Tag Archives: MPEV

Downtown recovering much of its past glory

I watched as my friend Beth Duke was beaming the other day while she discussed the progress being made along Polk Street in downtown Amarillo, Texas.

Duke, executive director of Center City of Amarillo, has been at the forefront of Amarillo’s downtown resurgence. She was telling a TV news reporter about the planned opening of a number of new eateries coming into the central business district.

It is occurring to me that what used to be known as the “business district” is about to become the city’s “entertainment district.”

And yet …

I keep hearing the muted rumblings of discontent from some Amarillo residents about he progress that’s occurring in the heart of a city that is on the cusp of achieving the 200,000-resident mark.

Some businesses are moving around, relocating along Polk Street. The city also is welcoming a number of new establishments.

Polk Street, where teenagers used to “cruise” back in the day, is being given new life. It’s no longer the retail corridor it used to be during the day. Instead, it will become a magnet for nightlife.

It’s all part of of a municipal long-range strategic plan, according to Duke, who has brought a unique blend of enthusiasm and deep knowledge of the players who can breathe life into a community where she was born and has spent the vast bulk of her adult life.

And while Polk Street is undergoing its extreme makeover, so is the block on which City Hall sits.

If you look south from City Hall’s front door you see a lot of dirt being moved around. Crews are leveling the property that once contained the Coca-Cola Distribution Center, which was demolished and relocated to a business park at the northeast corner of the city.

Construction will begin very soon on the multipurpose event venue, aka “The Ballpark.” The MPEV doesn’t yet have a name. It will have a significant new tenant by the spring of 2019. It will be a AA baseball franchise that’s moving here from San Antonio. They’re going to play hardball at the MPEV/Ballpark.

What’s more, that storefronts being developed along Polk Street will be bustling with activity.

My wife and I likely won’t around when they throw out the first pitch at the MPEV. We will have relocated to an unknown destination in North Texas. However, we are going to remember how downtown looked when we arrived here in early 1995 and we will compare that desolate memory with what we’re witnessing these days.

What I see happening today are the signs of progress that, to be candid, I didn’t foresee when we first laid eyes on Amarillo more than two decades ago.

I am delighted to the max at what we’re seeing.

I also am proud of my friend Beth Duke, who has witnessed — and played a key role — in the rebirth of her hometown’s central business/entertainment district.

Again I ask: How in the world can we gripe about that?

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.

City Hall seeks to get an earful about trash pickup

I want to give Amarillo City Hall a handclap.

The city is pondering possible changes in the way it picks up trash. Officials are considering whether to go to a curbside pickup instead of driving trucks down alleys to toss the contents of Dumpsters. The move is designed to save money and to improve the appearance of alleys.

But first …

The city wants to hear from the “bosses,” the folks who pay for trash pickup. That’s us. Our property taxes are dedicated to certain municipal government functions; trash collection is one of them.

Officials are going to convene two public hearings — Thursday at the Downtown Library and next Monday at the Southwest Branch Library; both meetings begin at 5:30 p.m.

Here’s the deal. The city has been criticized — often unfairly — because of policy decisions it makes. Critics have alleged some sort of star-chamber process that produces changes allegedly in secret. We heard that nonsense during the discussion about the multipurpose event venue that’s going to be built downtown. The MPEV came to be after many public hearings and public discussion among City Council members and citizens committees appointed by the council.

So the city is asking residents if they prefer a new garbage-collection system or do they like the way the city is doing it now.

City Hall has put the word out. It wants to hear from you. It’s now residents’ turn to answer the call.

And let’s not question whether the city is being “transparent” while pondering this important new policy.

Build the ballpark, the stores will come

I got a glimpse of a headline on Amarillo.com that reveals how the retail space in the newly built parking garage on Buchanan Street in downtown Amarillo likely will remain empty for the foreseeable future.

I couldn’t read the whole story because the pay wall popped up; since I don’t subscribe to the Amarillo Globe-News, I couldn’t read it.

The retail spots are going to remain empty until the ballpark gets closer to completion, which is about all I could see of the story.

I am reminded of the line from “A Field of Dreams,” where the Kevin Costner character is told, “If you build it, they will come.”

So it well could be when they break ground on the multipurpose event venue, aka The Ballpark. The MPEV is taking shape as a sort of “field of dreams” for city, business and civic leaders who consider the project to be the gateway to a brighter future for Amarillo.

