Tag Archives: WTAMU

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.

Pace quickens on downtown reshaping

Is it me or does the pace of downtown Amarillo’s transformation appear to be picking up steam?

I don’t get downtown as much as I used to, but the things I keep seeing and hearing give me hope that this Panhandle outpost city is getting its act in gear as it concerns the reshaping of its downtown profile.

Another storefront on Polk Street — the city’s one-time “main drag” — is getting a new tenant after being dark for longer than I can remember. The old Levine Building has some construction fencing around the ground floor and will be the site of yet another new eatery along Polk.

Crush is moving it location across from where it currently does business; we’re getting that two-story/over-under restaurant nearby; the Embassy Suites is continuing to progress; that parking garage next door is getting closer to completion, with retail outlets making lease arrangements to do business once they start parking vehicles inside.

West Texas A&M University is continuing to rip apart the old Commerce Building to transform that structure into a new WT downtown Amarillo campus.

I am acutely aware that much work needs to be done on major structures. The Barfield Building remains dark; and let’s not forget — if anyone will let us forget — the Herring Hotel, which remains the dream of its owner, Bob Goodrich.

But much of downtown’s face already has been lifted. By my way of thinking, so have some spirits been lifted as Center City continues its work to promote the downtown district. Much of the work done by what used to be called Downtown Amarillo Inc. — I am not clear on the status of that organization — is continuing at a steady pace.

I want to reiterate a critical point here. It is that a city’s health can be measured by the state of affairs in its downtown business/entertainment district. Look around Texas and you see cities working — with a wide range of success — at reviving their downtown districts. This isn’t rocket science, folks.

The proof of cities’ vitality can be found in any community that boasts a healthy central district. Fort Worth? Houston? San Antonio? They all are bustling.

Spare me the response that “We cannot be one of those cities. We aren’t that big.” I know that. My response is simply: economies of scale. We can produce a vital downtown district on a scale that fits a city of 200,000 residents.

What I am seeing is that we are proceeding toward that end.

Let us get busy, though, in getting some paperwork done to finalize that baseball franchise move from downstate to Amarillo so we can start work on that downtown ballpark.

PPHM director’s roots go deep into our region

Carol Lovelady is no longer the “interim director” of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum.

She’s got the job permanently, which goes to demonstrate the wisdom of her bosses.

http://amarillo.com/2017-01-05/carol-lovelady-named-panhandle-plains-historical-museum-director

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Lovelady’s appointment as PPHM’s director is this fact: Her roots in this community run deep. She’s live here her entire life and, well, she knows much of the history that built the region, as it’s been passed down to her from two earlier generations.

Lovelady said in a statement: “I am committed to this area. My grandmother came to Amarillo in 1901, and my family has been here since. That’s 116 years. This is where I belong. I am proud to be associated with the museum and the University. I am excited, and I am energized.”

The PPHM is an arm of West Texas A&M University. WT President Walter Wendler made the announcement this week. “Carol Lovelady rose to the top of the list as a person with tremendous interest in the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum and its continued development as a strong partner with West Texas A&M University,”

She brings great fundraising experience, not to mention her tremendous standing within the greater WT community, which interestingly, Wendler seeks to enhance as he embarks on his Panhandle tour of regional high schools telling educators, students and parents about WT’s commitment to the region.

So, this Panhandle treasure — the acclaimed historical museum — has added another jewel to its display.

Congratulations, Mme. Director.

WT president to hit the road

I haven’t met the new president of West Texas A&M University.

However, I rather like the man’s style.

Walter Wendler is hitting the road. He plans to travel through all 26 Texas Panhandle counties, visiting 50 high schools across the region in a sort of student-recruitment tour.

He is looking for potential WT students.

Wendler received pair of cowboy boots from the school’s Agriculture Development Association. I am guessing he’ll wear the boots as he treks across the Panhandle, spreading WT’s message to prospective students.

http://www.newschannel10.com/story/34167585/wtamu-president-prepares-for-panhandle-tour

Previous presidents have conducted various outreach efforts. This one seems demonstrably proactive.

