Tag Archives: downtown Amarillo

Amarillo’s MPEV superstructure taking shape

I am going to send good vibes from the Metroplex back to Amarillo.

An Instagram picture posted by a friend of mine shows that the multipurpose event venue under construction in downtown Amarillo is taking shape, literally.

The digging and excavation must be essentially complete. They’re beginning now to erect the superstructure of this community-changing venue.

To which I say: woo hoo!!

When it’s done the city is going to have a 4,500-seat ballpark downtown. They’re going to play AA hardball beginning in April 2019. The San Antonio Missions are relocating to Amarillo. The name of the new team has yet to be announced. I’m still pulling for Sod Poodles, but that’s another story for another time.

Today, I want to express yet again my pride in Amarillo for the bold measures it has taken to reshape the personality and the character of its downtown district.

The MPEV is going to be the major player, the star of this extreme makeover.

I recently drove into downtown Amarillo to purchase some tickets at the Civic Center box office. I zipped past the parking garage and noticed that the retail venues are still vacant. I keep reading that tenants will start pouring into the storefronts when the MPEV gets much closer to completion. Let’s hope it happens.

Meantime, MPEV construction continues.

Gotta hurry, gang. April is just around the corner.

Nice surprise in Texas travel magazine

I have subscribed off and on to Texas Highways magazine for about the past, oh, 30 years … give or take.

My latest issue arrived in the mail while my wife and I were traveling west to Yellowstone National Park, Wyo., and Grand Coulee Dam, Wash.

I looked at the cover title, “Small Town Splendor: The Best Little Courthouses in Texas,” opened the magazine and found something that surprised the daylights out of me. One of the mag’s “best little courthouses” happens to be the Potter County Courthouse in downtown Amarillo.

Why is that a surprise? I expected the list to include really small town courthouses. Among the other 11 featured in the magazine, by the way, is the Donley County Courthouse in Clarendon — which is beautiful structure, too. Texas Highways notes: “The Panhandle’s oldest functioning courthouse, it boasts a distinctive asymmetrical design — no two sides of the building are the same.”

Amarillo ain’t a “small town,” with a population right at 200,000 residents.

The Potter County Courthouse and the grounds on which it sits have become part of downtown Amarillo’s revival about which I have written extensively on this blog. The structure, built in 1932, is “what the Texas Historical Commission calls one of Texas’ best examples of art deco design.

The county applied for a state historical preservation grant to help restore the building. The county emptied the building, moved offices to other locations throughout the downtown district — including the Santa Fe Building and into the Courts Building, which former County Judge Arthur Ware refers to unflatteringly as the “grain elevator.”

The three-year project was done in 2012. The county moved the offices back into the building. County Judge Nancy Tanner established a security system for visitors.

The courthouse grounds have become the home field for downtown’s High Noon on the Square every summer, which features local musicians and other artisans entertaining lunchtime crowds.

The structure really is a gorgeous place for Potter County’s public servants to work.

Thus, I was heartened to see Texas Highways offer a tribute to downtown Amarillo’s courthouse.

Blog accomplishes a key mission

A friend offered me a compliment about my blog, although I don’t believe he intended for me to accept it as such when he said it.

He lives in Casper, Wyo., these days and we were talking about our respective communities just the other day. He told me about how Casper is thriving, growing and changing its character.

I then weighed in with a comment about how Amarillo, Texas — where my wife and I lived until this past May — is now undergoing a radical makeover in its downtown business/entertainment district.

“Oh, I know all about it,” he said. How’s that? He’d been reading my blog as I have tried to chronicle the myriad changes under way in downtown Amarillo. “I have been following it all along through your blog,” he said.

Well …

How ’bout that? My old friend wasn’t intending to deliver that as a feel-good statement. He was stating it as a fact. High Plains Blogger has been telling a story that at least one reader of the blog has been following closely.

I will accept that statement from my pal as high praise. And it’s validation for one of this blog’s several missions.

I have stated that this blog intends to comment on “politics,” on “public policy” and also on “life experience.”

The downtown Amarillo message I send out on the blog I suppose could qualify on all three themes. There’s been a ration of local politics coming into play; the City Council has imposed plenty of public policy while moving the many projects forward; and the city’s own brand of life experience.

So it is with some satisfaction that I share this observation with you today. It appears this blog is performing one of the tasks I intended for it when I began writing it way back when — which is to chronicle one of the communities I have called “home.”

Oh, and there’s the political stuff, too.

How much change awaits downtown Amarillo?

A young couple we met this week in Plano, Texas, seems to share my optimism about the future of downtown Amarillo.

They both grew up there. They know the city well, better than I do. Hey, my wife and I only spent 23 years in the city, so I’ll concede that my body of knowledge isn’t as deep as those who are of the Texas Panhandle city.

