Tag Archives: Amarillo City Hall

MPEV job faces tight deadline

They’re supposed to start rolling the heavy equipment soon onto the site of Amarillo’s next big project.

The contractor will bring in the front-end loaders, the backhoes, the dump trucks … all of it.

Then they’ll get to work on the multipurpose event venue, which celebrated a ceremonial groundbreaking this week on the now-vacant lot across the street from City Hall.

Once they get started on the job, they’re going to face some immediate pressure. They’ve got to get the job done in about a year.

You see, they’re going to welcome a minor-league baseball team to Amarillo. The plan is to toss out the first pitch for the start of a AA season that begins in April 2019.

The MPEV will cost about $45 million. It will be paid with hotel occupancy tax and lease money provided by the Elmore Group, owners of the team that is relocating here from San Antonio.

I remain confident they’ll get the job done. My confidence, though, must carry a caveat.

It’s the weather, man.

We’re in a prolonged dry spell in the Texas Panhandle. Not only have not had any snow this winter, we haven’t had any measurable precipitation of any kind.

Can we depend on the weather cooperating with us? Hah! Not a chance, dude! As the saying goes: If you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes …

The weather is likely to become a major determinant on whether the MPEV gets built on time.

I don’t intend to wish bad things with this blog post. I merely intend to forewarn us all that the weather quite possibly can toss a major roadblock in front of the construction crews that will have little room for error — manmade or nature made — as they proceed to get this first-class venue built.

Let’s remember, too, that even though this winter has been bone-dry — so far! — we cannot guarantee what the next winter will bring to the High Plains of Texas.

And, oh yes, we have the unpredictable and occasionally explosive spring season awaiting us just ahead.

Time won’t wait for the work to get done.

Here’s hoping for the very best.

MPEV ground broken; city bolts toward brighter future

A crowd of about 200 or 300 folks came today to a vacant lot across from Amarillo City Hall. There was some back-slapping, congratulatory wishes and plenty of smiles to be seen.

And for a very good reason.

They broke ground today on a $45 million entertainment venue — aka The Ballpark — that is likely to help lead downtown Amarillo toward a future that few of us thought was possible.

I do believe the future is a bright one.

The multipurpose event venue has been called a “catalyst” that would spark downtown Amarillo’s revival and rebirth. They lit that catalyst this afternoon. May the spark now light an economic fire.

City officials welcomed executives from the Elmore Group, owners of the new AA minor-league baseball team that will play ball at the MPEV when it’s done, no later than April 2019. Elmore execs declared their intention to make Amarillo the nation’s top minor-league baseball city.

Given the hope and optimism I witnessed today under a bright winter sun, I have a hunch many of those in attendance today believe that high-minded goal is well within reach. I hope it comes true.

I am acutely aware that a big crowd at a ceremonial groundbreaking doesn’t guarantee success. Construction has to proceed quickly. It should be done at or under budget.

The MPEV will need to open with lots of people sitting in its seats to watch the baseball team that is moving here from San Antonio. Many high-profile supporters of the MPEV — and I can cite retired Amarillo College President Paul Matney as one of them — have contended that Amarillo is a “good baseball town.” We will determine the legitimacy of that claim in due course.

The catalyst also is slated to bring more business into the downtown district. It will help fill a shiny new hotel and a parking garage across the street from the Civic Center. It also might become a good promotional tool for the city to lure more convention business, which will bring presumably deep-pocketed visitors to Amarillo.

That’s all in the immediate future for a city that has embarked on a serious makeover of its central business district.

Today, they broke ground on the next big step on the city’s journey toward a brighter future.

Now … let’s get busy.

Waiting for big ceremony downtown

I accepted an invitation today.

It wasn’t an exclusive invitation, as I’m sure the folks who extended it want as many folks as they can find to attend.

They’re going to break ground Thursday on the, um, multipurpose event venue on Buchanan Street in downtown Amarillo, Texas.

The MPEV, aka The Ballpark, will be completed in time for the 2019 AA minor-league baseball season. It will cost an estimated $45 million. It will seat around 4,500 fans for baseball and a lot more for other community events that proponents hope will be part of the venue’s agenda.

This is a big deal, folks! The MPEV reached this point after countless public hearings, serious public debate, two contentious City Council elections and a citywide referendum that voters approved by a narrow margin in November 2015.

I’ve long supported the concept of the MPEV and I want this ballpark built on time and hopefully under budget.

The promise of the MPEV brought a shiny new hotel across the street from the Civic Center. They’ve built a parking garage as well, with ground-floor space set aside for retail establishments; to date, those floors remain dark, but there’s considerable promise that outlets will move in once the MPEV gets much closer to completion.

The groundbreaking event will be for symbolic purposes only. A group of dignitaries will line up with shovels under foot. They might make some remarks. They’ll smile for the cameras, push the shovels into the dirt, shake hands, pat each other on the back and then go back to their day jobs.

Then the real work will begin.

