Tag Archives: Amarillo City Hall

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.

Is graffiti abatement still on the city’s agenda?

Paul Harpole became Amarillo’s mayor in 2011 after campaigning on a vow to rid the city of graffiti that was scarring private property.

He orchestrated the launch of a program aimed at cleaning up buildings that were being “tagged” by gang members and would-be gang members.

Then he left the mayor’s office earlier this year. The current mayor, Ginger Nelson, campaigned on a multi-faceted platform of issues ranging from economic development, to fiscal accountability, to beautification of our public rights-of-way. There are plenty of other issues, too.

I don’t recall reading about graffiti abatement as I pored through Nelson’s list of municipal priorities.

So, my question is: Did the graffiti abatement program vanish when Paul Harpole walked away from the mayor’s office?

I hope that’s not the case.

One mayor’s effort to rid the city of a nuisance should become part of the next mayor’s agenda as well. Don’t you think?

Harpole stays the course on graffiti battle

I thought Harpole had the right idea when he decided to take on the “artists” who deem it OK to deface other people’s property.

Mayor Nelson appears quite dedicated to her vision for making the city a better, more attractive place for its 200,000 residents. I believe part of her overall strategy needs to include her immediate predecessor’s aim to rid the city of graffiti.

Amarillo (still) Matters

I had been wondering whatever became of Amarillo Matters, a political action group formed early this year to campaign for a slate of City Council candidates.

A High Plains Blogger post posed the question: Where have they gone?

Just wondering: Amarillo Matters … where is it?

I have some news. Amarillo Matters has re-emerged. It’s not exactly a scoop, but I’ll take a touch of credit for prompting Amarillo Matters to show itself again on the public landscape.

It’s now a 501(c)4 non-profit group, according to a press release issued by Amarillo Matters. It has some ideas on how to make life better in Amarillo. I certainly welcome Amarillo Matters back into view.

Amarillo Matters has elected a board of directors and it has chosen a president, Jason Herrick. The group’s press release talks about Amarillo Matters’ interest in promoting projects designed to improve the city’s economic well-being.

One particular project is one that caught my eye when I first heard about it: Texas Tech University’s proposal to build a large-animal veterinary medical school in Amarillo.

According to Amarillo Matters’ release: “We started working on this during the last legislative session. Our goal was to get funding in the state budget for a vet school in Amarillo,” Board Treasurer Andrew Hall said. More than $4 million was eventually allocated to Texas Tech to begin initial plans for a school. “This is the perfect example of the types of projects we are going to focus on. It’s something that will not only benefit Amarillo but the entire Panhandle and beyond,” Hall added. 

It’s fair ask: What can be wrong with that?

I have lamented about flashes in the pan that come and go on occasion in Amarillo. We hear from political candidates who emerge at election time; they lose and then they disappear, never to be seen or heard from again.

The same can be said of the organization formerly known as the Amarillo Millennial Movement. It formed to pitch its support for the multipurpose event venue. The MPEV was put to a citywide referendum vote in November 2015; it passed and then the AMM went poof! when the young woman who founded the organization moved to Fort Worth.

I’m glad that Amarillo Matters has resurfaced in some other form.

The city already is undergoing a significant makeover in its downtown district. Mayor Ginger Nelson has declared her intention to clean up residential alleys that have become cluttered with trash. Interstates 40 and 27 both are under major construction, as is Loop 335 along its Hollywood Road right-of-way.

Amarillo Matters will retain its PAC status as well, as the release notes: The group … will be involved in local elections. “We’re going to limit the races to those that have a direct impact on our city, economy and future,” Herrick said. The PAC has been watching the upcoming primary election and is expected to issue endorsements soon. 

I suspect those “endorsements” will generate their share of public discourse, debate and perhaps even a little dissension.

There’s nothing wrong with that, either.

Tear down the former Dilla Villa!

We drove by the Tri-State Fairgrounds this morning along Third Avenue when I noticed a well-known Amarillo eyesore.

I refer to Potter County Memorial “Stadium.” I put the word “Stadium” in quotes because it is nothing of the sort. It is a rat hole, a dump, a run down, has-been venue that to my way of thinking no longer has any value to Amarillo.