Wendler told KFDA NewsChannel 10: “Many of our students who come from rural settings come with tremendous values about hard work and being committed. We want to reinforce that and continue to shape WTAMU to be based on those same values that come out of the small communities in West Texas because we think those values are rock solid.”

WT faces challenges as it seeks to build on its regional presence. Students are naturally going to be drawn away from home just for the sake of experiencing a new environment. It’s natural, of course, for young people to seek new adventures, to leave the proverbial “nest.”

Wendler’s Panhandle tour could be seen as an effort to keep our young people closer to home, to give them an education they can use to help the communities from which they come.

I like the idea of the WT’s biggest man on campus is hitting the road to make the pitch for the school he leads into the future.

Safe travels, Mr. President.

WT expanding its footprint in Amarillo

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Given that I don’t get downtown much these days, I am struck by the progress I keep seeing at the site of an old office building that’s being transformed into something quite different.

Downtown Amarillo is going to home to a branch campus of West Texas A&M University. The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation purchased the old Commerce Building at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Tyler Street. WT will move its downtown campus operations out of the 31-story Chase Tower a block north and plans to take possession of its new downtown campus after raising sufficient funds to pay for rehabilitating the building.

When I heard of the purchase, my initial reaction was: Hey, that’s a pretty modern building. All they’ll have to do is knock out a few walls, re-do some of the wiring and plumbing, fill the place up with office equipment and classroom accessories.

Presto! Ring the school bell and let classes begin!

Not so fast, padnuh.

They’re knocking the daylights out of the Commerce Building location. The exterior of the structure is going to look totally different, near as I can tell. Lord knows what the inside will look like.

I am aware of the questions raised about the sale and purchase of the site. I know about the questions regarding the appraised value of the property and whether it was inflated.

That’s not the point here.

My point is to wish WT well as it continues to improve and increase its footprint in downtown Amarillo.

By having a stand-alone structure with the university emblem displayed prominently to motorists and other visitors to downtown, it establishes its name and brand in the Panhandle’s unofficial “capital city.”

My understanding is that the opening date has been pushed back a bit. No worries there, either.

As long as it gets done and opens its doors to students, I’m more than OK with the progress we keep seeing in downtown Amarillo’s redevelopment and renewal.

Searching for ‘Roadside Attractions’

sign

One of my favorite answers to the question “How are you doing?” is one I heard years ago … but it bears repeating.

“If I were any better, I’d be twins.”

There you have it. Life is good.

One of the highlights of my recent life has been the opportunity to continue writing and reporting on the community where I live. My full-time job in print journalism ended four years ago, but I’ve stayed busy.

One of the gigs has been with KFDA-TV NewsChannel 10. The folks at the Amarillo CBS affiliate gave me the title of “special projects reporter” when I started writing a feature for NewsChannel10.com. We called it “Whatever Happened  To … ?” It told stories about the status of big stories and big promises.

My bosses at News Channel 10 decided that feature had played itself out. So, together we came up with another idea.

“Roadside Attractions” is its name.

You’ve seen those historical markers scattered throughout the Texas Panhandle, yes? They tell motorists about events that happened at those sites. If not precisely at those locations, then they point you to where the event took place.

We’re going to tell the stories of historical markers. The idea is to give us all a glimpse back at our past. They’ll tell us how this region has arrived at this point. We’ll post the stories on NewsChannel10.com each Wednesday as the station airs the segment telling viewers about the markers profiled that week.

The Texas Historical Commission says the state has about 15,000 such markers. The Panhandle alone has hundreds of them posted along our farm-to-market roads, our state highways and our two interstate thoroughfares.

I’m going to search them out.

I’ll have some help in telling those stories. My friends at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon have been helpful in the extreme so far. They have pointed me toward local historians and have given me plenty of background on the markers.

You won’t mistake these pieces as being a version of “On the Road” series that the late CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt made famous many years ago. I’m not nearly that good a story teller.

