Tag Archives: Amarillo

Firefighters answer the call yet again

Fire is breaking out in the Texas Panhandle.

We aren’t there to witness it up close, first hand. I am hearing reports of serious scorching in an area southeast of Amarillo.

I also am hearing reports of firefighters coming from far and wide to assist the assorted Panhandle firefighting units in battling the blazes. The Mallard Fire has burned 73,000 acres in Armstrong County, creating something called a “pyrocumulus” cloud that developed above the blaze and triggering a severe thunderstorm.

Holy moly, man!

It’s time once again to offer word of thanks and eternal gratitude for the selflessness exhibited in times of need by these heroes. So help me, I can’t say it enough.

These men and women run toward trouble when it erupts. It’s the same ethic that drives police officers to do the same thing.

Man, oh man. If society needs heroes to honor daily, they wear the fire and police uniforms. Many of them are volunteers, which means they get paid next to nothing to risk their lives to protect the rest of us.

They are coming from Bexar County in South Texas, or so I’ve heard; let’s see, that’s about 500 miles from the Panhandle. Other reports have firefighters traveling from the Metroplex (Flower Mound, to be precise).

These individuals represent the best of us. They embody selfless public service. They are the pure definition of the term “public service.”

I wish them well, safety, and God’s blessing as they do their work on our behalf. Many thanks go to them all. They’re heroes.

Happy Trails, Part 97: Dreading the goodbye

This retirement journey upon which my wife and I have embarked is on the cusp of bringing a major change in our lives.

We are set to relocate to a community in the greater Dallas area. We’re less than two weeks from our shove-off date.

I’m going to be candid. This impending move fills me with a bit of dread. I don’t dread the move. I dread saying goodbye to a community I have grown to love.

As I write this post, we are awaiting a possibly severe thunderstorm. Yes, I love the weather in the Texas Panhandle. I love the changing seasons. I love the summer heat, the spring blooms, the fall colors (yes, our foliage can get quite pretty in the autumn) and I enjoy the winter snowfall (unless it falls in blizzard fashion, which it has done during our 23 years living here).

Mostly, I am going to dread saying goodbye to the friends we acquired along the way. We have many of them. My wife and I both worked fulfilling jobs in Amarillo. One job occupied the vast bulk of my working life here, and that job — as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News — enabled me to cross paths with some of the most interesting, influential and engaging individuals throughout the Panhandle.

I developed good professional relationships with many of them and some of those relationships turned into personal friendships. I had to take care to avoid letting those friendships interfere with the craft I pursued in Amarillo for nearly 18 years.

The dread comes in saying goodbye to those folks. I cannot possibly do so in person. Perhaps I can do it here. Many of them read this blog. They well might see this post and respond.

The vast bulk of my Texas Panhandle memories are good. They fill me with warmth and a touch of wistfulness as my wife and I prepare to head on down the road to Fairview.

I say all this with a certain caveat. We won’t sever our Amarillo ties completely. We have family here. We intend to return frequently — if only for short bursts of time — to see them.

Over time, our visits likely will diminish.

Yep, it’s the goodbyes that are the toughest of all.

We left Oregon in 1984 for Beaumont, Texas. When I departed the newspaper in Oregon City, the publisher gave me one of those coffee table books full of pictures of Texas. My colleagues at the paper wrote lovely messages to my wife and me. It brought me to tears.

We departed Beaumont in 1995 for the Panhandle. That day was even tougher. My colleagues at the paper also wrote goodbye wishes in a book and then played “Amarillo By Morning” that rang throughout the newsroom. I cried like a baby as I walked to my car.

My resignation from the Globe-News was, um, more sudden. I didn’t get a chance to bid adieu in the moment to my colleagues. Perhaps this will suffice.

Meanwhile, we are awaiting our shove-off date with tremendous excitement at what — and who — await us at the other end of our journey.

MPEV gets a break from Mother Nature

Amarillo’s newest sports and entertainment venue is getting a big break from a most unpredictable source.

That would be Mother Nature.

Yes, the elements that can — and have — bedevil major construction projects are working to assist the contractor working to build Amarillo’s downtown multipurpose event venue, aka “The Ballpark.”

I heard a couple of weeks ago from an Amarillo Economic Development Corporation official that the MPEV already is a “week ahead of schedule,” which made me wonder at the time, “How is he able to measure such a thing so early in a project of this size and magnitude?”

Whatever. The crews have dug out a huge hole in the ground across the street from City Hall. Site preparation is proceeding rapidly. I suspect that quite soon we’re going to start seeing crews laying down the components that will go into the MPEV’s foundation. After that, the framing will commence.