I happen to agree with that view.

Thus, it doesn’t worry me in the least that the garage’s ground floor row of retail space will remain empty for the time being. It makes sense.

Why install an establishment that won’t reap the reward until after the MPEV is open for business and attracting crowds into the downtown business/entertainment district?

If that’s the prevailing theory, then it makes perfect sense to yours truly.

I remain optimistic — and you can remove the “cautiously” qualifier from that description — about the future of the MPEV and its impact on Amarillo.

The Local Government Corp. has negotiated a deal to bring a AA minor-league baseball franchise to the city. They’ll break ground soon on the MPEV. It will open no later than April 2019, just in time for some hardball to be played.

The MPEV will be built. I remain quite confident that the retailers will come.

Tear down the former Dilla Villa!

We drove by the Tri-State Fairgrounds this morning along Third Avenue when I noticed a well-known Amarillo eyesore.

I refer to Potter County Memorial “Stadium.” I put the word “Stadium” in quotes because it is nothing of the sort. It is a rat hole, a dump, a run down, has-been venue that to my way of thinking no longer has any value to Amarillo.

My advice to the Potter County Commissioners Court? Tear the thing down! Scoop up the rubble and take it to the landfill. Clear the land, landscape it and turn it into something a damn sight more attractive than what sits on it at this moment.

Potter County owns the rat trap once known as the Dilla Villa. The Amarillo Dillas were playing some form of minor-league baseball at that venue when my wife and I arrived on the High Plains in early 1995. It was a dump back then, too. Its condition has worsened over the years. The men’s restroom stinks; the plumbing is poor; the outfield grass looks like a combination of at least three types of grass seed.

The condition of the venue was so bad that the sandlot organization that played ball there until this past year decided it wasn’t good enough for them. So they abandoned Amarillo.

Yes, I am aware that it has some history here. Longtime residents have a certain historical affection for the building. I don’t know what constitutes “longtime.” I have lived here for nearly 23 years; I figure that’s long enough to qualify me as someone with some history in Amarillo.

I’ve been cheering the construction of the upcoming venue that’s going to be built downtown. They’ll break ground soon, or so I understand, on a 4,500-seat ballpark near City Hall. It will be the home field for a new AA minor-league team that is relocating from San Antonio for the start of the 2019 season.

It will be a “multipurpose event venue” that can play host to a whole array of outdoor activities. It won’t be just a baseball park.

This means to me that the Potter County Rat Hole no longer is viable. It means the county needs to rid itself of a venue with zero potential. Have you seen the exterior of the outfield wall facing Third and Grand? It ain’t pretty, man.

I am aware that at least three members of the Commissioners Court read this blog. That’s a majority. If they’re going to be convinced by anything I say here in this forum, then I encourage them to take action.

Get rid of that rotten structure!

Amarillo poised to become a baseball city again

It is a virtual lead-pipe cinch that I won’t be living in Amarillo when they toss the first pitch at the city’s new downtown ballpark.

The city’s new AA minor-league baseball team will commence its initial season in April 2019 in a shiny new 4,500-seat venue.

The journey toward that end has been fraught with some difficulty, some apprehension and, yes, a bit of controversy. It’s going to come to fruition, which makes me happy for the city my wife and will depart in due course.

I will acknowledge that I was not a regular attendee at the independent league games played by teams that had various names. I did attend a few games at the dump once known as the Dilla Villa, in honor of the Amarillo Dillas who were playing baseball there when my wife and I arrived here in early 1995.

They morphed into another team, which morphed again. Then the outfit that ran that team decided to split its home season between Amarillo and Grand Prairie. That lasted one year. Now they’re gone.

The ballpark, also known as the multipurpose event venue, was conceived by local officials and business leaders while all that nonsense was occurring at the rat hole that passes for a ballpark at the Tri-State Fairgrounds. They had a number of public hearings. They put the issue to a non-binding citywide referendum in November 2015 — and it passed.

The price tag for the referendum was pegged at $32 million. It grew to $45 million. They knocked down the old Coca-Cola distribution center, and relocated that business elsewhere.

Has it been smooth sailing? Not at all. I had my own doubts about whether the Local Government Corp. could pull this deal off. The City Council support for the LGC’s work seemed a bit tenuous. Then this past spring, voters decided to elect a new council.

