Tag Archives: downtown Amarillo

Hodgetown earns honor, sending Center City director ‘over the moon’

Beth Duke is beaming with pride … and why not?

The Amarillo Center City director nominated Hodgetown, the city’s new downtown ballpark, for recognition as the best downtown construction project in Texas. Hodgetown then got the honor.

Duke, a lifelong Amarillo resident and a big-time promoter of its downtown revival, should be proud. So should the city for this latest honor granted to the shiny new ballpark that is home to the city’s championship-winning Texas League baseball team, the Sod Poodles.

The award comes from the Texas Downtown Association. It honors the ballpark’s look, its ambience, the attraction it proved to be for baseball fans and other Texas Panhandle residents.

As Duke told the Globe-News, where she worked for more than 30 years before taking over the Center City directorship: “I think you all know how proud I am of every building and the progress we’ve made in our beautiful downtown. I nominated Hodgetown for Best New Construction in a Texas (city) of more than 50,000 people. I was so gratified to be a finalist and the night we won, I was just over the moon.”

She should be over the moon.

I have taken great joy in applauding the city’s effort to build this structure, formerly known as the “multipurpose event venue.” It is a gorgeous home field for the Sod Poodles. More than that, it is a fabulous addition to downtown’s urban landscape.

Hodgetown came to fruition after a sometimes-rocky ride. I am more than willing to acknowledge harboring a doubt or two that the city could complete the project. There was turmoil on the City Council relating to the future of what was called the MPEV. Top-level city management went through a wholesale change with resignations of key personnel, including the city manager.

Despite the occasional ruckus at City Hall, the ballpark was completed. Hodgetown opened this past spring. The Sod Poodles played some great Class AA baseball in a ballpark full of cheering of fans.

Now comes a high honor from a downtown group that bestows honors that cities can use to their marketing advantage.

Beth Duke is the perfect advocate for Amarillo’s downtown district. She is a happy woman today. I am proud of her and of the city for the steps it has taken toward rebuilding its downtown business and entertainment district.

Well done.

Soddies’ fans have a long winter wait ahead of ’em

Fans of Amarillo’s new AA minor league baseball squad are facing a long, dark winter on the High Plains of Texas.

The Sod Poodles won the Texas League title earlier this summer. Some of the fans wanted a community celebration. It didn’t happen.

The team members and coaching staff dispersed to their respective homes.

Hodgetown, the downtown Amarillo ballpark where the Sod Poodles play their home games, has gone (mostly) dark.

Ahh, the wait has commenced.

I sense the real proof of the fans’ commitment to the Sod Poodles will need some time to develop. The Sod Poodles made a huge splash in their maiden season. Next year will start with a bang, too, when the Soddies accept their league championship trophy in a ceremony at Hodgetown.

They’ll play some hardball again starting next spring. The fans will keep coming next season. My hope — and from all appearances, my expectation — is that the enthusiasm will hold up over time.

I remain immensely proud not just of the success the team had on the field, but of the stunning reception the Sod Poodles received from their dedicated fans.

I live afar these days, but I am cheering as loudly as I can.

Bring on the Texas League all-stars!

Success brings many things to a city and an athletic franchise that carries the city’s name. For example, it brings added recognition in the form of what is going to happen to Amarillo next June.

The Texas League is going to stage its annual all-star game at Hodgetown, Amarillo’s shiny new home for the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the team that won the Texas League championship in its first year of existence.

This is big deal, folks!

Amarillo already has embarked on a massive downtown rehabilitation program that along the way has brought us that brand new ballpark called Hodgetown, named in honor former Mayor Jerry Hodge and his wife, Margaret.

Now the best of the Texas League’s AA baseball talent is coming to the city to show off its collective skill in front a sold-out crowd of Sod Poodles fans, who by the time the all-star game rolls around will have continued to celebrate the team’s league title.

The Convention and Visitors Council has been handed a huge marketing and promotional opportunity that I trust it will not squander as the city prepares for the June 23 contest.

