Tag Archives: Amarillo Civic Center

Lights on at Hodgetown

Hey, I heard they turned on the lights at Hodgetown!

You know what that means? It means that when the Amarillo Sod Poodles open their AA minor league baseball season at home on April 8 they won’t be playing hardball in the dark.

Amarillo, Texas, is less than a month away from entering a new era of sports entertainment. The Sod Poodles are going to play ball at the downtown ballpark that is nearing completion along Buchanan Street, next to City Hall/the Civic Center and in the midst of a building boom that is still under way in the city’s downtown district.

I will be in Amarillo on opening night. My wife and I will be there to get our fifth wheel RV out of storage and take it on a jaunt downstate and on toward New Orleans.

But I just might sock a couple extra bucks in my pocket and get us a ticket or two for the Sod Poodles’ opening night game downtown.

I’ve been cheering this endeavor on for longer than I can remember. It’s only right to be there to watch ’em toss out the first pitch.

My strong sense is that the city is about to turn an important corner on its way toward economic revival.

Watching the rebirth of a city’s downtown

I don’t get back to Amarillo, Texas, as often these days. My wife and I are getting set to plant new roots in a home in Collin County.

We aren’t going to cease returning to the city we called “home” for more than decades. I am getting anxious to witness the rebirth of its downtown district.

You know already that I am a big supporter of the changes that are under way in the Texas Panhandle community. I am heartened by the expected completion of Hodgetown, the baseball park that will be the home field for the AA minor-league Amarillo Sod Poodles baseball squad; the Sod Poodles open their home season on April 8. As an aside, my wife and I will be in Amarillo that day, getting ready to shove off in our fifth wheel for a trip downstate and then to New Orleans; hmm, I might look for a way to attend that opening-night game.

I simply am amazed that the city has embarked on this urban revival journey. When we arrived in Amarillo in early 1995 we saw little evidence of a municipal appetite for the pro-active approach we have witnessed unfold there. City Hall operated on a policy of letting private business fuel any significant change. The city took a hands-off approach; it didn’t want to invest public money on what it considered to be a private venture.

That has changed to a large degree at City Hall. Two mayors, Debra McCartt and Paul Harpole moved the City Council forward in pushing for development of the ballpark. It promoted what it called “catalyst projects” that would bloom in the wake of the ballpark’s completion. Those projects appear to be bearing fruit.

The city welcomed the opening of a first-class hotel; it is pledging to make major improvements to the Civic Center; Polk Street — once known as Amarillo’s “main drag” — is coming back to life; renovated buildings on Polk are welcoming something called “pop up” businesses; the Barfield Building is in the process of being repurposed into a Marriott “boutique hotel.”

This all makes my head spin.

And I don’t even live there!

Every return to Amarillo we make these days fills us with surprises. We’ll be back again soon. I await the next jaw-dropper.

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.

Cultural District: ready for some tangible results

Amarillo wants to become a destination for those who seek a cultural awakening.

Given that I’m out of the loop these days as a former print journalist, I am not entirely privy to the nuts and bolts of what is going on in every corner of the city.

I once wrote a blog for Panhandle PBS. The final installment in my series of blogs dealt with the then-pending designation of an Arts and Cultural District for Amarillo.

Here is what I wrote for the final time for Panhandle PBS.

The Texas Arts Commission eventually approved Amarillo’s request for an Arts and Cultural District designation. As I wrote in April 2016, I consider this to be a huge step forward in the city’s evolution.

I wrote then about the impact that the arts have on the Texas economy: The districts apply for grants through the Texas Commission for the Arts, which estimates that the arts generate approximately $5.1 billion annually to the Texas economy; of that total, about $320 million comes from sales tax revenue.

The city has many ways to measure the impact of the cultural district. Suffice to say, though, that the city is making some mighty large strides toward reaping the rewards of a beefed-up arts and entertainment community.

Allow  me to turn briefly to the construction of that downtown ballpark/multipurpose event venue that is well under way. The soreheads around the city keep yapping about the ballpark being a single-purpose venue: It will be the home field beginning in April 2019 to a AA minor-league baseball team that will move here from San Antonio.

But as the saying might go, “There’s more ‘there’ there.” Or at least that is the hope of those who want to see the MPEV take root and grow. There well could be plans to stage community events in the shiny new venue: concerts, for example; or perhaps some communitywide gatherings featuring food and music.

The cultural district does have plenty with which to work. I think of the musical “Texas” performed during the summer in Palo Duro Canyon, the Broadway series of musicals at the Civic Center and the Amarillo Little Theater.

