Tag Archives: Potter County Courthouse

A new Courts Building on the horizon? Maybe?

Potter County (Texas) Judge Nancy Tanner is a woman of her word.

She told me a couple of years ago that she intended eventually to move toward the possible construction of a new Criminal Courts Building to replace the monstrosity across the street from the old courthouse in downtown Amarillo.

It appears that the initiative is taking a baby step toward that direction.

The Commissioners Court has approved a $45,000 measure to come up with a conceptual design for a new court building.

Tanner wants to take the county’s move forward one step at a time. It recently completed the relocation of the sheriff’s office, vacating a long-standing structure downtown.

Next up? It might be the Courts Building.

I don’t want to be too harsh, but that structure is a piece of crap. I haven’t seen it in quite some time, but the last time I walked inside, I was struck by the damage to the front of the building. It is terribly crafted. The workmanship on it is abominable.

Whenever I see that building I think of how Tanner’s predecessor as county judge, Arthur Ware, has described it.

Ware calls it “The Grain Elevator.” He hates the Courts Building, which was erected about a decade before Ware took office as county judge.

I concur with the old Marine.

The county needs to vacate the Grain Elevator.

Texas students take a break from protests

Thousands of U.S. students walked out of class today to show their anger and anxiety over gun violence in our nation’s schools.

Oh, but Texas students largely were left out of that protest. They are on spring break this week. So, it follows that there were no classes out of which they could walk to protest gun violence.

The protests continue to build across the land in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 students and staff members dead; a young man is accused of their murders and faces the possibility of a death sentence if he is convicted of this hideous crime.

Lawmakers keep choking on efforts to enact stricter laws regulating the sale and purchase of guns, the fate of assault weapons. They are hung up on arguing whether to arm teachers, giving them a chance to “neutralize” shooters who open fire.

It’s too bad Texas students are on spring break this week. Oh, but let’s not lament their absence today.

On March 24, Texans are going to join other young Americans on a “March For Our Lives” to continue their protests in search of gun violence remedies.

They’re going to march in communities across the nation, including in Amarillo. Students in Amarillo will gather at Ellwood Park and march through downtown, ending up at the Potter County Courthouse.

These protests — instigated and organized by young people whose brethren have been in the line of fire — are important for a couple of key reasons.

They are putting intense and growing pressure on lawmakers who have the authority to act on behalf of those who are making these demands.

They also are sending an important message, which is that they are either old enough to vote now or will be soon; moreover, they say they intend to hold lawmakers accountable for their action — or their inaction.

Students have a message worth hearing … and heeding

Amarillo students are going to march … for their lives!

You go, young people. You have something important to add to a growing and significant national discussion.

On March 24, around noon, students are going to begin their “March For Our Lives” at Ellwood Park. They are far from alone. They are joining a national movement that seeks to draw attention to the scourge of gun violence. There will be marches in other communities around the nation on that day.

The catalyst occurred in Parkland, Fla., where a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He killed 17 students and staff members before he was arrested.

The shooter might be executed for his crime; or at the least he will spend the rest of his miserable life in prison.

He has ignited a serious call for change.

I heard from a Caprock High School teacher who is helping a couple of young students — Carly Prieto and Wendy Garcia — organize the march.

According to Cindy Dominguez, the students and their families “will take to the streets to demand that their lives and safety become a priority and that we end this epidemic of mass school shootings. The collective voices of the March For Our Lives movement will be heard. That’s exactly what this movement will be about!”

Dominguez notes that “These kids are our future.”

The shooter, indeed, seems to have awakened young people in a way we haven’t yet seen. The Sandy Hook slaughter of 20 first-graders and six teachers didn’t do it. Nor did the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. The Orlando, Fla., nightclub massacre produced more silence, as did the Las Vegas music festival slaughter that killed 59 people.

This one, the Parkland tragedy, seems different in its response.

