Tag Archives: downtown Amarillo

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.

AMM leaves worthy legacy: MPEV

I have been tough on a “movement” that formed in Amarillo to promote a downtown revival plan that includes a multipurpose event venue.

The Amarillo Millennial Movement, which in reality was a one-woman band, went all out for approval of the MPEV in a non-binding city referendum. The vote took place in November 2015; voters endorsed construction of the MPEV.

What happened next has been the source of my criticism. The young woman who headed up AMM, Meghan Riddlespurger, then moved to Fort Worth. She had argued that the MPEV — aka “the Ballpark” — would entice young residents to stay “home,” to enjoy the fruits that the MPEV would bear. Well, it wasn’t enough to persuade her to stay. With her departure, AMM disappeared.

That’s the bad news. I have some good news to report.

Construction on the MPEV has begun. The Local Government Corporation has signed a lease agreement with Elmore Group, owners of the AA minor-league baseball team that’s going to play ball in Amarillo. They’ll toss the first pitch in April 2019.

My point about the good news is that AMM can take pride in the legacy it has left in its wake.

The MPEV is going to change the face, shape and personality of the city’s downtown district once it’s completed. Indeed, downtown’s appearance already has morphed into something my wife and I barely recognize these days. It looks a damn sight better than it did when my wife and I arrived here in early 1995.

We had lunch today in a new restaurant that has opened in the old Woolworth Building at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Polk Street. The Levine Building makeover is well under way. Across the street from where we ate today is another eatery that’s taking shape.

Downtown is full of hustle, bustle and buzz as crews continue their work on myriad construction projects.

Oh, yeah. The MPEV site prep is well under way across the street from City Hall.

Even though the irony that AMM would vanish after its founder pitched for retaining younger residents’ interest in their hometown is too rich to pass up, I don’t want to leave it at that.

AMM’s founder, young Meghan Riddlespurger, can look at her former home with pride at what is happening at this moment.

I am one resident who is quite proud of the progress that Amarillo has made — and is continuing to make.

What will happen to the Barfield Building? Anything?

I have taken great pleasure in cheering on the progress I’ve witnessed in downtown Amarillo, Texas.

Abandoned buildings have been revived. New structures are being erected. Businesses are coming back into the district. They’ve broken ground on a new minor-league baseball park. Downtown is home to two first-class hotels.

Then we have the Barfield Building.

I drive by it a couple times a week and so help me, it seems as though every time I see that rotting hulk of a structure it looks more dilapidated than it does the previous time I looked at it.

I have lost track of the ownership changes that have occurred there. It’s been vacant for as long as my wife and I have lived in Amarillo; that’s more than 23 years.

An investor once started gutting the ground floor. Then the work stopped. The owner boarded up the floor. Nothing has happened since.

A Dallas-based investor took over the building with a promise to do something with it, or to it.

Then a consortium of local investors took it over.

That’s the last I heard of anything.

This past summer there was some reporting about tax incentives to turn the Barfield into a hotel/apartment structure. The incentives were to total $17 million.

The Amarillo Globe-News reported it as a possibility.

That was then. Nothing has happened.

I cannot help but think that a wrecking ball might be in the building’s future. The old Barfield Building keeps taking on the appearance of a structure that isn’t worth saving.

MPEV job faces tight deadline

They’re supposed to start rolling the heavy equipment soon onto the site of Amarillo’s next big project.

The contractor will bring in the front-end loaders, the backhoes, the dump trucks … all of it.

Then they’ll get to work on the multipurpose event venue, which celebrated a ceremonial groundbreaking this week on the now-vacant lot across the street from City Hall.

Once they get started on the job, they’re going to face some immediate pressure. They’ve got to get the job done in about a year.

You see, they’re going to welcome a minor-league baseball team to Amarillo. The plan is to toss out the first pitch for the start of a AA season that begins in April 2019.

The MPEV will cost about $45 million. It will be paid with hotel occupancy tax and lease money provided by the Elmore Group, owners of the team that is relocating here from San Antonio.

I remain confident they’ll get the job done. My confidence, though, must carry a caveat.

It’s the weather, man.

We’re in a prolonged dry spell in the Texas Panhandle. Not only have not had any snow this winter, we haven’t had any measurable precipitation of any kind.

