Tag Archives: Wallace Bajjali

Downtown progress promotes optimism

Pollyanna or pragmatist?

I’ve wrestled a little bit with those conflicting notions for some time as I ponder the fate of downtown Amarillo.

I have used this blog as a tool to support efforts to revive the city’s downtown business/entertainment district. Yes, there have been some rough patches on that journey and there might be some more on the road ahead.

Through it all — and into the future — I’m going to continue to speak well of the efforts I’ve seen bear fruit already throughout Amarillo’s business district. Yes, I intend to look critically at decisions that might deter further harvesting of that fruit.

Some of my social media friends say they applaud my “optimism,” but keep raising doubts about the motives of the principal players involved.

They refer to allegations that real estate developers over-valued an abandoned downtown building that’s soon to become an urban campus for West Texas A&M University. Some keep bringing back the sour memory of that general development firm — the infamous Wallace Bajjali, which used to be headquartered in the Houston area.

I acknowledge being snookered by the snake oil peddled by David Wallace, one of the principal partners in that firm. He came to the Amarillo Globe-News and made an impassioned pitch that he and his partner, Costa Bajjali, were in business to improve communities. Wallace said something at the time that stuck with me: It was that he didn’t build a successful company by betraying the communities he served.

Eventually, WB went south. The one-time best friends split in a bitter dispute. The company vaporized. Another city that had invested heavily in the firm, Joplin, Mo., was left in the lurch. Amarillo, though, came out of that nastiness in relatively good shape.

The city has continued its march forward — without Wallace Bajjali.

Through it all, I’ve sought to lend support through this blog.

Am I a Pollyanna? I don’t believe so. But I am seeing some progress here that is beginning to resemble — on a smaller scale, of course — what I witnessed in my hometown of Portland, Ore.

Portland has developed an urban oasis in its downtown district. It didn’t happen overnight. It did occur, though, thanks to some vision by a young mayor who didn’t want the city to expand its highway network.

In the early 1970s, the mayor — Neil Goldschmidt — fought against construction of a freeway through the southeast portion of the city. He said the city instead should invest in public transportation aimed at building the downtown district.

The freeway wasn’t built. The city instead invested in its mass transit system into an urban model for other cities to emulate. It’s downtown district thrived.

I also should point out that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Portland’s entrenched political establishment was as risk-averse as many are here in Amarillo. That aversion to risk, though, changed over time as the city began to transform itself.

Does this kind of effort translate precisely to what’s happening in Amarillo? No. Our city’s evolution has taken another form, although it, too, is a process that hasn’t been tried until now.

Amarillo has sought to focus its efforts on reviving the downtown district. It created some political infrastructure to make it happen. It formed Downtown Amarillo Inc. The city’s economic development corporation has been aggressive in promoting the downtown district. The city created a tax increment reinvestment zone that sets aside tax money earned from property value appreciation within that zone.

It created a strategic action plan. It proposed construction of a multipurpose event venue — aka “a ballpark” — downtown. The MPEV project has yet to begin. But it should. It must.

Private investors plunked down some serious dough to build a convention hotel, on which construction is now well underway — as is a parking garage.

Oh, and as luck would have it, Xcel Energy decided to vacate the Chase Tower and move into a shiny new office complex that’s also going up at this very moment.

Change is happening downtown and as I’ve believed for as long as I’ve lived here — more than 21 years — the entire city will flourish once its downtown starts to flourish.

I’m seeing evidence of it now.

Am I a Pollyanna for wishing nothing but the best for the city where we live? Well, I’m keeping my eyes wide open. The fiasco that developed with David Wallace’s empty promise has taught many of us a stern lesson.

I do, though, remain an unapologetic optimist as Amarillo’s core continues to strengthen and grow.

Early vote is over; now let’s await the MPEV verdict


Early voting is not my thing.

I prefer to vote on Election Day. But I’m delighted at what I’ve read and heard so far about the early vote turnout for next Tuesday’s big municipal election, the one that decides the fate of the ballpark that’s included in the proposed multipurpose event venue planned for downtown Amarillo.

It’ll be interesting once all the ballots are counted to learn (a) whether the ballpark fails or passes and (b) whether the total number of ballots actually produces anything resembling a “mandate” one way or the other.

Years ago, Texas made it so very easy for voters to cast their ballots early. The idea then was to boost turnout in this state, which traditionally has been quite pitiful. From my catbird seat over many years, I’ve determined that the turnout really hasn’t increased; early voting, though, simply has meant that more voters cast their ballots early rather than waiting for Election Day.

The MPEV vote might change all of that next Tuesday. That’s my hope, at least.


At issue is that $32 million MPEV, which includes the ballpark.

I’ve been all-in on this project since the beginning. It’s a good deal for the city on more levels than I can remember at the moment. It’s an economic development tool; it would provide entertainment opportunities; it would spur further growth downtown; it would help — along with the downtown convention hotel that’s also planned — remake the appearance and personality of the downtown district.