And on and on it will go.

The MPEV is projected to cost around $45 million. It will seat roughly 4,500 seats for baseball, which will begin there in April 2019 when the AA minor-league baseball team moves from San Antonio to Amarillo.

I don’t want to spook the project, given the good meteorological fortune that has foreshadowed it to date, but we do have the rest of the spring and summer coming up and then the winter of 2018-19. As dry and relatively calm as the winter of 2017-18 turned out to be, there can be no way to predict this far out what the next winter will bring. We all know the quips and jokes about the fickle Amarillo and Texas Panhandle weather, yes?

My faith in what the MPEV will bring to downtown Amarillo remains strong. It will play a huge role — perhaps the major role — in reshaping the city’s central business and entertainment district.

To date, I am gratified and hopeful that the construction crews will be able to proceed quickly and, of course, efficiently as it moved toward completion of this important project.

Gratitude and hope, though, cannot predict what Mother Nature has in store. As inclined as I am to pray for rain to help our beleaguered farmers and ranchers, I am torn because I don’t want the MPEV stalled because of torrents.

Happy Trails, Part 83

A dear friend has told me that “Happiness is Amarillo, like Lubbock, in your rear view mirror.”

Perhaps. But not entirely.

You see, I am going to miss several aspects of living in the Texas Panhandle. One of them involves the progress my wife and I witness almost daily as we make our way around the city.

Amarillo residents know all too well about the intense highway construction that’s under way along Interstates 40 and 27. They’re rebuilding bridges over I-40. State crews are hard at work along Loop 335 on the southern edge of the city.

I am going to miss watching those projects proceed.

Downtown Amarillo is undergoing an extreme makeover, highlighted by construction — which has just begun — on the multipurpose event venue. The city has made great strides toward the future in the past couple of years, but there remain many miles yet to travel.

I will miss watching downtown continue its march forward.

Amarillo in reality bears little resemblance to the community my wife and I saw when we arrived in early 1995. It has grown up a good bit over the past 23 years. I am not referring just to the population growth.

The city’s airport has been modernized. The stretch along virtually the entire length of I-40 through Amarillo has witnessed a boom in hotel construction; a month barely went by when we didn’t see more hotel construction sites opening up — and more are going up even as I write this brief blog post.

The city has done well during our time here and we have enjoyed watching it evolve.

I will miss watching that evolution continue.

Here’s the thing, though: We’ll be able to return to see the results.

Cities throw big money at big business

I am not privy to economic development deliberations in Amarillo, but I’ll presume that the city didn’t compete for a big plum that’s become the subject a major-league bidding war among 20 cities in the United States and Canada.

Amazon, the big online retailer, has narrowed its search to a list of finalist cities. Two of them are in Texas: Dallas and Austin.

The payoff is — to borrow a term — yuuuge for the city that wins the right to become Amazon’s second major headquarters.

But here’s the fascinating element of this bidding war: Cities and states are throwing lots of money at Amazon to persuade the company into their communities. Texas isn’t planning, in the words of Gov. Greg Abbott, “to give away the farm.”

Why the fascination? Because little ol’ Amarillo has used this kind of incentive to lure businesses to the Texas Panhandle.

In 1989, voters approved creation of the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation. AEDC then began collecting sales tax revenue generated from within the city limits. It builds a cache of money from a half-cent sales tax allotment. It then uses that money as a lure to businesses.

The city has scored many hits and has had its share of misfires along the way.

But it did land a big one in the late 1990s, when Bell/Textron relocated its aircraft assembly operation to Amarillo. AEDC offered Bell roughly $45 million in various inducements, including donated land and tax abatements. Bell built its plant and has been assembling the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, along with other state-of-the-art helicopters.

It lured Bell here from Fort Worth, where there was plenty of teeth-gnashing over being outbid by this isolated burg out here on the High Plains.

States and the cities within them are willing to offer plenty of cash to Amazon. I hope it comes to Texas, not that our state needs much of an economic boost; we’re doing pretty well these days as it is — which no doubt is going to be part of the state’s pitch to lure Amazon either to Big D or the People’s Republic of Austin.

If only Amarillo had a bigger base from which to operate.

Be patient, Amarillo neighbors

If our plans work out as we hope, my wife and I won’t be living in the Texas Panhandle when they remove the final construction cone or barrel from the myriad road and highway projects underway in Amarillo.

We will have relocated to North Texas, where we’re quite certain we’ll get to witness even more such construction.

I watched my friend Sonja Gross — Texas Department of Transportation public information officer for its Amarillo Division — offer some sound advice on a TV news broadcast to Amarillo residents.