My confidence that the MPEV would become a reality for Amarillo went through its share of ups and downs. The City Council seemed to waffle on it after the 2015 municipal election. Then it sent the matter to a “non-binding” vote in that referendum later that year. The MPEV became the subject of sometimes-heated community debate. Then it passed. The city wasn’t obligated to abide by the result, but the council did the right thing and proceeded forward.

So, here we are. Amarillo is on the cusp of a new era. They’ll break ground on property just south of City Hall.

I’ll be there to watch the new era begin.

Then I will cheer when the era arrives. Who knows? I might even be in the stands to watch ’em toss out the first pitch.

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.

This is some ‘problem’ to have

Amarillo is experiencing a sort of “problem” that other cities would love to have.

It’s all about parking, or perhaps I should say the lack of it.

I ventured downtown Friday for a lunch date with a lawyer friend of mine. I couldn’t find a place to park to save my life near where we had agreed to meet for lunch. I had to park about two blocks away, which I know isn’t all that far; but there was a time when I could park right in front of this place on Polk Street at the height of the noontime lunch rush.

When I walked back to the eatery, I looked around and was a bit amazed to notice all the construction activity. There were those ubiquitous orange barrels; men and women in brightly colored vests were walking around everywhere; I heard the pounding racket of progress.

On two corners at the intersection of Seventh and Polk, I watched for a moment as crews hustled around construction sites where new businesses are springing up. I looked along Polk in both directions, north and south, and watched more work under way.

The parking situation is a product of all this work. Construction vehicles are occupying curbside locations normally set aside for “civilians” like me.

We all know that there is an end to all this chaos. It looks like the Seventh and Polk intersection work will be done fairly soon. The work south along Polk appears to be not as far along.

Then we’ll get to deal with even more chaos along Buchanan Street when work crews start mustering for construction of that ballpark.

Oh, boy! Let’s get ready to grumblllle.

Don’t do it too loudly, though. The payoff will be a sight to behold.

Cell phone law: How goes the enforcement?

I posted a blog item five years ago this month wondering about the enforcement of a citywide ban on cell phone use while driving a motor vehicle.

The Amarillo City Commission imposed a ban. Then I noticed at the time that the use of cell phones by drivers seemed to diminish so very little since the enactment of the ordinance.

Anti-cellphone law tough to enforce

I hoped in 2013 that the Texas Legislature would enact a statewide ban. It took four years, but the 2017 Legislature did what many of us had hoped: It passed a bill that bans cell phone use while driving throughout the state.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law. I applauded the Legislature and the governor for doing what I consider to be the correct thing.

But the question is as pertinent today as it was five years ago: How are the police enforcing this law?

Even since enactment of the statewide ban my wife and I continue to spot motorists driving while holding a cell phone to their ear. I haven’t been privy to any stats on the matter, but I would be most interested in knowing how the cops are handling this issue.

I suggested in January 2013 that the city might want to consider launching an intense public relations campaign to alert motorists of the anti-cell phone ordinance. The city didn’t take my advice. Imagine my (non)surprise.

So, how about a statewide campaign?

Signage at every highway entry point into the state might alert motorists coming into Texas. As for those of us who live here, public service announcements telling Texans of the penalty associated with cell phone use would be appropriate.

I continue to support wholeheartedly the state’s decision to ban this idiotic behind-the-wheel behavior. I have admitted to waffling a bit on this issue until I decided that a mandated ban was the right course to take.

I also continue to believe that government — state and local alike — can be more proactive in alerting motorists that they are breaking the law when they insist on talking on a handheld device while driving a 5,000-pound missile.

Downtown recovering much of its past glory

I watched as my friend Beth Duke was beaming the other day while she discussed the progress being made along Polk Street in downtown Amarillo, Texas.

Duke, executive director of Center City of Amarillo, has been at the forefront of Amarillo’s downtown resurgence. She was telling a TV news reporter about the planned opening of a number of new eateries coming into the central business district.

It is occurring to me that what used to be known as the “business district” is about to become the city’s “entertainment district.”

And yet …

I keep hearing the muted rumblings of discontent from some Amarillo residents about he progress that’s occurring in the heart of a city that is on the cusp of achieving the 200,000-resident mark.

Some businesses are moving around, relocating along Polk Street. The city also is welcoming a number of new establishments.

Polk Street, where teenagers used to “cruise” back in the day, is being given new life. It’s no longer the retail corridor it used to be during the day. Instead, it will become a magnet for nightlife.

It’s all part of of a municipal long-range strategic plan, according to Duke, who has brought a unique blend of enthusiasm and deep knowledge of the players who can breathe life into a community where she was born and has spent the vast bulk of her adult life.

And while Polk Street is undergoing its extreme makeover, so is the block on which City Hall sits.

If you look south from City Hall’s front door you see a lot of dirt being moved around. Crews are leveling the property that once contained the Coca-Cola Distribution Center, which was demolished and relocated to a business park at the northeast corner of the city.

