Tag Archives: downtown Amarillo

Amarillo skyscraper takes another big hit

Local media perhaps ought to rethink the way they are reporting this bit of news.

Chase Bank is leaving the ground floor of the 31-story office tower that carries the bank’s name. The bank is moving to a new location along Interstate 40. But despite reports by some in the Panhandle media, the Amarillo “skyline” isn’t changing.

I’m absolutely certain there are no plans to raze the building that has towered over the High Plains since 1971. It went up all those decades ago while the city proclaimed it as the “tallest building between Fort Worth and Denver.”

The tower will have a new name. Or it might not have any name at all, at least for the time being.

But the Chase Tower — I’ll call it that for now — keeps getting darker.

Xcel Energy vacated the building in 2017. West Texas A&M University’s downtown Amarillo center is moving soon into what used to be called the Commerce Building on Eighth Avenue and Tyler Street.

I’ve lost count of the number of Chase Tower floors that have gone dark — or are about to go dark. Let’s just say it’s, um, quite a few of them.

For some time I have been proud to extol the progress that has occurred in downtown Amarillo. The ballpark will be opening for baseball and other activities in April 2019; the city welcomed a new top-drawer hotel across the street from City Hall; Xcel Energy moved into a new office building in 2017; Polk Street is being revived, rejuvenated and renovated all along its corridor between 10th and Sixth avenues.

That’s all good news, yes? Of course it is!

The Chase Tower, though, will need a new name when the bank vacates the ground floor in early March.

What do we call it? How about, oh, the Amarillo Tower?

We can rest assured that the city’s skyline isn’t “changing.”

As for the search for new tenants, I’ve been told by a principal with Gaut Whittenberg Emerson commercial real estate brokers that they remain highly optimistic they’ll fill the space that’s been made empty.

Let’s get busy.

City Hall seeks to get an earful about trash pickup

I want to give Amarillo City Hall a handclap.

The city is pondering possible changes in the way it picks up trash. Officials are considering whether to go to a curbside pickup instead of driving trucks down alleys to toss the contents of Dumpsters. The move is designed to save money and to improve the appearance of alleys.

But first …

The city wants to hear from the “bosses,” the folks who pay for trash pickup. That’s us. Our property taxes are dedicated to certain municipal government functions; trash collection is one of them.

Officials are going to convene two public hearings — Thursday at the Downtown Library and next Monday at the Southwest Branch Library; both meetings begin at 5:30 p.m.

Here’s the deal. The city has been criticized — often unfairly — because of policy decisions it makes. Critics have alleged some sort of star-chamber process that produces changes allegedly in secret. We heard that nonsense during the discussion about the multipurpose event venue that’s going to be built downtown. The MPEV came to be after many public hearings and public discussion among City Council members and citizens committees appointed by the council.

So the city is asking residents if they prefer a new garbage-collection system or do they like the way the city is doing it now.

City Hall has put the word out. It wants to hear from you. It’s now residents’ turn to answer the call.

And let’s not question whether the city is being “transparent” while pondering this important new policy.

Atkinson lands on his feet

Jarrett Atkinson was, in effect, shown the door at Amarillo City Hall when voters elected a new majority to their City Council in 2015.

The city manager had done a good job for Amarillo during his six years at the helm. The new council majority saw things differently. Atkinson gave it a shot — for a brief period of time — before he submitted his resignation.

He said all the right things upon his departure. He didn’t make waves. He didn’t burn bridges publicly.

Atkinson took some time off and then ventured two hours south along Interstate 27 to become Lubbock’s city manager, where, according to an article in the Amarillo Globe-News, he has had a productive and eventful first year at that city’s administrative wheel.

It gladdens my heart to know that Atkinson has remained in public service.

It is true that I’ve lost touch with him since he left Amarillo City Hall; in truth I lost touch when I left the Amarillo Globe-News in August 2012. But I remained a strong supporter of the city manager, even as he struggled under the City Council’s new majority, which lasted two years before voters decided to clean them all out and installed an entirely new council in the spring of 2017.