My advice to the Potter County Commissioners Court? Tear the thing down! Scoop up the rubble and take it to the landfill. Clear the land, landscape it and turn it into something a damn sight more attractive than what sits on it at this moment.

Potter County owns the rat trap once known as the Dilla Villa. The Amarillo Dillas were playing some form of minor-league baseball at that venue when my wife and I arrived on the High Plains in early 1995. It was a dump back then, too. Its condition has worsened over the years. The men’s restroom stinks; the plumbing is poor; the outfield grass looks like a combination of at least three types of grass seed.

The condition of the venue was so bad that the sandlot organization that played ball there until this past year decided it wasn’t good enough for them. So they abandoned Amarillo.

Yes, I am aware that it has some history here. Longtime residents have a certain historical affection for the building. I don’t know what constitutes “longtime.” I have lived here for nearly 23 years; I figure that’s long enough to qualify me as someone with some history in Amarillo.

I’ve been cheering the construction of the upcoming venue that’s going to be built downtown. They’ll break ground soon, or so I understand, on a 4,500-seat ballpark near City Hall. It will be the home field for a new AA minor-league team that is relocating from San Antonio for the start of the 2019 season.

It will be a “multipurpose event venue” that can play host to a whole array of outdoor activities. It won’t be just a baseball park.

This means to me that the Potter County Rat Hole no longer is viable. It means the county needs to rid itself of a venue with zero potential. Have you seen the exterior of the outfield wall facing Third and Grand? It ain’t pretty, man.

I am aware that at least three members of the Commissioners Court read this blog. That’s a majority. If they’re going to be convinced by anything I say here in this forum, then I encourage them to take action.

Get rid of that rotten structure!

This trash pickup plan works!

I stand before you — actually, I’m sitting — to testify in favor of Amarillo’s new municipal trash pickup regimen.

It works, I’m tellin’ ya!

My wife and I had a couple of large items we wanted to discard from our southwest Amarillo home. I called the city solid waste collection office, told them what we had and was told to put it on the front yard, near the curb.

A truck would come by in about 24 hours to pick it up.

Well, by golly. It did. The truck’s two-man crew picked up the items. They are gone, heading off to Solid Waste Heaven.

This is a beautification project announced the other day by Mayor Ginger Nelson. She said that residential alleys have become collection points for unsightly debris. Come to think of it, is there any other kind? Well, I reckon you know what I mean.

Amarillo is not what I would call a grimy, trash-laden community. In my travels around the country, even in our recent sojourns in all directions from the High Plains, I have seen many communities that present giant eyesores to the casual visitor/passerby.

However, any effort to doll the city up is OK in my book.

To that end, I applaud the mayor and her vision. Nelson campaigned on a lengthy platform of issues she said needed to be addressed. Beautification happens to be one of them.

Now … let’s get busy dressing up those highway rights-of-way.

Just wondering: Amarillo Matters … where is it?

A political action group emerged from nowhere earlier this year. It called itself Amarillo Matters. Its mission, as I understand it, was to elect a slate of candidates to the City Council.

It succeeded. This past spring, voters flipped the entire five-member council, electing five newbies. Amarillo Matters then seemingly packed its bags, and its members went back to whatever they were doing before they formed this political action committee.

They were mostly successful businessmen and women. Their agenda included electing individuals who shared their pro-business tilt. Hey, I have no problem with that.

There’s been some success in the months since the new council members took office. Chief among them is the landing of that AA minor-league baseball franchise that is relocating to Amarillo from San Antonio and will play baseball at the new ballpark that will be built in downtown Amarillo; they’ll toss the first pitch in April 2019.

That’s a big deal, man.

But what has become of Amarillo Matters? It’s no longer garnering headlines, or any discussion on local broadcast media. I looked at its website this evening. It’s still up. AM has a link where one can contribute money; I am not giving them any dough.

I’ve written plenty about them already:

http://highplainsblogger.com/?s=Amarillo+Matters

Given that I am unplugged from most of what’s going on at City Hall these days, I am left to use this blog to pose questions about some of the community’s key players.

