Tag Archives: downtown ballpark

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.

How does downtown revival boost an entire city?

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson will get a chance soon to explain — I hope in some detail — an important question facing the city’s civic, business and political leaders.

How does downtown improvement ripple its benefits across the entire city of roughly 200,000 residents?

Nelson is going to deliver what’s being billed as a State of the City speech on Oct. 3 at the Civic Center Grand Plaza Ballroom. It’s a breakfast event that lasts an hour beginning at 7:30 a.m.

There has been a lot naysaying going on around Amarillo for the past, oh, half-dozen years or so ever since the city began getting serious — finally! — about reviving its downtown business/entertainment district. I keep hearing the bitching about non-downtown neighborhoods being “neglected” for the sake of downtown improvements.

The mayor, newly elected this year along with the entire City Council, has a chance to offer a serious explanation of just how downtown revival can — and will — deliver benefits to neighborhoods in all directions.

Amarillo will break ground shortly on a new downtown ballpark, which is being touted as the crown jewel of the city’s downtown revival. In April 2019, they’ll throw out the first pitch for a minor-league AA baseball game to be played at the venue. That’s not the only type of activity planned for this venue. Many folks have designs of it being a place for community events featuring music and assorted forms of entertainment; it’ll be a gathering place for folks to sell their wares.

Already the downtown area has been improved and gussied up far beyond what it was two decades. What in the world is wrong with that?

I know this only anecdotally, but my experience has told me as I’ve traveled around the country over many decades is that thriving, lively cities generally have a single thing in common: a thriving, lively downtown district. Is Amarillo a shining city on a hill — to borrow President Reagan’s phrase — devoid of problems? Of course not. The mayor will need to deal with that, too, as she talks to us.

Explaining all of this is what Mayor Nelson faces as she delivers her first State of the City speech. My hope is that this is the first of many such conversations that our city’s presiding elected official has with her constituents.

My hope, too, is that it continues well beyond the time Ginger Nelson wields the gavel at City Hall.

Event venue facing increased scrutiny

Of all the elements of Amarillo’s effort to revive its downtown district, the one aspect that seems to be drawing the most criticism is the multipurpose event venue … or MPEV.

The scrutiny is making me ask the simplest of questions: Why?

Not “why” on whether we should build the place, but why the concern over it in the first place?

The city is about to launch a three-pronged effort: building a parking garage, development of a convention hotel and construction of the MPEV, which also is known as “the ballpark.”

Officials have said until they’ve run out of breath that the $113 million combined cost of the package will be financed through user fees. Hotel-motel taxes collected by people who pay for lodging in Amarillo’s hotels will finance the projects.

The MPEV? It’ll be paid with the lodging tax.

The hotel? Same thing.

The parking garage? Ditto on that.

No tax money will be spent on these projects. That’s what City Hall has pledged. Is the city’s record on such pledges perfect? No. The Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts was supposed to be paid entirely with private donations. It fell a million or so dollars short, so the city ponied up the rest to finish off the $30 million project. The deal still was a sweet one for the city.

What the MPEV critics say should happen is that the city should refurbish the Civic Center, make it more attractive for larger-scale conventions that now pass Amarillo by in favor of cities with more spacious meeting rooms.

How much will that expansion cost? A friend of mine who’s been active in downtown revitalization efforts told me privately that the “best estimates” of improving the Civic Center to a level desired by those who want it expanded would be 10 times the cost of the MPEV. Who would pay for the Civic Center, a publicly owned building? Taxpayers would foot the bill. Every nickel and dime of it.

The city could issue general obligation bonds without a vote, or it could put the issue up for a vote in a bond issue election. How do you suppose an election would turn out? Amarillo voters demonstrated two years ago they aren’t in the mood to spend tax money on “quality of life” projects, such as the huge recreation center proposed for the southeast area of the city; voters rejected that bond issue request handily.

I’ve visited with city leaders repeatedly over the years about the downtown plan. I like the concept. I endorse the vision the city has put forth. I believe it will work and it will create a downtown business and entertainment district that will make our residents proud.

I also am willing to trust that it can be done the way its proponents say it will be done: through lodging revenue collected at our hotels and motels.

Will there be some public investment? Sure. Streets and lighting must be made suitable. They belong to us already. But the heavy lifting — construction of the sites under consideration — will be borne by those who come here from other places.

And yet, the City Council has members who now might want to throw all of this in reverse because, by golly, they’re just plain mad.

I ask once again: Why?