What might that opportunity produce? Oh, let’s see. Maybe it will enable the city to showcase the added downtown amenities it is able to offer visitors from around the league. My best guess is that the city should — and hopefully will — ensure that it cleans up thoroughly in advance of the visitors’ arrival. They have some first-class lodging just across the street from Hodgetown. The influx of visitors will pump sales tax revenue into the city coffers as well.

As for the game itself, well, no one can predict how it will turn out. No one can know in advance whether it’ll be a thriller or a blowout. Indeed, all-star games by their very nature occasionally produce performances in which the athletes do not go all out … despite at least one notable exception. That would be Pete Rose’s collision with catcher Ray Fosse in the 1970 Major League Baseball all-star game that effectively ruined Fosse’s career.

Aww, but what the heck. The Texas League all-stars are going to Amarillo. They’ll throw out the first pitch on June 23. The fans will be jammed into the stands. They will have a great time and the city will reap the reward.

As Sod Poodles general manager Tony Ensor said, the game will be a “celebration for the entire West Texas community.”

Play ball!

Expect the Sod Poodles’ fan base to hold up during off season

Teams that take cities by storm, which is what happened with the Amarillo Sod Poodles’ minor-league baseball franchise, can be expected to develop a loyal fan base during the season of play.

Now the season is over. The Sod Poodles won the Texas League pennant with a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the league’s defending champs. The team dispersed; the players, manager, coaches and team staffers all went home.

The fans who flocked to Hodgetown by the thousands for every home game have remained in Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle. My hunch is that they’re still feeling all warm and fuzzy over the championship their team won in their first season in existence.

I get the sense, seeing some of the fans’ social media posts, that they’re going to remain ardent supporters of the team as they await the start of the 2020 Texas League season.

They’re talking about meeting on occasion at a local eatery in southwest Amarillo. The Home Plate Diner — where I had a meal or three during my years in Amarillo — serves meals in an establishment with a baseball theme. There happens to be a fantastic portrait of Mickey Mantle on the wall … but I digress. The restaurant management plans to cater to the Sod Poodles fans who gather to talk about this or that about the season just passed and the future seasons that await them.

I am thrilled at the response the community delivered to the Sod Poodles. I am impressed with the venue built on Buchanan Street in downtown Amarillo. I am delighted at the new life being breathed into the city’s downtown district largely as a result of the enthusiasm generated by the baseball team.

Season No. 1 has come to a highly successful conclusion. We cannot know what Season No. 2 will bring, whether there’s a repeat in store or whether the team will rebuild as the Soddies’ parent club, the National League San Diego Padres, looks to place AA athletes with AAA ballclubs … or even with the major league club.

I get the sense the offseason enthusiasm will hold up. I mean, social media do have a way of helping keep the embers hot. The Sod Poodles’ fans are using social to something that looks to be close to maximum advantage.

Might the Herring have a future, too?

The Barfield Building renovation is proceeding toward a spring opening of the one-time rotting hulk of a structure. It will be reborn as a “boutique” hotel.

By all means, downtown Amarillo, Texas, has much more work ahead of it. I am going to wonder aloud whether there might be something in the wind regarding the Herring Hotel Plaza, which sits a few blocks north of the Barfield.

This isn’t an original thought. I heard it from a little birdie/Amarillo snitch the other day, but I want to share it with y’all.

Amarillo city officials are looking around for someplace to relocate City Hall. They say they want to find an existing structure where they could move what’s left of the city administration still operating at the current City Hall into another location. Much of the administrative work is being done at the Jim Simms building, leaving City Hall with essentially a skeleton crew.

So, here’s a thought: Might there be any interest in relocating City Hall into the Herring Hotel site, along with a mixed-use development that could occupy the rest of the once-grand structure?

City officials are maintaining a code of silence on what they’re thinking, or so I have been advised. They are pondering whether to present a bond issue proposal to voters next spring that would total more than $300 million. They want to renovate the Civic Center, dress up the Santa Fe Railroad Depot and, oh yeah, relocate City Hall.

The Herring Hotel has been dark for a very long time. Its owner, a retired academician named Bob Goodrich, has sought to find a suitable developer; he has come up empty. Goodrich pays the taxes annually on the building and tries to keep it secure against trespassers and transients who seek shelter from the elements.

