Tag Archives: Amarillo City Hall

City delays election, gearing up for a major mandate from voters

The pandemic that has felled so many people around the world also is altering the way governments function.

Elections, for example, are being delayed.

One local election that has caught my eye is slated to occur up yonder in Amarillo, Texas. City officials had planned to stage an election in early May, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced a major postponement until, get this, Nov. 3.

At issue is a bond issue of about $300 million that the city is asking voters to approve. The money will go toward (a) expanding and renovating the 50-plus-year-old Civic Center, (b) sprucing up the old Santa Fe Railroad Depot just east of the Civic Center and (c) relocating City Hall to what I understand is a still-unspecified location.

A May election, which the city — along with the rest of the world — would put too many people in jeopardy of catching the coronavirus. Social distancing mandates that we stay away from each other.

So, now the city is looking at a Nov. 3 election, tentatively, that is.

This is a big deal. Why? Because voters all over the land will be casting ballots for president of the United States on that day. The turnout for Nov. 3 figures to be far greater than it would have been in early May.

Thus, whatever voters decide could be — and should be — considered a significant mandate, even if the results reflect a close tally.

My only concern about the bond issue election, though, rests in what I believe has been a well-kept secret: the location of the new City Hall operation. City officials should make damn sure they divulge where they intend to relocate and what they intend to do in order to make the new site amenable to the kind of government operation it will contain.

I have a few snitches in Amarillo. They do their best to keep me informed of this and/or that development. They tell me that the city is still negotiating a deal for a new downtown site for City Hall.

OK, then. Get the deal done and tell the public. Pronto, man!

Hello, City Hall relocation? Where will it be?

AMARILLO, Texas — This just in!

A panel assigned to study potential expansion and improvements to Amarillo’s Civic Center plans to present a $319 million bond issue election proposal to the City Council.

The proposal calls for expanding the convention space at the Civic Center, adding 75,000 of exhibit space. It also calls for a new arena seating 10,100 spectators, which is not quite twice the size of the Cal Farley Coliseum inside the Civic Center. The proposal also calls for renovation of the Santa Fe Railroad Depot next to the Civic Center and the addition of a parking garage.

Then we get to the City Hall relocation. The proposal that is attached to this blog post doesn’t mention a specific site where the new complex will be relocated.

I have thought for some time that the city needs to disclose to the public where it intends to place its new City Hall prior to submitting it to a public vote. Residents need to know for what they would be dedicating their number.

A friend of mine — who also serves as an occasional snitch on Amarillo-related matters — told me this week he thought the city would disclose the location of the new City Hall soon. I told him it had better come clean.

I remain generally in support of what the city wants to do. An expanded Civic Center would appease some concerns of critics of downtown revitalization. They have said the Civic Center should be Priority No. 1. It now appears headed to the front shelf, along with the coliseum complex and the railroad depot on the east side of the Civic Center complex.

I cannot overstate, though, the importance of disclosing in detail where the city wants to relocate City Hall. Voters are going to receive a request to shell out a lot of money. The city has pledged transparency at all levels. If I were King of the World, I would mandate a full disclosure on which existing downtown structure would house the place where residents do their business with city.

Check out the proposal here.

The artist renderings deliver a spectacular view of what the city has in mind regarding the Civic Center and the Santa Fe Depot.

What about the new City Hall?

Taking stock of a city’s changing face

AMARILLO, Texas — I thoroughly enjoy returning to this city, where my wife and I lived for more than two decades.

We arrived here in early 1995 and found a city with a boarded-up downtown, buildings were empty, there was little life to be found. The community had allowed its retail activity to vacate the downtown district to malls large, medium and small to points hither and yon.

We returned here on our latest visit to find — as we have noticed on previous visits to the Texas Panhandle — a city that is bearing a decreasing resemblance to the community my wife and I discovered when he first set foot on the Caprock.

Yes, much work remains to be done. The Barfield Building — the once-rotting hulk of a structure at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Polk Street — is still under reconstruction. I hear the building will open this spring as a boutique hotel. All I was able to notice today were all the windows that had been re-paned and the construction crews scurrying around the grounds.

All along Polk Street — the city’s one-time main drag — I noticed storefronts that once stared at the street blankly that are alive with activity.

We had lunch at a new pub downtown, next to an after-hours spot that had relocated from across the street. Meanwhile, the former site of the after-hours joint is being remade into something else.

To be sure, I did notice a blemish or two in downtown Amarillo. The Family Support Services building on Polk has been destroyed by fire. The city has cordoned off the entire block.

