Tag Archives: downtown Amarillo

Downtown’s future looking brighter

Beth Duke is on a singular mission, which is to improve the economic condition of Amarillo’s downtown district. It makes sense, given her day job as executive director of Amarillo Center City.

This past weekend, Center City conducted a tour of historic structures scattered through the downtown region. The aim of the tour is to give prospective business owners an opportunity to see what the future might hold for the city — and for them.

I happen to support Center City’s mission and I have noted before that the organization has deployed the perfect person — that would be Beth Duke — to carry the mission forward. Duke was born and reared in Amarillo and spent a lengthy career covering the city while working as a reporter and editor at the Amarillo Globe-News.

Another reason for supporting Center City and its effort to juice up downtown lies in the ripple benefit that is sure to accrue across the city over time.

Study after municipal study reveals a common denominator among cities: All of the communities that enjoy economic and cultural vitality also are home to vibrant downtown districts.

Amarillo is on that path. You see it constantly evolving into something few of us can foresee at this moment. The downtown ballpark is under construction; downtown has welcomed two new first-class hotels; new retail businesses are springing up along Polk Street — and existing businesses are moving into shiny new digs.

There’s some positive rumbling about prospects for some rotting structures, namely the Barfield Building and the Ruhl Building.

It’s not all goodness and light. That 31-story skyscraper once known as the Chase Tower is undergoing change, although commercial real estate brokers report a jacked-up interest among folks who want to relocate to it. But then we hear that the Amarillo Club — which occupies the top two floors of the tower — is closing.

Will the historic building tour accelerate downtown’s rebirth? That remains to be seen, although the Globe-News reports some highly positive impact: “Tours like this are great, otherwise I don’t think people would realize what has been done to these old buildings,” said Laura Lane, who took part in the tour. “I am so glad to see historical buildings in downtown Amarillo get refurbished and reused and reinvented. To be able to walk to work, with restaurants everywhere now, this just enlivens the downtown area.”

As the city’s downtown evolution progresses, I feel confident enough to declare that once Amarillo’s work is done — whenever that occurs — the entire city is going to reap the reward.

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.

Tear it down! Tear it down!

I feel like revisiting an issue that has been discussed before on this blog. It’s the fate of Potter County Memorial Stadium.

The Amarillo Globe-News has put forward a notion that the stadium’s demolition ought to be an option. I’ll take it a step beyond.

Take the damn thing down!

Let me count the reasons for the venue known formerly as the Dilla Villa to be reduced to rubble.

  • It is in terrible physical condition. Drive by the dump/rathole and you see what I mean. The exterior grounds outside the fence look hideous. Potter County, which owns the place, is doing next to nothing to fix it up.
  • There is no practical use for it beyond it being the home field for San Jacinto Christian Academy’s baseball team. SJCA has a deal to use the ballpark for its home games.
  • Amarillo is going to welcome a shiny new sports and entertainment venue downtown in April 2019, thus removing Potter County’s ballpark from any consideration for future use. The MPEV will be home to a AA minor-league baseball franchise. They’ll play hardball next to City Hall, signaling the continued revival of the downtown district.
  • Potter County Memorial Stadium is the property of Potter County. As the AGN noted in its editorial, the county doesn’t have the money to fix it up. But even if it did, what would be the reason to throw money for a useless cause?

I usually get in trouble with some readers of this blog with these comments. They tell me about the “history” and the “tradition” associated with Potter County Memorial Stadium.

But … as the Globe-News noted in its editorial, they tore Yankee Stadium down to build a new ballpark with the same name. I’m quite sure that The Babe, The Iron Horse, Joltin’ Joe and The Mick all would have objected greatly. But the New York Yankees are still playing ball — and the city got over the demolition of The House That Ruth Built.

Potter County’s ballpark has outlived its usefulness. It’s time for it to go. Sooner, rather than later.

It’s time to name that baseball team

Amarillo’s upcoming minor-league baseball season, which commences in April 2019, will welcome a new team nickname to the region.

The Elmore Group, owners of the team that will play hardball at the multipurpose event venue under construction in downtown Amarillo, has opened up the team-naming process to the fans.

I welcome this challenge. I likely won’t submit a suggested name, but I’ll watch from the peanut gallery as the team ownership ponders what to call this new team that will move to Amarillo from San Antonio.

The team now plays under the name of “Missions.” It’s a AA ballclub affiliated with the National League San Diego Padres. San Antonio will get a AAA franchise that will relocate there from Colorado Springs.

Hmm. Think of that for a moment. Maybe the new Amarillo team will have a sort of religious name, given that “Padres” can be construed as having a religious meaning, just as “Missions” is so interpreted.