The Herring used to be the place to go, to see and to be seen. It played host to lavish parties and once was a first-class hotel.

Downtown Amarillo does not lack suitable locations for City Hall. I understand there’s some interest in some bank structures scattered around the downtown district.

However, would it not be a masterful public relations stroke of genius to identify a way to convert the Herring into a usable office building, combined with housing and perhaps a smattering of retail business?

I believe there remains a significant bit of nostalgia for the Herring around Amarillo. Heck, I even have changed my mind about the building. I used to believe it needed a wrecking ball; I no longer hold that belief. Surely there can be some use for the structure.

If City Hall is committed to relocating into an existing downtown structure, officials have a grand building looming a few blocks away.

Barfield Building rebirth: a major surprise

There’s no way in the world to overstate the surprise I felt when I heard the news, that a developer had decided to remake the Barfield Building in downtown Amarillo and turn it into a “boutique hotel” with the Marriott name.

Yep, it was a shock. The picture you see with this blog post comes from Neal Nossaman, a Facebook friend of mine who posted it on the social media site.

The Barfield is going to open in the spring. Crews have been working on gutting the interior, gussying up the exterior and turning the rotted-out building into a hotel; it also will have, as I understand, some retail space as well.

I would see the Barfield Building over many years continue to deteriorate. It sat vacant for more than four decades. It became a haven for transients who needed shelter from the heat and the cold.

The Barfield had a series of owners who tried and failed to secure funding for renovating the structure. Some of the owners were out of towners; some were locals. They couldn’t pull it together.

Then suddenly and shockingly, there was this announcement a year ago that Marriott had signed on to re-do the building. Plans emerged to turn this structure into this “boutique” hotel. I’m still not sure how a “boutique” hotel actually differs from a regular hotel. Whatever. The work has progressed.

They have a completion date in view.

My surprise notwithstanding, I simply am thrilled to see a once-rotting hulk of a building get new life.

Amazing, man.

Parking garage gets a tenant … more to come, hmm?

That parking garage across the street from Hodgetown has a tenant. It’s a trendy restaurant called Joe Taco, which operates an eatery on the far west side of the city, near the medical center complex.

I understand the Local Government Corporation worked out an agreement that allows Joe Taco to operate in the parking garage rent free for the first year. Then it will pay rent on a graduated scale after that.

Good deal, yes? We shall see.

What I am not clear about just yet is whether any other tenants have signed on at the garage, which was built with considerable fanfare, hoopla and promises of more businesses to fill the ground floor spaces in the structure.

Hey, I remain optimistic that the garage will pay the freight, that it will lure other retail outlets to help defray the cost of operating the building.

Hodgetown is a beauty of a venue for the Amarillo Sod Poodles, which played championship-winning hardball at the ballpark in their first season in existence. Not a bad start.

I regret being unable to attend any games this year. I have moved away. We don’t get back to Amarillo as frequently these days. We’re settled in nicely in our new digs in Collin County. However, I remain a keen observer of Amarillo’s evolution and at this point I like what I see occurring there.

The parking garage adds an attractive edifice to the city’s downtown urban-scape. The gurus who conceived it have pledged that it will fill with businesses. I want their pledge to come true.

Why comment on Amarillo matters? Here’s why

I got an interesting response to a comment I published on this blog about Hodgetown, the ballpark where the Amarillo Sod Poodles play baseball.

It goes like this: ” … how can someone who hasn’t even been to a game or live in Amarillo anymore comment on what benefit it will have for the city?”

Hey, it’s a fair question. I’ll answer it.

I lived in Amarillo for 23 years. I am about to turn 70 years of age. I have worked full time as a journalist in three communities: one in Oregon and two in Texas. Of the three cities where I have lived and worked, I spent most of my time in Amarillo.

I had a home built from the ground up in Amarillo. My wife and I sank our roots deeply into the Caprock during my time there. We still have plenty of friends who live there, along with one of our sons.

I have a keen interest in Amarillo and its development. Yes, it is true that I now live in Collin County, but I believe I retain some institutional knowledge of the city I have departed.

