Tag Archives: Downtown revival

Why comment on the Soddies? Let me count the reasons

I don’t know this to be fact, but there well might be some eyebrow-raising among Amarillo baseball fans regarding these occasional blog posts from someone who no longer lives in Amarillo.

So, with that I’ll provide an answer … or three.

I am a baseball fan. A big part of me wishes I could attend Amarillo Sod Poodles baseball games at Hodgetown. I cannot, given that I now live in Collin County. Still, my interest in baseball goes back to my boyhood. I love watching the game. I loved playing the game, although I didn’t work hard enough to become good enough to play it for any length of time.

I once was a longtime Major League Baseball fan. I followed Mickey Mantle’s career from the early 1950s until it ended prior to the start of the 1969 season. My mornings from April to October every year compelled me to look at the sports pages of my hometown newspaper to see how Mickey did the night before.

I love the game of baseball! So, there’s that.

I am proud of Amarillo’s downtown revival. I lived in Amarillo long enough to watch its downtown transform from a moribund, semi-conscious business district into something that is taking deep breaths and is reviving before our very eyes. I am glad to know the Sod Poodles, the AA baseball franchise that relocated there from San Antonio, are a big part of that revival.

I want to comment on that revival whenever I get the chance or sense there’s something new and worthy of commentary.

My interest in the city hasn’t abated since our departure. My wife and I departed Amarillo in the spring of 2018. We settled initially in Fairview, tucked between Allen and McKinney just north of Dallas. Then we moved to Princeton early this year. I am getting acquainted with the politics of Princeton and Collin County.

However, one doesn’t spend nearly 18 years commenting in local media about a community’s health and well-being and live there for more than 23 years without retaining an interest in the goings-on.

My interest is strong. I like commenting on positive trends I see developing there. Yes, I also intend to keep my eyes and ears open to matters that deserve a more critical look, and I have done that on occasion.

As for the Amarillo Sod Poodles, well … I intend to make my former city’s business my own business.

I appreciate the interest in what I have to say. To those who might wonder why I bother, I do so because I feel like it.

First impression: This is one happening city!

McKINNEY, Texas — First impressions can be deceiving, but I’m going to go with the initial impression that smacked me in the face about the Collin County seat.

McKinney is a happening place to visit when you’re looking for something to do.

My wife and I had a dinner date this evening with two friends. We met at a high-end restaurant on the square in McKinney. Both of us were stunned at what we saw when we drove into the square and hunted for a place to park.

The city is alive, man! 

Now, to be sure none of this should surprise longtime residents of McKinney (population, approximately 187,000) or of any of the communities that thrive nearby. We just were a bit astounded at how much activity we noticed all along the square.

The county courthouse moved out of the downtown district some years ago, we were told; it reminds me a bit of what has transpired in Canyon, Texas, the Randall County seat; my wife and I lived in Randall County for more than two decades and watched the county relocate almost all of its government offices from the city’s downtown square to other locations. Still, the square in Canyon has experienced a significant revival as the county, with help from historic preservation grant funds, dolled up the exterior of its historic courthouse building. The interior? It’s still vacant … but that’s another story for another time.

Collin County’s government offices have moved from downtown, but it apparently hasn’t stopped the square from becoming the place to see and be seen on a steamy Saturday night.

I will need to explore in a bit more detail how the city managed to maintain this lively look. Thus, I will do so.

For now, I want this blog post to stand as a testament to a grand first impression the city has made on two new Collin County residents.

City still needs water expertise

atkinson

Jarrett Atkinson brought some rare knowledge to his job as Amarillo city manager.

He’s no longer in that spot, but the need for that knowledge remains.

Atkinson is a highly regarded expert on water management and acquisition. Prior to taking over as city manager he served as an assistant to the then-manager Alan Taylor; and prior to that he served as the chief water-planning guru for the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission.

In a six-minute interview with my friend Karen Welch at Panhandle PBS, one gets a sniff of Atkinson’s expertise on water issues as he and Welch talk about some of the challenges facing city government.

Take a look.

Atkinson was essentially forced out of his job by a dramatic change at the top of City Hall’s governance. Three new City Council members were elected in May and they brought a brand new approach to governing. Atkinson is too much of a gentleman to have said it out loud and directly when he tendered his resignation, but it’s fairly clear he couldn’t work with the new council majority.

The city’s downtown revival is going to proceed. Where it will end up remains anyone’s guess at the moment.

