Tag Archives: WTAMU

City turning into a form of ‘urban eye candy’

AMARILLO, Texas — We were walking this morning to an appointment we had with someone in her office at Seventh Avenue and Taylor Street when my wife spoke up.

“You know, the city certainly is a lot more attractive to the eye than it used to be, when we first moved here” in early 1995, she said.

To which I said, “Absolutely!” As we drove toward our appointment we couldn’t help but notice the appearance of Polk Street, Amarillo’s one-time “main drag,” the place where kids used to hang out, where adults did the bulk of their retail shopping.

Yes, the city’s physical appearance has leaped way past where it used to stand back when we first laid eyes on Amarillo more than 24 years ago.

The Potter County Courthouse square is all dolled up. They’re tearing the daylights out of the formerly rotting hulk called the Barfield Building. The Paramount Theater building remains full of activity. Polk Street is busy these days with lunchtime crowds deciding where to eat. A bit west of Polk we see that the West Texas A&M University Amarillo campus is all but complete inside what used to be called the Commerce Building.

I am acutely aware of the political turmoil that has accompanied the city’s work toward downtown revival. Some folks like it. Others dislike it. Some of the city’s power elite have been accused of feathering their own bank accounts.

We don’t get the chance any longer to watch the downtown district repurpose itself in real time. We only get to take a gander at where it is in the moment.

At this moment, therefore, we happened to notice that the city’s central business and entertainment district is looking much more appealing than it used to look.

How in the world is that a bad thing?

A glimmer of good news from the government shutdown

I have to share this bit of good news involving the partial government shutdown.

It comes in the form of a mortgage payment from a former pro football player who once fell on hard times himself.

Ryan Leaf was the No. 2 pick in the NFL in the late 1980s out of Washington State University. He didn’t do well as a pro, playing just 25 games before being released. He knocked around here and there.

One of his jobs was as an assistant coach at West Texas A&M University in Canyon. Then he got into trouble with drugs. He was forced to resign as quarterbacks coach at WT.  Leaf was sentenced to 10 years of probation and fined heavily. He is clean now.

Well, he heard about the plight of a Tennessee family caught in the government shutdown. Taylor Futch sent out a tweet explaining that her husband, a park ranger with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, was being furloughed. The couple couldn’t pay their January mortgage installment.

Leaf heard about it. He stepped up to pay the couple’s January mortgage. Leaf sent the Futches a tweet of his own, saying that his father was a game warden in Montana. He offered to make the payment and then wished the family a “Merry Xmas.”

Futch said she wasn’t soliciting for help. She sent the Twitter message out merely to explain how the shutdown is having an impact on her family.

However, she got an unexpected — but welcome — hand from a one-time football star.

Well done, Ryan Leaf.

First-class wordsmith gets back in the game

I recently lamented the retirement of a man who has lent his wonderful written “voice” to the Texas Panhandle.

Jon Mark Beilue worked for the Amarillo Globe-News for 37 years before retiring in July from his post as a columnist. I have good news for readers of this blog: Beilue is getting back in the game, this time as a columnist for West Texas A&M University.

I want to share this bit of good news because I have used this blog to bemoan the gutting of the Globe-News — first by Morris Communications and then by the company that purchased the G-N a year ago from Morris, GateHouse Media.

WT announced Beilue’s new writing gig in a press release, which stated in part: “We are excited to welcome Jon Mark to the WTAMU family and to share his many talents with the people of the Panhandle,” Dr. Walter Wendler, University president, said. “West Texas A&M University has many interesting stories to tell, and there is no doubt that Jon Mark will tell them well.”

Read the entire WT statement here.

WT plans to distribute Beilue’s columns weekly to area newspapers. If the folks who run the Globe-News have a brain in their heads, they will make sure this fine journalist’s words are published on the pages of a newspaper in dire need of institutional knowledge of the community.

