Tag Archives: downtown Amarillo

Minor league baseball falls victim to the pandemic

Oh, brother …

This story saddens me at a level I never thought I would experience. It comes from The Associated Press and it portends a grim short-term future for minor league baseball across a nation that is caught in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic.

Listen up, my friends in Amarillo, you fans of the Sod Poodles who had hoped to be flocking to Hodgetown — the city’s shiny new ballpark —  to cheer on the defending Texas League champions.

AP reports that minor league baseball experienced a 2.6 percent attendance increase in 2019. Minor league ball had more than 40 million fans for the 15th straight season, according to AP.

The 2020 season hasn’t started. There’s no prospect on the horizon when it will start, unlike what’s happening with Major League Baseball, where team owners and the players union are working on a schedule that would commence with no fans present in the stands. The AP reported:

While Major League Baseball tries to figure out a way to play this summer, the prospects for anything resembling a normal minor league season are increasingly bleak.

For minor league communities across the country from Albuquerque to Akron, looking forward to cheap hot dogs, fuzzy mascot hugs and Elvis theme nights, it’s a small slice of a depressing picture.

Yes, you can include Amarillo in that roster of minor league cities. Amarillo fought hard to lure the Sod Poodles from San Antonio. The team’s initial-season success in 2019 was one for the books. It was epic. The fans can’t wait for the first pitch.

Then came the COVID-19 crisis. Every single sporting league is shut down. That includes the plethora of minor leagues scattered.

When will they play ball? When will it be safe to cram fans into ballparks, sitting next to each other, allowing them to high-five and cheer when the home team scores a run or makes a spectacular play in the field?

Uhh, who in the world knows?

At this moment, it doesn’t look good. We might be in for a lost season.

Pandemic stalls these fans’ enjoyment

I feel fairly confident in presuming that my many friends and acquaintances in Amarillo, Texas, are about to lose their baseball-loving minds these days.

The season of their beloved Amarillo Sod Poodles has been delayed indefinitely while the nation wages war against the coronavirus pandemic.

The Sod Poodles are supposed to be playing hardball by now. They had their home opener planned for next Thursday. They were supposed to open the defense of their Texas League championship. The home opener was slated to allow the team to have a trophy presentation and the team was going to take a bow for winning the AA league championship in their initial season playing ball in Amarillo.

The ceremony ain’t gonna happen … at least not just yet!

The coronavirus requires what’s been called “an abundance of caution.” There’s no way to stuff 7,000 cheering fans safely into Hodgetown, the Sod Poodles’ home ballpark in downtown Amarillo. I’m not sure when Americans will get the all clear from the federal government, or from the state or from cities and counties.

Indeed, there might not even be an “all clear” coming from the government. There could be a “partially clear” or a “conditional clear” issued at some point in the reasonably near future.

As I’ve been doing for some time now, I will continue to root for the Sod Poodles from afar. I hope to attend a game — or more — in nearby Frisco when the Sod Poodles come here to play the Roughriders.

I’ll just have to preach the mantra of patience. As the saying goes: This, too, shall pass.

Still waiting for sign of life in that downtown parking garage

I admit that I am not as dialed in to affairs of Amarillo as I was when I lived there. Still, social media surely would light up like a Christmas tree if there would be any new businesses opening in the city’s downtown parking garage.

It’s been quiet, man.

The parking garage went up with plenty of promise. I remain optimistic about the future of the project. However, my optimism is being tested.

Last I heard Joe Taco was going into the structure next to Hodgetown, the Amarillo Sod Poodles’ home baseball field.

Anyone else set to join the popular eatery? Hmm. Not that I’ve heard.

I will not object to being corrected. I check local media outlets from time to time. Still not hearing it.

My optimism is still strong. However, everything — even my own usually unbridled hope — has its limits.

Hello, City Hall relocation? Where will it be?

AMARILLO, Texas — This just in!

A panel assigned to study potential expansion and improvements to Amarillo’s Civic Center plans to present a $319 million bond issue election proposal to the City Council.