Can we depend on the weather cooperating with us? Hah! Not a chance, dude! As the saying goes: If you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes …

The weather is likely to become a major determinant on whether the MPEV gets built on time.

I don’t intend to wish bad things with this blog post. I merely intend to forewarn us all that the weather quite possibly can toss a major roadblock in front of the construction crews that will have little room for error — manmade or nature made — as they proceed to get this first-class venue built.

Let’s remember, too, that even though this winter has been bone-dry — so far! — we cannot guarantee what the next winter will bring to the High Plains of Texas.

And, oh yes, we have the unpredictable and occasionally explosive spring season awaiting us just ahead.

Time won’t wait for the work to get done.

Here’s hoping for the very best.

MPEV ground broken; city bolts toward brighter future

A crowd of about 200 or 300 folks came today to a vacant lot across from Amarillo City Hall. There was some back-slapping, congratulatory wishes and plenty of smiles to be seen.

And for a very good reason.

They broke ground today on a $45 million entertainment venue — aka The Ballpark — that is likely to help lead downtown Amarillo toward a future that few of us thought was possible.

I do believe the future is a bright one.

The multipurpose event venue has been called a “catalyst” that would spark downtown Amarillo’s revival and rebirth. They lit that catalyst this afternoon. May the spark now light an economic fire.

City officials welcomed executives from the Elmore Group, owners of the new AA minor-league baseball team that will play ball at the MPEV when it’s done, no later than April 2019. Elmore execs declared their intention to make Amarillo the nation’s top minor-league baseball city.

Given the hope and optimism I witnessed today under a bright winter sun, I have a hunch many of those in attendance today believe that high-minded goal is well within reach. I hope it comes true.

I am acutely aware that a big crowd at a ceremonial groundbreaking doesn’t guarantee success. Construction has to proceed quickly. It should be done at or under budget.

The MPEV will need to open with lots of people sitting in its seats to watch the baseball team that is moving here from San Antonio. Many high-profile supporters of the MPEV — and I can cite retired Amarillo College President Paul Matney as one of them — have contended that Amarillo is a “good baseball town.” We will determine the legitimacy of that claim in due course.

The catalyst also is slated to bring more business into the downtown district. It will help fill a shiny new hotel and a parking garage across the street from the Civic Center. It also might become a good promotional tool for the city to lure more convention business, which will bring presumably deep-pocketed visitors to Amarillo.

That’s all in the immediate future for a city that has embarked on a serious makeover of its central business district.

Today, they broke ground on the next big step on the city’s journey toward a brighter future.

Now … let’s get busy.

Off like a rocket in new year

I read once that bloggers usually don’t go wrong if they blog about their, uh, blogs.

That’s what I am about to do.

The first month of the new year is about to go into the books and I am happy — and proud — to say that I am on pace for a record year for page views and unique visitors.

High Plains Blogger set the record in 2017 for both categories. The new year is off to a rip-roarin’ start.

I am grateful beyond measure for that.

How do I plan to keep the momentum moving forward? I’ll do more of the same thing I did in 2017.

I’ll acknowledge the obvious. I had help from the man who took office as president of the United States one year and 11 days ago. Donald John Trump Sr. has kept me in the chips with grist about which I could comment.

So, with that I extend a word of thanks to the president. Thank you, Mr. President, for the service you’ve provided to High Plains Blogger.

There have been other factors, too. Amarillo business and civic leaders have helped move this city forward. I’ve enjoyed following the events relating to downtown revival and have been an avid supporter of the efforts to breathe new life into what had been a moribund city center.

So, we’ll proceed apace with commentary on politics, policy and life experience. Let’s keep enjoying the ride together.

Waiting for big ceremony downtown

I accepted an invitation today.

It wasn’t an exclusive invitation, as I’m sure the folks who extended it want as many folks as they can find to attend.

They’re going to break ground Thursday on the, um, multipurpose event venue on Buchanan Street in downtown Amarillo, Texas.

The MPEV, aka The Ballpark, will be completed in time for the 2019 AA minor-league baseball season. It will cost an estimated $45 million. It will seat around 4,500 fans for baseball and a lot more for other community events that proponents hope will be part of the venue’s agenda.

This is a big deal, folks! The MPEV reached this point after countless public hearings, serious public debate, two contentious City Council elections and a citywide referendum that voters approved by a narrow margin in November 2015.

