Tag Archives: Amarillo Civic Center

Might the Herring have a future, too?

The Barfield Building renovation is proceeding toward a spring opening of the one-time rotting hulk of a structure. It will be reborn as a “boutique” hotel.

By all means, downtown Amarillo, Texas, has much more work ahead of it. I am going to wonder aloud whether there might be something in the wind regarding the Herring Hotel Plaza, which sits a few blocks north of the Barfield.

This isn’t an original thought. I heard it from a little birdie/Amarillo snitch the other day, but I want to share it with y’all.

Amarillo city officials are looking around for someplace to relocate City Hall. They say they want to find an existing structure where they could move what’s left of the city administration still operating at the current City Hall into another location. Much of the administrative work is being done at the Jim Simms building, leaving City Hall with essentially a skeleton crew.

So, here’s a thought: Might there be any interest in relocating City Hall into the Herring Hotel site, along with a mixed-use development that could occupy the rest of the once-grand structure?

City officials are maintaining a code of silence on what they’re thinking, or so I have been advised. They are pondering whether to present a bond issue proposal to voters next spring that would total more than $300 million. They want to renovate the Civic Center, dress up the Santa Fe Railroad Depot and, oh yeah, relocate City Hall.

The Herring Hotel has been dark for a very long time. Its owner, a retired academician named Bob Goodrich, has sought to find a suitable developer; he has come up empty. Goodrich pays the taxes annually on the building and tries to keep it secure against trespassers and transients who seek shelter from the elements.

The Herring used to be the place to go, to see and to be seen. It played host to lavish parties and once was a first-class hotel.

Downtown Amarillo does not lack suitable locations for City Hall. I understand there’s some interest in some bank structures scattered around the downtown district.

However, would it not be a masterful public relations stroke of genius to identify a way to convert the Herring into a usable office building, combined with housing and perhaps a smattering of retail business?

I believe there remains a significant bit of nostalgia for the Herring around Amarillo. Heck, I even have changed my mind about the building. I used to believe it needed a wrecking ball; I no longer hold that belief. Surely there can be some use for the structure.

If City Hall is committed to relocating into an existing downtown structure, officials have a grand building looming a few blocks away.

Psst … hey, City Hall, be sure to tell public where you’re going

A little birdie has informed me of a development that needs some fleshing out up yonder in Amarillo, where city officials are pondering a way to present a bond issue to voters that could drastically remake the shape and location of municipal government.

At issue is a discussion over a potential $300 million-plus bond issue that would involve an expansion/renovation of the Civic Center, renovation of the Santa Fe Depot and the relocation of City Hall.

It’s the last item I want to discuss briefly.

I understand from my source that the City Council is keeping its relocation options quiet regarding where it wants to relocate City Hall. The city wants to move the government operations center into an existing structure downtown.

So, you might be wondering: Where? Which building? What’s involved in the renovation of that structure into a workable municipal complex?

City officials are looking at a possible May 2020 bond issue election date. That’s not too far out there, folks. It seems to me that the site of new City Hall would need to be known to the public that would decide whether to spend that kind of money.

I don’t know how far along the city is in its determination of where to relocate City Hall. My hope would be that once the city administration and the council decide that they all would reveal in detail to the public what it has in mind and how it intends to accomplish its goal.

The city already has peeled off a lot of its administrative functions from City Hall, moving many of those functions into the Jim Simms Administration Building. So it would appear that the city doesn’t need as much space for a new City Hall as has at its current site across the street from Hodgetown, the Sod Poodles’ ballpark.

But … first things first.

Be sure to let the public know what the council has in mind and where it intends to place it. The sooner the better.

Do not split this bond package into bite-sized bits

Whatever decision comes from the Amarillo City Council regarding a theoretical bond issue to fix the Civic Center and relocate City Hall, my hope stands eternal.

Do not break this bond issue into small pieces, giving voters a chance to shop for which of the projects they prefer.

Put it all out there under a single measure. Make the voters swallow all of it or spit it out.

The city is pondering a bond issue that would total more than $300 million. Under discussion is a plan to renovate the Civic Center, built in 1968 and in dire need of an upgrade; renovation of the Santa Fe Railroad Depot building next to the Civic Center, turning into a showplace; relocation of City Hall into an existing downtown structure.

I don’t know what the cost will be. It’s likely to be well north of $300 million. I do believe the city needs the projects it is considering.

I suppose the city could decide to forgo some of the ideas under consideration. At the very least the city should proceed with the Civic Center project. The Cal Farley Coliseum is too small, too cramped and too old to be good for much more than what it hosts already: arena football and minor-league hockey. As for City Hall’s relocation, perhaps that project can be sold, too, as an essential need that would enable the city to provide better service for its 200,000 constituents. The Santa Fe Depot job? That might be a debatable point.