The proposal calls for expanding the convention space at the Civic Center, adding 75,000 of exhibit space. It also calls for a new arena seating 10,100 spectators, which is not quite twice the size of the Cal Farley Coliseum inside the Civic Center. The proposal also calls for renovation of the Santa Fe Railroad Depot next to the Civic Center and the addition of a parking garage.

Then we get to the City Hall relocation. The proposal that is attached to this blog post doesn’t mention a specific site where the new complex will be relocated.

I have thought for some time that the city needs to disclose to the public where it intends to place its new City Hall prior to submitting it to a public vote. Residents need to know for what they would be dedicating their number.

A friend of mine — who also serves as an occasional snitch on Amarillo-related matters — told me this week he thought the city would disclose the location of the new City Hall soon. I told him it had better come clean.

I remain generally in support of what the city wants to do. An expanded Civic Center would appease some concerns of critics of downtown revitalization. They have said the Civic Center should be Priority No. 1. It now appears headed to the front shelf, along with the coliseum complex and the railroad depot on the east side of the Civic Center complex.

I cannot overstate, though, the importance of disclosing in detail where the city wants to relocate City Hall. Voters are going to receive a request to shell out a lot of money. The city has pledged transparency at all levels. If I were King of the World, I would mandate a full disclosure on which existing downtown structure would house the place where residents do their business with city.

Check out the proposal here.

The artist renderings deliver a spectacular view of what the city has in mind regarding the Civic Center and the Santa Fe Depot.

What about the new City Hall?

Taking stock of a city’s changing face

AMARILLO, Texas — I thoroughly enjoy returning to this city, where my wife and I lived for more than two decades.

We arrived here in early 1995 and found a city with a boarded-up downtown, buildings were empty, there was little life to be found. The community had allowed its retail activity to vacate the downtown district to malls large, medium and small to points hither and yon.

We returned here on our latest visit to find — as we have noticed on previous visits to the Texas Panhandle — a city that is bearing a decreasing resemblance to the community my wife and I discovered when he first set foot on the Caprock.

Yes, much work remains to be done. The Barfield Building — the once-rotting hulk of a structure at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Polk Street — is still under reconstruction. I hear the building will open this spring as a boutique hotel. All I was able to notice today were all the windows that had been re-paned and the construction crews scurrying around the grounds.

All along Polk Street — the city’s one-time main drag — I noticed storefronts that once stared at the street blankly that are alive with activity.

We had lunch at a new pub downtown, next to an after-hours spot that had relocated from across the street. Meanwhile, the former site of the after-hours joint is being remade into something else.

To be sure, I did notice a blemish or two in downtown Amarillo. The Family Support Services building on Polk has been destroyed by fire. The city has cordoned off the entire block.

The Globe-News building on the outskirts of downtown sits blank, vacated. The sight of that structure now devoid of life breaks my heart, as I spent nearly 18 mostly enjoyable years there pursuing my craft as the G-N’s editorial page editor.

On the north edge of downtown sits the Herring Hotel. It is still vacant. I cannot yet confirm this report, but I’ll offer it anyway: I have heard from two sources that the Herring might be given new life — possibly soon — with the purchase of the building by a hotel developer. This isn’t the first time I have seen this sort of glimmer from the once-glorious structure. Let us hope that it comes to pass and that the buyer — if the deal is consummated — is the real thing.

I remain hopeful that Amarillo’s future will continue to brighten as it keeps working to restore the heart of the city.

I don’t believe I am overstating what my wife and I saw when we first arrived. We saw a city with a downtown that need a sort of urban renewal life support. What we have seen on our most recent visit is a downtown district that is breathing on its own.

It makes me so very happy.

Waiting for baseball season to begin … already?

I am likely not offering a big-time scoop but I am getting some buzz from up yonder in Amarillo that Texas Panhandle baseball fans are counting down the days for Season No. 2 of the Amarillo Sod Poodles.

Hey, why not?

The Dallas Cowboys didn’t make it to the pro football playoffs; the Houston Texans blew a big lead against the Kansas City Chiefs over the weekend, so they’re out. The Dallas Mavericks are off to a good pro basketball start. The Dallas Stars? Beats me.