I consider Amarillo Matters to be an important cog in the city’s civic machinery. I know many of the folks who formed the PAC’s leadership team earlier this year. I respect them, too.

I hope it hasn’t become what the Amarillo Millennial Movement turned out to be: a flash in the pan. AMM formed to promote the approval of the ballpark in the November 2015 municipal referendum. The measure passed — and AMM then vanished, vaporized, disappeared. Yes, I am aware that the AMM comprised essentially one individual, a young woman who moved to Fort Worth. But you get my point, yes?

Amarillo Matters, where are you and what are you doing to make sure that that Amarillo still, um, matters?

Renaming buildings and streets? Follow a simple formula

Amarillo city officials are considering some ordinances related to building and street renaming.

There’s been a bit of controversy about that in recent times, with Amarillo public school officials considering whether to rename an elementary school that currently is named after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, whose participation in the Civil War has come under scrutiny of late.

Hey, I have one recommendation for Amarillo City Hall: Whatever you decide, be sure to avoid naming a building or street after a living individual.

No living honorees

The city named its administration building in 2014 after the late City Commissioner Jim Simms; it named its international airport after Rick Husband, the astronaut who died aboard the shuttle Columbia in 2003; Amarillo has named part of a street after Justin Scherlen, a police officer who died in the line of duty.

Cities that name structures or streets after living individuals run the risk of being embarrassed by the “honored” individual. The most prominent example that comes to my mind involves Pete Rose, the former Cincinnati Reds baseball great who got a street named in his honor in Cincy; then Rose got ensnared in a gambling scandal that resulted in his being banned for life from induction in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. The city took Rose’s name off the street.

So, go ahead, City Hall, with considering this ordinance. I have no problem with the city having a policy for this process — as long as it involves individuals who have left this world.

Good luck, City Council.

Now we have a design for The Ballpark

Yep. It looks like a ballpark.

Amarillo’s Local Government Corp. has approved a design concept for arguably the most significant downtown project of the past half-century.

It doesn’t have a name just yet. It’s going to be a multipurpose event venue, or MPEV. It’s also going to be a minor-league baseball venue, a ballpark. It’ll cost about $45.5 million to build.

It’s going to be home to a AA minor-league baseball franchise that is moving from San Antonio to Amarillo. Plans call for the ballpark to be finished by February 2019. They’ll toss the first pitch for the new baseball season in April 2019.

City Councilman Eddie Sauer — a member of the LGC — said he saw something “iconic” in the design that the LGC approved unanimously. “When I looked at it, I immediately saw something iconic,” Sauer told the Amarillo Globe-News. “I felt like I could see the Potter County Courthouse, the Santa Fe Building. It was special, I felt, with an eye for what we already had downtown.”

They’ve knocked down and scraped away the remnants of the old Coca-Cola distribution center that used to occupy the site along South Buchanan Street. I noticed some piles of dirt on the site the other day while driving downtown.

Plans call for work to begin shortly after the first of the year. Elmore hasn’t yet signed the lease agreement but that event reportedly is imminent.

I keep hearing the naysayers give raspberries to this project. They keep wondering aloud why the city is spending so much of its effort in reviving downtown.

I also keep wondering: How in the world is all this a negative development for Amarillo? Yes, there have been some hiccups and missteps along the way. The city got through them. The LGC negotiated a 30-year lease agreement with the owner of the baseball team that’s coming here. The team owner, Elmore Sports Group, is going to pay the city $400,000 annually to rent the ballpark. The city plans to pay for the ballpark with hotel occupancy tax revenue.

And in the bargain, the city’s downtown district will breathe deeply and is expected to throb with activity. We’re already seeing new urban residences being built; there will be new retail establishments; retail space along the ground floor of a shiny new parking garage is beginning to fill up; the just-opened Embassy Suites hotel figures to attract conventions to the Civic Center.

This is a bad thing for Amarillo? To my way of thinking, it’s pretty damn good.

Amarillo’s downtown no longer recognizable

I made what I consider to be a startling discovery in downtown Amarillo, Texas.