I admired Atkinson’s expertise on water management. He took Amarillo many steps forward in its acquisition of water rights, helping secure the city’s future development. Atkinson was the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission’s go-to guy on water management before he made the move to Amarillo City Hall.

Moreover, I trust he’ll bring that same expertise to his new gig in Lubbock.

While it is true that Atkinson was universally loved and admired by the staff at Amarillo City Hall, I continue to look at the progress the city made during his time as city manager.

Downtown Amarillo took many steps forward on his watch. The city continued its moderate and steady growth. The city’s overall economic health remains strong, built largely on the municipal administration that Atkinson led.

I will continue to wish Jarrett Atkinson well as he continues his public service career. Lubbock has gained a solid hand at the municipal wheel.

Build the ballpark, the stores will come

I got a glimpse of a headline on Amarillo.com that reveals how the retail space in the newly built parking garage on Buchanan Street in downtown Amarillo likely will remain empty for the foreseeable future.

I couldn’t read the whole story because the pay wall popped up; since I don’t subscribe to the Amarillo Globe-News, I couldn’t read it.

The retail spots are going to remain empty until the ballpark gets closer to completion, which is about all I could see of the story.

I am reminded of the line from “A Field of Dreams,” where the Kevin Costner character is told, “If you build it, they will come.”

So it well could be when they break ground on the multipurpose event venue, aka The Ballpark. The MPEV is taking shape as a sort of “field of dreams” for city, business and civic leaders who consider the project to be the gateway to a brighter future for Amarillo.

I happen to agree with that view.

Thus, it doesn’t worry me in the least that the garage’s ground floor row of retail space will remain empty for the time being. It makes sense.

Why install an establishment that won’t reap the reward until after the MPEV is open for business and attracting crowds into the downtown business/entertainment district?

If that’s the prevailing theory, then it makes perfect sense to yours truly.

I remain optimistic — and you can remove the “cautiously” qualifier from that description — about the future of the MPEV and its impact on Amarillo.

The Local Government Corp. has negotiated a deal to bring a AA minor-league baseball franchise to the city. They’ll break ground soon on the MPEV. It will open no later than April 2019, just in time for some hardball to be played.

The MPEV will be built. I remain quite confident that the retailers will come.

Amarillo (still) Matters

I had been wondering whatever became of Amarillo Matters, a political action group formed early this year to campaign for a slate of City Council candidates.

A High Plains Blogger post posed the question: Where have they gone?

Just wondering: Amarillo Matters … where is it?

I have some news. Amarillo Matters has re-emerged. It’s not exactly a scoop, but I’ll take a touch of credit for prompting Amarillo Matters to show itself again on the public landscape.

It’s now a 501(c)4 non-profit group, according to a press release issued by Amarillo Matters. It has some ideas on how to make life better in Amarillo. I certainly welcome Amarillo Matters back into view.

Amarillo Matters has elected a board of directors and it has chosen a president, Jason Herrick. The group’s press release talks about Amarillo Matters’ interest in promoting projects designed to improve the city’s economic well-being.

One particular project is one that caught my eye when I first heard about it: Texas Tech University’s proposal to build a large-animal veterinary medical school in Amarillo.

According to Amarillo Matters’ release: “We started working on this during the last legislative session. Our goal was to get funding in the state budget for a vet school in Amarillo,” Board Treasurer Andrew Hall said. More than $4 million was eventually allocated to Texas Tech to begin initial plans for a school. “This is the perfect example of the types of projects we are going to focus on. It’s something that will not only benefit Amarillo but the entire Panhandle and beyond,” Hall added. 

It’s fair ask: What can be wrong with that?

I have lamented about flashes in the pan that come and go on occasion in Amarillo. We hear from political candidates who emerge at election time; they lose and then they disappear, never to be seen or heard from again.

The same can be said of the organization formerly known as the Amarillo Millennial Movement. It formed to pitch its support for the multipurpose event venue. The MPEV was put to a citywide referendum vote in November 2015; it passed and then the AMM went poof! when the young woman who founded the organization moved to Fort Worth.