Beilue provides it. He lived his entire life in the Texas Panhandle, absent his four years as a student at Texas Tech University down the road a bit in Lubbock.

And as WT noted in its release: His talent with words is well known across the region and has been recognized at both the state and national levels as far back as the 1980s until his retirement in 2018.

I have said it before, but it bears repeating: Jon Mark Beilue is a community treasure. I am delighted to know that WT has decided to put him back on display.

Well done.

You go, Mo, into the Hall of Fame

West Texas State University alumnus Maurice Cheeks is headed to the Naismith Pro Basketball Hall of Fame, along with some other great former pro basketball players.

I am so happy to see this development, as I have been a fan of Mo Cheeks for a long time. I watched him play ball for years as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. He also coached my hometown NBA Portland Trail Blazers.

I know that Cheeks has a lot of fans here in the Texas Panhandle, where he lit ’em up while playing college ball for the WT Buffaloes. He went through a serious culture shock, coming here from Chicago and learning about life in the Texas Panhandle.

Cheeks will join Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Grant Hill and WNBA legend Tina Thompson in the Hall of Fame.

But … there’s another reason Mo Cheeks has earned many Americans’ undying love and respect. It occurred during the opening ceremony of an NBA game in Portland, where he was coaching the Blazers. A teenager was selected to sing the National Anthem to open the game. Natalie Gilbert did her best … then something happened.

She froze. Natalie forgot the words. Hey, it happens.

Up stepped Coach Cheeks in an astounding display of presence of mind. He did the following, as shown on the video attached here.

Right there is my all time favorite Maurice Cheeks moment. It might be my favorite NBA moment … of all time!

Congratulations, Maurice Cheeks.

Planning for an education on Texas history

We’re heading downstate soon for a two-week tour and we’ve made a tentative decision on one of the sights we intend to take in: the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.

I regret I have not yet toured this place.

It’s not far from the State Capitol and it carries the name of one of the state’s more legendary political figures: former lieutenant governor and Texas comptroller Bob Bullock.

Bullock died some years ago of cancer. He was an irascible, often grouchy politician. He was a crusty, traditional Texas Democrat; by that I mean he wasn’t what you’d call a squishy liberal. I met him once while I was working in print journalism; it was near the end of his life and, to be candid, he looked like death warmed over. Lt. Gov. Bullock did not take good care of himself.

But, oh man, this man — who died in June 1999 — loved Texas. He was fond of finishing his public speeches with that gravely “God bless Texas” salutation. His political descendants from both parties have adopted that blessing as their own.

The museum in his memory opened in 2001 and it tells the story of Texas history like no other such display.

Now, I offer that view with no disrespect at all to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum on the campus at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, just down the highway a bit from Amarillo. I’ve been to the PPHM many times and have seen the flyers proclaiming it to be the “finest historical museum” in Texas. It’s a wonderful exhibit and I see something new every time I visit it.

Our RV travels are going to take us downstate for a tour of the Hill Country and later to the Golden Triangle, where we lived for nearly 11 years before moving in early 1995 to the Texas Panhandle. We’ll finish our jaunt in the Metroplex before heading back to Amarillo.

I am so looking forward to touring what I have heard for many years is a beautiful exhibit in Texas’s capital city.

Texas Tech, Texas A&M battle over veterinary medicine

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp came to the Panhandle the other day to announce plans to enhance West Texas A&M’s veterinary medicine education program.

Sharp wants to maintain A&M’s monopoly on veterinary medicine throughout the state. I cannot blame him for looking out for the university system he administers.

Oh, but wait. His plan for WT have the appearance of a sort of pre-emptive strike to prevent Texas Tech University from building a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo, which is a live option on the table for the community … and for Tech Chancellor Bob Duncan.

Duncan and Sharp have distinct differences of opinion on whether Texas Tech should proceed with construction of a veterinary college in Amarillo. Duncan came to town not long ago to pitch the case to community leaders, suggesting that Tech’s board of regents are committed to establishing a vet school next to Tech’s existing Health Sciences Center in Amarillo.