After parking my car on a lot behind the brand new Embassy Suites hotel, I walked along Fillmore Street and turned the corner onto Sixth Avenue. I glanced across the street at a row of mostly empty storefronts along a shiny new wall — which I realized after a second or two was the north face of a new parking garage.

I glanced eastward toward the Civic Center just to be sure I hadn’t become disoriented. There it was. The Civic Center restored my bearings.

The discovery? It is that downtown Amarillo bears next to zero resemblance to the district I’ve come to know during my 22 years living in this Texas Panhandle community.

The Embassy Suites is now open for business. The parking garage is finished; indeed, I saw vehicles parked inside the structure.

My reason for venturing downtown this evening — in the rain — was to attend a retirement reception for a longtime friend and source I relied on when I worked for the Amarillo Globe-News. Gary Pitner is retiring as head of the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission; I’ll have more to say about Gary in a later blog post.

My point with this post is to take note of the immense change that has occurred in downtown Amarillo — and the change that is still occurring.

Downtown Amarillo’s evolution is a highly positive event. I sort of think of it as a butterfly that emerges from some sort of cocoon. I don’t want to sound mawkish here, but that moment as I made the turn toward the Embassy Suites door also was a realization that the evolution is real.

There’s much more to come, of course. That ballpark is going to be built across the street from City Hall. They’ll take about a year to build a 4,500-seat multipurpose event venue. By April 2019, the MPEV will be done and they’ll toss out the first pitch for a AA minor-league baseball season.

I’m beginning to think when that time arrives that downtown Amarillo will be even less recognizable then that it is today.

That will be a very good thing.

MPEV contract signed? Done!

Someone will have to explain to me why the news out of Amarillo City Hall is somehow bad for the city.

It’s going to take a mighty stout argument to persuade me.

The City Council today announced that Elmore Sports Group, the outfit that owns the San Antonio Missions AA baseball team, has signed a 30-year lease agreement to play minor-league baseball at the new ballpark set to be built across the street from City Hall.

The city plans to pay for the $45.5 million multipurpose event venue with hotel occupancy tax revenue. Elmore will pay the city $400,000 annually to rent the ballpark.

They’re going to break ground on the MPEV in early 2018; they plan to finish the venue in time for the start of the 2019 baseball season.

Get your hot dogs and cold beer right here!

What a journey it has been — and what a journey that lies ahead.

And yet, there is a continual chorus from a cadre of soreheads that keeps casting the city’s downtown revival in negative terms.

It seems like a hundred years ago that Amarillo voters approved a citywide “non-binding referendum” on whether to support construction of the MPEV. The cost of the building in November 2015 — when the election occurred — had been pegged at $32 million. The cost inflated a bit after the ballots were counted, which brought out some howls around the city.

It hasn’t been a smooth ride, to be sure.

Voters elected a new council majority in the spring of 2015 and there was some discussion about the council slamming the brakes on the MPEV. To its credit, the new council majority heeded its better angels and allowed the vote to proceed.

Prior to all of that we got to witness the general managing contractor — an outfit named Wallace Bajjali — disintegrate in a spat between its principal owners. It was damn ugly! They left the city without an organization that was supposed to coordinate all the moving parts. Fortunately for Amarillo, the organization’s demise didn’t damage the city’s commitment to proceeding with the ballpark/MPEV.

But there was some turnover in some key municipal management positions. Melissa Dailey essentially was forced out of her job as head of Downtown Amarillo Inc., City Manager Jarret Atkinson quit over his inability to work with the new council majority and Amarillo Economic Development Corporation President Buzz David retired and moved out of town.

But the MPEV kept moving forward.

The Local Government Corporation was able to get a tentative agreement with the Missions, who wanted out of the Alamo City, which courted a AAA franchise.

And today, everyone signed on the dotted line.

Downtown Amarillo has made tremendous strides in the past half-dozen years. We now have a first-class convention hotel and parking garage across the street from the Civic Center. The city is able to lure conventions to the Civic Center. Business is booming along with construction of downtown residence construction.

Why in the world is all of this is a bad thing for Amarillo?

I want to restate what I believe is quite obvious: Every thriving city in America has virtually one thing in common. They all boast thriving downtown districts.

Amarillo has taken a big step toward a bright future.