I’m glad that Amarillo Matters has resurfaced in some other form.

The city already is undergoing a significant makeover in its downtown district. Mayor Ginger Nelson has declared her intention to clean up residential alleys that have become cluttered with trash. Interstates 40 and 27 both are under major construction, as is Loop 335 along its Hollywood Road right-of-way.

Amarillo Matters will retain its PAC status as well, as the release notes: The group … will be involved in local elections. “We’re going to limit the races to those that have a direct impact on our city, economy and future,” Herrick said. The PAC has been watching the upcoming primary election and is expected to issue endorsements soon. 

I suspect those “endorsements” will generate their share of public discourse, debate and perhaps even a little dissension.

There’s nothing wrong with that, either.

Tear down the former Dilla Villa!

We drove by the Tri-State Fairgrounds this morning along Third Avenue when I noticed a well-known Amarillo eyesore.

I refer to Potter County Memorial “Stadium.” I put the word “Stadium” in quotes because it is nothing of the sort. It is a rat hole, a dump, a run down, has-been venue that to my way of thinking no longer has any value to Amarillo.

My advice to the Potter County Commissioners Court? Tear the thing down! Scoop up the rubble and take it to the landfill. Clear the land, landscape it and turn it into something a damn sight more attractive than what sits on it at this moment.

Potter County owns the rat trap once known as the Dilla Villa. The Amarillo Dillas were playing some form of minor-league baseball at that venue when my wife and I arrived on the High Plains in early 1995. It was a dump back then, too. Its condition has worsened over the years. The men’s restroom stinks; the plumbing is poor; the outfield grass looks like a combination of at least three types of grass seed.

The condition of the venue was so bad that the sandlot organization that played ball there until this past year decided it wasn’t good enough for them. So they abandoned Amarillo.

Yes, I am aware that it has some history here. Longtime residents have a certain historical affection for the building. I don’t know what constitutes “longtime.” I have lived here for nearly 23 years; I figure that’s long enough to qualify me as someone with some history in Amarillo.

I’ve been cheering the construction of the upcoming venue that’s going to be built downtown. They’ll break ground soon, or so I understand, on a 4,500-seat ballpark near City Hall. It will be the home field for a new AA minor-league team that is relocating from San Antonio for the start of the 2019 season.

It will be a “multipurpose event venue” that can play host to a whole array of outdoor activities. It won’t be just a baseball park.

This means to me that the Potter County Rat Hole no longer is viable. It means the county needs to rid itself of a venue with zero potential. Have you seen the exterior of the outfield wall facing Third and Grand? It ain’t pretty, man.

I am aware that at least three members of the Commissioners Court read this blog. That’s a majority. If they’re going to be convinced by anything I say here in this forum, then I encourage them to take action.

Get rid of that rotten structure!

Amarillo poised to become a baseball city again

It is a virtual lead-pipe cinch that I won’t be living in Amarillo when they toss the first pitch at the city’s new downtown ballpark.

The city’s new AA minor-league baseball team will commence its initial season in April 2019 in a shiny new 4,500-seat venue.

The journey toward that end has been fraught with some difficulty, some apprehension and, yes, a bit of controversy. It’s going to come to fruition, which makes me happy for the city my wife and will depart in due course.

I will acknowledge that I was not a regular attendee at the independent league games played by teams that had various names. I did attend a few games at the dump once known as the Dilla Villa, in honor of the Amarillo Dillas who were playing baseball there when my wife and I arrived here in early 1995.

They morphed into another team, which morphed again. Then the outfit that ran that team decided to split its home season between Amarillo and Grand Prairie. That lasted one year. Now they’re gone.

The ballpark, also known as the multipurpose event venue, was conceived by local officials and business leaders while all that nonsense was occurring at the rat hole that passes for a ballpark at the Tri-State Fairgrounds. They had a number of public hearings. They put the issue to a non-binding citywide referendum in November 2015 — and it passed.

