.

Don’t wish bad things to happen to me, please. My wife and I have a lot of fun-loving retirement years ahead of us.

Yeah, I said the name stunk when the franchise owners announced the finalist names. The one name that still sticks in my craw — if you’ll excuse the pun — is Jerky. Amarillo Jerky? Are you kidding me?

The team went for cutie names. They want the new baseball franchise to be a family-friendly endeavor. I think Sod Poodles fills the bill.

OK. That all being said, I want to offer a slight word of caution.

I ventured downtown over the weekend and noticed the big ol’ hole. I saw what looks like some reinforcement along the north edge of the hole.

I walked into the Embassy Suites hotel to see a friend who’s visiting from Lubbock. He reminded me that in his mind the construction pace needs to pick up. “I am not sure they’ll be ready for ball,” he said. I answered, “But they’re opening their season in April 2019.” Then my pal said, “Hey, that’s less than a year away!”

Duh???

I’m not an engineer. I have no experience with heavy-duty construction projects. My friend, though, has raised a legitimate concern. The multipurpose event venue where this team will play hardball is, um, seemingly a long way from becoming reality.

My farming and ranching friends will hate me for saying this, but if the MPEV is going to be finished on time, then I think Mother Nature perhaps needs to provide us with a second bone-dry winter in a row in 2018-19.

I’m trying to imagine how the crews are going to work when there’s a foot of snow on the ground in, say, December or January.

Let’s get busy, gang.

HOT to pick up MPEV tab

I got my first good look today at the big hole they’ve dug out in front of Amarillo City Hall.

It is, as they say, what it is: a big hole full of heavy equipment moving lots of dirt around. I noticed some wood scaffolding on the north side of the hole.

It’s going to take shape, probably quite soon, as the new multipurpose event venue, which in April 2019 will become the home field for the AA minor league baseball team that will relocate to Amarillo from San Antonio.

Yes, there’s still some grumbling — although it’s quite muted these days — about the MPEV. I’m OK with the muted aspect. The soreheads seem to want to believe erroneously that the MPEV is going to cost them a lot of property tax money.

It won’t..

The money is coming from visitors to the city as well as from lease fees the ballclub owners — the Elmore Group — are going to pay the city to use the MPEV.

My wife and I went out this evening to watch “Sister Act” at Amarillo Little Theater. On our way home, we scooted along Interstate 40 where I couldn’t help but notice the hotels along the route. What did they have in common? All their parking lots were full of motor vehicles.

What does that mean to me? It means the vehicles carried people to those hotels, where those people paid to spend the night. Part of that lodging cost gets siphoned off for the Hotel Occupancy Tax the city collects.

And, yes, a portion of that HOT goes to paying for the MPEV.

It makes me wonder about the timing of the initiative to build the MPEV and the hotel construction boom that erupted along I-40. I’m quite sure it’s more than mere coincidence, which makes me figure that someone — or several folks and interests — knew what they were doing all along.

Let the MPEV proceed … and let the visitors to our city pay for it.

Downtown Amarillo’s progress marches on

There was some discussion this week at Amarillo City Council’s regular meeting about the city’s downtown march.

A woman asked the city to suspend work on the multipurpose event venue until residents could vote on whether it should continue.

I have no idea whether she represents a larger bloc of residents, but I was impressed to hear City Manager Jared Miller’s response. It was that the city did put the issue to a non-binding referendum in November 2015. Voters were asked whether they endorsed the MPEV’s construction. A majority of them answered in the affirmative. Miller also noted that the city was not obligated to put the issue to a vote, but it did as a show of good faith.

Work then began this past year. It will be done by February 2019. By April of that year, a AA baseball team will start playing hardball in the MPEV.

I would like to offer this nugget of, well, opinion about the MPEV.

It’s a vital component of the city’s stated desire to improve its downtown district. I get that the November 2015 referendum called for construction of a $32 million ballpark, but that the cost has escalated some to $45.5 million. There well might be some latent resentment among residents — many of them soreheads — who dislike that its cost has escalated.

The city doesn’t need to put the brakes on a project that’s already been discussed, debated, dissected and, finally, determined to be part of the city’s dynamic future.

The public has had plenty of opportunities to comment on it. Whether the public has responded to those opportunities sufficiently is a matter of ongoing discussion.

I remain steadfast in my belief that the MPEV is going to trigger a tremendous revival of interest in our downtown district. When that occurs, I also remain dedicated to the notion that all of Amarillo will flourish perhaps in a manner that we cannot yet foresee.

I want to join my good friend David Horsley, a former Center City board member, who told the council: “We had great goals and thought we were pushing the ball down the field a little bit … But after I rotated off after about six years, we didn’t have much to show for our work. And it was kind of depressing. Downtown is the heart of the city and the heart was barely beating. Skip forward 28 years and now look at what’s happening downtown. I know you all can’t take credit for what’s happening, but I think there is a lot of wonderful stuff happening downtown and maybe you do get a tiny bit of credit for it. And I thank you for being leaders and helping good stuff happen downtown that people are going to want to be involved in.”

Amen, pal.

Why remove red-light cams and invite traffic woe?

While running an errand in Amarillo, I happened to zip past an intersection where the city has deployed its red-light cameras, the devices used to nab those who disobey the stop lights that command motorists to stop.

