Tag Archives: Amarillo Matters

Group doesn’t need this expression of support, but it gets it anyway

A group of high-powered, relatively high-profile individuals formed to help guide a city’s future doesn’t need a word of support from bloggers like me, but it’s going to get it anyway.

Here it comes.

Amarillo Matters came into being in 2016 with a fairly straightforward agenda. It wants to elect highly qualified individuals to local government positions. It wants to promote Amarillo’s economic well-being. It wants to help craft a “positive” agenda for the city.

I keep wondering: What is so wrong with that?

Amarillo Matters recently unveiled a new website. It has included a roster of its board of directors, which up to now had been kept more or less under wraps. Now the community knows who comprises the Amarillo Matters board, who is setting the agenda for the political action committee.

I’ve moved away from Amarillo. However, I remain intently interested in the future of the city where I lived for more than 20 years. I hear occasional grumbling from some in the community who continue to question the motives of Amarillo Matters. I cannot say the grumbling is widespread, or even that it comes from a significant minority of the city’s residents. The complainers are able to have their voices heard far beyond their numbers.

I am not a Pollyanna. I am not looking back at my former city of residence with a sense of naivete. However, I am unable to find a legitimate reason to question whether a group of successful individuals has the community’s best interests at heart.

What I do question are those who criticize individuals simply on the basis of the success they have enjoyed in their professional lives. Isn’t their success part of what we hail as “the American way”?

I wish Amarillo Matters well as it heads on down its road. The future of their city, to my eyes, is looking brighter. There can be nothing wrong with that.

Amarillo Matters has come clean; good deal!

A political action organization formed in 2016 to promote Amarillo’s economic and political future has made a positive change in the way it presents itself.

Amarillo Matters has developed a new website. It continues to speak to its mission, its goals and its strategy. The site also has the name of the principals who are involved in the decisions that Amarillo Matters makes.

It’s the disclosure of the names that I find worthy of commendation.

I wrote on this blog more than a year ago that Amarillo Matters needed to reveal its individual and collective identities to the public. There had been some reluctance to doing so, according to one source close to the group, because of a fear of backlash by those in the community who opposed the agenda that Amarillo Matters is promoting.

Well, I guess those fears have been put aside.

Amarillo Matters has an “About Us” page on its site. It states the “focus” of the organization.

Amarillo Matters will primarily focus on elected positions in which the elected official has a direct governance responsibility to the citizens of Amarillo and the surrounding area. We will also focus on issues that have a positive benefit on Amarillo and the surrounding area. We believe the word benefit has many definitions. They include economic development projects, major investments in our local workforce and students, along with quality of life projects.

That all sounds benign. It’s a positive outlook. A positive outreach. There’s nothing nefarious. The board of directors contains the names of several individuals I know personally; I know a couple of them quite well. I know of the rest of them. They are all successful. Those I know are fine individuals who I believe have the community’s best interests at heart.

Check out the group’s mission statement here.

It is important that Amarillo Matters reveal its identity to the community it seeks to lead. Granted, this is not an elected body. It comprises individuals who seek to exert some influence in what the electorate decides. There’s nothing wrong in any group wanting to do what Amarillo Matters has pledged to do.

Amarillo, though, is no different from any community in the midst of change. Some residents endorse the direction where the community is heading; others oppose it. Everyone has a right to know who is seeking to call the shots.

Amarillo Matters now has revealed who is doing so within its board room. To which I say: Well played.

Businesses will come and they will go

I am sensing a touch of community and social media hand-wringing over the closure of a jazz club that opened in downtown Amarillo a couple of years ago.

The Esquire Jazz Club opened a couple of years ago with considerable fanfare as the city’s downtown revival picked up an impressive head of steam. Its owner is Amarillo lawyer and jazz musician Pat Swindell, whose band played at the club regularly, as I understand it.

OK, the club didn’t make it. It is shuttered. Is this the end of downtown’s revival? Does this mean the efforts to transform Polk Street into a new form of entertainment district won’t work?

Please. Let’s get real.

Businesses come and go. It would have been great to see the Esquire Jazz Club flourish, providing a joyful entertainment option for residents of Amarillo.

However, I feel the need to remind the worriers that there remains a virtually endless supply of businesses opportunities for the city to explore. Indeed, the downtown progress to date has been impressive.

The city has welcomed the opening of a new ballpark that officials hope will be host to many events other than AA minor-league baseball; new hotels are coming on line to join the Embassy Suites complex across the street from City Hall; Polk Street has welcomed new commercial businesses; Potter County’s Courthouse has been renovated and restored; West Texas A&M University has opened a downtown campus.

Will there be hiccups along the way? Yes! Of course!

I am not going to worry about Amarillo’s economic future. It still looks bright to my eyes.

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.

Barfield Building rebirth: a major surprise

There’s no way in the world to overstate the surprise I felt when I heard the news, that a developer had decided to remake the Barfield Building in downtown Amarillo and turn it into a “boutique hotel” with the Marriott name.

