Tag Archives: Amarillo

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.


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.

Happy Trails, Part 13

I recently told a longtime friend of mine that I am now “fully retired” and he responded with an observation that he hadn’t met any retired individual yet who didn’t enjoy retirement to the hilt.

Today, we got some good news and some great news in the mail. It all relates to our retired status.

The tandem bit of cheer arrived enclosed in a single envelope from the Potter-Randall County Appraisal District, the entity that assesses the value of property in the two counties that Amarillo straddles.

The good news is that the assessed value of our property has escalated significantly in the past year. That didn’t surprise me, given all the commercial/business construction that’s ongoing not far from our home.

The great news is that our estimated property tax bill remains the same as it was last year. Texas state law allows old folks like me to have their property taxes frozen in perpetuity. Ain’t it cool?

That brings me to another point, on which I’ll dwell only for a moment. It’s that taxing entities that seek additional revenue to pay for brick-and-mortar projects — which they submit to voters in the form of bond issue elections — often run into resistance from the least-affected constituency group: elderly homeowners.

For instance, a school system wants to build a new school. The entity calls for a bond issue election, but it might get defeated because older voters reject it. They claim they don’t want to spend more on property taxes; therefore, they reject these bond issues because they don’t want to bear the additional burden.

Except that they don’t bear any additional burden! State law freezes their property tax bill!

But … I digress.

I’ll just salute the state for giving old folks such as yours truly a break on their tax bill, while allowing the value of our property to increase.

Indeed, that increase will come in handy, too, once we get ready to put our house on the market.

Growing older isn’t so bad … you know?

Getting ready for more major road work

I made the turn down Hillside Road in Amarillo the other day and noticed a lengthy row of orange construction cones stretching from the Canyon Expressway to Bell Street.

My first reaction to my wife was, “Well, that’s just great.”

Then I caught myself. I wasn’t going to go there — then, or now.

Hillside seems to have been carved up of late more than a Christmas turkey. That’s OK. It’s the price of progress, I reckon.

Amarillo’s streets appear to in a constant state of repair. It makes sense, given our community’s love affair with motor vehicle transportation. I tend to support what’s known generally as “infrastructure improvement.”

Sure, it makes me grumble at times. However, I also understand the payoff at the end of it. We get streets that don’t rattle our bones as we travel along them. They don’t mess up our vehicle alignment or damage our tires.

Some of the City Council candidates are addressing the street construction issue in varying ways. I welcome the discussion, as it is part of the job of councilmen and women to address these issues that have such a direct impact on our lives.

I haven’t yet caught up with what’s going to happen with the Hillside construction. I should get to know, as it is a street my wife and I use regularly.

Wherever you live or travel throughout Amarillo, please heed this tiny bit of advice: They say that patience is a virtue; it becomes especially true as we seek to navigate our way around the city.

Be patient.

Cadillac Ranch: May it stand for a very long time


I’ve just made my second trip to Cadillac Ranch in the past three days, taking members of my family out there — on the south side of Interstate 40 just west of Amarillo — to see this unique roadside attraction for the first time.

My cousin asked me today as we drove out of Palo Duro Canyon, “What is Cadillac Ranch, precisely?”

My answer: “It’s art.”

Those of you who’ve seen it know of what I speak. For those who don’t: It is 10 Cadillacs stuck nose-first into a pasture. They’re lined up perfectly and they purportedly are angled to face the Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt … or so legend has it.

The trip today was fascinating for another reason: the number of motorists who had pulled off the highway to take a gander at this place.

The site was strewn with spray-paint cans on this glorious, sunny day on the High Plains. And many visitors were partaking of the chance to leave their mark on the Caddies.

Whenever I bring visitors to the place, I am compelled to tell them of the ranch’s origin. I tell them it was the creation of the late Stanley Marsh 3, the eccentric/weird Amarillo “art patron” who thought it would be cool, I guess, to stick the Caddies in the ground.

Marsh’s died not long ago. His legacy is — to say it charitably — a mixed bag. His eccentricity is legendary in West Texas. So is his philanthropy, as he and his wife have given a lot of money to fund higher education, as well as the arts, in Amarillo and elsewhere.

But there’s a darker side to Marsh’s history: the allegations of sexual misconduct. Given that such acts are in the news these days as they involve a certain Republican Party presidential nominee, I find it timely to mention here today.

Marsh had been charged with crimes involving young males. Even as he battled the cancer that eventually would take his life, Marsh was forced to defend himself against some serious allegations of misconduct. He ended up paying a lot of settlement money to those who had filed criminal complaints against him.

Then he died.

In the period immediately after his death, some of Marsh’s more strident critics called for the demolition of Cadillac Ranch. They want it removed from alongside the highway, believing the Cadillacs remind the community of the illegal acts for which Marsh had been accused.

My own thought is that the Cadillacs ought to remain for as long as they can withstand the sometimes-harsh High Plains elements.

The many motorists who pull of the highway to gawk at the cars, take “selfies” with them in the background or engage in some spray-painting fun likely don’t know — nor perhaps care about — the complete history of the Man Behind the Cadillacs.

Let’s keep them there. Cadillac Ranch remains to this very day a major attraction for those who choose to learn just a little about the quirky nature of this part of Texas.

The large number of cars and people I saw today illustrates the interest the Cadillacs create in those who are passing through.