My view of Hodgetown, the Sod Poodles’ home field, is that the ballpark will become a community icon over time. Fans will continue to flock to the ballpark to watch the Sod Poodles. Indeed, I also believe Panhandle residents will be more than happy to attend other community events that will occur inside the walls of the $40 million structure.

My support for the ballpark has been unwavering. I admit to having a doubt or two about the baseball team actually coming to Amarillo, given the turmoil that roiled the City Council for a time after the 2015 municipal election. The team, though, made the move from San Antonio.

Will I keep commenting on the Sod Poodles and on matter relating to Amarillo’s progress? Damn right I will.

My affection for Amarillo runs too deeply for me to turn my back on the city I called home for all those years.

Hodgetown stands as potential icon for city’s downtown area

The Amarillo City Council, led by Mayor Ginger Nelson, gave a State of the City presentation and, quite naturally, spoke of all the good things that have happened in Amarillo in the past year.

There are initiatives designed to improve the San Jacinto neighborhood, efforts to dress up other underserved neighborhoods around the city and, of course, the downtown renovation effort that is ongoing.

I want to extol the virtues of that ballpark they built on Buchanan Street.

Hodgetown is a shiny new entertainment venue. It served as home field for the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the new AA minor league baseball franchise that won the Texas League championship in their first year playing hardball in Amarillo.

The structure cost a bit more than it was advertised as costing when Amarillo voters approved a non-binding referendum in November 2015. It was pitched as a $32 million venue, but ended up costing more than $45 million. I believe even at the greater price Hodgetown is still investment worth making.

There’s no way to know whether the Sod Poodles will repeat their initial success with another league title in 2020. That’s not the point. Fans will show up in the thousands for games in Season No. 2, just as they did in the team’s initial season.

I was unable to attend any games; I no longer live in Amarillo.

Hodgetown, though, does stand as a tremendous addition to the city’s downtown district. I have had the pleasure of admiring the structure on return visits to Amarillo.

City officials have much to commend their service to the public. I maintain the idea that downtown revival will ripple its way throughout Amarillo. It’ll take time, but the city’s investment in downtown is bound to bring significant reward even to those neighborhoods where residents contend the city has ignored.

Hodgetown is just one of the jewels in the city’s investment crown.

Amarillo Matters shows that it really matters

A couple of years ago a group of Amarillo civic and business leaders got together to form a political action committee dedicated — according to its mission statement — to the betterment of the city.

They called themselves Amarillo Matters. Some critics in the city spoke out against the group, suggesting some sort of nefarious motivation was driving the organization’s agenda.

But what has happened since Amarillo Matters came into being in 2016?

It endorsed a slate of City Council candidates prior to the 2017 municipal election. All five of the individuals endorsed by Amarillo Matters won that election. They all ran for re-election this year and, with Amarillo Matters’ blessing yet again, they all were re-elected.

How has the city done? Quite well, based on my observation.

Downtown’s district renovation has proceeded apace. They built that ballpark along Buchanan Street. The Amarillo Sod Poodles played baseball at Hodgetown, drawing huge crowds at every home game and, oh yes, they won the Texas League pennant after a thrilling come-from-behind victory in the fifth game of the championship series against the defending champs, the Tulsa Drillers. I know … Amarillo Matters didn’t have a thing to do with the Sod Poodles’ success on the baseball field.

Amarillo Matters’ mission calls for the development of “positive opportunities for Amarillo and the surrounding area.” Man, that sounds pretty damn sinister, don’t you think?

Yes, I questioned Amarillo Matters along the way, too. I wondered in an earlier blog post about the identity of the individuals who comprise its leadership. I called on Amarillo Matters to be more transparent and to reveal their identities to the public. The IDs have trickled out, but I will presume that some critics still contend that Amarillo Matters remains too secretive.

However, the result of the group’s mission is worth noting, too.

Amarillo has made tremendous progress over the past few years, even pre-dating Amarillo Matters’ emergence as a political force in the city.

Does a group of business leaders deserve all the credit for the city’s success? No. However, neither does it deserve the brickbats that some critics have hurled at it.

Amarillo has fared well. Amarillo Matters deserves some of the credit for the success that has come Amarillo’s way.