Still, whatever the decision, the city shouldn’t bust up the projects into bite-sized morsels for voters to ponder.

The city is considering putting this bond issue on the ballot in May 2020. That’s as good a date as any.

Just keep the bond issue proposal all together, city leaders.

Wishing I could vote in favor of this issue

I am left to endorse a project without having an actual voice in assuring its approval.

The project to which I refer involves an extreme makeover of the Amarillo Civic Center, the renovation of a historic railroad depot across the street from the center and the relocation Amarillo’s City Hall to a suitable existing structure downtown.

But … I cannot vote on it when it comes to a vote. My hope is that the city doesn’t back down from a proposal it will consider.

The bill will be hefty, more than $300 million. The Civic Center needs more convention space and the Cal Farley Coliseum needs a serious upgrade to accommodate more than truck/tractor pulls, hockey and arena football; OK, the coliseum occasionally hosts a concert … but those who’ve been inside understand the need for a serious upgrade.

As for the City Hall relocation, I am a bit torn on this one. One of my social media friends wondered the other day whether the recently vacated Amarillo Globe-News building at Ninth Avenue and Harrison Street might work. I answered him with a “Maybe.” I don’t know how the square footage in the G-N building compares with the current City Hall.

I also remember something that a former Amarillo mayor once said to me about the municipal headquarters. He called it the “ugliest City Hall complex in the United States.” I have to agree that the exterior of the building is pretty damn ugly.

Here’s another potential hiccup: The stone Earth on the municipal complex. How would the city relocate that, if it needed to be relocated? It was a gift to the city from the Globe-News as part of its Celebrate 2000 commemoration back at the turn of the 21st century.

Well, the city is considering a bond issue that I believe it should present to voters in a single package. All or nothing, man! It’s worth doing, in my humble view.

The city might schedule the bond election in May 2020. That would work, too. At least one chronic sorehead has pitched the idea of having it on Presidential Election Day, in November of next year. It shouldn’t matter.

If the city is going to bring maximum public attention to this needed project, residents ought to respond with a hefty vote total.

My only regret is that I cannot cast a vote in favor of this project.

Amarillo would be poised to reap the benefit of a shiny new Civic Center. Let the debate commence.

Civic Center renovation? Absolutely! It needs it!

Back when Amarillo’s civic, business and political leadership were talking up the need to build a event venue/ballpark downtown, one could hear grumbling from some quarters that went something like this: Why don’t you do something with the Civic Center? It needs improvement … badly.

Hodgetown has been built; the Amarillo Sod Poodles have completed their initial regular season of AA minor league baseball before virtually packed houses every night. Downtown Amarillo’s evolution is progressing nicely.

The City Council is now proposing a major renovation, reconstruction of its 51-year-old Civic Center. It’s going to cost some money, about $300-plus million. The city is planning to conduct a bond issue election in May 2020 to ask for residents’ permission.

Ahh, but that ain’t all of it. The city wants to renovate the old Santa Fe Railroad Depot structure next to the Civic Center. Here’s my favorite part: relocation of City Hall to an existing downtown structure; no building a new City Hall from scratch. The city thinks it can find a suitable existing structure to house its municipal offices. I have thought just a bit about what might be available, but I am coming up empty.

You want ambition? You want proactive government? This is it, folks!

A new Civic Center in the works

I happen to support the notion in principle. OK, I don’t live in Amarillo any longer. I just happen to be a Texas Panhandle ex-pat who returns to Amarillo on occasion to see family and friends — and to witness the progress I envision for the city my wife and I called home for more than two decades.

The Civic Center was built in 1968. The Cal Farley Coliseum is a fine venue for truck pulls, along with hockey and indoor arena football. The coliseum’s roof isn’t nearly far enough off the deck to suit event planners.

From what I have seen of the concept being kicked around, the council is talking about an extreme makeover, with tens of thousands more square feet of convention space and some serious green space landscaping around the structure.

Here is what I also hope the city does not do: I do not want the city to break up the project into bite-sized morsels. Please, city officials, do not separate the Civic Center complex job from the Santa Fe Depot job, or from the new City Hall location.

Residents ought to be able to determine whether they want all of it. Amarillo has gone down this a la carte method before. Residents have been picky about what they like.

To its credit, the city planning some “public feedback forums” to give officials some guidance on how to proceed. My other great hope is that residents show up and offer their comment — while at the same time avoiding the implication that the city is proceeding in secret.

This project — all of it — is likely to bring untold benefit to a city I believe is on the move. As for the Hodgetown naysayers, here is your opportunity to campaign hard for a project you said you wanted in the first place.

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.