Tag Archives: MPEV

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.

MPEV contract signed? Done!

Someone will have to explain to me why the news out of Amarillo City Hall is somehow bad for the city.

It’s going to take a mighty stout argument to persuade me.

The City Council today announced that Elmore Sports Group, the outfit that owns the San Antonio Missions AA baseball team, has signed a 30-year lease agreement to play minor-league baseball at the new ballpark set to be built across the street from City Hall.

The city plans to pay for the $45.5 million multipurpose event venue with hotel occupancy tax revenue. Elmore will pay the city $400,000 annually to rent the ballpark.

They’re going to break ground on the MPEV in early 2018; they plan to finish the venue in time for the start of the 2019 baseball season.

Get your hot dogs and cold beer right here!

What a journey it has been — and what a journey that lies ahead.

And yet, there is a continual chorus from a cadre of soreheads that keeps casting the city’s downtown revival in negative terms.

It seems like a hundred years ago that Amarillo voters approved a citywide “non-binding referendum” on whether to support construction of the MPEV. The cost of the building in November 2015 — when the election occurred — had been pegged at $32 million. The cost inflated a bit after the ballots were counted, which brought out some howls around the city.

It hasn’t been a smooth ride, to be sure.

Voters elected a new council majority in the spring of 2015 and there was some discussion about the council slamming the brakes on the MPEV. To its credit, the new council majority heeded its better angels and allowed the vote to proceed.

Prior to all of that we got to witness the general managing contractor — an outfit named Wallace Bajjali — disintegrate in a spat between its principal owners. It was damn ugly! They left the city without an organization that was supposed to coordinate all the moving parts. Fortunately for Amarillo, the organization’s demise didn’t damage the city’s commitment to proceeding with the ballpark/MPEV.

But there was some turnover in some key municipal management positions. Melissa Dailey essentially was forced out of her job as head of Downtown Amarillo Inc., City Manager Jarret Atkinson quit over his inability to work with the new council majority and Amarillo Economic Development Corporation President Buzz David retired and moved out of town.

But the MPEV kept moving forward.

The Local Government Corporation was able to get a tentative agreement with the Missions, who wanted out of the Alamo City, which courted a AAA franchise.

And today, everyone signed on the dotted line.

Downtown Amarillo has made tremendous strides in the past half-dozen years. We now have a first-class convention hotel and parking garage across the street from the Civic Center. The city is able to lure conventions to the Civic Center. Business is booming along with construction of downtown residence construction.

Why in the world is all of this is a bad thing for Amarillo?

I want to restate what I believe is quite obvious: Every thriving city in America has virtually one thing in common. They all boast thriving downtown districts.

Amarillo has taken a big step toward a bright future.

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.

Do we call it ‘MPEV,’ or something else?

They’re going to start construction soon on Amarillo’s newest attraction soon.

It’ll be built downtown, across the street from City Hall. It’s going to be home to a AA baseball team that’s moving here from San Antonio. The team intends to open its 2019 season at the place that’s come to be known colloquially as the “MPEV.”

MPEV stands for multipurpose event venue. It’s a descriptive term, given that it also will play host to many other community events other than baseball.

Some residents refer to it as The Ballpark. Critics have attached unflattering names to the structure. “Boondoggle” comes to mind. I don’t consider the construction and opening of the MPEV as a negative occurrence.

It’s going to cost about $40 million. Amarillo’s voters approved a non-binding referendum in November 2015 on the MPEV back when the price was a “mere” $32 million.

Here’s a thought, however, on what kind of name ought to go on this new venue. Why not honor someone by putting his or her name on the building?

I’ll begin the discussion with this name: Tony Gwynn.

Who is this man? He once played baseball in Amarillo, back when the city was home to the Gold Sox. The Gold Sox were a farm team for the San Diego Padres, which interestingly enough, happens to be the Major League Baseball team affiliated with the new outfit that’s coming here. He only played 23 games in Amarillo in 1982.

Gwynn eventually got called up to the Big Leagues. He did quite well. He compiled a .338 lifetime batting average, got more than 3,000 base hits, played in a World Series with the Padres — and comported himself with class, grace, good humor and dedication during his storied MLB career. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Gwynn died in 2014 at the age of 54, which means there is no way he can sully his stellar reputation.

Tony Gwynn Park. It has a nice ring. Don’t you think?

A glimpse of Amarillo’s future?

I acknowledge readily that I don’t get out as much as I should.

Retirement has turned me into a bit of a homebody, except when my wife and I hitch up our RV to the back of our pickup and hit the road for points hither and yon.

Today, we did venture out. We went downtown. We met our son at Amarillo’s Community Market that was up and running in front of the Chamber of Commerce building at 10th Avenue and Polk Street.

I have high hope that today we might have gotten a glimpse of Amarillo’s future. It’s one that bodes well for the city’s health.

They’re going to break ground pretty soon on that ballpark/multipurpose event venue across the street from City Hall. The MPEV will need to get done in a hurry, in time for the 2019 minor-league baseball season. They’ll toss out the first pitch in April 2019 when the city’s new AA baseball team takes the field.

What’s in store for the future of the city? The MPEV won’t just be a ballpark. The “multipurpose” element of the structure tells me they have plans to play host to events such as, oh, the Community Market and other events where folks from Amarillo and points beyond can enjoy themselves.

As we meandered around the downtown area today we noticed lots and lots and lots of construction under way. A bit north on Polk, they’ve gutted an old retail store to make room for new shops. Farther west on 10th we noticed the old Firestone structure has been gutted out, too, in anticipation of more loft dwellings.

Yes, we have that Embassy Suites hotel about to open. The parking garage is all but done.

The hundreds of folks with whom we mingled today ought to be sure to keep coming back downtown once all those projects are completed.

I’ve said before in this blog that downtown Amarillo bears little resemblance to the district my wife and I first saw when we arrived here in early 1995. Indeed, the central district on this day looks a bit more spry than it did just two or three years ago.

The not-so-good news for us is that we likely won’t be Amarillo residents when all this work is done. We plan to relocate downstate. It’s not all bad as far as we’re concerned. That RV we own travels pretty well in this direction and we intend to be frequent visitors to the city we’ve called “home” for the past two-plus decades.

We believe we got a glimpse of what lies ahead for the city’s downtown district — and we are going to look forward to seeing it come to pass.