The Globe-News building on the outskirts of downtown sits blank, vacated. The sight of that structure now devoid of life breaks my heart, as I spent nearly 18 mostly enjoyable years there pursuing my craft as the G-N’s editorial page editor.

On the north edge of downtown sits the Herring Hotel. It is still vacant. I cannot yet confirm this report, but I’ll offer it anyway: I have heard from two sources that the Herring might be given new life — possibly soon — with the purchase of the building by a hotel developer. This isn’t the first time I have seen this sort of glimmer from the once-glorious structure. Let us hope that it comes to pass and that the buyer — if the deal is consummated — is the real thing.

I remain hopeful that Amarillo’s future will continue to brighten as it keeps working to restore the heart of the city.

I don’t believe I am overstating what my wife and I saw when we first arrived. We saw a city with a downtown that need a sort of urban renewal life support. What we have seen on our most recent visit is a downtown district that is breathing on its own.

It makes me so very happy.

Memo to manager: Next chief should endorse community policing

Amarillo City Manager Jared Miller has a huge hiring decision to make soon. He needs to find someone to succeed Ed Drain as chief of the city’s police department.

Miller isn’t going to ask me for my advice, but I am going to give him just a bit of it here in brief form.

Mr. Manager, be sure the next top cop endorses community policing as a way to maintain the city’s relationship with the neighborhoods its officers swear to protect and defend.

Drain has been named the police chief of Plano, Texas, a burgeoning Dallas suburb. He went to Amarillo after serving for more than two decades with the Plano Police Department; he rose to the level of assistant chief.

Drain’s hiring in Amarillo was arguably the sole shining moment of former interim City Manager Terry Childers’ stormy tenure at City Hall. Childers took a hike and the city hired Miller from his city manager’s post in San Marcos.

Drain, meanwhile, reinstituted the community policing program that former Police Chief Robert Taylor let grow fallow during his years as the city’s top cop. I believe that was a regrettable policy decision on Taylor’s part, given the many miles the department had come under the leadership of his immediate predecessor, the late Police Chief Jerry Neal.

Community policing puts officers’ boots on the ground in the neighborhoods they patrol. They develop interpersonal relationships with residents. The policy is designed to build trust between law enforcement officers and the community … thus, the term “community policing.”

Drain has vowed to maintain the policy in Plano. As for Amarillo, I believe it is vital that it remain in force in that city.

I don’t know how Miller is going to conduct a search for a new police chief. He has some fine senior officers on staff already in the Amarillo PD. I actually have a favorite, if he’s willing to be considered for the post.

If Miller goes outside the department and looks far and wide, it would be my hope — no matter what he decides to do — that he insist that the next Amarillo police chief be as dedicated to community policing as Ed Drain was during his brief tenure there.

The policy works.

Amarillo Matters has come clean; good deal!

A political action organization formed in 2016 to promote Amarillo’s economic and political future has made a positive change in the way it presents itself.

Amarillo Matters has developed a new website. It continues to speak to its mission, its goals and its strategy. The site also has the name of the principals who are involved in the decisions that Amarillo Matters makes.

It’s the disclosure of the names that I find worthy of commendation.

I wrote on this blog more than a year ago that Amarillo Matters needed to reveal its individual and collective identities to the public. There had been some reluctance to doing so, according to one source close to the group, because of a fear of backlash by those in the community who opposed the agenda that Amarillo Matters is promoting.

Well, I guess those fears have been put aside.

Amarillo Matters has an “About Us” page on its site. It states the “focus” of the organization.

Amarillo Matters will primarily focus on elected positions in which the elected official has a direct governance responsibility to the citizens of Amarillo and the surrounding area. We will also focus on issues that have a positive benefit on Amarillo and the surrounding area. We believe the word benefit has many definitions. They include economic development projects, major investments in our local workforce and students, along with quality of life projects.

That all sounds benign. It’s a positive outlook. A positive outreach. There’s nothing nefarious. The board of directors contains the names of several individuals I know personally; I know a couple of them quite well. I know of the rest of them. They are all successful. Those I know are fine individuals who I believe have the community’s best interests at heart.

Check out the group’s mission statement here.

It is important that Amarillo Matters reveal its identity to the community it seeks to lead. Granted, this is not an elected body. It comprises individuals who seek to exert some influence in what the electorate decides. There’s nothing wrong in any group wanting to do what Amarillo Matters has pledged to do.

