Tag Archives: Amarillo EDC

AEDC keeps earning its spurs

Amarillo has just witnessed yet another example of the wisdom its voters exhibited in 1989 when they approved the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation.

AEDC has pledged $69 million to Texas Tech University as an inducement for the construction of a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo.

For the past 29 years, AEDC has had its share of successes of varying degrees of significance. Has it batted a thousand? No. There have been some misfires. But the Tech vet school initiative is a big deal that over time is going to rank up there with another huge catch that AEDC managed to reel in.

I refer to the Bell/Textron aircraft assembly operation along Airport Boulevard, next to Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. AEDC kicked in about $45 million in 1998 to bring Bell back to Amarillo from Fort Worth.

Critics of that initiative bitched out loud about it. But the funding mechanism that AEDC uses was put to good use when Bell decided to build the assembly plant where it puts together the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft; the Bell operation has expanded as well, with work on various military helicopters.

AEDC collects money from a half-cent sales tax derived from the purchase of goods and services. Over many years, AEDC has built a significant fund that it invests to allow it to grow and which AEDC then uses to lure prospective businesses to Amarillo — and to the greater Panhandle region.

The Hilmar Cheese project is another AEDC project that has paid off handsomely for the region. Yes, the plant is in Dalhart and AEDC’s involvement in granting public money did attract some negative response. Then-AEDC head Buzz David dismissed the criticism, noting correctly that the jobs created by the cheese operation would ripple across the Panhandle and, yes, into Amarillo. And they have.

Amarillo voters delivered a visionary endorsement at a time when the city — indeed, the region and the state — were going through a difficult economic period. The late 1980s was an unhappy period in Amarillo, but the creation of AEDC perhaps demonstrated a community’s need to roll the dice on a new endeavor that at the time presented only the promise of a better day.

That promise has been delivered.

Here’s an idea: How about sprucing up AMA?

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson rode into office partly on the strength of an ambitious six-point campaign platform.

It pays a lot of attention to economic development, fiscal responsibility, accountability to taxpayers and even makes a nod toward improving the appearance of public rights-of-way along our interstate highways.

I didn’t see any mention of Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. Indeed, I am keeping my copy of an Amarillo Globe-News story that profiled Nelson’s campaign platform; my intent is to remind myself of issues she is addressing and which of them she needs to devote more attention.

About the airport.

I just returned this evening from a quick trip to AMA and noticed a couple of things about the site.

One is that the grounds immediately around the covered parking structures look better than they have looked in recent months. The grass is cut and trimmed. I did notice a number of weeds sprouting through the pavement in the parking lot. Tsk, tsk.

The other thing I continually notice as I drive along Airport Drive is that it, um, is so non-descript. I didn’t notice a “Welcome to Amarillo” sign, or any roadside artwork that depicts the personality of the community travelers are visiting … many for the first time, or perhaps for the only time.

I make the point about AMA for this reason: In the 1990s, the city spent a lot of tax money to subsidize jet traffic provided by American Airlines. The idea of spending Amarillo Economic Development Corporation sales tax revenue on these jet aircraft was to make air travel more comfortable for business travelers. The AEDC subsidy was intended to lure business to Amarillo. It drew its share of criticism from other communities. Frankly, it sounded like so much sour grapes.

I found the strategy to be innovative, aggressive and ambitious. The city ended the subsidy. American Airlines pulled the jets out of its Amarillo-to-D/FW route — for a time. Then the airline brought jet traffic back to AMA, as did United Airlines and Continental; Southwest always flew jets in and out of AMA.

The city once staked a lot of public money on air service at its airport. What’s more, in recent years the city has renovated and remodeled AMA, modernizing the terminal, turning it into an attractive site.

We have a new mayor and an entirely new City Council making policy at City Hall. Our new city manager, Jared Miller, came here from San Marcos with a reputation as someone who emphasized economic development.

I’ll throw this idea out to them all for consideration: How about developing some sort of strategy to make Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport a good bit more inviting to those who come here from the Metroplex, from Houston, Denver, from Las Vegas or from Phoenix?

There might be a business opportunity to be gained for the city if the traveler gets a first-glimpse look at what the city has to offer on his or her way out of the airport.

Just some food for thought, folks.

Randall County office also set for major makeover

I have been commenting from time to time about the extreme makeover under way in downtown Amarillo.

Given that I don’t get out quite as much as I did when I worked for a living, I recently discovered another makeover project for which many Randall County employees — and perhaps residents, too — have been waiting.

We were driving south on Western Street when I shot a glance to the right and noticed a building that used to house an insurance company. Eventually, it’s going to house the Randall County Courthouse Annex.

Work on the building is well under way.

County Judge Ernie Houdashell told me some weeks ago about the purchase of the old Nationwide building and the realization of his longtime effort to relocate the county annex from its cramped quarters at South Georgia Street and Interstate 27.