There’s plenty of ground to plow here. Plenty of ways to market the city’s art and its myriad entertainment offerings.

I will join the rest of the community and await the big payoff. I don’t know when it will arrive, but I’m sure I’ll recognize it when it does.

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.

‘In the Mood’ puts one in the mood

I am “In the Mood” to say something good about downtown Amarillo’s progress toward a more modern, energetic future.

My wife and I just watched a grand musical production featuring the kind of big-band music that both of our fathers would have relished. It was called “In the Mood” and it featured a troupe of dancers, singers, a “big band” — imagine that — and some patriotic tributes to veterans and active-duty military personnel.

I won’t bore you with a critique of the show, as I am not an entertainment critic.

I do, though, want to extol yet again what I see is some serious progress in downtown’s extreme makeover.

It’s happening, man.

The musical took place at the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts, which is clearly the finest entertainment venue in Amarillo. The sound in the hall is pitch perfect. There ain’t a bad seat in the house.

The performing arts center, too, is just one element of the growing and changing face of downtown. That Embassy Suites is looking like an actual hotel; the parking garage next to it has risen out of the pavement and dirt. Many of the rest of us are awaiting construction of that ballpark, which I hope begins soon, although I am not yet holding my breath.

A friend of mine who also happens to work for the Convention and Visitors Council informed me a couple of weeks ago that the Embassy Suites is doing precisely what it is intended to do: lure convention business to Amarillo that the city had been missing because it lacked adequate convention lodging downtown. He said the city has booked conventions at the Civic Center through 2022.

I haven’t even mentioned — until this very moment — all the other construction that’s underway with new businesses sprouting up on abandoned blocks throughout the downtown area.

Business is brisk in our downtown district.

OK, so tonight’s gig at the Globe-News Center was just one event. We’ve had other one-night stands at that venue as well as at the Civic Center Auditorium and the Cal Farley Coliseum across the street.

We left the event tonight and then drove home believing that the city’s future seems a good bit brighter than it was just a little while ago.

It’s certainly shining like a blinding light compared to what we saw when we arrived on the High Plains more than 22 years ago.

MPEV takes another step forward


They’re starting to knock down a vacant building in downtown Amarillo.

What will take its place? City officials want the new occupant on the property next City Hall to be a ballpark where a minor-league team will play some hardball.


It’s called for the moment a multipurpose event venue. There will be other activities taking place at this venue than just baseball. But the city is in the midst of negotiating for a relocation of the San Antonio Missions to Amarillo, where they would play ball in the $45 million venue.

It’s not a done deal just yet.

San Antonio is trying to lure a Class AAA team to replace the AA team that wants to relocate. In order for the Missions to head north, someone will have to take the field in the Alamo City.

Meanwhile, the now-vacant Coca-Cola distribution center is being knocked down in Amarillo. They’ll clear the lot of debris in short order.

Then it gets serious. The city needs a design. It needs a firm cost for the venue. It needs a team to suit up and take the field.

I will admit to skepticism that the current City Council would be able to move this project as far along as it has. It has proven me wrong — which at some level is no great shakes, given that I’m wrong more than I am right. I believe I had reason to be skeptical, given that the new council members had expressed some doubt about the wisdom of the entire project.

The demolition of the Coke center, though, does give me renewed hope that Amarillo’s downtown revival is proceeding more or less as projected.

We’ve got that hotel going up across Buchanan Street next to the parking garage. Voters will decide several propositions on their municipal ballot; one of them includes a proposed renovation and expansion of the Civic Center.

All we need now is an affiliated baseball team to sign on the dotted line. Then we need them ready to play ball.

My optimism is strong.

Expand and improve Civic Center? Absolutely!

ama civic center

“SHALL the City Council of the City of Amarillo, Texas, be authorized to issue general obligation bonds of the City in the principal amount of $83,430,000 for permanent public improvements and public purposes, to wit:  constructing, improving, expanding, renovating and equipping civic center facilities and the acquisition of land therefor; such bonds to mature serially or otherwise over a period not to exceed twenty-five (25) years from their date, to be issued and sold in one or more series at any price or prices and to bear interest at any rate or rates (fixed, floating, variable or otherwise) as shall be determined within the discretion of the City Council at the time of issuance or sale of the bonds; and whether ad valorem taxes shall be levied upon all taxable property in the City sufficient to pay the annual interest and provide a sinking fund to pay the bonds at maturity?”

* Proposition 5 on the Nov. 8 Amarillo municipal ballot

That might be the longest sentence ever written in English. Ever!