Let us not forget that the general managing contractor, Wallace Bajjali, vaporized along the way in a dispute between the firm’s principal owners. It didn’t deter the progress toward landing the affiliated AA franchise.

The Elmore Group, which owns the San Antonio Missions, is now going to relocate that team to Amarillo; San Antonio will get a AAA team that will relocate to the Alamo City from Colorado Springs.

Meantime, life is good for diehard baseball fans in Amarillo. They’re going to get to watch a professionally run baseball team play ball in a sparkling new venue.

I wish them all well. This journey has given me a mild case of heartburn along the way. It’s all good now as they prepare to break ground on the ballpark.

I intend to watch it grow and will be cheering from afar when they toss out that first pitch.

Just wondering: Amarillo Matters … where is it?

A political action group emerged from nowhere earlier this year. It called itself Amarillo Matters. Its mission, as I understand it, was to elect a slate of candidates to the City Council.

It succeeded. This past spring, voters flipped the entire five-member council, electing five newbies. Amarillo Matters then seemingly packed its bags, and its members went back to whatever they were doing before they formed this political action committee.

They were mostly successful businessmen and women. Their agenda included electing individuals who shared their pro-business tilt. Hey, I have no problem with that.

There’s been some success in the months since the new council members took office. Chief among them is the landing of that AA minor-league baseball franchise that is relocating to Amarillo from San Antonio and will play baseball at the new ballpark that will be built in downtown Amarillo; they’ll toss the first pitch in April 2019.

That’s a big deal, man.

But what has become of Amarillo Matters? It’s no longer garnering headlines, or any discussion on local broadcast media. I looked at its website this evening. It’s still up. AM has a link where one can contribute money; I am not giving them any dough.

I’ve written plenty about them already:

http://highplainsblogger.com/?s=Amarillo+Matters

Given that I am unplugged from most of what’s going on at City Hall these days, I am left to use this blog to pose questions about some of the community’s key players.

I consider Amarillo Matters to be an important cog in the city’s civic machinery. I know many of the folks who formed the PAC’s leadership team earlier this year. I respect them, too.

I hope it hasn’t become what the Amarillo Millennial Movement turned out to be: a flash in the pan. AMM formed to promote the approval of the ballpark in the November 2015 municipal referendum. The measure passed — and AMM then vanished, vaporized, disappeared. Yes, I am aware that the AMM comprised essentially one individual, a young woman who moved to Fort Worth. But you get my point, yes?

Amarillo Matters, where are you and what are you doing to make sure that that Amarillo still, um, matters?

Amarillo’s downtown continues to evolve

When you see something daily you aren’t likely to notice change as it occurs in real time.

But when you are away and then see that thing in brief visits here and there, the change becomes quite noticeable.

I don’t get into downtown Amarillo as much as I used to when I was working for a living. I continue to marvel at the change I see every time I venture there. Moreover, I continue to relish the thought of the potential that awaits the city my wife and I have called home for the past nearly 23 years.

* Polk Street is returning to some incarnation of its former heyday.

* Tenth Avenue is turning into something quite appealing, too, with the heavy construction under way at the old Firestone building.

* West Texas A&M University’s downtown campus is drawing closer to completion.

* And, oh yeah, we’ve got Buchanan Street lighting up with the Embassy Suites hotel.

It’s not all brightness and mirth, I’m troubled to say.

The Chase Tower has gotten a good bit darker of late. Xcel Energy has moved out of the 31-story skyscraper for new digs on Buchanan Street. WT will vacate more floors at the Chase Tower once its downtown campus is finished. I believe that means about 19 floors of the building will go dark.

I once spoke with a partner of the Gaut Whittenberg Emerson commercial real estate firm that occupies a ground-floor office in the Chase Tower and he assured me that the tower will fill up soon.

He’s the expert at this stuff; I’m just an observer of it. I hope he is right. My concern is that he might have been expressing some wishful thoughts.

I am not going to gloom-and-doom the prospects for downtown’s future. Indeed, I haven’t yet mentioned — until this very moment — the downtown ballpark that will open for minor-league baseball in April 2019.

They’ll break ground on that site just south of City Hall quite soon. The San Antonio Missions will move from South Texas to Amarillo to play AA baseball downtown; San Antonio will get a AAA team that will move there from Colorado Springs, Colo.

The ballpark doesn’t yet have a name. It won’t just be a place for baseball. It’s been called a multipurpose event venue, which — by definition — suggests it will play host to an array of community events.