It’s that water issue that also must remain at the top of the city’s agenda. Without water, Amarillo cannot function. Atkinson speaks with easy eloquence about the technical issues relating to drilling for the water, pulling it out of the ground and quenching the city’s thirst for well past the foreseeable future.

The city’s near- and long-term water needs will be met through the purchase of water rights, Atkinson assures Panhandle PBS viewers.

That’s fine. The city will miss his knowledge, though, on managing that priceless resource.

My hope is that the next city manager — whether it’s the current interim boss, Terry Childers  or someone else — brings water management knowledge to the job, even though Atkinson’s depth of expertise on the subject will be difficult to duplicate.

 

City Hall set for a big day

Amarillo City Council is going to have a lot of eyes on it.

Some of those eyes will belong to those who want the council to send a multipurpose event venue to a vote of the residents.

Other sets of eyes will belong to individuals who think the council needs to take a breath and not act rashly.

The MPEV is going to be on the council’s agenda Tuesday. At issue is whether it should be referred to voters in a non-binding referendum. It’s non-binding because the city has no legal obligation to do the voters’ bidding — but it surely has a political obligation.

A number of Amarillo residents dislike the idea of an MPEV. They think the city’s downtown revival strategy should include expansion of the Civic Center. They do not believe the MPEV will bring the kind of activity that will breathe new life into the downtown district.

I am one who believes in the MPEV. I also hope the council decides against sending this matter to the voters.

It’s going to be paid with private investment money. City planners call it part of a “catalyst” project that will spur construction of a downtown convention hotel nearby.

I hope that’s the case. I believe it is doable.

I have it on good authority that Mayor Paul Harpole will oppose any motion to put the issue to a vote. He’s already invested a lot of energy and sweat equity into the MPEV and related projects. My sense is that Councilman Brian Eades will join the mayor in opposing a send-it-to-voters motion. That leaves the three new guys — councilmen Elisha Demerson, Randy Burkett and Mark Nair — to decide how they’ll vote. Will they vote as a bloc? Or will one, maybe two of them, rethink this idea.

If it goes to a vote and residents say “no” to the MPEV, well, the deal is dead. Downtown revival momentum will be ditched.

Is that what we want to happen? I do not.

Yes, Tuesday is going to be a big day at City Hall.

Council members: Vote up or down on MPEV

Amarillo MPEV

A dear friend and former colleague of mine once told me, “There are about as many original ideas as there are original sins.”

With that predicate laid out there, I offer this notion that I’ve appropriated from another good friend.

The three men who comprise the newly elected majority on the Amarillo City Council have a choice to make. Do they want to institute fundamental “change” in city government or do they want to do what previous governing bodies have done, which is punt a controversial issue to the voters — to let the voters make the decision?

Councilmen Elisha Demerson, Randy Burkett and Mark Nair have indicated, implied and inferred that they are skeptical of plans to build a multipurpose event venue just south of City Hall.

Here’s the idea: Gentlemen, take this matter up yourselves and decide whether to proceed with the project.

One alternative being kicked around is to conduct a citywide referendum. Let the voters have their say. It’s the democratic process in action, it’s been said. And, by golly, the voters have been kept in the dark for too long, or so the line goes.

It’s pure manure. You are free to choose its source, but it still stinks.

If the gentlemen elected this year to the City Council want change, then they should stand foursquare for it and make the command decision they contend the voters elected them to make. Vote up or down on whether you want the MPEV to move forward.

A referendum would be non-binding, although it would constitute political suicide if the council decided to buck the wishes of the people and reject whatever decision they would make. If voters reject the MPEV idea, then the deal dies. If voters say “yes” to the MPEV, it moves ahead.

What’s more, a referendum is going to cost a significant amount of money.

Look at it this way: The men whom voters elected to the City Council all talked out loud — and often — about the need for greater transparency and accountability in city government. Fine. Voters heard them and sent them to City Hall to be, well, transparent and accountable.

So, why not persuade Mayor Paul Harpole — the council’s presiding officer — to call a series of public hearings to debate this matter among themselves? Have it out in the open, in full public view. Argue among yourselves. State your case. Is the MPEV a good or bad thing for the city?

Once you’ve exhausted yourselves, then deliberate like the gentlemen you are and take a vote.

Up or down. Then live with whatever political consequence that will result.

I believe that’s what we call “leadership.”

 

Mayor offers residents another chance to speak out

There’s been so much talk — much of it unfounded — about secrecy, lack of communication and even some nefarious motives associated with downtown Amarillo’s revitalization.