Be patient, she said. The payoff will occur when the road work is done and we can all get around more easily.

TxDOT is in the midst of some major highway infrastructure makeovers.

Interstate 40 between Helium Road and Grand Street in Amarillo is undergoing a major renovation and expansion; Hollywood Road south of the city is being redone; TxDOT has built that direct-access exit from I-40 to the Canyon E-Way, but it’s not yet open for traffic; crews are tearing I-27 apart south of the interchange; crews are building a new bridge across I-40 at Bell Street.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much orange in my entire life.

I’ll agree with those who gripe about the road work that it is a pain in the posterior at times. It occasionally is difficult to navigate through the city. I get their frustration, as I feel it at times myself — although I occasionally get angry at myself for letting my frustration get the better of me. I figure that if being delayed a few minutes is my greatest worry, then I’m doing all right, compared to the troubles that so many others have to endure.

Amarillo, though, is going through a serious renovation at many levels. TxDOT’s work on the highways suggests that the state has committed considerable amounts of public money to this region in an effort to improve our infrastructure. How can we complain about that?

Indeed, as state Sen. Kel Seliger said this week at a Rotary Club of Amarillo meeting, Texas remains a “commodity” state that relies on good roads to get commodities, such as cattle and corn, from “their source to their destination.”

Those roads and highways don’t achieve excellence all by themselves. Human beings need to tear them up, put them back together and then ensure that they’re renovated properly — and safely.

I endorse Sonja Gross’s plea to our fellow Amarillo travelers. Our patience might be tested on occasion, but there will be a reward when they remove those cones and barrels.

Guaranteed.

It was 20 years ago … Oprah won a big victory

Now that we’re all agog over Oprah Winfrey and whether she’ll run for president of the United States — which I hope doesn’t happen — let’s flash back for a moment when the media mogul came to the Texas Panhandle for an extended stay.

Oprah had gotten herself sued by Texas cattlemen over remarks she and others made on her TV talk show. She had an animal rights activist on her show in the spring of 1996 talking about bovine spongiform encephalopathy, aka Mad Cow Disease, suggesting that improperly cooked beef could lead to the potentially fatal disease.

That’s it, Oprah blurted. She said the discussion “has just stopped me cold from eating another burger. I’m stopped.”

The cattlemen, led by legendary Panhandle cattle baron Paul Engler, were furious. So was then-Texas Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry. Engler ended up suing Winfrey. He took her to federal court right here in Amarillo, Texas.

Oprah decided to move her TV show here, too. She rented the Amarillo Little Theater, had it redone to suit her show’s format. She played to packed houses every night after sitting in a courtroom all day — for weeks on end!

The Texas Tribune reports that the community was “split” about the trial and the reason for the lawsuit. Some folks thought the remarks on TV were out of line, according to the Tribune. Others applauded Oprah, given her high public standing in the community at large.

My recollection at the time was that Amarillo opened its arms to Winfrey and her staff. Her show was immensely popular among those who wanted to see it in person at the ALT. I heard stories about how phone lines choked up and damn near croaked with heavy call loads from people looking for tickets. I heard one anecdotal story about how someone called his or her family in the Dakotas, who then called the ALT for ticket information — because the the local caller couldn’t get a call through to the theater office.

Well, Oprah won a victory. The federal court jury dismissed the lawsuit. She stood in front of the courthouse in early 1998  in downtown Amarillo and cheered her hard-won — and deserved — courthouse victory.

Oprah Winfrey likely would have rather spent her time elsewhere than in Amarillo two decades ago defending herself in a lawsuit brought by some cranky cattlemen. My recollection, though, is that she was treated like the TV royalty she was at the time.

She won many more friends than foes here. Those were the days …

Tell us about the ‘state of the city,’ Mme. Mayor

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson seems to get it.

I hope …

The first-term mayor has announced a State of the City speech planned for Oct. 3 at the Civic Center Grand Plaza Ballroom. It’s a breakfast event set to begin at 7:30 a.m.

What this means for Amarillo remains to be seen, of course. Nelson ran this spring on a multi-plank platform that included a pledge to increase transparency and accountability.

Here is her chance.

I once called for a State of the City speech. That was years ago. Then-Mayor Debra McCartt took part in a Panhandle PBS program in which she discussed the state of affairs with Buzz David, then head of the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation and the city’s cheerleader in chief, Chamber of Commerce President Gary Molberg.

McCartt did it one time. That was it.

A State of the City speech gives the City Council’s presiding officer a chance to provide realistic, unvarnished and fulsome analysis of the state of affairs. These speeches should include areas that need improvement as well as where the city is shining brightly.

