Tag Archives: downtown Amarillo

Civic Center needs help

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I no longer live in Amarillo, but I have a lot of friends there, many of whom read this blog and might be inclined to (a) endorse my world view or (b) tell me to go straight to hell.

With that out of the way, I want to offer an opinion on a ballot measure that would seek to expand/improve/renovate the Civic Center.

I believe it’s a good idea that deserves community support.

It might be a tough sell in this Era of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Folks aren’t likely to be congregating at the Civic Center any time soon, or maybe in the distant future. Eventually, though, this pandemic will pass. The will return to what we think of as “normal.”

The Civic Center would benefit from a $200 million (or so) bond issue that is on the ballot Nov. 3. The idea is to expand convention space, make dramatic improvements to the Cal Farley Coliseum, such as raising the roof and adding seating capacity.

It’s not clear to me whether all of this work is going to put Amarillo on the same playing field as Lubbock, which manages to corral many more front-line, top-tier acts annually than Amarillo. At the very least the renovations to the Civic Center would make Amarillo more competitive in the hunt for top-drawer conventions and gatherings that draw deep-pocketed individuals and groups willing to spend lots of money to bolster the local economy.

The city wisely removed the City Hall relocation from the bond issue, given that it has not yet decided where it intends to put its government office.

Instead, the city has thrust the Civic Center job out there as a stand-alone project.

I feel the need to remind readers of this blog of some of the resistance to the ballpark initiative as it was being developed in 2015. The pushback came from those who thought the Civic Center needed to be tended to before the city built the venue now known as Hodgetown.

The measure’s proponents have enlisted lots of support to make the case, including my former Amarillo Globe-News colleague Jon Mark Beilue, who has written and spoken extensively about the city’s need to keep pushing forward. Standing still, Beilue argues, is a prescription for failure.

I encourage my many friends to take that leap of faith with an expanded, improved and revitalized Civic Center. The city has made enormous strides already in restoring its downtown district.

Why stop now?

Defending against ‘negativity’

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I feel a strange need to defend myself against what I perceive to be a misconstruing of some previous blog posts.

The subject at hand would be the Amarillo Sod Poodles, Amarillo’s Class AA baseball team that had its second season in existence shelved by the coronavirus pandemic.

I wrote a blog post the other day wishing the Sod Poodles well as they prepare for the 2021 Texas League season. A reader of the blog thanked me for the positive vibe and said previous blogs weren’t so positive.

Hmm. I got to thinking: When have I been a Negative Ned regarding the Sod Poodles?

http://highplainsblogger.com/?s=Sod+Poodles

What I have just posted is a series of previous blog posts regarding the team, about its success, about my desire for the Sod Poodles to do well.

This fellow isn’t the first to suggest I have been “too negative” about the Sod Poodles. I can think of three or maybe four critics who have accused me of excessive negativity.

Well, I don’t get it.

I don’t live in Amarillo any longer. My wife and I gravitated to the Metroplex in 2018. We have set up a new home in a Dallas suburb. We are happy and content. I do keep up with Amarillo and Texas Panhandle news, though. I have managed stay abreast of the Sod Poodles’ success and their journey through their wildly successful initial Texas League season … the one that produced a league championship. 

Amarillo comprised a large part of our life’s journey. We lived there longer than anywhere else during our 49 years of marriage. We built a home there. We enjoyed successful careers.

Then we retired and moved on. I have been a huge supporter of downtown Amarillo’s progress and was thrilled to the max to see the city build a ballpark that they named Hodgetown. To be candid, the name “Sod Poodles” didn’t exactly bowl me over when I saw it on the list of finalist names. Then it grew on me … and I have said so, repeatedly.

Negativity? I don’t see it.

There. Now I feel better.

Growing city needs strong newspaper

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I was speaking the other day to a member of my family; we were talking about two issues simultaneously: the growth and maturation of Amarillo, Texas, and the long, slow and agonizing demise of the newspaper that formerly served the community.

It occurred to me later that both trends work at cross purposes. I find myself asking: How does a community grow and prosper without a newspaper telling its story?

That is what is happening in Amarillo, I told my family member.

The city’s downtown district is changing weekly. New businesses open. The city is revamping and restoring long dilapidated structures. Amarillo has a successful minor-league baseball franchise playing ball in a shiny new stadium in the heart of its downtown district.

The city’s medical complex is growing, adding hundreds of jobs annually. Pantex, the massive nuclear weapons storage plant, continues its work. Bell/Textron’s aircraft assembly plant continues to turn out V-22 Ospreys and other rotary-wing aircraft. Streets and highways are under repair and improvement.

Amarillo is coming of age. Its population has exceeded 200,000 residents.

What, though, is happening to the media that tell the story of the community? I can speak only of the newspaper, the Amarillo Globe-News, where I worked for nearly 18 years before walking away during a corporate reorganization of the newspaper. The company that owned the G-N for more than 40 years sold its group of papers … and then got out of the newspaper publishing business. It gave up the fight in a changing media market.

The newspaper’s health has deteriorated dramatically in the years since then. Two general assignment reporters cover the community. That’s it. Two! The paper has zero photographers and a single sports writer.

The paper is printed in Lubbock. It has a regional executive editor who splits her time between Amarillo and Lubbock and a regional director of commentary who does the same thing.

There exists, therefore, a serious dichotomy in play in a growing and increasingly vibrant community. I see the contradiction in the absence of a growing and vibrant newspaper that tells the whole story about what is happening in the community it is supposed to cover.

Spare me the “it’s happening everywhere” canard. I get that. I have seen it. None of that makes it any easier to witness it happening in a community I grew to love while I worked there. I built a home there and sought to offer critical analysis of the community from my perch as editor of the Globe-News editorial page.

I do not see that happening these days.

Meanwhile, Amarillo continues to grow and prosper. If only it had a newspaper on hand to tell its story to the rest of the world.

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.