Well, whatever. The last time I lived in a community that went through a pro franchise team-naming exercise, the name that came forward was initially greeted with derision. That was in 1970. The NBA awarded my hometown of Portland a pro basketball franchise. They had to name the new team. I preferred “Lumberjacks,” given the huge impact the timber industry has on the Pacific Northwest.

Instead, they came up with “Trail Blazers,” which as I remember it was meant to honor Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who led that “trail blazing” expedition from the Midwest to the Pacific Ocean in the early 19th century.

Still, I didn’t like the name initially — but it grew on me and the rest of the community.

Thus, I caution baseball fans in Amarillo to be patient with whatever name comes forward for the new team that will play ball at the MPEV. The name might grow on you, even if you don’t like it at first.

And, come to think of it … the ballpark needs a name, too.

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.

Yes on Barfield … what about the Herring?

A trip into downtown Amarillo, Texas, today brought to mind a question about the central district’s future.

If the Barfield Building — a seriously rotting hulk of a structure — can be targeted for renovation as a Marriott niche hotel, why can’t anyone come forward to revive an even more iconic structure, the Herring Hotel?

I am acutely aware that I am shooting from the hip, that there’s a lot about downtown redevelopment’s nuts and bolts that I don’t know.

I’m going to keep shooting, however.

I made the drive this morning down Third Avenue, past the Herring. I turned left on Polk Street and drove past the Barfield. As I looked at the Barfield’s busted windows and hideous exterior appearance, I thought immediately of the Herring, which looks at first (or even second) glance to be in better physical condition than the Barfield.

Robert Goodrich, a retired college professor of urban planning, has owned the Herring for quite a few years. He pays the taxes on it and seeks to find investors willing to sink some dough into reviving it. I’ve talked many times over the years to my friend Bob about the Herring. He is full of ideas and concepts. They include partial-use retail and apartment living plans.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am glad the Barfield might get a new lease on its long-abandoned life. It’s far from a done deal, even though a recent Amarillo Globe-News article on the Barfield offers encouragement to those who want to see the Barfield restored.

Many others, though, want the same thing for the Herring.

I’ve had the pleasure of walking through the ground floor of the Herring. I was working on a story for KFDA NewsChannel 10’s website when Goodrich took me on a tour of the building. I was stunned to note that the Herring is in relatively good condition. We didn’t walk into any of the upper floors. I’ve been told by city planners over the years that the Herring needs a lot of upgrading to bring it up to current building codes.

OK, now that I’ve emptied my rhetorical six-gun on the Herring, I am going to hope for the best, that my good pal Bob Goodrich — with some help from city economic planners — can restore what many Amarillo residents believe is a municipal treasure.

There is likely to be a time when virtually all of downtown Amarillo is shiny, new and vibrant. I cannot fathom the Herring Hotel standing alone forever as the city’s remaining multi-story eyesore.

Downtown health: key to cities’ well-being

Gary Jennings returned to Amarillo years ago from the Texas Gulf Coast and then plunged into a project he knew would consume much of his time and energy.

It has been worth all of it. And then some.

He has turned a one-time dilapidated structure on the edges of downtown Amarillo into a showpiece. He owns the Firestone Building at the corner of 10th Avenue and Tyler Street. It used to be a tire shop. It has been turned into a “niche” complex of apartments, with retail space on the ground floor.

My point in bringing Jennings up with this blog post is to relay something he told the Rotary Club of Amarillo this past week. He said that a city’s health depends largely — if not exclusively — on the health of its downtown district. He ticked off a few successful American cities and asked, rhetorically, what they had in common. The common denominator was a vibrant downtown district.

To which I wanted to shout from my seat in the crowd, “Amen, brother!” I held my tongue. Of course.

I have enjoyed watching from the peanut gallery over the past five-plus years as Amarillo’s march toward the future has progressed nicely, despite a hiccup or two along the way. I had a more-or-less front-row seat at the Amarillo Globe-News until August 2012. Then I quit the newspaper and have been viewing this progress since then from the cheap seats.

The ballpark construction is under way; an Amarillo Economic Development Corporation official told the Rotary Club that it’s “a week ahead of schedule.” I won’t quibble over how he knows such a thing this early in the project that is supposed to conclude in time for baseball in April 2019.

So much has happened downtown. It gives me hope that Amarillo is moving forward at a steady — if not accelerating — pace toward a future few of us saw more than two decades ago. I arrived here in early 1995 and, so help me, I saw few tangible signs of forward movement in the city’s downtown district.

That has changed. The hustle, bustle and sizzle along Polk Street — the one-time “main drag” — provides plenty of evidence of forward movement.