Yep, it was a shock. The picture you see with this blog post comes from Neal Nossaman, a Facebook friend of mine who posted it on the social media site.

The Barfield is going to open in the spring. Crews have been working on gutting the interior, gussying up the exterior and turning the rotted-out building into a hotel; it also will have, as I understand, some retail space as well.

I would see the Barfield Building over many years continue to deteriorate. It sat vacant for more than four decades. It became a haven for transients who needed shelter from the heat and the cold.

The Barfield had a series of owners who tried and failed to secure funding for renovating the structure. Some of the owners were out of towners; some were locals. They couldn’t pull it together.

Then suddenly and shockingly, there was this announcement a year ago that Marriott had signed on to re-do the building. Plans emerged to turn this structure into this “boutique” hotel. I’m still not sure how a “boutique” hotel actually differs from a regular hotel. Whatever. The work has progressed.

They have a completion date in view.

My surprise notwithstanding, I simply am thrilled to see a once-rotting hulk of a building get new life.

Amazing, man.

Parking garage gets a tenant … more to come, hmm?

That parking garage across the street from Hodgetown has a tenant. It’s a trendy restaurant called Joe Taco, which operates an eatery on the far west side of the city, near the medical center complex.

I understand the Local Government Corporation worked out an agreement that allows Joe Taco to operate in the parking garage rent free for the first year. Then it will pay rent on a graduated scale after that.

Good deal, yes? We shall see.

What I am not clear about just yet is whether any other tenants have signed on at the garage, which was built with considerable fanfare, hoopla and promises of more businesses to fill the ground floor spaces in the structure.

Hey, I remain optimistic that the garage will pay the freight, that it will lure other retail outlets to help defray the cost of operating the building.

Hodgetown is a beauty of a venue for the Amarillo Sod Poodles, which played championship-winning hardball at the ballpark in their first season in existence. Not a bad start.

I regret being unable to attend any games this year. I have moved away. We don’t get back to Amarillo as frequently these days. We’re settled in nicely in our new digs in Collin County. However, I remain a keen observer of Amarillo’s evolution and at this point I like what I see occurring there.

The parking garage adds an attractive edifice to the city’s downtown urban-scape. The gurus who conceived it have pledged that it will fill with businesses. I want their pledge to come true.

Amarillo Matters shows that it really matters

A couple of years ago a group of Amarillo civic and business leaders got together to form a political action committee dedicated — according to its mission statement — to the betterment of the city.

They called themselves Amarillo Matters. Some critics in the city spoke out against the group, suggesting some sort of nefarious motivation was driving the organization’s agenda.

But what has happened since Amarillo Matters came into being in 2016?

It endorsed a slate of City Council candidates prior to the 2017 municipal election. All five of the individuals endorsed by Amarillo Matters won that election. They all ran for re-election this year and, with Amarillo Matters’ blessing yet again, they all were re-elected.

How has the city done? Quite well, based on my observation.

Downtown’s district renovation has proceeded apace. They built that ballpark along Buchanan Street. The Amarillo Sod Poodles played baseball at Hodgetown, drawing huge crowds at every home game and, oh yes, they won the Texas League pennant after a thrilling come-from-behind victory in the fifth game of the championship series against the defending champs, the Tulsa Drillers. I know … Amarillo Matters didn’t have a thing to do with the Sod Poodles’ success on the baseball field.

Amarillo Matters’ mission calls for the development of “positive opportunities for Amarillo and the surrounding area.” Man, that sounds pretty damn sinister, don’t you think?

Yes, I questioned Amarillo Matters along the way, too. I wondered in an earlier blog post about the identity of the individuals who comprise its leadership. I called on Amarillo Matters to be more transparent and to reveal their identities to the public. The IDs have trickled out, but I will presume that some critics still contend that Amarillo Matters remains too secretive.

However, the result of the group’s mission is worth noting, too.

Amarillo has made tremendous progress over the past few years, even pre-dating Amarillo Matters’ emergence as a political force in the city.

Does a group of business leaders deserve all the credit for the city’s success? No. However, neither does it deserve the brickbats that some critics have hurled at it.

Amarillo has fared well. Amarillo Matters deserves some of the credit for the success that has come Amarillo’s way.

Downtown revival will drive the city’s future

I feel quite comfortable making this prediction on the city I used to call home: Amarillo’s future will rely on the progress that has been made — and will continue being made — with its downtown district.

I have moved away but I am enjoying the sight of the city repurposing much of its downtown district into something that has yet to be defined fully.

The Amarillo Sod Poodles have completed a successful season playing AA baseball in a shiny new ballpark on Buchanan Street. Polk Street is undergoing a major makeover. The Potter County Courthouse Square has been remade and the county is looking seriously these days at building new District Courts Building to replace the structure that former County Judge Arthur Ware has called “The Grain Elevator.”

