Tag Archives: Center City

Polk Street being ‘born again’?

I don’t want to attach some overblown significance to this, but a TV news report I watched last night suggests that downtown Amarillo’s former “main drag” is being reborn into something quite different, and equally cool.

We returned this week to Amarillo for a brief visit before returning to our new home in the Dallas area. I learned about the opening of some new business establishments along Polk Street.

Back in The Day, Polk Street served dual functions for the city’s residents, or so I learned. One was that it was a retail center: lots of shopping galore. Two was that it served as a place for kids to “cruise” at night. You know what I’m talking about: Guys with cool cars would take them along the street and show them off to girls.  Yes? Yes!

The retail went away. The cruising activity has moved to other locations.

What’s happening along Polk these days, though, is a rebirth of places for folks to enjoy a meal, a beverage or two. Restaurants are opening up in new locations. One of them, Crush, is relocating across the street.

Buchanan Street has that fancy hotel across the street from the Civic Center. And, oh yes, the ballpark is under construction across from City Hall.

I won’t equate this rebirth to any sort of religious event, as in being “born again” to the Christian faith. However, I am struck by the astonishing acceleration of progress toward that new life downtown after so many years of stagnation. There were lots of discussion about moving forward. But … nothing happened.

Now, with relative suddenness, that discussion has turned into action. They’re tearing up old storefronts, refitting them into something new. They’re turning historic buildings (such as the Firestone, the Fisk, Levine’s and Woolworth) into venues that bear little resemblance to their original uses.

My head is spinning.

I need to get away — and then return — more frequently to see this progress continue to take shape.

I like what I am seeing.

Downtown Amarillo’s progress marches on

There was some discussion this week at Amarillo City Council’s regular meeting about the city’s downtown march.

A woman asked the city to suspend work on the multipurpose event venue until residents could vote on whether it should continue.

I have no idea whether she represents a larger bloc of residents, but I was impressed to hear City Manager Jared Miller’s response. It was that the city did put the issue to a non-binding referendum in November 2015. Voters were asked whether they endorsed the MPEV’s construction. A majority of them answered in the affirmative. Miller also noted that the city was not obligated to put the issue to a vote, but it did as a show of good faith.

Work then began this past year. It will be done by February 2019. By April of that year, a AA baseball team will start playing hardball in the MPEV.

I would like to offer this nugget of, well, opinion about the MPEV.

It’s a vital component of the city’s stated desire to improve its downtown district. I get that the November 2015 referendum called for construction of a $32 million ballpark, but that the cost has escalated some to $45.5 million. There well might be some latent resentment among residents — many of them soreheads — who dislike that its cost has escalated.

The city doesn’t need to put the brakes on a project that’s already been discussed, debated, dissected and, finally, determined to be part of the city’s dynamic future.

The public has had plenty of opportunities to comment on it. Whether the public has responded to those opportunities sufficiently is a matter of ongoing discussion.

I remain steadfast in my belief that the MPEV is going to trigger a tremendous revival of interest in our downtown district. When that occurs, I also remain dedicated to the notion that all of Amarillo will flourish perhaps in a manner that we cannot yet foresee.

I want to join my good friend David Horsley, a former Center City board member, who told the council: “We had great goals and thought we were pushing the ball down the field a little bit … But after I rotated off after about six years, we didn’t have much to show for our work. And it was kind of depressing. Downtown is the heart of the city and the heart was barely beating. Skip forward 28 years and now look at what’s happening downtown. I know you all can’t take credit for what’s happening, but I think there is a lot of wonderful stuff happening downtown and maybe you do get a tiny bit of credit for it. And I thank you for being leaders and helping good stuff happen downtown that people are going to want to be involved in.”

Amen, pal.

Pace quickens on downtown reshaping

Is it me or does the pace of downtown Amarillo’s transformation appear to be picking up steam?

I don’t get downtown as much as I used to, but the things I keep seeing and hearing give me hope that this Panhandle outpost city is getting its act in gear as it concerns the reshaping of its downtown profile.

Another storefront on Polk Street — the city’s one-time “main drag” — is getting a new tenant after being dark for longer than I can remember. The old Levine Building has some construction fencing around the ground floor and will be the site of yet another new eatery along Polk.

Crush is moving it location across from where it currently does business; we’re getting that two-story/over-under restaurant nearby; the Embassy Suites is continuing to progress; that parking garage next door is getting closer to completion, with retail outlets making lease arrangements to do business once they start parking vehicles inside.

West Texas A&M University is continuing to rip apart the old Commerce Building to transform that structure into a new WT downtown Amarillo campus.

I am acutely aware that much work needs to be done on major structures. The Barfield Building remains dark; and let’s not forget — if anyone will let us forget — the Herring Hotel, which remains the dream of its owner, Bob Goodrich.

But much of downtown’s face already has been lifted. By my way of thinking, so have some spirits been lifted as Center City continues its work to promote the downtown district. Much of the work done by what used to be called Downtown Amarillo Inc. — I am not clear on the status of that organization — is continuing at a steady pace.

I want to reiterate a critical point here. It is that a city’s health can be measured by the state of affairs in its downtown business/entertainment district. Look around Texas and you see cities working — with a wide range of success — at reviving their downtown districts. This isn’t rocket science, folks.

The proof of cities’ vitality can be found in any community that boasts a healthy central district. Fort Worth? Houston? San Antonio? They all are bustling.

Spare me the response that “We cannot be one of those cities. We aren’t that big.” I know that. My response is simply: economies of scale. We can produce a vital downtown district on a scale that fits a city of 200,000 residents.

What I am seeing is that we are proceeding toward that end.

Let us get busy, though, in getting some paperwork done to finalize that baseball franchise move from downstate to Amarillo so we can start work on that downtown ballpark.