I give Houdashell a huge dose of credit for bringing this project together. He had dickered and bickered with the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation to sell the Nationwide structure to the county. AEDC apparently had some issues that it was able to resolve with the county.

So now the county owns the structure and is refitting it to meet its needs.

The annex does the vast majority of the county’s tax business, even though the county seat is in Canyon, about 15 miles south of Amarillo, which straddles the Randall-Potter County line. Amarillo contains about 75 percent of Randall County’s population and generates about 80 percent of the tax revenue used to finance county government.

The annex will include the auto registration operation, along with a sheriff’s department presence and Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace court. I cannot recall the precise square footage increase that the county will get in the new structure, but I am aware that it’s going to be substantially more than it has at the Georgia Street site.

What’s going to happen to the current annex building? Houdashell hopes the county can deed it over to the Texas Panhandle War Memorial, which is in the process of raising money for its new interpretive center.

Houdashell, always the dealmaker, already has added an F-100 fighter jet to the War Memorial grounds, along with a Vietnam War-era UH-1 Huey helicopter, the kind of ship on which Houdashell served during the Vietnam War.

Yes, the downtown work is important to Amarillo and will bring tremendous value to the city over time when all the work is done. It’s not the only place, though, that’s undergoing a serious change.

I will look forward to watching the courthouse annex work progress — along with Randall County’s continuing evolution.

After all that … council makes a great AEDC choice

Well, that was a bit of a bumpy ride but the Amarillo City Council finally finished a short trip down a rocky road.

It chose Laura Street — a certifiable force of economic development nature — to fill a vacancy on the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation.

The vacancy occurred when Ginger Nelson resigned while announcing her candidacy for mayor.

The council voted 4-1 to select Street, with Councilman Randy Burkett casting the lone negative vote; hmmm, imagine that.

The ride got a bit bumpy toward the end of this process when applications for the AEDC post went missing. They were “overlooked” by council members. One applicant, real estate developer Perry Williams, emerged as a “favorite” for the spot when his application was discovered. It turned out Williams wasn’t answering city requests to meet with him — and then he pulled his name out of consideration.

The council looked a bit like a gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

Then it hit pay dirt with Street’s appointment. Street has been active in civic and business affairs for years and she brings a huge demonstrated commitment to the city’s economic well-being to her new post.

AEDC’s mission has been revamped a bit since the resignation of City Manager Jarrett Atkinson. The former interim manager, Terry Childers, took some of AEDC’s duties away from the board and placed them in the hands of City Hall staffers. AEDC president and CEO Buzz David retired and moved to Washington state. Now the corporation has a new CEO and it has a full complement of board members.

What’s more, the city has a new manager — Jared Miller — who got the job largely on the basis of his emphasis and experience with economic development.

So, let’s get busy.

Amarillo’s political divide has been exposed

mayor and nair

Just when some of us had hoped the Amarillo City Council’s five-man lineup might learn to cooperate among themselves, we see an exhibition of non-cooperation.

Let’s see how this goes.

The council was going to consider two appointments to the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, the city’s publicly funded development arm. The debate got a bit rowdy, as I understand it.

Two council members, Mayor Paul Harpole and Councilman Brian Eades, objected to the appointments being considered. The other three supported them.

Then came a motion from one of the other three, Councilman Randy Burkett, to shut down the public meeting and vote without any further public discussion.

Then the council voted 3-2 to seat the two new members — Craig Gualtiere and Brian Heinrich.

That was it.

I’m not going to comment — at least not today — on the individuals who’ve been seated. I know one of them pretty well. I consider him a friend.

What does trouble me are two aspects of this selection process: the effort to shut down the public discussion and the division that splits the three newest members of the council from the two more experienced hands.

Burkett, Mark Nair and Elisha Demerson all were elected to bring change, openness and transparency to the council. Their actions this week in shutting down the discussion speaks to other instincts that look a lot like what they accused the former council of doing.

Public comment be damned!

As for the division that laid itself wide open this week, that will need to be dealt with as the council moves forward on a number of citywide projects and policy decisions. I don’t mind tension among governing officials if it leads to constructive conclusions.

My hope here is that the division that erupted over the AEDC selection doesn’t stymie the work of the economic development agency, which in my view has done well for the city since voters approved its creation in 1989.

As for shutting out the public’s views on who should serve, let us also remember: The AEDC parcels out public money collected from a portion of the sales tax revenue contributed by, um, the public.

That is our business being conducted. The public has every right to have a say in determining who is making these decisions.

Stay the course with AEDC

Screen-Shot-2015-06-24-at-12.21.16-PM-1024x260

Buzz David’s tenure as head of Amarillo’s leading economic development arm is about to end.