Amarillo, though, is no different from any community in the midst of change. Some residents endorse the direction where the community is heading; others oppose it. Everyone has a right to know who is seeking to call the shots.

Amarillo Matters now has revealed who is doing so within its board room. To which I say: Well played.

Amarillo PD chief about to come back home?

This must be said about a man whose name otherwise will live in infamy in the annals of Amarillo municipal government.

The one hire that former interim City Manager Terry Childers made that qualifies as a home run was when he brought Ed Drain in to become chief of police in Amarillo, Texas. Childers eventually resigned in disgrace after popping off publicly about a constituent and making an a** of himself over a misplaced briefcase at a local hotel and a run-in he had with a 9-1-1 dispatcher.

As for Drain, he returned the concept of “community policing” to the city. He instituted progressive police policies. Drain became a presence in the community.

Well, now he’s coming back home to Plano, or so it’s being reported. The Plano Police Department announced today that Drain is its sole finalist for the chief’s job; he had served as deputy police chief when Childers lured him to the Panhandle. Drain says his hiring isn’t a done deal. Well, OK, chief. Whatever you say.

Drain said he has to undergo the requisite background check and the Plano City Council must sign off on a hiring decision.

I’ll just offer an opinion that when a city as substantial as Plano names a lone finalist for a key administrative position, then it looks like a done deal to me.

Whoever becomes the next Amarillo police chief, whenever that occurs, must continue the community policing program that Chief Drain brought back after he succeeded former Chief Robert Taylor.

As for Drain’s apparently pending return to the Metroplex, I am certain he will do a stellar job for a department with which he is intimately familiar.

Memo to City Hall: Reveal location of proposed new site

Amarillo City Hall isn’t going to ask me for political advice, given that I don’t live in Amarillo, but I’ll offer it anyway.

If the city proceeds with a bond issue next year to determine whether residents want to re-do the Civic Center and relocate City Hall to a new location, the city needs to reveal to voters which site it has in mind to move its administrative offices.

One of my Amarillo spies has told me the city hasn’t yet made that decision public, if it’s made it at all. My spy believes the city might want to keep it secret while it negotiates with whomever owns whatever structure the city wants to acquire.

I believe the city needs to tell residents where it wants to go if it is going to ask them to pony up $300 million-plus on an array of public improvement projects.

To keep that information quiet would ring the death knell for the city’s efforts to vacate its current City Hall building for another existing building in downtown Amarillo.

Residents there, as I understand it, remain a bit skeptical of the city’s claim of transparency.

I also am willing to argue that the city shouldn’t ask voters to approve a relocation if it doesn’t have a site in mind. Part of the cost of that bond issue is going to include preparing a new building to become home to many city administrative functions. How in the world does the city spell out the cost if it doesn’t have an idea of where it intends to move and what it intends to do with whatever property it is considering for purchase?

A citywide bond election in 2020 is going to be a big deal. The Civic Center improvements appear to be warranted. The city also wants to revamp the Santa Fe Depot structure just east of the Civic Center.

A City Hall relocation remains a problem, particularly if city officials don’t reveal to the “bosses,” the voters who pay the bill, where they intend to put a new city office structure.

This is not just an urban pipe dream

FORT WORTH — Gideon Toal …

That name came to mind today as we approached Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth. I now shall explain what that is and why it’s relevant.

Gideon Toal is the name of a Fort Worth-based urban planning outfit that Amarillo officials enlisted when they began discussing the notion of reviving the Texas Panhandle city’s downtown district.

The thought at the time, as I recall it, was that if Gideon Toal could bring some of the creativity to Amarillo, then the city could adopt those ideas and apply them to whatever master plan the city fathers and mothers could develop.

We went to Fort Worth today to look around and soak up the atmosphere of the city’s downtown district. It had been a good while since my wife and I ventured into downtown Cow Town. It is the day after Christmas and it was fairly quiet today. However, I was blown away, as I was the first time I came here, with the enormous variety of cultural opportunities around virtually every corner surrounding Sundance Square.

Then the thought occurred to me: Is this kind of atmsophere — on a scaled-down version — even possible in Amarilo, which is in the midst of its downtown revival?

Scaled down? Yes. Amarillo’s population is peeking over the 200,000-resident mark; Fort Worth’s census is something well north of 800,000. What’s more, Fort Worth is one of two major anchor communities of the Metroplex, which has a metro-area population exceeding 7 million residents.

Melissa Dailey, the former head of Downtown Amarillo Inc., enlisted Gideon Toal way back when. She left DAI eventually and moved to Fort Worth. I’ve lost touch with her. However, the idea of hiring an organization with a demonstrated record of success was an inspired choice.