Construction will begin very soon on the multipurpose event venue, aka “The Ballpark.” The MPEV doesn’t yet have a name. It will have a significant new tenant by the spring of 2019. It will be a AA baseball franchise that’s moving here from San Antonio. They’re going to play hardball at the MPEV/Ballpark.

What’s more, that storefronts being developed along Polk Street will be bustling with activity.

My wife and I likely won’t around when they throw out the first pitch at the MPEV. We will have relocated to an unknown destination in North Texas. However, we are going to remember how downtown looked when we arrived here in early 1995 and we will compare that desolate memory with what we’re witnessing these days.

What I see happening today are the signs of progress that, to be candid, I didn’t foresee when we first laid eyes on Amarillo more than two decades ago.

I am delighted to the max at what we’re seeing.

I also am proud of my friend Beth Duke, who has witnessed — and played a key role — in the rebirth of her hometown’s central business/entertainment district.

Again I ask: How in the world can we gripe about that?

City Hall seeks to get an earful about trash pickup

I want to give Amarillo City Hall a handclap.

The city is pondering possible changes in the way it picks up trash. Officials are considering whether to go to a curbside pickup instead of driving trucks down alleys to toss the contents of Dumpsters. The move is designed to save money and to improve the appearance of alleys.

But first …

The city wants to hear from the “bosses,” the folks who pay for trash pickup. That’s us. Our property taxes are dedicated to certain municipal government functions; trash collection is one of them.

Officials are going to convene two public hearings — Thursday at the Downtown Library and next Monday at the Southwest Branch Library; both meetings begin at 5:30 p.m.

Here’s the deal. The city has been criticized — often unfairly — because of policy decisions it makes. Critics have alleged some sort of star-chamber process that produces changes allegedly in secret. We heard that nonsense during the discussion about the multipurpose event venue that’s going to be built downtown. The MPEV came to be after many public hearings and public discussion among City Council members and citizens committees appointed by the council.

So the city is asking residents if they prefer a new garbage-collection system or do they like the way the city is doing it now.

City Hall has put the word out. It wants to hear from you. It’s now residents’ turn to answer the call.

And let’s not question whether the city is being “transparent” while pondering this important new policy.

Atkinson lands on his feet

Jarrett Atkinson was, in effect, shown the door at Amarillo City Hall when voters elected a new majority to their City Council in 2015.

The city manager had done a good job for Amarillo during his six years at the helm. The new council majority saw things differently. Atkinson gave it a shot — for a brief period of time — before he submitted his resignation.

He said all the right things upon his departure. He didn’t make waves. He didn’t burn bridges publicly.

Atkinson took some time off and then ventured two hours south along Interstate 27 to become Lubbock’s city manager, where, according to an article in the Amarillo Globe-News, he has had a productive and eventful first year at that city’s administrative wheel.

It gladdens my heart to know that Atkinson has remained in public service.

It is true that I’ve lost touch with him since he left Amarillo City Hall; in truth I lost touch when I left the Amarillo Globe-News in August 2012. But I remained a strong supporter of the city manager, even as he struggled under the City Council’s new majority, which lasted two years before voters decided to clean them all out and installed an entirely new council in the spring of 2017.

I admired Atkinson’s expertise on water management. He took Amarillo many steps forward in its acquisition of water rights, helping secure the city’s future development. Atkinson was the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission’s go-to guy on water management before he made the move to Amarillo City Hall.

Moreover, I trust he’ll bring that same expertise to his new gig in Lubbock.

While it is true that Atkinson was universally loved and admired by the staff at Amarillo City Hall, I continue to look at the progress the city made during his time as city manager.

Downtown Amarillo took many steps forward on his watch. The city continued its moderate and steady growth. The city’s overall economic health remains strong, built largely on the municipal administration that Atkinson led.

I will continue to wish Jarrett Atkinson well as he continues his public service career. Lubbock has gained a solid hand at the municipal wheel.

AMA gets chance to boost city business climate

Amarillo long has seen its international airport as a gateway to the city’s economic well being.

If you look back over recent history, you find examples of the city forking over public money to keep jet service between the airport and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport; critics called that initiative a form of “economic bribery.” I called it at the time a bold and creative initiative to help make business travel more comfortable for those seeking to do business in Amarillo.

The money came from sales tax revenue collected by the Amarillo Economic Development Corp.

So, with that the city has announced that American Airlines is going to begin daily non-stop service between Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. They’ll fly once daily between AMA and PHX.

The AEDC, City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce see it as a big business opportunity, connecting Amarillo with a key hub out west, enabling travelers to avoid flying east to DFW just to connect and fly west.

That’s a good idea … if the city markets the opportunity as aggressively as it did the AEDC subsidy it paid to American Airlines back when it sought to entice the carrier to keep the jets flying to DFW.

Since I am fully retired and since my wife and I will spend the vast bulk of our domestic travel time in our fifth wheel RV rather than in airports, I don’t have a particular dog in this so-called fight.

For the rest of Amarillo — which appears to be entering an accelerated growth mode — this new air service is good news.

Let there be more.