Now the city is getting into the game in a serious way. It is pondering whether to renovate the Civic Center, re-do the Santa Fe Depot and relocate City Hall into an existing downtown structure. Psst … I hear the Globe-News Building at Ninth and Harrison is available.

I long have subscribed to the notion that successful cities all have one thing in common: They boast vibrant downtown districts.

Yes, the city’s effort at remaking downtown has its critics. Imagine my (non)surprise. I just want to offer this admonition: The entire city will reap the reward once the work gets done downtown.

Amarillo’s governing council for too long look askance at investing public funds into its downtown. It believed that the private sector should carry the load virtually exclusively. Beginning with the mayorship of Debra McCartt, continuing through that of Paul Harpole and now with Ginger Nelson pounding the gavel, the city has taken a more proactive approach to downtown redevelopment.

That is to everyone’s credit. It will be everyone’s benefit as well.

I cannot predict when this will happen. I just believe as sure as I am writing these words that it will.

Panhandle no longer is a Texas ‘step-child’

There once was a Texas Panhandle state representative who semi-seriously thought the Panhandle should separate itself from the rest of the state because, he groused, state government ignores the region.

That state rep was David Swinford, a Dumas Republican first elected to office in 1990. I asked him about that notion when I first met him in 1995 and he didn’t exactly deny it.

Well, Swinford has retired from the Legislature. And to its credit, the legislative body has restored faith in many in the Panhandle. How? By appropriating enough money — $17 million — to build a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo.

This is great news for the region. A lot of folks are taking credit for ensuring the Legislature made this event a reality.

The Texas Tech University System is going to build the vet school, the second one in Texas. The first vet school is run by the Texas A&M University System. Aggieland opposed Tech’s initiative. Tech wasn’t going to be denied. It lined up plenty of political backing in the Panhandle and the South Plains.

Amarillo Matters, a political action committee formed a couple of years ago, is one organization that is taking credit for pushing the Legislature to act. Amarillo Matters said this on its website:

“Not only does the budget include startup funding for the vet school, but it also includes a directive for Texas Tech to move forward developing the school,” Amarillo Matters President Jason Herrick said. “This is great news for Amarillo, the Texas Panhandle and South Plains, and our state as a whole.” The school will help meet the growing need for large animal and rural veterinarians across the state. It will also increase the opportunities for Texas students to further their education without leaving the state.

“Legislative approval of the Texas Tech veterinary school is a watershed event for West Texas, the Texas Panhandle, and all of Texas,” former Texas Tech University System Chancellor Bob Duncan said. “This culminates years of hard work by literally hundreds of individuals who recognized the unmet demand for rural and large animal veterinarians throughout our state,” Duncan added.

Read the rest of Amarillo Matters’ post here.

Here’s my essential point: State government has not ignored the Panhandle. Yet one hears the occasional gripe from those who think it still does. Let’s lose the attitude, my former Panhandle neighbors. The Panhandle has plenty of legislative clout and it used it effectively for the benefit of the delegation’s constituents.

I also doubt that my friend David Swinford is among the soreheads.

Time to come clean, Amarillo Matters

I have been a vocal supporter of Amarillo Matters, a group of well-connected business and civic leaders who have formed a political action committee aimed at helping guide the city’s political future.

I endorse Amarillo Matter’s municipal agenda. I believe these individuals are motivated for the right reasons. I do not endorse much of the criticism that has been leveled at Amarillo Matters over the past couple of municipal election cycles.

As the saying goes, “When you insert the word ‘but,’ the next thing that comes out usually isn’t a positive statement.” So, here goes:

But . . . the group needs to be more transparent with the community about its membership and the leaders it has elected among those who have signed on to the PAC. The criticism of the PAC’s secrecy is a valid one.

I chatted the other day with one of the individuals who belongs to Amarillo Matters. I’ll keep his identity a secret here, because he doesn’t know I’m going to write about this matter on this blog.

However, I told this person that it’s imperative for Amarillo Matters to come clean. It’s critical that the group reveal who it is. Absent that total transparency, Amarillo Matters will expose itself to more of the cheap-seat criticism that others will fling at it.

This individual told me the members of the Amarillo Matters leadership are aware of the criticism leveled at the perception of secrecy. He said that those members have businesses they fear could suffer. They are concerned that residents might launch boycotts against them, this person said. The person with whom I spoke gave me some of the names of the PAC’s leadership. I know them all; I know some of them quite well. They are respected community leaders, indeed.

My response was clear: It all goes with the territory.

I still believe Amarillo Matters’ agenda is a noble one. Its mission statement and its vision for the community insist on high integrity and altruism. It endorses efforts to revive downtown; it is pushing hard for the proposed Texas Tech University school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo.

For the group, though, to keep its membership’s identity from the public it aims to serve actually undercuts its high-minded mission.