Tag Archives: downtown Amarillo

City Council’s big-picture vision laid the groundwork

The Amarillo Sod Poodles continue to be the talk of the city where they play AA minor-league hardball.

They play before large crowds at a venue called Hodgetown. They’re getting salutes for the sound of the name and the quality of the ballpark.

To think that all of this was thought by many observers — including yours truly — to be in jeopardy in 2015.

Looking back on that time, while I was still living in Amarillo, I recall a contentious municipal election. Voters installed a new majority on the five-member City Council. At least two of those new folks spoke openly about whether building a “multipurpose event venue” was even feasible. They fought with Mayor Paul Harpole. City Manager Jarrett Atkinson quit, reportedly under duress.

Still, the council approved a non-binding referendum for the ballot that fall. The issue went to a vote. City residents approved it, albeit by a narrow margin.

To its credit, the City Council honored the statement of that referendum — which it was under no obligation to do — and proceeded with the initial development of what we still referred to as the MPEV.

The rest is history. The city lured the San Antonio Missions to Amarillo; the Alamo City wasn’t left without a baseball team, as it welcomed a AAA franchise that relocated to South Texas from Colorado Springs.

Amarillo, though, turned out to be the big winner, given that it didn’t have any sort of organized baseball franchise competing here. You’ll recall that the former tenants of Potter County Memorial Stadium decided to play half of its “home games” in Grand Prairie, only to abandon Amarillo altogether.

A new City Council has taken over from the one that got elected in 2015. All five new council members took office in 2017 and were re-elected this year. They have carried the momentum from that earlier time forward, for which many of us — even though I no longer live in Amarillo — remain quite grateful.

I do hope one day to spend enough time in Amarillo to sit in the stands at Hodgetown and cheer for the Sod Poodles. First things first, though. The Sod Poodles compete in the Texas League with the Frisco Roughriders, which is just down the road from where I live these days.

I intend to cheer for the Sod Poodles even as they play against the “home team” in Frisco.

It’s worth asking: Is there a future for the Herring Hotel?

As thrilled as I am to watch downtown Amarillo, Texas, redevelop and revive its downtown business district, I remain perplexed about the apparent (lack of) future of a one-time iconic structure at the northern edge of that revival.

Yes, I refer to the Herring Hotel.

The Herring Hotel once was the go-to location in Amarillo. It was the center of the city’s high society, its old-money establishment. It was the place to see and to be seen.

If you needed a venue for a high-dollar party, you went to the Herring Hotel. If you wanted to show out-of-town guests the finest the city had to offer, you took ’em to the Herring Hotel.

Those glory days are long gone. It’s been vacant for decades. It has been allowed to rot and fester. It is in decay.

However, to my untrained eye, the Herring Hotel is not beyond the point of salvation. I mean, if an investor can be found to sink millions of  bucks into the rebirth of the Barfield Building — a structure I long was in far worse shape than the Herring — then what in the world is keeping such investment away from the massive Herring Hotel?

The owner of the Herring property, Bob Goodrich, once took me on a tour of the structure while I was working part-time as a freelance blogger for KFDA NewsChannel 10. We walked through the ground floor and to be candid, I was startled to see the relatively good condition of what used to be the hotel foyer.

Goodrich, a retired academician, bought the Herring for a song. He’s been paying the taxes on it for a number of years He also has been seeking someone — anyone — to take the hotel off his hands and find a new use for a building that Goodrich believes still has life left in it.

Goodrich reportedly has come close to making a major announcement regarding the Herring Hotel. There has been chatter about mixed-use redevelopment for the building: a combination of lodging, retail space, loft apartments. Then nothing happens.

The hotel sits in the midst of the city’s Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, an area that sets aside tax revenue increases within the zone and commits it to redevelopment of property and “public infrastructure.” It appears that the TIRZ board hasn’t seen much future for the Herring Hotel.

To be candid, this subtle rejection puzzles me.

I am wondering whether Amarillo can fill in a gigantic hole in its downtown redevelopment by luring a qualified investor who can find a credible use for a structure that once stood as a beacon along the High Plains.

