Tag Archives: Santa Fe Building

New county judge's plate will be heaping

Nancy Tanner isn’t shying away from the huge tasks awaiting her when she becomes Potter County’s next judge.

It’s not exactly a done deal just yet, although it’s virtually so. Tanner won the Republican Party primary in March. No Democrat is on the ballot. Still, she has to go through the motions of an election in November. It’s safe to assume she’ll be elected in the fall, then she gets set to take the gavel from her former mentor and friend, Arthur Ware, who fired Tanner from her job as his administrative assistant in 2013 for reasons no one yet really knows — officially.

Job One for the new judge?

It appears that the Courts Building needs replacing. Not repair. Or refurbishing. It needs to be knocked down.

No one in county government — at least those with whom I’ve spoken — likes working in the structure that Ware calls without a hint of affection the “Grain Elevator.”

It was completed in 1985, which means that it has fallen apart in less than 30 years. Compare that with the Santa Fe Building, which houses several county offices. That Santa Fe was built in 1930 and as a friend who works for the county told me this morning, he toured the then-vacant structure right after the county bought it in 1995 — before the county lifted a finger to fix it up — and said “We could move right now!”

I should add that the county paid a grand total of $400,000 for the 11-story office building.

How’s the county going to pay for a new Courts Building? Tanner told the Rotary Club of Amarillo this past week she believes certificates of obligation are an option. The county has a relatively light debt load, she said.

Now the big question: How much would a new building cost? My spies at the county tell me they’ve heard estimates that hover around the $150 million mark. Would the county issue that COs to cover the entire cost? Tanner didn’t say.

The building is a piece of crap. Everyone seems to agree on that fundamental point.

It needs to go. Finding a suitable strategy to replace will keep the new county judge up late at night.

Welcome back to public service, Judge Tanner.



Sad news about end of railroad museum board

I was saddened to hear the news this morning about the disbanding of a board dedicated to raising money for a Santa Fe Railroad museum.

However, I got to thinking about the sequence of recent events.

After the board had backed out of a plan to install the museum on the second floor of the Santa Fe Building, it looked at space at the former Santa Fe Depot near the Civic Center. Then the city purchased the depot for as yet undisclosed reasons. Then the Potter County Commissioners Court, namely Commissioner Mercy Merguia, began asking questions about the money the board had raised; Merguia sought an accounting of the funds.

Now this. The board has disbanded.

It’s fair to ask: Is there a connection between the funds inquiry and the disbanding of the board? Is there a there there?

Walter Wolfram, an Amarillo lawyer, has been the front man for the fundraising effort and he expressed sadness that board had been unable to make significant progress toward establishing a museum.

I share his sadness.

The Santa Fe Railroad played a huge role in the development of this region. It moved freight in the form of harvested agriculture products from the Panhandle to points all across the country throughout much of the first half of the 20th century. The rail company had a division headquarters at the Santa Fe Building in downtown Amarillo. Its corporate presence here was huge.

Then it vanished. The Santa Fe Building went dark in the mid-1970s and remained that way until Potter County bought it for $400,000, renovated it and located several county offices in it.

But there’s no museum. Now there’s no board of directors to oversee raising money to pay for it.

Amarillo can do better than turn its back on the concept of a museum dedicated to such an important part of this region’s history.

Commissioners asking: Show us the money

Potter County commissioners are asking some tough questions of a man who’s been raising money for a railroad museum in Amarillo.

The questions are valid and need an answer.


They involve an amount of money, $400,000, that the county has contributed to the creation of a Santa Fe Railroad museum. Walter Wolfram, an Amarillo lawyer who’s been leading the fundraising effort, has been asked by commissioners to give a full accounting of the money he’s raised. He spoke to commissioners recently and bristled a bit at the implication from the panel that he may have done something wrong.

I’m not going to second-guess or speculate on what’s happening here, but the commission is asking a legitimate question. It’s given a lot of public money for the past five years and wants to know the status of the contribution and wants to know the progress — if any — toward the creation of the museum.

Wolfram initially sought to put the museum on the second floor of the Santa Fe Building on Ninth Avenue, between Tyler and Polk streets. He gave up on that idea and apparently has targeted the old Santa Fe Depot just east of the Amarillo Civic Center.