Sharp, meanwhile, is pulling out many stops to prevent Tech from proceeding. The top Aggie is a savvy enough politician to understand what the announcement that boosts WT’s role in veterinary medicine means to any potential competition. Then again, Duncan has been around the Texas political pea patch a time or two himself, so he must be acutely aware of what Sharp might be trying to accomplish.

I happen to believe that Texas — with 268,000 square miles and 27 million residents — is big enough to accommodate two schools of veterinary medicine. Duncan has high praise for the veterinary education that A&M provides. He also believes Texas Tech can provide a top-drawer education for veterinary medicine students who want to be educated here at home and who might want to remain in the Panhandle after they receive their DVM degrees from Texas Tech.

I happen to agree with Duncan.

I also believe the A&M initiative is good for West Texas A&M, it’s good for the community … but it shouldn’t forestall Texas Tech’s efforts to establish a veterinary medicine presence in Amarillo.

Slow ’em down along Russell Long Blvd.

West Texas A&M University officials believe traffic moves too rapidly along Russell Long Boulevard, which borders the northern edge of the WT campus in Canyon.

It’s now working with the Texas Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the thoroughfare. Canyon City Hall has joined the effort, too.

WT is building a football stadium on its campus. Russell Long Boulevard — named after the former WT president — is getting a lot greater volume of student pedestrian traffic.

According to KFDA NewsChannel 10: “We’re having more and more students cross Russell Long. Russell Long is a state highway. It is controlled by the state of Texas, so the speeds on it are not really friendly to pedestrians and so there’s some concern there,” said Vice President of Business and Finance Randy Kirkel. “So we’ve just been in initial discussion with the City of Canyon. What can we do to make this a possibility and a long-term plan to make Russell Long more of a campus/city street.”

I have a thought that WT and the city ought to consider if it wants TxDOT to surrender authority of the street traffic to local officials: Place a phone call to state Rep. John Smithee, the Amarillo Republican who is one of the Texas House’s senior members. Smithee, who’s served in the House since 1985, surely has some stroke with TxDOT.

WT happens to be Smithee’s major institutional constituent. My strong hunch, based on what I know of Smithee, is that he’d be willing to carry the torch on WT’s behalf to the halls of the Texas highway department.

I happen to agree with the assessment that Russell Long Boulevard speed limits need to be reduced to accommodate the greater pedestrian traffic at WT.

Smithee’s office is in downtown Amarillo. Call him.

WT set to honor vets who gave their full measure

I am proud of West Texas A&M University, even though I never attended the school; nor did either of my sons.

My pride stems from the decision to erect a memorial on the WT campus that honors those grads from the school who have given their full measure of devotion in service to their country.

They broke ground the other day, with several dignitaries on hand to turn some dirt over to symbolize the start of construction.

This project exemplifies in my mind the nation’s continuing redemption toward the way it treats those who have served in the nation’s military. It wasn’t always this way, as those of us old enough can remember.

I was struck to see Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell (second from left in the picture attached to this post) among those breaking ground. Houdashell is a buddy of mine and he — like yours truly — served in Vietnam during the war that tore the nation apart. The national reaction to that war sank the nation to its emotional nadir as it related to its treatment of veterans. I know that Houdashell remembers that time, because he has told me so.

That was then. The here and now brings loads of respect and affection for the men and women who have answered the call.

As for the WT memorial, it will bring additional honor to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in every war this nation has fought since 1917, when we entered World War I.

Times do change. So do attitudes. It’s part of a national maturation. Indeed, the nation hasn’t always acted maturely where its veterans are concerned.

We’re doing so now — and that’s all that really matters.

WT making the turn in downtown Amarillo

I surely understand that much of the attention focusing on downtown Amarillo’s revival centers on that new ballpark/multipurpose event venue.