The price tag for the referendum was pegged at $32 million. It grew to $45 million. They knocked down the old Coca-Cola distribution center, and relocated that business elsewhere.

Has it been smooth sailing? Not at all. I had my own doubts about whether the Local Government Corp. could pull this deal off. The City Council support for the LGC’s work seemed a bit tenuous. Then this past spring, voters decided to elect a new council.

Let us not forget that the general managing contractor, Wallace Bajjali, vaporized along the way in a dispute between the firm’s principal owners. It didn’t deter the progress toward landing the affiliated AA franchise.

The Elmore Group, which owns the San Antonio Missions, is now going to relocate that team to Amarillo; San Antonio will get a AAA team that will relocate to the Alamo City from Colorado Springs.

Meantime, life is good for diehard baseball fans in Amarillo. They’re going to get to watch a professionally run baseball team play ball in a sparkling new venue.

I wish them all well. This journey has given me a mild case of heartburn along the way. It’s all good now as they prepare to break ground on the ballpark.

I intend to watch it grow and will be cheering from afar when they toss out that first pitch.

Just wondering: Amarillo Matters … where is it?

A political action group emerged from nowhere earlier this year. It called itself Amarillo Matters. Its mission, as I understand it, was to elect a slate of candidates to the City Council.

It succeeded. This past spring, voters flipped the entire five-member council, electing five newbies. Amarillo Matters then seemingly packed its bags, and its members went back to whatever they were doing before they formed this political action committee.

They were mostly successful businessmen and women. Their agenda included electing individuals who shared their pro-business tilt. Hey, I have no problem with that.

There’s been some success in the months since the new council members took office. Chief among them is the landing of that AA minor-league baseball franchise that is relocating to Amarillo from San Antonio and will play baseball at the new ballpark that will be built in downtown Amarillo; they’ll toss the first pitch in April 2019.

That’s a big deal, man.

But what has become of Amarillo Matters? It’s no longer garnering headlines, or any discussion on local broadcast media. I looked at its website this evening. It’s still up. AM has a link where one can contribute money; I am not giving them any dough.

I’ve written plenty about them already:

http://highplainsblogger.com/?s=Amarillo+Matters

Given that I am unplugged from most of what’s going on at City Hall these days, I am left to use this blog to pose questions about some of the community’s key players.

I consider Amarillo Matters to be an important cog in the city’s civic machinery. I know many of the folks who formed the PAC’s leadership team earlier this year. I respect them, too.

I hope it hasn’t become what the Amarillo Millennial Movement turned out to be: a flash in the pan. AMM formed to promote the approval of the ballpark in the November 2015 municipal referendum. The measure passed — and AMM then vanished, vaporized, disappeared. Yes, I am aware that the AMM comprised essentially one individual, a young woman who moved to Fort Worth. But you get my point, yes?

Amarillo Matters, where are you and what are you doing to make sure that that Amarillo still, um, matters?

Amarillo’s downtown continues to evolve

When you see something daily you aren’t likely to notice change as it occurs in real time.

But when you are away and then see that thing in brief visits here and there, the change becomes quite noticeable.

I don’t get into downtown Amarillo as much as I used to when I was working for a living. I continue to marvel at the change I see every time I venture there. Moreover, I continue to relish the thought of the potential that awaits the city my wife and I have called home for the past nearly 23 years.

* Polk Street is returning to some incarnation of its former heyday.

* Tenth Avenue is turning into something quite appealing, too, with the heavy construction under way at the old Firestone building.

* West Texas A&M University’s downtown campus is drawing closer to completion.

* And, oh yeah, we’ve got Buchanan Street lighting up with the Embassy Suites hotel.

It’s not all brightness and mirth, I’m troubled to say.

The Chase Tower has gotten a good bit darker of late. Xcel Energy has moved out of the 31-story skyscraper for new digs on Buchanan Street. WT will vacate more floors at the Chase Tower once its downtown campus is finished. I believe that means about 19 floors of the building will go dark.

I once spoke with a partner of the Gaut Whittenberg Emerson commercial real estate firm that occupies a ground-floor office in the Chase Tower and he assured me that the tower will fill up soon.