The campaigns mounted by both sides of this issue have been vigorous. They have told the truth — most of the time.

There’s been a bit of demagoguery from the anti-MPEV side concerning the role the one-time master developer, Wallace-Bajjali, has played in all of this. The developer vanished into thin air this past year over a dispute between the principals who owned the outfit. They parted company and one of them, David Wallace, has filed bankruptcy.

This MPEV idea, though, was conceived long before Wallace-Bajjali entered the picture, but there’s been plenty of loose talk about nefarious motives relating to the company and its association with the downtown revival effort.

I get that David Wallace proved to be “all hat and no cattle” as he sought to sell his company’s track record when he and his partner arrived on the scene. The planning and execution of this project has involved a lot of other home-grown individuals and groups who are invested deeply in this community.


I want the MPEV to earn the voters’ endorsement. If it doesn’t, well, we’ll have to come up with another plan … quickly!

As the campaign comes to a close, though, I remain hopeful that a significant number of Amarillo voters are going to weigh in with their ballots. Do I expect a smashing, presidential-year election-scale kind of turnout? Hardly.

My hope is that all of this discussion — and even the occasional temper tantrums from both sides of the divide — will give us something that resembles a mandate.

And that, friends, is how a democracy is supposed to work.

Status quo gets thumped at Amarillo City Hall

Change is a-comin’ to Amarillo City Hall.

Mayor Paul Harpole was re-elected tonight, but by a narrower margin to which he’d been accustomed.

Elisha Demerson defeated incumbent Ellen Green in the race for City Council’s Place 1. This result disappoints me. I’ve said it before, but Green was my “favorite” council member. She spoke candidly, bluntly and truthfully on a whole array of key issues.

Brian Eades will return to his Place 2 council seat. Good call there.

Randy Burkett won election to Place 3, defeating incumbent Lilia Escajeda and several others, while avoiding a runoff. More on him in a moment.

Mark Nair and Steve Rogers appear headed for a runoff in Place 4, the seat vacated by incumbent Ron Boyd, who was appointed to the council upon the death of Jim Simms; Boyd chose not to seek election.

I’ve had to ask myself during this campaign: What in the world is so wrong with the city that got folks seemingly so angry? The city appears to be in good financial shape. Its infrastructure is under renovation at many levels: street repair, utility line installation and repair, highway construction.

I’m one who believes in the concept that’s been presented for the city’s downtown revitalization. That concept is moving forward, although perhaps more slowly than some of us would like. The demise of Wallace Bajjali, the former master downtown developer, doesn’t appear to have put the city in a huge financial bind.

And yet …

Change is on its way.


Which brings me to perhaps the most stunning development of tonight’s election: Burkett’s thumping of the field that included an incumbent who, as near as I could tell, didn’t do anything to offend anyone.

It was revealed late in the campaign that Burkett had put some commentary on his personal Facebook page that some folks found offensive. I’m one of them who took serious issue with some of the political bitterness that Burkett expressed. Some of it seemed to border on racist content. He denied any racist intent and said he’s not a racist.

I also heard a couple of his TV spots in which he uttered two clichés: It’s time for a change and it’s time to run city government “like a business.”

What the bleep does it mean to run a government “like a business”?

Successful businesses are run by chief executive officers who make command decisions. Yes, they might consult with employees, but then again, they might not. They are responsible for the success of a business and take the hickey when things go badly.

A number of residents out here who think the city should put some key decisions to a vote. Is that how you run a business, by asking employees to vote on every big decision you make?

Burkett called for change. It looks as though we’re about to get it with three non-incumbents set to take office.

To what end, and for what purpose, remains a mystery.


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.


David Wallace: All hat and no cattle?

David Wallace talked a good game when he came to visit us at the newspaper.

I think it was around 2011. He was a partner in this high-dollar development company. He brought his game to Amarillo and pitched it to local civic, government and business leaders. He and his partner, Costa Bajjali, would be the “lead developers” in the city’s effort to rebuild, revive, renovate and resuscitate downtown Amarillo.

He persuaded many of us that he had the goods. He could make it happen. I recall quite vividly the crux of his statement — which I cannot quote verbatim today — that Wallace Bajjali was not in the business of failure. He didn’t make all that money, Wallace implied, by putting the screws to communities that hired him and his company.

Well, guess what? Wallace Bajjali is now history. The firm’s relationship with the city has gone kaput. The Local Government Corporation has declared the firm to be in default. Wallace and Bajjali have had a serious falling out. Wallace has disappeared. So has Bajjali. The city is left holding the bag, so to speak, on a parking garage it still intends to build — despite the absence of Wallace Bajjali as the can’t-miss master developer.

I read in the paper today that Richard Brown, the current president of the LGC, said everyone — including the media should have done a better job of vetting Wallace Bajjali. I guess Brown is trying to shed some of the responsibility for this mess-up by suggesting the media deserve some of the blame for getting entangled with this company.