Well, tonight at 5:30, at the North Branch Library, Mayor Paul Harpole is going to expose himself — quite likely — to perhaps some more of that kind of disinformation.

He’s going to speak to residents who come to the library about some ongoing city projects. Yep, they’ll include downtown work, state highway construction, parks, perhaps some utility billing issues.

Then he’s going to open the floor up to questions.

I’m pretty sure residents will come prepared to pepper the mayor with questions about downtown, which likely will dominate the nature of the inquiries from the public.

I mention this because Harpole has taken some unfair criticism in recent months.

It’s come from individuals who haven’t been paying attention. The mayor, City Council members, senior city administrators, business leaders, civic leaders and anyone else involved in trying to move the downtown project forward have been talking to us about their vision for the city and trying to sell us on the notion that they have the city’s best interests at heart.

The naysayers haven’t listened. They don’t care to listen. They care instead to hear their own voices and aren’t going to be persuaded of anything that goes against their ingrained opposition to the kind of change being discussed for our city.

I understand fully that the contention of closed-mindedness goes the other direction as well.

For now, I am willing to give the mayor credit for seeking to push the city toward something quite different and exciting as it looks toward the future.

I also am willing to salute him for exposing himself to the barbs that are sure to come flying at him.

Fort Wayne emerges as civic test case for Amarillo

Fort Wayne, Ind., is home to roughly 253,000 individuals.

Amarillo’s population is just a shade less than 200,000.

Fort Wayne has developed a downtown convention and entertainment district that includes — get ready for it — a multipurpose event venue.

Amarillo wants to re-create its downtown district into something quite similar.

http://amarillo.com/news/latest-news/2015-07-18/can-it-work-here

An article in the Amarillo Globe-New by my old pal Jon Mark Beilue asks whether a Fort Wayne-style plan can work in Amarillo.

I continue to see the Amarillo proposal as a net positive for the city that could turn into a spectacular positive.

Fort Wayne has made it happen, despite some serious push back as plans were being formulated. Interesting, when you consider the resistance that has developed here over a plan that looks for all the world — to many of us, at least — like a prescription for revival.

Beilue makes an important point in comparing what Amarillo wants to do with what Fort Wayne has accomplished. The cities are comparable in size. He notes the huge disparity in population between Amarillo and, say, Fort Worth and Oklahoma City, which also have enjoyed spectacular downtown revivals. He writes: “Its (Fort Wayne’s) metro area is 416,800, about 165,000 more than Amarillo. That’s not apples to apples, but is a more realistic comparison than to the major cities of Fort Worth and Oklahoma City, which have undergone large-scale downtown transformations.”

Beilue then writes: “’We came together as a community and came up with something really valuable for economic development, for downtown development and a way to retain and gain jobs,’ said Graham Richard, who was Fort Wayne’s mayor when the project was approved.”

Why is that such a difficult concept to grasp? Some folks here — and I have not accepted the idea that they comprise a majority of our population — keep looking for reasons to oppose the project.

The MPEV won’t work. The city needs to expand the Civic Center. Too many palms are being greased. It’s going to cost taxpayers a fortune.

That’s a sample of the kind of thing we keep hearing.

Are this city’s residents so uniquely contrarian that we simply refuse to fathom a future that looks radically different from our past?

Take a good look at the article attached to this blog post.

It’s enlightening.

My own takeaway is pretty straightforward: If a city such as Fort Wayne, Ind., which doesn’t seem to have that much more to offer than Amarillo can remake itself, then what in the world is stopping us from marching toward a brighter future?

It’s official: ‘Change’ has arrived at Amarillo City Hall

Let’s call Amarillo City Councilman-elect Mark Nair the “man who brought change” to Amarillo municipal government.

Tonight he was elected to Place 4 on the five-man City Council. trouncing runoff opponent Steve Rogers.

So, what does “change” look like? That remains to be seen.

But here’s what we know. Two of the new guys on the council, Place 1 Councilman Elisha Demerson and Place 3 Councilman Randy Burkett campaigned aggressively against the “status quo.” That means, I guess, that they oppose some of the key policy decisions made in recent years by the council. The highest profile set of decisions involves downtown redevelopment.

Now we have Nair joining the new three-member majority that advocates change … whatever it means.

I keep hearing a lot of rumblings around town about “The Ballpark,” or the multipurpose event venue. Will there or won’t there be a citywide referendum to determine if voters want to build the MPEV? Why even put it to a vote? Well, it involves spending “public money,” derived from hotel-motel tax revenue, which is how the city intends to finance construction and upkeep of the venue.