The commission is wanting to know what’s happened to the money the county has given. It’s a simple query, right?

City ponders rail depot purchase

As a big supporter of Amarillo’s effort to revive its downtown district, I am intrigued by the city’s consideration of purchasing the Santa Fe Depot across the street from the Civic Center.

The City Commission will consider this purchase at its next meeting, on Tuesday. The city might plunk down $2.6 million for the deal.

Then what? That’s the big question.


I was most intrigued by the quotes attributed to City Commissioner Lilia Escajeda, who seems to be suggesting something different from her colleagues. Commissioner Ellen Green noted the building’s historical significance and said that Amtrak might want to use the depot to bring passenger train service back to Amarillo.

Escajeda, though, said the depot’s purchase would make it easier for the city expand its Civic Center in the future. Is she suggesting the city could, um, knock down the depot — since it might own the property — to make room for a Civic Center expansion? I hope that’s not what she’s saying.

My own sense is that the city purchasing the depot has the potential for contributing to a successful downtown revival. My hope would be for the city to pull out all the stops to find a suitable — and successful — tenant who could put the building to the kind of use that would attract visitors to the downtown district.

Who or what would that entail? Well, I’m not a commercial real estate marketing genius, so I’ll leave that discussion to the experts. What’s more, the city has no shortage of resources to find someone who knows something about marketing buildings such as the Santa Fe Depot.

The building is beautiful and has at least as much potential as the “other” Santa Fe Building downtown, the one that Potter County transformed from a rotting hulk into a glorious office structure.

Go for it, City Hall.

Call it a career, Judge Ware

It’s time for me to get something off my chest.

Potter County Judge Arthur Ware needs to do one of two things: Either resign his office or declare that he will not seek re-election to the job he’s had for the past two decades. Of course, the first option precludes the second one. Either way, it’s time for the judge — who I admire greatly for all he has done for the county and the country — to end his career.

Ware cannot do his job. He suffered a devastating stroke in 2010 that left him paralyzed on one side of his body and unable to speak coherently. He manages to force a word or two out at a time, but he is unable to articulate county policy, or argue a budget point, or converse with anyone who stands before him in a probate hearing. I saw him about two years ago at a downtown Amarillo restaurant. I sought to engage him in conversation. He answered with single words. “Yes” and “no” had to suffice. It was a sad encounter.

Earlier this week, the judge was shot down by his four Commissioners Court colleagues on his request for a pay increase. Every one of the commissioners opposed the increase. At least two of them spoke quite harshly about the judge, one of them saying he should take a pay “decrease” and other saying the county would be “negligent” by approving the proposed pay raise.

And after taking the verbal battering from his colleagues, Ware had no response. Why? He couldn’t verbalize the thoughts that no doubt were running through his head.

I’m not privy to all the ins and outs of county politics and policy these days. I do know a couple of key points. One is that a number of qualified individuals are considering a run for county judge in 2014, when Ware’s term is up. Another key point is that candidates for county office must be able to articulate a policy. They must make public appearances at, say, church picnics, candidate forums, televised debates, the Tri-State Fair, grange halls, feed stores and … well, you get the idea.

I say all this with deep affection for the man. I remember meeting Ware when I arrived in Amarillo in early 1995. He wasn’t that many years removed from his active-duty deployment as a Marine called to fight during the Persian Gulf War. His office is adorned with Marine Corps banners, flags and assorted photos and other paraphernalia. Semper fi, Judge Ware.

He scored a huge coup in 1995 when the county purchased the Santa Fe Building for 400 grand. He took a colleague and me on a tour of the then-vacant building and talked effusively of the grand plans he had to turn it into a county office complex. After a few hiccups along the way, the county got it done.

He fought for the county’s inclusion in a tax increment reinvestment zone to help fund downtown Amarillo’s redevelopment, acknowledging forcefully that the county courthouse indeed, sits in the middle of the downtown district.

But all that is in the past. The here and now has produced a sad spectacle.

Arthur Ware cannot possibly campaign for an office the functions of which he no longer is able to perform. Tell the public, judge, what you plan to do. My best advice is to quit now and spare yourself further humiliation at the hands of your colleagues.