Jennings’ list of forward-thinking American communities didn’t include one that I know quite well. It’s my hometown of Portland, Ore., where I believe a once-young and innovative mayor — the since-disgraced Neil Goldschmidt — set the gold standard for urban planning.

Goldschmidt disappeared after being caught up in a hideous sex scandal a few years back. In his day, however, when he was a 30-something Portland mayor, he set his sights on redeveloping a once-moribund downtown district.

Goldschmidt decided in the early 1970s to veto a freeway project through the southeast quadrant of Portland. He said the city would instead direct its resources — meaning public money — into developing a viable mass transit system. It would create a bus system that served the downtown district. His goal? To turn downtown Portland into a destination.

Goldschmidt’s strategy worked. My hometown’s central business district thrives in a way I couldn’t possibly imagine when I was growing up there.

I cite this example as proof of what Gary Jennings said this past week. He is correct in asserting that a city’s health depends heavily on the health of its downtown district.

We don’t yet know where Amarillo, Texas is heading after the last project is finished … whenever that occurs. I remain confident in the extreme that it will be in a different and far better place than when the work began.

What? Barfield is coming back to life? Maybe?

Well, shut my mouth and call me … whatever you want.

I had written not long ago about my doubts over the future of the long-abandoned Barfield Building in downtown Amarillo, Texas. It stands at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Polk Street. It’s a rotting hulk of its former glory.

http://highplainsblogger.com/?s=Barfield+Building

This morning I awoke to read a story in the Amarillo Globe-News that declares that the Barfield Building is en route to a revival. It will become a luxury hotel, developed by the Marriott Corporation.

Then came the qualifier. “Maybe,” according to the AGN. Maybe it will happen. Maybe … it won’t.

I’m going to pull for the “maybe it will.”

Plans call for the Barfield to morph into a Marriott Autograph Collection Hotel. It’s an upscale concept. As the Globe-News reports: “We want to bring the Barfield back to life and tell its story,” said Mark Brooks, of Brooks Hospitality Consulting. “We want to create something that speaks to Amarilloans. Hopefully, it’s pretty exciting.”

Brooks told the AGN’s Jeff Farris that the interior demolition at the Barfield is nearly done. Next up will be acquiring building permits from the city.

The Barfield has been down similar roads before. It’s been through several ownership changes. There have been reports of progress made to breathe new life into the building. They have been premature. Nothing has occurred there. As the AGN noted, the city came within a whisker of condemning the building.

This fellow Brooks, though, now is delivering some potentially good news about the Barfield. The category of hotel suggests it will be unique. Marriott says that none of its Autograph Collection structures are duplicates of others.

So, with this news, I am anxious to see if downtown Amarillo — which already has seen tremendous change in the past decade — is about to take another huge step forward. The multipurpose event venue is under construction. The Embassy Suites hotel has opened across the street from the Civic Center; Marriott opened another hotel prior to that at the historic Fisk Building. Construction crews are hard at work on new eateries and other business establishments along Polk Street. West Texas A&M University is set to open its downtown Amarillo campus.

And now? The Barfield Building? Is it possibly coming back to life? Might there be signs of activity in that dilapidated structure?

Maybe.

A new day might bring a new era

As I write these few words, we’re about 15 hours or so from sunrise on a new day in the Texas Panhandle.

We intend to mark the day in a way I never thought would occur. We’re going to Ellwood Park sometime Saturday morning, look for a place to park our car and we’re going to visit with what I hope is a large crowd of marchers.

I’m not sure I intend to actually join the March For Our Lives. I do intend to bring my notebook, a pen and that trusty camera on my cell phone. I intend to talk to young people, some of their parents and perhaps an onlooker or two (or three) to get a sense of what they hope to accomplish.

The March For Our Lives is a national event that has washed over Amarillo. Caprock High School students are taking the lead on organizing the local event; they have the support of their teachers and, I’ll presume, their parents.

It’s not too much of a stretch to wonder if this march portends a new era, whether it signals an awakening among young students who feel endangered by the threat of gun violence.

By now you know that the March For Our Lives was spurred by the slaughter of 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The students are outraged, enraged and, yes, frightened. To their huge credit, they aren’t letting their fear overcome them. Many of these Douglas High School students are going to march on Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, their high school-age brethren are marching in streets throughout the country. I saw a map on TV showing communities where March For Our Lives is staging demonstrations; the map was covered with dots denoting such activity.

The students here who’ve taken up this cudgel deserve high praise. I intend to offer it to those I meet.

Amarillo will join the nationwide march. We’ll need to get there early enough to find some parking near Ellwood Park.

I’m looking forward to the new day. May it signal an awakening.

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.