Here, though, is the irony: The money comes from those who visit the city, not from those who live here.

But, by golly, there just might be a vote on it, just to gauge residents’ feelings about building it.

If voters say “no,” the council — while not obligated legally to abide by the result — would commit political suicide by ignoring it.

If the MPEV gets derailed, what happens to the downtown hotel being planned? Developers say the MPEV must be built for the hotel to proceed. Oh, and the parking garage — the third wing of this three-part package? Who needs it?

So, will “change” mean the end of this downtown effort?

Congratulations, Councilman-elect Nair.

Proceed with wisdom, young man.

 

City suffers PR schizophrenia

Amarillo’s latest embarrassment — those “estimated” water use bills — might be cause to rethink a view that the city is well-run.

It’s one of those “on one hand this, but on the other hand that” kind of assessments.

On the one hand, you have a city with a superb bond rating. It has relatively low debt. It asks residents to pay a mere pittance in property tax to fund municipal government. It has a fine park system. Its police department is a mostly progressive operation that runs well most of the time. Firefighters answer the bell quickly.

On the other hand, there’s a series of misfires that makes me wonder: Can’t they shoot straight down there? The city hired a traffic engineer who, it turned out, had been fired from his previous job because of serious malfeasance. The police department didn’t alert residents that a rapist was on the loose for several days. The city animal control department had to be reformed, renamed and reorganized after it was revealed that animals were being euthanized in a less-than-humane manner.

Now we have perhaps the most ridiculous development of all: The city “estimated” water bills without reading residents’ meters, in some instances assessing bills about six times the normal amount usually billed monthly. The city had fired eight of its 11 water meter-readers — on the same day.

Does the juxtaposition — the good financial performance measured against these mistakes — make sense?

Well, if you think about it, one really doesn’t have anything to do with the other. The city still is in solid fiscal shape. Its financial house is in order; the city provides essential services to the residents who pay for them. All that good news, though, gets overtaken by the nonsense that bubbles up from time to time.

Overlaid across all of this is the city’s effort to revamp its downtown district.

I remain committed to the concept that’s been presented. I still believe it’ll work. The ballpark, the hotel, the parking garage all make sense when you consider the sequence of what the city is planning. The financing of this project also makes sense — and it means next to zero impact on residential property taxpayers.

The competence issue — and the lingering doubts arising from these series of hiccups, such as the latest one involving the weird water billing SNAFU — is darkening my optimism.

It hasn’t been snuffed out. But, man, the doubts are building.

 

 

 

Amarillo facing potentially hot election

Amarillo’s municipal elections have this history of dismal, abysmal voter turnouts.

Something tells me the turnout this coming May 9 might just be, oh, low to middlin’. Could it become seriously busy? Let’s allow the campaigns to play out.

Five candidates are running for Place 4 on the council, the seat now held by Ron Boyd, who’s not running for election; Boyd was appointed to the seat after the death of Councilman Jim Simms.

Five more candidates are running for Place 3, currently occupied by Councilwoman Lilia Escajeda, who is running for re-election.

As I look at the lineup, though, perhaps the most intriguing matchup occurs in the race for Place 1. Incumbent Ellen Robertson Green will run against Elisha Demerson, the former Potter County judge and the first African-American ever elected to a countywide seat in Potter County.

Demerson is a worthy challenger, but he would be more worthy if he had been active in city affairs before deciding to run for Green’s council seat. Still, the gentleman has name identification, as does Green.

All told, the ballot will contain 16 names. Many of them have been involved in municipal political affairs. Most of them are newcomers to the City Hall game.

What’s driving the interest? Best guess is it’s downtown redevelopment and the hiccup that occurred when Wallace Bajjali, the city’s one-time master developer, vaporized into thin air in January. WB’s disappearance left the city to take care of three key projects itself — a downtown convention hotel, a parking garage and a multipurpose entertainment venue … aka a ballpark.

There’s been considerable discussion about the ballpark in particular and whether it’s a good fit for the city. My own view is that the city has come up with a great concept for downtown. The execution of that concept, though, has been clouded a bit by Wallace Bajjali’s disappearing act.

My fondest hope for the upcoming election — so far, at least — is that the turnout will be much greater than the single-digit events that have occurred all too frequently.

If the city is roiling with controversial issues, then it’s good to have as many voters as possible taking part in the most fundamental aspect of living in a free society: casting your ballot for whom you want to lead our city.