It then occurred to me: The city is considering removing the camera from this intersection, at Coulter and Elmhurst streets. And it begs the question: Why would the city take down an enforcement tool that it has declared has worked well, that has fulfilled its mission?

I don’t know what if anything the city has decided. The City Council announced it intends to install more of the devices at other troublesome intersections around the city. The council also might remove some of the cameras, citing areas where there no longer are problems with motorists running through red lights.

Hmm. Why do you suppose that has happened? Oh, might it be the presence of the cameras that have deterred vehicular misbehavior?

It makes me wonder, thus, why the city would want to take down devices that have done their jobs.

I will not accept the canard that keeps popping up from the soreheads around Amarillo who oppose the cameras. They contend the devices are intended to “make money” for the city.

What utter crap! The Texas Legislature imposed strict provisions when it allowed cities to deploy the cameras. One of them requires cities to earmark revenue earned specifically for traffic improvement. So, to suggest — or imply — that the revenue is collected to fatten the budgets of municipal departments or give the city some funds to throw around smacks of demagoguery.

As for the city’s intent to remove the cameras, I hereby encourage Amarillo’s powers that be to rethink that notion. If the device its doing its job at Coulter and Elmhurst, the city would be foolish to invite motorists to return to their red-light-running ways — and put other motorists and pedestrians in potentially dire peril.

Butt out, Rep. Tinderholt

I am quite certain that damn few Amarillo residents knew the name of Tony Tinderholt until he decided to stick his nose into an Amarillo City Hall dustup over whether residents can applaud during City Council meetings.

Tinderholt is a Republican state representative from Arlington. Oh, and he’s also a golden boy associated with Empower Texans, a far-right-wing political action group that decided to become involved in a couple of Texas Panhandle GOP legislative primary races this spring.

Empower Texans had its head — and other body parts — handed to it when Panhandle Republican voters essentially re-elected state Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price, both of them Amarillo Republicans.

Tinderholt has decided to pressure Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson into rethinking her decision to restrict clapping at council meetings.

I won’t get into the merits of Nelson’s decision. I’m sitting out here in the peanut gallery and am out of the loop on the details of what transpired when Nelson kicked a constituent out of a council meeting. I will say only that Nelson perhaps overreacted in the moment, but has tried to explain — in the wake of some local criticism — that she has a keen understanding and appreciation of the First Amendment and its guarantees of free speech and all that kind of thing.

I am struck by the idea that a state representative from far away would want to meddle in a matter that should be settled by the folks who live here and who are elected to govern a community’s affairs.

It’s interesting, too, that Tinderholt would be affiliated with a group, Empower Texans, that sought to dictate to Panhandle residents how they should vote. The Texas Panhandle took care of its business quite nicely despite the pressure being brought to bear on this region from Empower Texans.

So, to Rep. Tinderholt and Empower Texans, I just have this modest rejoinder: Butt out!

Jerry Neal took APD down a progressive path

I am sad at this moment, having just learned of the death of a man I considered to be one of the finest law enforcement officials I had the pleasure to know.

Former Amarillo Police Chief Jerry Neal is gone. My memory of his service goes back a good bit.

I arrived in Amarillo in January 1995 to take my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. Neal had been at his post for 14 years already, having arrived here from Norman, Okla., to rescue a police department that had fallen into serious disrepair.

Chief Neal retired in 2007 after 26 years as the city’s top cop. He modernized it immediately. He introduced a new level of professionalism and service He insisted that the PD clear up cases that had gone unsolved. On his watch, APD established its Citizens Police Academy to acquaint Amarillo residents with the myriad aspects of police work; I happened to be one of those who participated around 2003 in an academy “class.” I found it to be an invaluable education on the difficulties that police officers face every day they go to work on our behalf.

The chief was a progressive police officer and administrator who worked hard to bring his department into the modern age.

As the Amarillo Globe-News reported: “Chief Neal helped modernize and shape the Amarillo Police Department into what it is today,” Cpl. Jeb Hilton wrote in the news release. “He is remembered as a fair boss, a great leader and a good friend. His legacy at the Amarillo Police Department lives on through his son Officer Kent Neal. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Neal family.”

I want to share a story about Chief Neal that I’ve repeated many times over the years.

In 2006, the Ku Klux Klan obtained a permit to demonstrate in front of Amarillo City Hall. I thought it would be worth attending this event — with notebook and pen in hand — to witness whatever might happen. Amarillo PD, along with the Potter County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety, had set up a huge security perimeter in front of City Hall to ensure minimal contact between the Klansmen and the public.

That was a good call.

Chief Neal was there, dressed — and I use this term cautiously — in full battle gear: blue uniform, flak jacket and all the hardware that police officers wear when facing potential hostility.

I was chatting with Chief Neal when a Klansman walked up and asked Neal, “Uh, chief, may I ask you a question?”

Neal’s offered a classic response. “No,” he responded tartly. “Now … get away from me.”

Oh, how I wanted to high-five him at that moment. I didn’t. His intolerance of a reviled hate group spoke volumes — and I told him so later, in a private moment.

Jerry Neal was a great cop who took seriously his oath to “protect and serve.”