Therein lies the crown jewel of downtown’s revival.

Sure, there’s been some grousing about all the highway construction. Interstate 40 is torn up; so is Loop 335 along the city’s southern edge; the I-40/27 interchange is quite close to being finished.

My plea there is for patience. Local motorists are learning to cope with the incessant construction cones and barrels spread along rights-of-way. I hope they maintain their wits as they travel around the city.

But … downtown’s revival continues. For that I am impressed, gratified and delighted at the prospect of the future that awaits.

Now we have a design for The Ballpark

Yep. It looks like a ballpark.

Amarillo’s Local Government Corp. has approved a design concept for arguably the most significant downtown project of the past half-century.

It doesn’t have a name just yet. It’s going to be a multipurpose event venue, or MPEV. It’s also going to be a minor-league baseball venue, a ballpark. It’ll cost about $45.5 million to build.

It’s going to be home to a AA minor-league baseball franchise that is moving from San Antonio to Amarillo. Plans call for the ballpark to be finished by February 2019. They’ll toss the first pitch for the new baseball season in April 2019.

City Councilman Eddie Sauer — a member of the LGC — said he saw something “iconic” in the design that the LGC approved unanimously. “When I looked at it, I immediately saw something iconic,” Sauer told the Amarillo Globe-News. “I felt like I could see the Potter County Courthouse, the Santa Fe Building. It was special, I felt, with an eye for what we already had downtown.”

They’ve knocked down and scraped away the remnants of the old Coca-Cola distribution center that used to occupy the site along South Buchanan Street. I noticed some piles of dirt on the site the other day while driving downtown.

Plans call for work to begin shortly after the first of the year. Elmore hasn’t yet signed the lease agreement but that event reportedly is imminent.

I keep hearing the naysayers give raspberries to this project. They keep wondering aloud why the city is spending so much of its effort in reviving downtown.

I also keep wondering: How in the world is all this a negative development for Amarillo? Yes, there have been some hiccups and missteps along the way. The city got through them. The LGC negotiated a 30-year lease agreement with the owner of the baseball team that’s coming here. The team owner, Elmore Sports Group, is going to pay the city $400,000 annually to rent the ballpark. The city plans to pay for the ballpark with hotel occupancy tax revenue.

And in the bargain, the city’s downtown district will breathe deeply and is expected to throb with activity. We’re already seeing new urban residences being built; there will be new retail establishments; retail space along the ground floor of a shiny new parking garage is beginning to fill up; the just-opened Embassy Suites hotel figures to attract conventions to the Civic Center.

This is a bad thing for Amarillo? To my way of thinking, it’s pretty damn good.

Amarillo’s downtown no longer recognizable

I made what I consider to be a startling discovery in downtown Amarillo, Texas.

After parking my car on a lot behind the brand new Embassy Suites hotel, I walked along Fillmore Street and turned the corner onto Sixth Avenue. I glanced across the street at a row of mostly empty storefronts along a shiny new wall — which I realized after a second or two was the north face of a new parking garage.

I glanced eastward toward the Civic Center just to be sure I hadn’t become disoriented. There it was. The Civic Center restored my bearings.

The discovery? It is that downtown Amarillo bears next to zero resemblance to the district I’ve come to know during my 22 years living in this Texas Panhandle community.

The Embassy Suites is now open for business. The parking garage is finished; indeed, I saw vehicles parked inside the structure.

My reason for venturing downtown this evening — in the rain — was to attend a retirement reception for a longtime friend and source I relied on when I worked for the Amarillo Globe-News. Gary Pitner is retiring as head of the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission; I’ll have more to say about Gary in a later blog post.

My point with this post is to take note of the immense change that has occurred in downtown Amarillo — and the change that is still occurring.

Downtown Amarillo’s evolution is a highly positive event. I sort of think of it as a butterfly that emerges from some sort of cocoon. I don’t want to sound mawkish here, but that moment as I made the turn toward the Embassy Suites door also was a realization that the evolution is real.

There’s much more to come, of course. That ballpark is going to be built across the street from City Hall. They’ll take about a year to build a 4,500-seat multipurpose event venue. By April 2019, the MPEV will be done and they’ll toss out the first pitch for a AA minor-league baseball season.

I’m beginning to think when that time arrives that downtown Amarillo will be even less recognizable then that it is today.

That will be a very good thing.