Dominguez said the march organizers have “invited all the local high schools, middle schools, heck, even the elementary schools can join us.”

The march will start at Ellwood Park and conclude at the Potter County Courthouse. Dominguez indicated that County Judge Nancy Tanner “has yet to say ‘yes'” to the use of the courthouse grounds. I trust the judge will do the right thing and grant permission for these young people to have their voices heard.

This is a big deal. Students want to read the names of the Parkland victims. They intend to recite poems they have written to honor them. And, yes, there will be plenty of rhetoric aimed at the politicians who have the power to legislate remedies to this plague when and where it’s appropriate.

I don’t hold out a huge dose of hope that U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry or U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz will respond immediately to what they hear in Amarillo or anywhere else in Texas.

But … this demonstration must take place. These voices must be heard. Their message must be heeded.

Sometimes old makes way for new

polk street

This picture is of a building that’s coming down on Polk Street,  near Seventh Avenue, in downtown Amarillo.

A friend of mine, Wes Reeves, snapped it and posted it on social media earlier today.

I’ve known Reeves for many years and I have developed a keen affection for his own love of local history and things that are old and worth preserving.

Reeves loves old buildings. He believes communities must honor their past by doing all they can to preserve those vestiges of history.

He also noted as he posted this photo that there’s some good news accompanying the demolition of something old. It is that Amarillo is getting something new: a brew pub that is planned to be built in the city’s evolving downtown business-and-entertainment district.

Which brings me to the point here.

It is that the city is changing its central district personality.

Is the city going to forsake every single shred of history? Good heavens, no!

Amarillo already has preserved the historic Fisk Building and turned it into a classy hotel. Potter County has renovated the exterior of its courthouse, along with restoring and reviving the Santa Fe Building. There will be plenty of other restoration projects ahead; I’m hoping — along with the rest of the city — for eventual restoration of the Barfield Building and the Herring Hotel.

The new features, though, ought to be as welcome here as efforts to preserve the old ones.

And no doubt about it, we’re getting plenty of new business.

Yes, downtown is changing. That change necessarily means we have to make way for the change. If it involves the occasional removal of something old that no longer is functional, well, I’m all for that, too.

Let the change continue.

Downtown revival far from total

12175271

I have made no secret of my enthusiastic support for the steps Amarillo has taken toward the revival of the city’s downtown business district.

It’s been dramatic and at some level actually breathtaking. The construction activity along Buchanan is a sight to behold. The Potter County Courthouse restoration is a thing of beauty. Polk Street looks healthier than it has in the past 20 years.

I am awaiting the groundbreaking of the downtown ballpark, which I hope occurs sometime this year — and that we’ll get some high-quality minor-league baseball in the shiny new venue.

Downtown’s revival, though, isn’t as comprehensive as perhaps it ought to be.

If you venture just a bit west along Sixth Avenue and north along Harrison, Tyler or Van Buren streets, you see signs of lingering urban blight.

Yes, we have that crappy-looking Barfield Building at the corner of Sixth and Polk. And the Herring Hotel building, which was supposed to have been sold to a deep-pocketed investor with big plans to bring it back to life? Well, that project has suffered another setback.

I am aware that the downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone has boundaries. The TIRZ area sets aside property value increases to develop downtown projects. A good bit of the area just outside those boundaries seems to cry out for attention.

Weeds are sprouting along sidewalks. Parcels of land have gone unattended.

It looks bad, boys and girls.

While I will continue to cheer on any and all efforts to revive downtown, which is essential to the city’s future growth — indeed, its very future — my hope is that attention can be focused on those areas just beyond the blocks that are getting all this tender loving care.

I will keep the faith that the city will spread its TLC to blocks in dire need of it.

Downtown Amarillo is getting even more life

This news hit me hard — in a good way.

The old Woolworth Building in downtown Amarillo is now slated for a seriously cool revival.