Baseball is on the minds of a lot of sports fans in the Panhandle. The Sod Poodles whet their appetites by doing something quite remarkable in their initial season. They won the Texas League championship in a five-game thriller against the defending league champs, the Tulsa Drillers.

Hodgetown, where the Sod Poodles play their home games, is mostly dark these days. That’s my guess anyway.

We’re halfway through January already. The season starts in April. The Sod Poodles will have some sort of ceremony on opening day to celebrate their Texas League title. They’ll hear speeches from the mayor, maybe a county judge or two. The fans will cheer.

Someone will toss out the ceremonial first pitch.

They’ll start playing hardball at Hodgetown, which more than likely will be chock full of fans.

So the next season is right around the corner. Isn’t that correct?

That’s what winning does. It makes fans anxious for the next season to begin.

Amarillo Matters has come clean; good deal!

A political action organization formed in 2016 to promote Amarillo’s economic and political future has made a positive change in the way it presents itself.

Amarillo Matters has developed a new website. It continues to speak to its mission, its goals and its strategy. The site also has the name of the principals who are involved in the decisions that Amarillo Matters makes.

It’s the disclosure of the names that I find worthy of commendation.

I wrote on this blog more than a year ago that Amarillo Matters needed to reveal its individual and collective identities to the public. There had been some reluctance to doing so, according to one source close to the group, because of a fear of backlash by those in the community who opposed the agenda that Amarillo Matters is promoting.

Well, I guess those fears have been put aside.

Amarillo Matters has an “About Us” page on its site. It states the “focus” of the organization.

Amarillo Matters will primarily focus on elected positions in which the elected official has a direct governance responsibility to the citizens of Amarillo and the surrounding area. We will also focus on issues that have a positive benefit on Amarillo and the surrounding area. We believe the word benefit has many definitions. They include economic development projects, major investments in our local workforce and students, along with quality of life projects.

That all sounds benign. It’s a positive outlook. A positive outreach. There’s nothing nefarious. The board of directors contains the names of several individuals I know personally; I know a couple of them quite well. I know of the rest of them. They are all successful. Those I know are fine individuals who I believe have the community’s best interests at heart.

Check out the group’s mission statement here.

It is important that Amarillo Matters reveal its identity to the community it seeks to lead. Granted, this is not an elected body. It comprises individuals who seek to exert some influence in what the electorate decides. There’s nothing wrong in any group wanting to do what Amarillo Matters has pledged to do.

Amarillo, though, is no different from any community in the midst of change. Some residents endorse the direction where the community is heading; others oppose it. Everyone has a right to know who is seeking to call the shots.

Amarillo Matters now has revealed who is doing so within its board room. To which I say: Well played.

Businesses will come and they will go

I am sensing a touch of community and social media hand-wringing over the closure of a jazz club that opened in downtown Amarillo a couple of years ago.

The Esquire Jazz Club opened a couple of years ago with considerable fanfare as the city’s downtown revival picked up an impressive head of steam. Its owner is Amarillo lawyer and jazz musician Pat Swindell, whose band played at the club regularly, as I understand it.

OK, the club didn’t make it. It is shuttered. Is this the end of downtown’s revival? Does this mean the efforts to transform Polk Street into a new form of entertainment district won’t work?

Please. Let’s get real.

Businesses come and go. It would have been great to see the Esquire Jazz Club flourish, providing a joyful entertainment option for residents of Amarillo.

However, I feel the need to remind the worriers that there remains a virtually endless supply of businesses opportunities for the city to explore. Indeed, the downtown progress to date has been impressive.

The city has welcomed the opening of a new ballpark that officials hope will be host to many events other than AA minor-league baseball; new hotels are coming on line to join the Embassy Suites complex across the street from City Hall; Polk Street has welcomed new commercial businesses; Potter County’s Courthouse has been renovated and restored; West Texas A&M University has opened a downtown campus.

Will there be hiccups along the way? Yes! Of course!