It’s a big deal, to be clear. They’re going to start busting up concrete in a few months and by April 2018, the MPEV will be open for business as the city welcomes the AA minor-league baseball franchise set to play hardball at the venue.

Oh, but wait! Something else really big is coming along in the city’s downtown district. It’s at the corner of Eight Avenue and Tyler Street. West Texas A&M University is finishing up Phase One of its new Amarillo Center.

WT purchased the old Commerce Building a couple years ago. Then Texas A&M University System regents allocated money to gut the old structure and turn it into a downtown campus.

I’ll be honest: When I first heard about WT moving its Amarillo classrooms from the Chase Tower to the Commerce Building, I envisioned a fairly quick and simple turnaround. WT would tear the guts out of the building, add some new rooms, reconfigure the floor plan a bit, hook up the electronics and then open the doors for college students.

Oh, no. It’s a lot more complicated than that.

WT has essentially rebuilt the structure. Yes, it’s the same framework. The exterior, shall we say, bears zero resemblance to the Commerce Building. Phase Two construction is going to commence soon.

Read about it here.

It’s a beautiful addition to the downtown district’s physical appearance.

Is it a totally positive development that lacks any downside? Not exactly.

You see, WT is going to vacate several floors at the 31-story Chase Tower, which already has seen a large portion of its building go dark with Excel Energy’s relocation into a new office structure on Buchanan Street. Roughly half of the Chase Tower will be vacant when WT starts classes at its Amarillo Center.

That ain’t good, man.

I did receive assurances, though, from Aaron Emerson, a partner in Gaut Whittenberg Emerson commercial real estate agents that they are shopping the Chase Tower aggressively for new tenants; moreover, Emerson told me he has great confidence that the building will be reoccupied.

I’ll hope for the best on that matter.

As for the new WT downtown Amarillo campus, I welcome the university’s increased profile in the city’s central business district.

City clearing the way toward more progress

I’ve actually discovered a downside to no longer working full time in the job I used to do.

It is that I am no longer “in the loop” with events that occur daily in Amarillo’s downtown business district. My perch as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News kept me close to the action. Those days are gone.

They’re knocking down an old retail building at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Polk Street. I had to find out about it by inquiring on social media.

I also learned that once was known as the Blackburn Building is going to become a parking lot for motor vehicles driven into downtown to use some of the other sites being rehabilitated, renovated and rebuilt.

There’s the usual expressions of dismay by those who lament the loss of an old building. I feel their angst and their pain. I hate seeing old structures knocked down, too. Then again, it’s fair to ask: What would the Blackburn Building have become had the wreckers hadn’t started leveling it?

This, I suppose, is my way of expressing continued support for the makeover that’s underway in Amarillo’s downtown district.

The old Levine Building next to where the Blackburn Building once stood is being redone. That’s a good thing, yes? On 10th Avenue, the old Firestone service center is being transformed into a residential/retail location, or so I understand. That, too, preserves an old structure.

There’s plenty of new-building construction also underway farther north along Polk. Let’s not forget the major makeover being done to the Commerce Building, which eventually will become home to West Texas A&M University’s downtown Amarillo campus; the WT site won’t resemble the Commerce Building and it will essentially be a new structure.

All this activity isn’t producing a completely positive short-term outlook. For instance, WT is going to vacate the Chase Tower, along with Southwestern Public Service, which is set to move into a new office complex on Buchanan Street. Many floors in the Chase Tower are going dark — and soon. Commercial real estate brokers have assured me that they are supremely confident the Chase Tower’s darkened offices will be filled again in short order.

Let’s hope for the best on that.

Change can be painful, especially when it involves wrecking balls, dump trucks and front-end loaders. We’re seeing some of the pain being inflicted now where the Blackburn Building once stood.

I remain hopeful that we’ll get past the pain just as soon as new business and entertainment activity breathes new life into Amarillo’s downtown district.