He’s the expert at this stuff; I’m just an observer of it. I hope he is right. My concern is that he might have been expressing some wishful thoughts.

I am not going to gloom-and-doom the prospects for downtown’s future. Indeed, I haven’t yet mentioned — until this very moment — the downtown ballpark that will open for minor-league baseball in April 2019.

They’ll break ground on that site just south of City Hall quite soon. The San Antonio Missions will move from South Texas to Amarillo to play AA baseball downtown; San Antonio will get a AAA team that will move there from Colorado Springs, Colo.

The ballpark doesn’t yet have a name. It won’t just be a place for baseball. It’s been called a multipurpose event venue, which — by definition — suggests it will play host to an array of community events.

Therein lies the crown jewel of downtown’s revival.

Sure, there’s been some grousing about all the highway construction. Interstate 40 is torn up; so is Loop 335 along the city’s southern edge; the I-40/27 interchange is quite close to being finished.

My plea there is for patience. Local motorists are learning to cope with the incessant construction cones and barrels spread along rights-of-way. I hope they maintain their wits as they travel around the city.

But … downtown’s revival continues. For that I am impressed, gratified and delighted at the prospect of the future that awaits.

Mayor delivers on State of the City address

I had this gnawing feeling in my gut when I ventured this morning to the Amarillo Civic Center.

My gut was warning me of a possible happy-talk recitation from Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson who pledged to offer her view of the State of the City.

To her great credit, the mayor in effect told my gut to settle down. No need to worry about that. Instead, Nelson proceeded to tell a Grand Plaza Ballroom packed with attendees that the city has made great strides already, but has a good bit more distance to travel as it is “Getting it Done” for the city’s 200,000 residents.

Indeed, Nelson today put quite a Getting it Done-themed agenda looking forward on the record. She laid down a terrific benchmark to take forward next year — and for years after that.

This is the kind of speech that residents need to hear from the City Council’s presiding officer. Granted, under Amarillo’s voting plan, the mayor represents precisely the same citywide constituency as the other four council members; everyone on the council is elected at-large. The mayor is given what Theodore Roosevelt used to call the “bully pulpit” and this morning I heard Amarillo’s first-term mayor use that pulpit with effectiveness.

Much is going well in Amarillo, Nelson said. The city maintains a low municipal property tax rate; the city’s downtown district is moving forward and soon construction will begin on a $45.5 million downtown ballpark that will be home to a AA minor-league baseball franchise.

Amarillo’s police department is reinvigorating its community policing program under the guidance of Police Chief Ed Drain. The city is opening police substations in minority neighborhoods and putting officers in closer touch with the neighborhoods they are patrolling.

The city is working to improve North Heights living conditions and plans to focus soon on The Barrio and San Jacinto, Nelson said.

But we haven’t reached nirvana, the mayor cautioned.

Response times from police and firefighters need to improve, she said. The city needs to boost its educational level; only 22 percent of Amarillo residents have earned a bachelor’s degree or better, Nelson said. The city is ranked by the FBI as one of Texas’s “most dangerous cities,” according to Nelson.

“We have an epidemic of illegal dumping in our alleys,” Nelson said. There needs to be “better planning” between the city and the Texas Department of Transportation as it regards the enormous amount of road work that’s under way, the mayor said.

The city must do a better job of improving the physical appearance of Interstates 40 and 27 as they course through Amarillo, she said, although she noted that the city has instituted a new schedule for mowing the rights-of-way.

She urges residents to “buy local,” noting that business and sales tax revenue has slipped a bit in recent years. She laid the blame for the sale slippage on “online shopping.” Nelson said buying local ought to be an “easy” goal for residents to achieve if they intend to support their community.

It’s easy for elected municipal officials to tout the good news and give the challenges the short shrift when speaking to a public audience. Mayor Nelson did not do that this morning.

My major takeaway from her State of the City speech is that she set the table for more speeches that will communicate where the city continues to fall short … and where it is “Getting it Done.”