My hope springs eternal.

Where, oh where are those parking garage businesses?

I’m a bit baffled. The opening of the downtown Amarillo ballpark was supposed to bring a surge of business onto the ground floor of a shiny new parking garage across the street from what is now called Hodgetown.

The Amarillo Sod Poodles have been playing hardball at Hodgetown for a few weeks now. They’re drawing big crowds to the ballpark, recently listed a the top AA baseball venue in the United States of America. The fans are getting their money’s worth, too, with the Sod Poodles winning the first half of the Texas League season.

That parking garage is holding vehicles of fans attending the games at stadium. The businesses that were thought to be standing by after the ballpark opened have yet to sign on at the garage, or so I understand.

I saw a story in the Amarillo Globe-News online edition posted this past month that talked about the Local Government Corporation meeting to discuss the business activity slated to arrive at the garage.

Any word yet on what’s going on here?

The ballpark, the relocation of the baseball franchise from San Antonio to Amarillo and the parking garage were supposed to constitute a sort of three-part story that brought about the city’s downtown revival. I am pleased to see from afar that the city is experiencing a tangible renovation of its downtown business/entertainment district.

The Sod Poodles are drawing large crowds to the ballpark. They’re playing some good baseball under the watchful eye of a National League parent franchise, the San Diego Padres. And, oh, that ballpark is a sight to see.

I’m still hoping for the best that the city’s business and civic leadership can persuade the businesses slated for the parking garage to open up shop.

If and when that happens, I believe the future of the city will brighten even more.

Sod Poodles become the Soddies?

You perhaps recall that when the minor-league baseball franchise announced it was moving to Amarillo that it would leave the team-naming task to the fans.

The team released a list of five finalist names. Sod Poodles was one of the five names. My first reaction? I hated it! I mean, really hated the name.

Then I started thinking about it. I read something from the team owners — the Elmore Group — about what it intended to accomplish with whatever name it chose. They wanted the name to become a sort of brand for the team. They wanted fans in Amarillo and around the Texas League to talk about the name, whichever one they chose.

Then they announced the name: It would be the Sod Poodles. By the time the name announcement came, I had reversed my initial hatred of the name. It became my favorite among the finalist names.

It turns out the city has embraced the name, too. The Sod Poodles now have a nickname — if you want to call it that. They’re referred on occasion as the Soddies.

Sod Poodle is supposed to be some sort of old-time name identifying prairie dogs, the ubiquitous rodents that populate colonies throughout the High Plains region of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico — and all over God’s creation.

I lived in Amarillo for 23 years. It’s not as long as many residents have lived there. I never heard the term Sod Poodles used while mentioning the little critters. A lot of long-time residents said the same thing, that they’d never heard of the term, let alone used it.

However, the name of the AA baseball team has stuck. The team is pulling in big crowds to Hodgetown, the brand new ballpark they erected in the city’s downtown district.

It gladdens my heart to know that legitimate minor-league baseball is back in Amarillo.

Downtown Amarillo Inc.: What happened to it?

As I continue to watch from some distance the evolution of downtown Amarillo, I cannot help but think of an individual and an organization that helped kickstart the city’s downtown district’s rebirth into something quite different from what it had been allowed to become.

The individual is Melissa Dailey. The organization is Downtown Amarillo Inc. Dailey once ran DAI. Then she got sideways with the City Council. Dailey resigned from her DAI post and eventually left Amarillo for Fort Worth. DAI then was swallowed up by other municipal entities that took over the organization’s role of masterminding the city’s downtown rebirth/revival/renovation/reinaissance.

I had resigned from the Amarillo Globe-News by the time much of this change occurred. So I wasn’t as plugged in as I had been prior to my departure from the world of daily journalism. I acknowledge a few holes in my memory of what precisely went down.

Dailey had critics in the city. Some of the then-newly elected City Council members didn’t like the way she handled DAI’s business.