But it speaks directly to an issue that has been on the top of Amarillo residents’ minds ever since, oh, we began talking about building the multipurpose event venue across the street from City Hall.

Amarillo City Council has put forward seven ballot propositions. This one, No. 5, deals directly with the Civic Center.

This is the first in a series of blog posts — as I promised earlier — commenting on the propositions coming to us this November.

The city asks residents to spend $83 million and change to improve, rehabilitate and “expand” the Civic Center.

Those who objected to the MPEV said the Civic Center ought to be a higher priority for the city than building a new ballpark. They cited the city’s lack of convention meeting space. Meanwhile, pro-MPEV forces argued that the new venue would be a great attraction for people to venture downtown for an evening of entertainment — which doesn’t argue directly against Civic Center improvements.

The Civic Center is a decent venue for conventions. Sure, it could stand some improvements. The Cal Farley Coliseum isn’t exactly a first-rate sports venue. It’s cramped, with limited seating for hockey and indoor football, although fairness requires me to say that neither the hockey team or the football team play to many sellout crowds during their respective seasons.

Still, an $83 million price tag would seem to do quite a bit for the Civic Center, which has been standing along Buchanan Street since the late 1960s.

Here’s our chance, then, to improve this venue to make it an even better draw for convention business.

Hey, we’ve got that five-star Embassy Suites hotel going up across the street. The folks staying there ought to be able to do their business in a first-cabin convention center as well.

City is getting its infrastructure act together


I’ve been yapping and yammering for a year about all the “change” that arrived at Amarillo City Hall with the election of three new City Council members.

Some of it has been good. Some, well, not so good.

I want to address one of the “good” changes that is developing as I write this brief blog post.

Amarillo interim City Manager Terry Childers has laid out the case for the city to ask its residents — the bosses, if you will — this question: How much are you willing to pay for some critical infrastructure needs?

He spoke to Panhandle PBS on Thursday night in a “Live Here” segment that, to my ears, illustrates a fundamental shift in the city’s approach to applying good government.

Here’s the interview:


Amarillo has long boasted about its low municipal property tax rate. It’s the lowest of any city “of significance” in Texas, Childers said. The issue, though, is that it’s not enough to take care of those capital needs and “maintenance and operation” the city must meet.

Childers talked about the need to repair and replace roads, sewer lines and to modernize the Civic Center. How is the city going to do that? It has to ask the residents to pony up the dough.

There might be a 1-, 2-, 3-, or 4-cent increase in the municipal property tax rate. Each penny of increase in the amount per $100 assessed property valuation will enable the city to borrow funds to pay for the improvements.

Given that the city is virtually debt free, Childers seems to suggest that the time has come to ask for residents for some help in paying for these needs.

Amarillo already is undergoing a serious makeover of its downtown district. There’s already been some public commitment, but the bulk of the money is coming from private investors. Very soon, the city will start knocking down the old Coca-Cola distribution center to make room for that multipurpose event venue. I remain delighted to see the changes that have occurred already downtown — and await eagerly the changes that are about to come.

But the city needs to do a lot of work to fix its streets, sewer lines and other infrastructure amenities that we all need.

Childers is making a strong case for those needs.

A ‘cultural district’ for Amarillo? Fascinating

center city

As if Amarillo isn’t going through enough change with its evolving downtown landscape, now comes an interesting concept from Center City.

Let’s create a cultural district designed to promote the arts in this city. So says Center City director Beth Duke, who believes the city is ripe for a grant that could be applied to promoting the arts.

It would run from Western Street to Grant Street. It would include several art venues, such as the Little Theater, the Globe-News performing arts center, Sunset Center Art Galleries and the Civic Center.

I’m still trying to wrap my noggin around the notion.

However, as with most new ideas, this one seems worth a close look.

According to NewsChannel 10: “We can promote it as a unified cultural district for tourism,” said Duke. “We can go out for special grants, and it may lead to some more events and some more partnerships.”

The city could be venturing into some fascinating new territory here.

Duke said the city will apply soon for the grant and will learn fairly quickly after that whether it will receive funds to apply to this concept.

The proverbial light bulb came on recently in my own head about the downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. TIRZ board chairman Scott Bentley explained it to me in simple enough language for even little ol’ me to understand it.

So it might have to be with the cultural district idea that Center City is pitching.

I’m willing to listen to it.

The payoff seems a bit distant as I consider how the creation of such a district would work.

Then again, isn’t that why God created marketing specialists to figure these things out?