I read the newspaper account of his supposed “retirement” twice this afternoon and I’m left with a nagging takeaway: There seems to be more than meets the eye in his announced departure from the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation.

I don’t know the particulars. AEDC called his announcement a “retirement,” while David insists he’s going to stay in the economic development game after his tenure at AEDC ends late this month.

Whatever the case turns out to be, I want to declare that AEDC has succeeded so far in fulfilling its mission to bring jobs to Amarillo and the Panhandle and that David has been a major factor in that success.

The city should seek to find a suitable replacement, someone with the kind of economic development chops that David exhibited during his decade-plus as president and CEO of AEDC.

As for AEDC itself, my unsolicited advice to the Amarillo City Council is clear cut and unequivocal: Don’t mess with it.

I say this because of some careless talk around the city immediately after this past year’s municipal election that the AEDC board should resign en masse. That talk subsided immediately, for which I am grateful.

I had the chance to watch David up close for many years while I was working as editorial page editor of the Amarillo newspaper. I’ve had many discussions with him during that time and since my departure from the paper more than three years ago.

I consider David to be an impressive individual with loads of business savvy. If you ask him about criticism of certain projects AEDC brought to Amarillo, he’s straightforward and direct in answering them.

I once inquired about the Hilmar Cheese plant that AEDC awarded several million dollars to build in Dalhart. David’s response? The money was well-spent, given that the economic impact of that operation ripples far beyond Dallam and Hartley counties.

The Bell aircraft assembly operation came into being before David arrived at AEDC. It, too, has produced huge economic impact for the region. On David’s watch at AEDC, the operation has continued to expand.

AEDC’s strategy is to use the money it accrues from the half-cent municipal sales tax it collects and then doles it out to businesses interested in locating in Amarillo.

That strategy drew considerable scorn from the Dallas-Fort Worth media after Amarillo managed to lure the Bell aircraft operation from Tarrant County to its current location next door to Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

It worked! Period.

Yes, there have been some hiccups along the way. Businesses that set up shop here after receiving AEDC assistance have failed.

The bottom line, though, looks good.

I wish Buzz David well as he moves on to his next station in life.

Moreover, my hope is that the city doesn’t mess with the successes built by its economic development corporation.

 

‘Change’ set to present itself at City Hall

Amarillo downtown

Amarillo residents are likely to get a pretty good look at the “change” that arrived at City Hall with the election of three new City Council members this past spring.

It’ll occur Tuesday when the council discusses in public the fate of a proposed outdoor entertainment venue.

Will the council take the issue to a vote? Will it decide the fate of the venue by itself? Will it put the whole off for another day?

The change we’re about to see — as it relates specifically to downtown revival plans — is a divided council. Imagine that. We’ve seen a council — and before that a “city commission” — that spoke with a single voice on most issues large and small. Oh, occasionally we’d get a contrary vote from the late Councilman Jim Simms on, say, whether to ban texting while driving. But generally, the council voted as a bloc.

That’s not likely to happen with this multipurpose event venue matter.

The three new men — Elisha Demerson, Randy Burkett and Mark Nair — are speaking with a single voice among themselves. They were the agents of change in this year’s campaign. They could decide to send this matter to the voters in a November referendum: up or down on the MPEV. The other two council members, Mayor Paul Harpole and Councilman Brian Eades, are likely to vote “no” on a motion to send this matter to the voters.

There seems to be a good chance we’ll see more of these 3-2 splits on the council as it regards a whole array of tax-and-spend issues. Perhaps we’ll see it when the issue involves the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, which fairly regularly presents economic incentive issues to the council for its approval.

Suppose we get a tax abatement request from a business seeking to expand its operations. Will the council split on that as well.

There’s always been an unwritten rule at City Hall — and at the Amarillo Independent School District board — that when the governing board approves an issue, all members line up behind it.

“Change,” as presented by the winning candidates for this year’s City Council race, very well might not allow council members to abide by that rule.

City Hall once prided itself on its unanimity, unity and cohesiveness.

I’m betting something quite different is going to unfold this coming week.

 

First a shakeup, now there’s none

Amarillo City Hall isn’t about to break out into complete bedlam after all.

I think that’s what I read this morning.

After demanding the resignation of the city manager and the entire Amarillo Economic Development Corporation Board, two of the three newest members of the City Council have pulled back.

City Manager Jarrett Atkinson is going to stay on the job; the AEDC board will remain.

The city will continue to move forward on its ambitious plans to reshape, remake and revive downtown.

What the …. ?

Did someone sprinkle fairy dust over all the principals at City Hall?

http://www.newschannel10.com/story/29497232/amarillo-city-council-no-longer-asking-for-six-resignations

Whatever. Something positive happened after that lengthy closed session Tuesday. I happen to be glad. I’m sure others around the city are as well.