But the city did lay out some dough. I understand it totals about $1 million. For that kind of money, I think the public deserves an explanation on what in the world happened to this one-time supposedly fail-safe partnership.

I know we can’t force Wallace or Bajjali to spill the beans on each other. But as a taxpayer and as a one-time member of the media who was sold a bogus bill of goods, I’d like some answers to what went so terribly wrong.

City cuts ties with developer, then marches on

So many questions, so few answers — at least not yet.

Amarillo’s Local Government Council, which is overseeing the city’s effort to breathe new life into the downtown business district, today cut its ties with an outfit it had hired to be the “master developer” for this project.

Wallace Bajjali, based out of Sugar Land, apparently has gone dark. It closed its office in Joplin, Mo., where it had another redevelopment arrangement. Its phone line in Sugar Land is disconnected. The company is gone, or so it appears.

The LGC met this morning in closed session, then reconvened in open session to vote unanimously to put Wallace Bajjali in “default.”

What gives? Where does the city’s downtown plan stand at this moment?

Well, LGC chairman Richard Brown said the parking garage that Wallace Bajjali was supposed to manage is proceeding anyhow. It’s fair to ask: How does it proceed without a managing developer?

Oh, and what about the ballpark and the downtown hotel? Those projects were assigned to new developers and they, too, will proceed, Brown said.

The private financing for all this work reportedly has been collected — or is about to be collected. No worries. The work will get done.

Wallace Bajjali has been paid more than $1 million in public money for work it has completed for the city, so there won’t be any recovery of funds. So, what does “default” mean in that context?

I recall meeting some years ago with David Wallace — the “Wallace” in this former partnership — and was taken aback by the absolute confidence he expressed in his company’s ability to do this project on time and on budget. Wallace, who resigned from the company effective immediately, told us at the Amarillo Globe-News about all the successes his development company had achieved.

He said something about how his company wouldn’t be in business today if it had racked up a string of failures.

Well, the company that Amarillo has come to know no longer exists.

That leads me to yet another question: What in the world happened between the partners — Wallace and Costas Bajjali — that blew this self-described “success story” apart?

Given the public investment already laid out, the public deserves some answers.


Amarillo has just been decked

Something tells me that Amarillo has a budding crisis of confidence on its hands.

Wallace Bajjali, the developer hired by downtown business and civic interests to ramrod the development of the downtown business district, has vaporized — or so it appears.


The company, based in Sugar Land, was supposed to spearhead the effort to collect enough private investors to build (a) a downtown hotel, (b) a multi-story parking garage and (c) an athletic field, aka “multipurpose event venue,” or MPEV for short.

As of today, or perhaps as of some undisclosed time prior to today, the company has closed up shop. Its office in Joplin, Mo., has been shuttered. Its headquarters phone number is Sugar Land has been disconnected. David Wallace, one of the principal owners of the firm, has quit.

Many of us throughout the city are likely wondering: What the hell has just happened?

Someone will need to explain this thoroughly and in language we all can understand.

I’m all ears.


Cloud forms over downtown

It’s always imperative to give defendants — be they criminal or civil — the presumption of innocence.

I’ll do so off the top in discussing briefly a lawsuit that’s been filed against a firm joined at the hip with downtown Amarillo’s effort to revive itself.

Still, the nature of the suit and its complexity is troubling in the extreme.

A lawsuit has been filed in Harris County that alleges that a financial services group funneled millions of dollars into a Ponzi scheme known as the Business Radio Network. Included in that group is a company named Wallace Bajjali — which happens to be the lead developer in a $113 million project to pump new life into Amarillo’s downtown business district.

Wallace Bajjali denies any wrongdoing. You’d expect that. The company based out of Sugarland, near Houston, has done plenty of due diligence in informing local government officials in Amarillo about the lawsuit, keeping everyone involved here abreast of matters.

I haven’t a clue as to whether the company has done anything wrong. All I know is what I’ve read in the past few hours about it.

However, this lawsuit just might have a negative impact on the city’s move forward in its effort to start construction on key projects downtown.

The entire project depends on private investment money, which Wallace Bajjali and city leader said made the project so appealing. No public money will be spent to build an athletic venue, a parking garage and a convention hotel.

Might there be some reluctance, given this lawsuit, among investors to move forward if they fear that Wallace Bajjali could actually lose this case?

The suit alleges that Wallace Bajjali got involved in BizRadio, which came under a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation. The investors have alleged all kinds of misdeeds, such as common law fraud and violations of the Texas Securities Act.

It’s a serious mess that might take some time — as in a lot of time — to get cleared up. Suppose it goes to trial and the court proceedings drag on and on.

Downtown got a break the other day when Potter County commissioners approved a tax abatement that clears the way for Coca-Cola to vacate its downtown distribution center to make room for the athletic venue.

Now this? I don’t feel good about what might lie ahead.