I have argued on this blog in favor of what the city is trying to achieve with its downtown district. I applaud the incentives it has employed to get private businesses to do business downtown. The payoffs are presenting themselves routinely, with hotels, dining establishments, the championship AA baseball team and assorted forms of boutique retail business coming into the downtown district.

As we walked around Sundance Square and along some of the streets adjacent to it, I got a sense of a certain type of familiarity. I have heard from my friends in Amarillo that they want to see the city turn its downtown district into something similar to what has been born in Fort Worth.

And no, I don’t mean identical. Amarillo cannot duplicate what Fort Worth has developed. It can adapt some form of it to fit its own level of resource.

My hope for Amarillo is that it keeps Fort Worth in mind as it moves forward on its downtown revival track. They have hit a home run in Cow Town.

Expecting a bright 2020 for former city of residence

I’m looking ahead to the new year and I cannot help but think good thoughts about what lies in store for the city my wife and I called home for more than two decades.

Amarillo, Texas, appears to be on the move. I mean, think about some developments.

  • Downtown Amarillo’s progress continues at full throttle. A couple of new “boutique hotels” might be opening for business in the coming year. One, for sure, will start welcoming guests at what used to be called the Barfield Building. It once was a rathole. It has become something quite different. There might be some movement in the Rule Building nearby. I’ll have to wait before assessing that structure’s future. It looks somewhat promising.
  •  Amarillo’s minor-league baseball team played before a packed Hodgetown house in 2019. The Sod Poodles won the Texas League championship. They’ll be returning in 2020 as the defending champs. Hodgetown has been honored as the nation’s top AA ballpark; the Sod Poodles have been recognized as the top AA baseball organization in the country. They have built a solid foundation in Amarillo.
  •  Construction will proceed on the new Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine near the Tech medical school campus in Amarillo. This will be only the second vet school in Texas and will serve a growing demand for large-animal veterinary care in a region that relies on livestock.
  •  West Texas A&M University’s downtown Amarillo campus will bring even more energy to the center of the city.
  •  City Hall is looking to renovate the Civic Center, re-do the Santa Fe Railroad Depot building and relocate its municipal offices somewhere in downtown Amarillo.  A big caveat remains on the final item: The city must identify a location and reveal it to the public well before it asks for residents’ endorsement of a $300 million bond issue.
  •  Interstate 40 and 27 reconstruction hopefully will draw much nearer to completion in the coming year. I don’t get back to Amarillo all that often these days, but I am hoping to see some tangible progress toward an end date for that massive I-40 project.

The city’s future — to my way of thinking — looks a lot brighter today than it did 10 to 12 years ago. It’s progress, man. A city that isn’t progressing remains stagnant. Keep moving forward, Amarillo.

What must Herring Hotel owner be thinking?

I haven’t talked to the owner of the long-vacant Herring Hotel in downtown Amarillo, Texas, for a good while. I know Bob Goodrich quite well. He’s a nice man, a conscientious property owner — and a fellow with big dreams for the building that once served as the go-to spot for Amarillo’s social elite.

That all stipulated, Goodrich must be steamed as he reads about other abandoned downtown buildings finding new life. The latest such structure is the Rule Building, which developer Todd Harmon wants to turn into a boutique hotel. Then there’s the Barfield Building, which is going to open soon as boutique lodging.

Other structures are finding life, or are being repurposed into something other than their original use.

Then there’s the Herring Hotel building. It sits there. Vacant and rotting. Goodrich pays the taxes on it every year. He seeks developers and investors. He once called me to say he had a potential investor lined up; then the deal fell through.

Someone who at the time had intimate knowledge of downtown Amarillo’s redevelopment efforts told me years ago he was certain there would be a happy ending to the Herring Hotel saga. This individual is no longer part of the downtown in-crowd and, of course, I have retired from daily journalism and have relocated to another community. It’s quite possible this person didn’t know what he was talking about, but … well, that’s grist for another story — maybe. 

I do have a parting thought. Perhaps there ought to be a statement from the downtown redevelopment gurus addressing the reasons why the Herring Hotel continues to sit quietly with no apparent action on the horizon. Center City? The Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone board? City Hall? The Amarillo Matters PAC? The Convention and Visitors Council? Amarillo EDC?

Might there be some way to reveal to the nosey segments of the public what they think they need to know about the Herring Hotel? Is there a future for the building … or not?