Our conversation turned to the upcoming ballpark that’s under construction. The stadium will be done no later than the spring of 2019. Then they’re going to start playing AA minor-league hardball at the shiny new park. It will seat about 5,000 fans. My hope is that it’s full on opening night — and on subsequent game days.

Our new friends said the city well might see the kind of entertainment explosion that has occurred in other cities with downtown athletic venues. They didn’t mention them specifically, but I thought immediately of Oklahoma City, where they built a ballpark, then welcomed the burgeoning revival of the old warehouse district that’s now called Bricktown.

One of our new friends believes the row of old warehouses east of City Hall and the new ballpark are slated for a similar revival once they start playing baseball downtown.

I hope he is right. Indeed, if other communities can rehabilitate old buildings, bring them back to life, generate more revenue for the community, then Amarillo would seem to be ripe for a similar spate of good fortune.

The city is witnessing a significant uptick in business activity already along Polk Street.

I am going to hold out hope — and belief — that more good fortune is on its way.

Texas AirHogs speak Chinese?

I saw a story in the Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News and chuckled quietly as I pondered how I might respond to it.

You can read the story here.

It’s about an independent baseball team that plays its home games in Grand Prairie, near Dallas. They call themselves the Texas AirHogs. But here’s where the chuckle comes in: Its roster is populated by Chinese athletes who are getting some playing time while preparing for the Asian Games in 2020.

There’s more. This team used to play some of its home games in Amarillo. The team once was based exclusively in the Panhandle, then it decided to split its “home” schedule between Amarillo and Grand Prairie.

Over time, the team decided to move exclusively to Grand Prairie, where it now is a training ground unit for the Chinese national baseball team.

My head is spinning over this one.

And it damn sure makes me glad that Amarillo is on the verge of welcoming a AA major-league-affiliated minor-league team that next spring begins playing hardball at the downtown Amarillo ballpark that is now under construction.

There won’t be this kind of Mickey Mouse baseball going on with a team associated with a bona fide Major League outfit. They will play baseball in a shiny new park, ushering in a new era for the city’s profound image makeover.

Good luck, Grand Prairie. Amarillo’s fortunes have taken a significant turn for the better.

Are there more deals to be struck?

Almost without fail, when I look at the Santa Fe Building in downtown Amarillo, I think of an innovative elected public official whose persistence brought the old structure back to life.

Then I wonder: Are there more deals like that to be had in rehabilitating other old structures in the city?

I moved to Amarillo in 1995 to take a job as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, which at the time published two newspapers daily. Almost immediately I became acquainted with Potter County Judge Arthur Ware, who at the time had been in office less than four years. The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve gunnery sergeant had been activated for service in the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91 — just after he was elected to for the first time — so he did his duty and came back to resume his day job as an elected public official.

Ware wanted to show me the Santa Fe Building. It was a vacant hulk in early 1995. It had been vacated by the Santa Fe Railroad many years earlier. The building, which was erected in 1930, was dark inside. Here’s the thing, though: It was built like the Bastille, which I told Ware when we walked through the building.

Ware wanted to purchase the structure and relocate several county offices in it.

Here’s the deal Ware struck: He managed to purchase the building and the property where it sits for $400,000. Yep, four hundred grand for a 12-story structure in downtown Amarillo! Then he applied for a historic preservation grant that would finance fully the exterior renovation of the structure. The Texas Historical Commission grant came through and so the county then went to work on the Santa Fe Building.

Over time, the building was finished. Yes, it ran into some hiccups along the way; the building had some cost overruns. The interior was restored, too. Indeed, many of the floors — under terms of the state grant — were restored to their original appearance. Other offices were completed with contemporary designs.

The building is a fabulous testament to Arthur Ware’s persistence and his love of the downtown district where he worked as county judge until 2015. A massive stroke slowed Ware down significantly in his final years as county judge.

If there is a legacy that Ware might want to stand the test of time, it has to be the Santa Fe Building. My hope is that there might be other opportunities on which city or county officials could seize as they look toward guiding the city and the county toward the future.

Looking forward to watching downtown transform itself

The structure in this picture is of the Santa Fe Building in downtown Amarillo, Texas. It is one of the two most architecturally interesting buildings in the downtown district; the other is the Courtyard Hotel that is housed in the historic Fisk Building just down the street.

What’s the purpose of this post? Well, my wife and I have moved away from Amarillo, but we haven’t severed our ties with the city. We intend to return regularly. One of our sons lives there and works in the Santa Fe Building.

This blog intends to point out how much I look forward to watching downtown Amarillo evolve. Given that we won’t see it do so daily, we’ll be able to watch the evolution occur over periods of time. I look at it as watching the city change in a sort of time-lapse fashion.

The Santa Fe and Fisk buildings over time might lose their standing as the downtown district’s most prominent structures. Yes, the city also has that 31-story tower that eventually will be called the First Bank Southwest Tower once the bank moves into its ground-floor digs.