Atkinson told my NewsChannel 10 colleague Madison Alewel the following: “I think we’ve got everything on a path to move forward collectively, not just as a council, or just myself, or city staff, but the community. We’re in a very good place now and I’m very pleased with that.”

The city clearly did not have to lose its chief executive officer who’s in the midst of a comprehensive downtown redevelopment program. Nor did it have to replace its entire AEDC board, which since 1989 has been using a fraction of sales tax revenue to lure business into the city.

There needed to be an understanding of what the new council expected. Did the parties reach that understanding in that closed session? Well, one can surmise that some accommodation was reached.

The multipurpose event venue remains a sticking point. Do we proceed with it? My hope is that it moves forward so that the developer already on board with plans to build the convention hotel nearby proceeds with his project.

If the MPEV gets shelved, the hotel won’t be built. The project will come to an inglorious end.

My sincere hope is that we’re witnessing a coming together and that, as Atkinson said, we’re all “in a very good place now.”

 

One down at City Hall … how many more to go?

Amarillo City Attorney Marcus Norris has quit.

He’ll be gone in two weeks, leaving the city with either zero legal counsel or a new lawyer who’s got to learn the ropes the way Norris did when he became the city’s legal eagle.

There’s really no sugarcoating this resignation. Norris is a casualty of the new regime on the City Council. One of the new guys, Mark Nair, took the oath of office and barely put his hand down before calling City Manager Jarrett Atkinson’s resignation. Another new guy, Randy Burkett, called for the resignation of the entire Amarillo Economic Development Corporation board.

Oh, and today’s joint City Council-AEDC meeting? Neither Nair or Burkett were present.

That’s leadership, yes? Well, no.

That is the kind of chaos facing the senior City Hall staff. Norris would have none of it.

http://www.newschannel10.com/story/29482341/amarillo-city-attorney-resigns

So, he’s out.

As for Atkinson, the council is set to meet Tuesday to discuss his status. I have no clue what the smart money on the street thinks will happen. My own hope is that Atkinson stays on the job.

And as for Norris, he’s had his fill already of the recklessness exhibited by at least a couple members of the city’s governing board.

There’s a lot more at stake than just a handful of public service careers. The city’s forward movement as it relates to its downtown revival effort might be in jeopardy if the “agents of change” seek to do too much too quickly.

Let’s not pussyfoot around this matter, either.

If Atkinson quits or is fired, the city’s top administration is left without a leader at a time when it needs leadership. The city is on the cusp of starting a bold effort that it’s never considered before. Yet the naysayers have gotten cold feet, their hands have gone clammy, they’ve hurled accusations out and about over alleged nefarious motives and a so-called “lack of public input” into this multi-faceted project.

And now some folks dislike the way the city runs?

One key city staffer is heading for the exit. Today was not a good a day at City Hall. I fear more bad days are coming.

 

Hey, new guys! Listen to the good doctor!

Brian Eades may be whistling in the dark with this request.

That doesn’t diminish its value.

Eades is the senior member of the Amarillo City Council and he’s urging his new colleagues on the council — Elisha Demerson, Randy Burkett and Mark Nair — to reconsider their effort to toss out the city’s top-level management.

http://www.newschannel10.com/story/29472902/veteran-council-member-urges-colleagues-to-reconsider-resignations#.VZdU7CrjfnU.facebook

As he told NewsChannel 10, the effort to replace City Manager Jarrett Atkinson and the entire Amarillo Economic Development Corporation board is, at best, “premature.”

Do you think?

All of this has taken a stunning turn. Nair took his oath of office this past Tuesday — and later on that very same day he said Atkinson should resign. The voters elected to Place 4 to be an agent of change, he said, and by golly he intends to fulfill that mandate.

Same with Demerson and Burkett.

Eades, a physician who was elected to the council in 2007, said the call is at best premature.

I’ll go a step or three further. It’s reckless.

Eades told NewsChannel 10: “New individuals may want to understand how the city works before you launch into that. It took me almost two years on the council to figure out exactly all the details regarding city government and how it works.”

Yes, there have been stumbles along the way. I concede readily that the city has been embarrassed by some remarkably inept occurrences. The city erred in hiring a traffic engineer; its animal control operation came under intense fire; it stepped on every one of its toes over that ridiculous city logo fiasco. To be sure, the city manager — as the city’s chief executive officer — is responsible ultimately for everything that happens, good and bad.

But Eades issues another cautionary suggestion: “Certainly, ultimately he is responsible, but I think you have to hold middle managers and lower level managers responsible for what they do in the workplace everyday as well.”

Will the new guys heed the good doctor’s advice when the council meets next Tuesday?

Well, I’m not holding my breath for that to occur.

Some municipal government experience, though, does bring more than a hint of wisdom.