I’ll do my best, though, to bring you slices of local history as told through these markers. They’re everywhere, man. I’ll find as many of them as I can.

Michael Grauer, associate director for curatorial affairs at PPHM, calls himself a “stopper and reader” of these markers. Perhaps we can entice more of our viewers to become stoppers and readers, too.

I want to thank my friends at NewsChannel 10 for allowing me to keep doing what I love to do. It’s been a blast so far.

Let’s enjoy the ride together.

Civic symbolism can have positive impact

CanyonTX1908RandallCountyCourthouse812TJnsn3

I noted recently that Amarillo’s Center City lit up a sign in front of the Paramount Building a decade ago.

Moreover, I noted that there might be some linkage between that singular act and the progress that’s occurred throughout the city’s downtown district since that moment.

There might have been some chuckles around the city over that observation.

But let me take this argument a bit farther.

Randall County performed something similar years ago when it renovated the exterior of its 1909 Courthouse building in the Canyon Square.

The county asked voters to approve a referendum to spend public money on refurbishing the outside of the building. The voters said “yes” to the request. The county then finished the job … and the exterior of that building looks spiffy, shiny and sits in the middle of a well-manicured lawn in the middle of the Square.

The building is still unoccupied. There’s no public business being done inside the building. It’s still rotting. Canyon city officials were considering renovating the interior of the building to move some City Hall functions into it — until they got the price tag for it. No can do.

But what’s happened on the Square since the courthouse building’s restoration? It’s blossoming. Businesses have moved into formerly vacant store fronts.

Randall County has moved some of its functions into the old jail and district attorney’s office building across the street. The bulk of the county’s business, though, is done at the Justice Center across the street from West Texas A&M University.

Did the act of restoring the exterior of a once-dilapidated building spur economic growth in the middle of the Randall County seat? County Judge Ernie Houdashell thinks so, as do Canyon city officials … not to mention many of the business owners who have watched the Square’s rebirth.

Does the lighting of a prominent marquee sign on Polk Street have the same impact on downtown Amarillo’s forward progress?

It could be. Who can doubt it with anything other their own bias?

WT keeps selection process a secret

wendler

Walter Wendler appears set to become the next president of West Texas A&M University.

He’s a true-blue Aggie. His sons are Texas A&M grads. He’s worked with the flagship campus of the massive A&M University System.

That’s all I know. That’s all any of us know.

Why does that matter?

Well, past hiring practices for senior WTAMU administrators in recent years has gone a bit differently than this one has gone. WT often allows finalists to conduct what amounts to a public audition for the job. They meet with university organizations, such as student government officers and faculty senate officials; then they meet the public in meet-and-greet sessions. All of this gives interested and vested interest groups a chance to size up potential WT leaders.

Frankly, I prefer the old way.

Wendler has been presented by the Texas A&M University regents as the sole finalist for the job that was vacated by former WT President J. Pat O’Brien.

Wendler has a long career in post-secondary education administration — in Texas as well as at Southern Illinois University.

“West Texas A&M University is a beautiful campus with a bright future,” said Chancellor (John) Sharp. “I believe Walter Wendler will accelerate the university’s upward trajectory and make that future even brighter. I am glad he has agreed to serve in this important role, and I am honored to welcome him back to the Texas A&M family.”

http://www.newschannel10.com/story/32696430/wt-names-finalist-for-school-president#.V6ex_1lmMoo.twitter

Is he the right person for the job? The WT search committee, led by longtime Amarillo banking icon Don Powell, seems to think so. Powell is no slouch in determining the best course for WT or for the A&M System, for that matter, having once served as an A&M System regent.

Consider, too, the process that the Amarillo City Council used in selecting a new council member. It winnowed down a list of candidates to five finalists and then interviewed them in public.

In this era in which residents are demanding “transparency” at all levels of government, I believe WT — and the A&M System regents — could have served their constituents even better by presenting a longer list of finalists to the public than simply the lone survivor.