It’s a historic structure at 626 South Polk Street. It’s going to be home to two new restaurants. One of them will occupy the entire second floor of the old structure.

http://www.panhandlepbs.org/blogs/biz-here/woolworth-downtown-to-get-2-restaurants/

Center City made the announcement at its weekly High Noon on the Square event on the lawn in front of the Potter County Courthouse.

This is good news on a couple of levels.

The first one is quite obvious, given that local investors are willing to put up the money to develop the building for two new businesses into the downtown district that’s already undergoing a major facelift just a few blocks from the Woolworth site.

The Embassy Suites hotel is rising above Buchanan Street across from the Civic Center. Xcel Energy’s building has been growing as well about a block south. Between those construction sites we’re going to witness the construction of a parking garage.

As near as I can tell — and from what I’ve heard who have lived in Amarillo a lot longer than I have — it’s been a very long time since we’ve seen this kind of heavy construction downtown.

Many of us, though, are holding out hope that the main event will commence with construction of the multipurpose event venue across the street from City Hall.

I happen to be one of those who remains cautiously optimistic that the MPEV/ballpark will join the city’s roster of new attractions.

Over at the Woolworth building, we’ll see a pizza joint on the first floor and a steak-and-seafood eatery on the second floor.

How can one look askance at increasing jobs and business activity downtown?

Now for the second element of this story.

It’s going to preserve a beautiful building. It opened as a dime store in 1947, becoming a place where residents would congregate downtown. It harkens back to a lively era in the city’s downtown district.

So, nearly 70 years later — and many years after the building came to life the first time — it’s getting new life.

And the city is taking another big step forward in its evolution.

Construction crane: sign of downtown progress

amarillo downtown

There used to be a time when I ventured into downtown Amarillo daily.

I worked there full time. I would see the same sights as I drove toward my place of employment. When you see the same things each day you don’t always notice changes while they’re occurring.

These days I get downtown far less frequently. It’s usually once per week to attend a Rotary Club meeting at the Chase Tower.

Those downtown sojourns, though, are producing a visual treat for me. I’m noticing the changes more readily. I cannot say I notice them week over week, but I do sense some serious changes — for the better — in our downtown district.

The most obvious change has been the sight of that construction crane over a major project going up on Buchanan Street. It’s the new Xcel Energy office complex. They’ve laid the foundation and have begun framing the multi-story structure. Xcel will move into the building in 2017.

OK, there’s more.

As I drive down Polk Street, I get the sense of more activity on what used to be the city’s “main drag.” It’s nothing I can define point by point. It’s just a feeling in my gut.

The last time I saw Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner, I told her how proud I am of the courthouse complex renovation. She’s clearly proud of it, too. And she should be.

The Commerce Building at Eighth and Tyler is going to be transformed into an urban branch campus for West Texas A&M University.

My anticipation is growing as well as I await the start of actual construction of the Embassy Suites hotel, where they’ve “broken ground.”

And, of course, we have this multipurpose event venue that’s now planned for construction at the site of the vacated Coca-Cola distribution complex across the street from City Hall.

I’ve long believed that any city’s future depends on the health of its downtown district. Show me a city with a dilapidated downtown and I’ll show you a city in serious decline. Believe me, I’ve seen my share as I’ve traveled through Texas over the past 31 years.

I’ve also seen cities with vibrant downtown districts that also reflect the health of their communities.

My hope for Amarillo is that the momentum I sense is increasing in its downtown district will continue and pick up speed.

That Xcel Energy construction crane is a huge start. I’m ready to see more of them.

 

Welcome back, High Noon on Square

Downtown Amarillo’s future is getting a bit cloudier as we start looking a little farther out.

Back to the present day, though. High Noon on the Square begins Wednesday in front of the Potter County Courthouse. It’s a fine event, bringing folks out of their offices during lunch time to get something to eat and listen to some entertainment for an hour before heading back to whatever grind awaits them.