I am not going to worry about Amarillo’s economic future. It still looks bright to my eyes.

Longtime friend has earned this high honor

A woman with whom I worked for several years in the Texas Panhandle is about to get a whole lot of pats on the back and expressions of gratitude for the work she has done on behalf of her hometown.

Beth Duke, the executive director of Amarillo’s Center City, has earned all of it.

The Amarillo Globe-News has named Duke its Woman of the Year for 2019. It’s an annual honor the paper has bestowed on overachieving Panhandle women since the mid-1970s. The Man of the Year for 2019 is Paul Engler, the noted cattle mogul and philanthropist. I don’t know Engler well and I am not really qualified to say too much about his honor, other than offer a word of congratulations.

Duke, though, is another matter. I know her well. We were colleagues at the Globe-News. She retired from the paper some years back and went to work at Center City. It was the perfect fit for Duke and for Center City.

Duke was born in Amarillo. She went off to college at Baylor University, then returned to work for her hometown newspaper. If anyone has any more intimate knowledge of Amarillo than Beth Duke, then that person is the best-kept secret in the city’s long and storied history.

Duke brought that knowledge to her post at Center City. It is no coincidence that the city’s downtown revival has occurred during Duke’s time as Center City executive director. No one is a stronger advocate for Amarillo, for its downtown district than Beth Duke.

I am immensely proud of Duke for earning this honor. Her work to revive and rejuvenate the city’s downtown district is dear to my own heart. It is true that others also have played a huge role in the city’s downtown revival. I also am certain that Beth Duke is acutely aware of others’ contributions.

However, as the head of Center City, Beth Duke serves as the spokesman and a leading advocate for the region of the city that has sprung forth on its way toward a bright future.

Well chosen, Globe-News. Well-earned, Beth Duke.

This is not just an urban pipe dream

FORT WORTH — Gideon Toal …

That name came to mind today as we approached Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth. I now shall explain what that is and why it’s relevant.

Gideon Toal is the name of a Fort Worth-based urban planning outfit that Amarillo officials enlisted when they began discussing the notion of reviving the Texas Panhandle city’s downtown district.

The thought at the time, as I recall it, was that if Gideon Toal could bring some of the creativity to Amarillo, then the city could adopt those ideas and apply them to whatever master plan the city fathers and mothers could develop.

We went to Fort Worth today to look around and soak up the atmosphere of the city’s downtown district. It had been a good while since my wife and I ventured into downtown Cow Town. It is the day after Christmas and it was fairly quiet today. However, I was blown away, as I was the first time I came here, with the enormous variety of cultural opportunities around virtually every corner surrounding Sundance Square.

Then the thought occurred to me: Is this kind of atmsophere — on a scaled-down version — even possible in Amarilo, which is in the midst of its downtown revival?

Scaled down? Yes. Amarillo’s population is peeking over the 200,000-resident mark; Fort Worth’s census is something well north of 800,000. What’s more, Fort Worth is one of two major anchor communities of the Metroplex, which has a metro-area population exceeding 7 million residents.

Melissa Dailey, the former head of Downtown Amarillo Inc., enlisted Gideon Toal way back when. She left DAI eventually and moved to Fort Worth. I’ve lost touch with her. However, the idea of hiring an organization with a demonstrated record of success was an inspired choice.

I have argued on this blog in favor of what the city is trying to achieve with its downtown district. I applaud the incentives it has employed to get private businesses to do business downtown. The payoffs are presenting themselves routinely, with hotels, dining establishments, the championship AA baseball team and assorted forms of boutique retail business coming into the downtown district.

As we walked around Sundance Square and along some of the streets adjacent to it, I got a sense of a certain type of familiarity. I have heard from my friends in Amarillo that they want to see the city turn its downtown district into something similar to what has been born in Fort Worth.

And no, I don’t mean identical. Amarillo cannot duplicate what Fort Worth has developed. It can adapt some form of it to fit its own level of resource.

My hope for Amarillo is that it keeps Fort Worth in mind as it moves forward on its downtown revival track. They have hit a home run in Cow Town.