I don’t know how Mayor Nelson is going to present the State of the City.

Here might be some topics to cover: tax rate projections; the progress of downtown redevelopment; the myriad street improvement that are ongoing; the status of the red-light cameras and whether they’re doing the job they were advertised to do; the status of the curfew for juveniles; Amarillo emergency service response times.

So, she’s got a potentially full plate of issues to cover. Many of them will require a hard look.

Make no mistake, there will be a fair share of soreheads and perpetual skeptics/cynics who will dismiss any such speech by the major as so much trumped-up happy talk. I am not one of them.

I look forward to hearing what the mayor has to say.

Road woes persist in Amarillo

Some issues give me heartburn, particularly when they contain no easy solutions or options for those of us affected by them.

Highway, street and bridge construction fall into that category.

I’m hearing some grumbling about a major reconstruction project underway here in Amarillo, Texas, that is causing grief for motorists and business owners nearby.

The Texas Department of Transportation is knocking down a bridge that spans Interstate 40 at Bell Street. It’s causing serious traffic disruptions. The project will take months to complete. The bridge will be inoperable until November, according to the Amarillo Globe-News.

The state is spending more than $7 million on just that project alone! Oh, and then we have that Loop 335/Hollywood Road reconstruction project on the south end of the city.

How do the city’s residents and business owners cope with this madness and mayhem? With extreme patience, I venture to say. Whether this kind of work is being done in a mid-sized city such as Amarillo, or in a major metropolitan area, or even in a small rural community, someone, somewhere is going to get upset.

Just the other day, I was running an errand that took me from my southwest Amarillo home to a location near Sunset Center. I drove north along Coulter, hoping to catch the freeway east to Western Street. That’s when I discovered the work being done on I-40. Crews were diverting every vehicle off the highway onto the frontage road.

If I had been smarter and more attuned to what’s going on around the city, I would have taken Wolflin Avenue east from Coulter to my destination. I didn’t. I got stuck in traffic. Lesson learned for the next time I have to travel in that direction.

I tend to avoid getting too worked up over these highway and street projects. I try to see it as a glass-is-half-full deal. I like to look at the big picture, take the long view.

When it’s done, we’ll have a new bridge to cross when we travel north-south along Bell Street.

I just hope the new span will lend some aesthetic quality to the highway. Heaven knows the city needs it.

When it’s built, MPEV will benefit entire city

I’m still trying to process the news today of the arrival of a AA baseball franchise in Amarillo.

The meter is now running. The San Antonio Missions are moving their franchise here in time for the start of the 2019 Texas League season. That means the multipurpose event venue — aka the ballpark — will need to be completed in time for the first pitch.

The MPEV is the reason the Missions are coming here. They want to play in a shiny new venue. They want to play hardball in the downtown district.

It’s going to cost about $45.5 million. Yes, it’s more than the $32 million price tag attached to the November 2015 citywide referendum that voters approved. It doesn’t bother me that the cost escalated. Why? Because the plan is for the MPEV to be funded through hotel occupancy tax revenue.

The grumbling has begun. Some folks might not want the ballpark to be built. They believe the city has too many other needs that attention. Roads and streets; parks, police and fire protection … those kinds of things.

I’ll concede that I am not an urban planning expert. I have gotten around the country a good bit over the years and I’ve noticed that vibrant cities have one thing in common: a bustling, busy and active downtown business/entertainment district.

My wife and I just returned from a nearly 3,800-mile road trip. We witnessed plenty of pizzazz in places like Nashville and Memphis, Tenn. We saw more of it in Roanoke, Va., a city that’s quite a bit smaller than Amarillo, but which boasts a highly attractive downtown district. I do not know all the particulars of those communities, so my perception is based on first impressions.

I do know a bit about Amarillo’s personality and my sense is that the city’s population — which is on the cusp of 200,000 people — is going to respond positively to the development that will follow once the ballpark is built.

Moreover, the word will get out. The city’s marketing gurus need to find creative ways to send the message well beyond Amarillo’s corporate borders that this city is a happening place.

What, then, might happen? Those hotels that have sprung up all along Interstate 40 are going to fill up. Revenue will pour in. The city will be able to invest that revenue in the kinds of projects that will improve the city’s image and lure even more activity into this community.

The announcement today completes just the first phase of the city’s redevelopment and revival. The City Council, the senior city administration and the Local Government Corporation have received the commitment they wanted from a professional sports franchise to relocate here.

The ballpark is the critical element that lured that franchise to this city. There’s little time for dawdling and delay. Work needs to begin soon.

And when it’s finished, I am willing and ready to suggest that the entire city will reap the reward.