But as I take the long view looking back over the span of time since Amarillo’s urban rebirth gained traction, I am left with this thought: Much of the progress we’re witnessing in the city began on Melissa Dailey’s watch as head of Downtown Amarillo Inc.

Were there some missteps? You bet. DAI took part in the hiring of an outfit based in Sugarland, a Houston suburb, that was supposed to oversee the overall management of the downtown effort. Wallace Bajjali fell apart quite literally when the principal owners parted company with each other, thus dissolving the company. There were reports of malfeasance in other communities that had bought into Wallace Bajjali’s grand promise of economic revival; they suffered serious financial harm. To my knowledge, Amarillo had managed to protect its interests sufficiently to avoid any financial liability when the company vanished into thin air.

The city has recovered from potential catastrophe and it has moved on. It has taken control of its own downtown management. They’ve got that ballpark, a minor-league baseball franchise, Polk Street revival, an ongoing hotel renovation of the old Barfield Building, new urban housing, businesses relocating and springing up throughout the core district, a new downtown West Texas A&M University campus … and some other things, too!

As for Melissa Dailey, someone I admit to not knowing well, I sense she is sort of a forgotten principal in the city’s effort to revive itself.

Perhaps one day when the city’s history is written and its downtown revival efforts are chronicled for posterity, Dailey will get the credit I believe she deserves for helping lead the city out of the downtown wilderness into a future that continues to look brighter with each completed project.

Irony continues to provide a bit of sting

There might be a reader or two of this blog who will presume this brief post is an assault on a young woman who once lived in Amarillo, Texas.

It isn’t. Please accept the notion that I intend only to reiterate an astonishing irony.

Meghan Riddlespurger once was the front woman for what she called the “Amarillo Millennial Movement.” She fought for the voter approval of a proposed downtown Amarillo sports/entertainment venue. Her primary motivation, she said at the time, was to entice “millennials” to remain in Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle after they finished their education. She wanted them to stay at home and to enjoy the fruits of the entertainment offerings that the venue would provide.

She posted this message overnight on Facebook: When you build it, they’ll come. Please support your walkable downtown development efforts and give your heart to municipal efforts because this is where a difference can be made. Just a few years ago, people said none of this could happen. And then it did. Believe in the most and fight for the best. Your city loves you! Goodnight!

It’s a lovely message. I presume Meghan returned to Amarillo to take in a baseball game at Hodgetown, which is the direct result of her efforts to help rejuvenate her hometown’s downtown district.

But she left the city not long after the November 2015 non-binding referendum victory she had sought. She now lives in Fort Worth, where I presume she is doing well. What about the “walking the walk”?

I harbor no personal animus toward this young woman. I like Meghan Riddlespurger, even though we don’t know each other well. I left the city, too, but I’m an old man who merely comments on local matters through this blog. I wasn’t invested at the level Riddlespurger was invested.

I just find the irony to be so very remarkable.

I do have to say this, though, about the young woman’s effort: It is paying off with the Sod Poodles playing before nice crowds at the ballpark and the city reaping the reward of the effort Meghan and many others put into its downtown redevelopment.

Is there another AMM in Amarillo’s future?

As I watch Amarillo, Texas, morph into something different from what it has been since the Santa Fe Railroad opened up shop on the Texas Panhandle, I am wondering about who or what will shape the city’s future.

It won’t be me. I have moved away along with my wife and our pooch. We live in the Metroplex these days, but I retain a keen interest in the city we called home for more than two decades.

My curiosity turns to the creation of a one-woman “movement” that sought to win approval of what we used to call the “multipurpose event venue,” or MPEV. You remember it, yes? It was called the Amarillo Millennial Movement.

The AMM made a bit of a splash when it jumped onto the front page of the local newspaper and got some air time on local TV stations.

AMM was the creation of one individual, Meghan Riddlespurger. I was able to shake her hand once, and we got to know each other from some distance.

She had a bit of help from others around town to get a referendum placed on the local ballot. The referendum asked residents if they supported construction of the MPEV. They said “yes.” The City Council then honored the residents’ wishes and proceeded with development of the project.