I’ve long supported the concept of the MPEV and I want this ballpark built on time and hopefully under budget.

The promise of the MPEV brought a shiny new hotel across the street from the Civic Center. They’ve built a parking garage as well, with ground-floor space set aside for retail establishments; to date, those floors remain dark, but there’s considerable promise that outlets will move in once the MPEV gets much closer to completion.

The groundbreaking event will be for symbolic purposes only. A group of dignitaries will line up with shovels under foot. They might make some remarks. They’ll smile for the cameras, push the shovels into the dirt, shake hands, pat each other on the back and then go back to their day jobs.

Then the real work will begin.

My confidence that the MPEV would become a reality for Amarillo went through its share of ups and downs. The City Council seemed to waffle on it after the 2015 municipal election. Then it sent the matter to a “non-binding” vote in that referendum later that year. The MPEV became the subject of sometimes-heated community debate. Then it passed. The city wasn’t obligated to abide by the result, but the council did the right thing and proceeded forward.

So, here we are. Amarillo is on the cusp of a new era. They’ll break ground on property just south of City Hall.

I’ll be there to watch the new era begin.

Then I will cheer when the era arrives. Who knows? I might even be in the stands to watch ’em toss out the first pitch.

Campaigning for city’s brighter future

Every now and then I get responses to my blog posts commenting on Amarillo’s progress from those who look a bit skeptically at what gets my attention.

I will post something hailing the development downtown. I like looking past the highway headaches we experience along Interstates 40 and 27. Then I get the responses from my fellow Panhandle residents who aren’t as supportive of what I see happening.

That’s their call. Just as my blog posts are my call.

I suppose it’s an unwritten policy of High Plains Blogger to offer positive commentary on Amarillo, where my wife and one of my sons and I have have lived for more than two decades.

I want the city to succeed. I have noticed a decidedly different approach from the city’s governing council regarding Amarillo’s growth and the role that municipal government is playing.

The council once operated under a policy of letting private enterprise carry the ball forward. The city took a more hands-off approach to public involvement. I assumed my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News in January 1995 and felt a decided slow-down of inertia at City Hall.

That appeared to change with the election of Debra McCartt as the city’s first female mayor. It continued through her time in the mayor’s office and was picked up by her successor, Paul Harpole. This past year, Ginger Nelson took over and seems set on continuing the city’s more proactive approach.

I fully support this form of “good government” and I will continue to use this blog as a forum to express that support.

Some of the more critical observers of Amarillo’s business activity perhaps think of this blog as a forum for a Pollyanna. If that’s the case, well, I would disagree in strong terms.

I’ve been known to toss a brick or two at local political interests when opportunities present themselves. I also have snooped around and found those opportunities hidden in places most folks cannot find.

I won’t assign nefarious motives just for the sake of stirring up trouble. To date, as I’ve watched the city move forward with downtown redevelopment and the myriad other initiatives under way throughout Amarillo, I remain in wholehearted support of what I consider to be a march toward a brighter future.

This is some ‘problem’ to have

Amarillo is experiencing a sort of “problem” that other cities would love to have.

It’s all about parking, or perhaps I should say the lack of it.

I ventured downtown Friday for a lunch date with a lawyer friend of mine. I couldn’t find a place to park to save my life near where we had agreed to meet for lunch. I had to park about two blocks away, which I know isn’t all that far; but there was a time when I could park right in front of this place on Polk Street at the height of the noontime lunch rush.

When I walked back to the eatery, I looked around and was a bit amazed to notice all the construction activity. There were those ubiquitous orange barrels; men and women in brightly colored vests were walking around everywhere; I heard the pounding racket of progress.

On two corners at the intersection of Seventh and Polk, I watched for a moment as crews hustled around construction sites where new businesses are springing up. I looked along Polk in both directions, north and south, and watched more work under way.

The parking situation is a product of all this work. Construction vehicles are occupying curbside locations normally set aside for “civilians” like me.

We all know that there is an end to all this chaos. It looks like the Seventh and Polk intersection work will be done fairly soon. The work south along Polk appears to be not as far along.

Then we’ll get to deal with even more chaos along Buchanan Street when work crews start mustering for construction of that ballpark.

Oh, boy! Let’s get ready to grumblllle.

Don’t do it too loudly, though. The payoff will be a sight to behold.

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.