My friend Beth Duke, who runs the Center City program, is proud of it and I am proud of her for the work she’s done to make this a bustling event over the course of several weeks.

It’s fair to ask, however: Is this the best we can do?

I do intend to disparage High Noon. I do, though, intend to express the hope out loud that downtown Amarillo’s future includes far more than just a brief weekly interlude on the courthouse lawn.

I’m referring to that proposed multipurpose event venue that’s becoming part of the city dialogue relating to downtown’s revival. There might be an election in our future to determine whether to proceed with its construction. Money to pay for it will come from individuals who visit here from far away: I refer to hotel-motel tax revenue. The plan is to welcome them downtown as they attend conventions and other events.

The MPEV well might be a venue that could play host to a number of outdoor events.

Planners envision a minor-league baseball playing games at the MPEV. They also envision other events occurring at the place. A baseball club could have a modern park in which to play ball, rather than at that rat hole that serves as a ballpark at the Tri-State Fairgrounds east of the downtown district.

I try to envision more for downtown. The proposed MPEV, plus a convention hotel can be serve as twin catalysts for whatever future awaits the central business district.

That is, of course, unless the newly constituted City Council — and its three new members — decide to torpedo the whole thing. The election result suggests that’s a definite possibility — but I believe it would be a tragic mistake.

Meantime, we’ve got High Noon on the Square.

That’s it.

Hey, go out there and enjoy yourself. Then ask yourself: Is this the best it’s ever going to get in Amarillo?

 

New judge, old judge bury the hatchet

Potter County Judge-elect Nancy Tanner has just posted some pictures on Facebook showing her yukking it up with the man she’s succeeding, Arthur Ware.

Why is that worth this brief comment?

Tanner served as Ware’s administrative assistant for two decades. Then in 2013 she announced publicly that she was thinking of running for county judge. Ware had been disabled seriously by a stroke in 2010 and it was unclear whether he would seek another term.

Ware then summarily fired Tanner, and threw his support to former Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt, who had announced her candidacy.

Ware never has explained his reasons for firing Tanner, who then went on to win the Republican Party primary outright. With zero Democrats on the ballot, her nomination was tantamount to election.

They threw a retirement party for Ware. Lo and behold, the judge-elect was there to give Ware a rousing sendoff.

What’s the moral of the story? I suppose it can be that longtime friendships have a way of outlasting temporary political snits.

The tank is elsewhere

Social media can be quite a boon to finding answers to nagging questions in a hurry.

The other day I posed a question on Facebook about the whereabouts of a battle tank that once “guarded” one of the doors to the Potter County Courthouse in downtown Amarillo.

I got my answer … quickly. It’s been moved to Pampa, about 60 miles northeast in Gray County.

The tank is now sitting proudly with some other war relics.

I mistakenly referred to the tank as an M-48. It’s actually newer than that; it’s an M-60.

Potter County Judge Arthur Ware put the tank out there after then-Justice of the Peace Jim Tipton — a fellow Marine — procured the vehicle from someone, whose identity escapes me at the moment.

Ware, who is leaving office at the end of the year, told me several times over the years how proud he was to have the tank out there. He said it symbolized some memorial to veterans who had served their country. Ware, a Marine reservist, was called up during the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91 and went into battle with his fellow Marines against the allegedly vaunted Iraqi Republican Guard.

The tank stood there for many years. Then the county sought some historical preservation grant money to restore the courthouse. The rules from the Texas Historical Commission are quite restrictive, as they should be. The county sought to return the courthouse to its original pristine state, which in 1930 did not include the tank on the grounds.

The tank had to go. Period.

So the county found a suitable home for it.

I’m glad it hasn’t been scrapped. I also am glad the state historical preservationists stuck to their guns — so to speak — by ordering the county removed from the courthouse grounds.

The county did a good job of restoring the grand old building — while obeying the rules that took an old weapon of war to another location.