The MPEV is now called Hodgetown. It is a magnificent ballpark in downtown Amarillo. It is home to the Texas League’s Amarillo Sod Poodles, a minor-league baseball team that is playing before healthy crowds. Hodgetown recently was named the nation’s top AA ballpark; the Sod Poodles were named the best baseball team nickname in America. The city is proceeding toward its future.

Meghan Riddlespurger? She bailed long ago. After the 2015 election, she moved to Fort Worth. The AMM exists no longer.

Might there be an actual “movement” on the city’s horizon that emerges to promote the kind of thing that Riddlespurger espoused, which was to promote Gen-Xers and millennials to stay in Amarillo?

Riddlespurger had a noble goal. I am dismayed that she decided against following her own campaign theme. It was perhaps the height of irony that she would form this “movement,” talk up the virtue of staying put and helping Amarillo reap the reward … only to, um, head for a big city far away.

Whatever the case, Amarillo is moving ahead. That’s a good thing for the city and for those who are staying put.

Given that my hope springs eternal, I’ll keep hoping for an actual “millennial movement” to sprout way up yonder on the Caprock.

City turning into a form of ‘urban eye candy’

AMARILLO, Texas — We were walking this morning to an appointment we had with someone in her office at Seventh Avenue and Taylor Street when my wife spoke up.

“You know, the city certainly is a lot more attractive to the eye than it used to be, when we first moved here” in early 1995, she said.

To which I said, “Absolutely!” As we drove toward our appointment we couldn’t help but notice the appearance of Polk Street, Amarillo’s one-time “main drag,” the place where kids used to hang out, where adults did the bulk of their retail shopping.

Yes, the city’s physical appearance has leaped way past where it used to stand back when we first laid eyes on Amarillo more than 24 years ago.

The Potter County Courthouse square is all dolled up. They’re tearing the daylights out of the formerly rotting hulk called the Barfield Building. The Paramount Theater building remains full of activity. Polk Street is busy these days with lunchtime crowds deciding where to eat. A bit west of Polk we see that the West Texas A&M University Amarillo campus is all but complete inside what used to be called the Commerce Building.

I am acutely aware of the political turmoil that has accompanied the city’s work toward downtown revival. Some folks like it. Others dislike it. Some of the city’s power elite have been accused of feathering their own bank accounts.

We don’t get the chance any longer to watch the downtown district repurpose itself in real time. We only get to take a gander at where it is in the moment.

At this moment, therefore, we happened to notice that the city’s central business and entertainment district is looking much more appealing than it used to look.

How in the world is that a bad thing?

CAVE people: Eating their words?

A friend of mine — who communicates with me these days on social media — brought up an unofficial group of Amarillo-area residents who have had their heads handed to them.

He mentioned “CAVE” people. “CAVE” is an acronym for Citizens Against Virtually Everything. I commented briefly the other day about how the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the city’s new Texas League baseball franchise, are leading the league in average attendance while playing ball at Hodgetown, the new 7,000-seat ballpark in downtown Amarillo.

My friend noted that the CAVE folks were “against” the baseball team, against building the ballpark, against efforts to revive Amarillo’s once-moribund downtown district.

The CAVE folks aren’t an official group, such as Amarillo Matters, which has formed to promote downtown revitalization and other economic development efforts.

But they’re out there.

Sure, there has been healthy skepticism about downtown efforts. Some folks want he Herring Hotel to get a boost from City Hall. Others have lamented the absence — yet! — of any retail outlets springing up in that parking garage across the street from Hodgetown.

I do recall the CAVE cadre/cabal saying the multipurpose event venue would fall flat. I’m happy to notice, even from some distance these days, that the MPEV hasn’t done what the CAVErs predicted.

If anything, it is proving — and, yes, it’s still early — to be one of the wisest investments the city has made since, oh, the arrival in 1999 of the Bell/Textron aircraft assembly plant next to Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

That project has worked out well. I believe the Sod Poodles, Hodgetown and the city’s effort to pump new life into downtown will work out, too.

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.