With all the activity that’s occurring downtown, my hope is to watch all this unfold in larger chunks. They’re building the ballpark on Buchanan Street. They’ve already opened the Embassy Suites Hotel across the street from the Civic Center.

Other buildings along Polk Street are being rehabbed, rebuilt, re-purposed.

We’ll be on the road to this or that destination, but we will return to Amarillo to pick up and then deliver our recreational vehicle.

Yes, I look forward to watching the city remake itself.

We lived for more than two decades in Amarillo. We enjoyed our life there. However, for most of that time, downtown didn’t appear to take many steps forward. There was a sense of stagnation and at time apathy toward the center of the city.

No longer. The city is moving forward at an accelerating pace.

I will be thrilled to watch the progress taking tangible shape each time we return.

Amarillo channeling OKC?

I’m hearing some similar-sounding economic rumblings from two places: Amarillo, Texas and Oklahoma City.

An acquaintance of mine, Jason Herrick, active in Amarillo Matters, a pro-business political action group, writes this via Twitter: You mean the same OKC that first built a downtown ballpark, then attracted a minor league team and kicked off a revitalization of downtown? And now they are attracting new hotels and investment because there is demand for the product?

I am going to surmise from Herrick’s message that downtown Oklahoma City is continuing to stir, to come to life, to enjoy the fruits of public investment.

Amarillo’s downtown district is beginning to rumble in much the same manner, again thanks to some public investment.

You see, OKC decided some years to invest some public money into construction of a new ballpark near what’s now called Bricktown in the downtown district. The ballpark is now home to the city’s AAA minor-league baseball franchise. Bricktown took off, too.

The city encouraged development of an entertainment district along a Canadian River tributary that flows through the downtown area. Abandoned warehouses were re-purposed. The city built a new sports venue downtown, where the Oklahoma City Thunder play NBA basketball before packed houses.

Life is good in downtown OKC.

So, where is Amarillo tracking these days? From my vantage point it appears that the city of my former residence well might be along the same track. Yes, I get that Amarillo doesn’t have a river running through its downtown district. I also understand the disparity in the size of the two communities: Amarillo has 200,000 residents; OKC is home to around 700,000. Still, there are signs of life to be seen in little ol’ Amarillo.

A downtown ballpark is under construction. The city has opened a first-class convention hotel. Polk Street is stirring back to life. Residents are moving into newly developed dwellings.

Where will the future take Amarillo? It needs to look just a bit eastward along Interstate 40, toward OKC, perhaps to get a clue.

MPEV under budget? How about that, sports fans?

Amarillo apparently is going to take its next step toward its future ahead of schedule; what’s more, it well might cost a little less than originally projected.

Does it get any better than that?

The multipurpose event venue project that’s under construction is slightly under budget, according to city officials and contractors. The MPEV had been budgeted at about $40 million for construction, but officials say the cost is slightly less than that; the total cost of the project is estimated at $45.5 million.

As for the timetable, Mother Nature has dealt construction crews a winning hand. A lack of precipitation over the winter helped greatly. The spring has been mostly dry, although I understand some rain has fallen in recent days.

I ran into former Mayor Paul Harpole the other day on Sixth Avenue and he said the MPEV is set to be finished in February 2019, well ahead of the opening of the minor-league AA baseball season that commences in April.

I am enjoying being able to watch this project take form, even from some distance these days. I no longer live in Amarillo; I no longer pay taxes there. Despite our relocation to Collin County, I remain emotionally invested in the MPEV and in downtown Amarillo’s future.

The Amarillo Globe-News reports: City Manager Jared Miller said the general contractors set the tone for the project being under budget.

“I just want to highlight the work of and express appreciation to Western Builders and Hunt Construction,” he said. “These guys put in the time and work. We’ve been working five or six months now, knowing when we first got the pricing for building this building, it was significantly higher than it is right now. They’ve worked hard to bring this number down so the construction number was below $40 million. I cannot say enough good things about the team at Western Builders and they have done yeoman work. And Kudos to our architects, Populous.”

Most of its momentum developed after I left daily journalism. Still, I was able to watch it take root while I lived within shouting distance of where the MPEV/ballpark will open.

Even though I have moved away, I remain delighted to watch this project proceed on a pace that puts it ahead of schedule and, yes under budget.

I am rooting hard for its successful completion.

Young people have fallen silent again

I want to share this blog post once again. I’ve attached it to this item.

It speaks to the dreams of young Amarillo residents who took their case to the City Council. They pitched the idea of building a multipurpose event venue, of erecting a downtown convention hotel and of turning Polk Street into an entertainment district.

They wanted the city to deliver a reason for these young people to stay here after school. They don’t want to move away.

The good news? Much of what the young’ns argued for is happening.

The bad news? They’ve reduced their public presence. What happened to ’em?

City hears from the young and, until now, the silent

They have fallen silent yet again.