Tag Archives: WTAMU

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.


Why not debate … in Amarillo?


I’ve noted before in previous election cycles that the major political parties need to think beyond the norm when planning for debates between their presidential nominees.

The norm in the past has been to select cities with large media markets. Sometimes the parties put these debates in cities and states where the race is competitive.

Here’s a revolutionary thought: Why not stage one of these events right here, in little ol’ Amarillo, Texas?

Hey, I know it’s a long shot. A pipe dream. I know it won’t happen. Then again, in this strange, goofy, unpredictable, topsy-turvy primary campaign — which on the Republican side is being driven by Donald J. Trump — well, anything seems possible.

Look at it this way, Amarillo is a significant city in a significant state. One of Amarillo’s state lawmakers, Republican Four Price, said the other day that Texas’s economy all by itself is the 12th largest in the world. That by itself makes us a player.

What might be the theme of a debate held in Amarillo? Energy policy ought to be front and center. I doubt, of course, that debate planners would build a two-hour televised event around energy policy by itself.

But it does tie into the nation’s economy. How about foreign policy, given that we’re weaning ourselves of foreign oil? We’re becoming something of a trend-setter in the development of wind energy, one of those alternatives that gets some of the credit for the plunging oil prices around the world.

We’ve got venues for such an event. The Civic Center is one. The performing arts center across the street is another. Why not look at the West Texas A&M University event center in Canyon?

Is such a thing possible?

Consider this: No one ever thought that Donald Trump would be setting the pace in the race for the Republican Party presidential nomination.

I’m just saying that this election is wild and crazy enough for Amarillo to get a serious look if the political parties here want to put together a formal request.



MPEV debate to turn on ballfield

Amarillo MPEV

It now appears that the Amarillo municipal election referendum this November is going to turn on a specific issue.

Should the city build a multipurpose event venue that includes a ballpark?

I say “yes!” With emphasis.

So, the MPEV-with-ballpark has at least one vote. I’m guessing it’ll get many more when the time comes to vote on it.

But the question came to me today from an Amarillo Millennial Movement member who wanted to know how they can sell the MPEV as it’s been proposed during the next 90 days. Honestly, I have never planned a campaign strategy and I don’t intend to do so now.

But I’ll just say that I am hearing from friends, acquaintances and others who want to talk about that they think the ballpark isn’t needed. They think the rat hole stadium at the Tri-State Fairgrounds is sufficient. It isn’t.

I happen to believe that a downtown venue for some minor-league baseball is a capital idea. And, yes, it can — and must — be used for other events. What might those events be? I will rely on the marketing geniuses around the city, the Panhandle and even the state to figure that out.

Outdoor concerts? Sure. A flea market … maybe? It’s been done.

Perhaps local high school teams could play ball during their regular season. There might even be an open date or two — or perhaps more — for the West Texas A&M University baseball team. Or perhaps the WT women’s softball team. Or maybe even some local high school softball teams.

I understand fully that these events don’t often draw more than a handful of fans. However, is that the way it has to be?

The world is full of opportunities.

I was heartened to hear from the newly elected City Council members this week that they favor an MPEV in some incarnation. They remain skeptical of the ballpark element.

I will continue to argue that a ballpark is a feasible attraction for downtown Amarillo. However, it’s going to require some creativity and some marketing genius to make it work as well as it can for the city.

If voters say “no” in November, my next-best hope is that the city can come up with a Plan B in a hurry and keep its downtown revival project moving forward.



Are we going to be timid about city’s future?

Leaps of faith require a certain degree of risk.

We take them at various stages of our life. When we change careers; when we move from one part of the country to another; there’s even a leap of faith that occurs when you commit yourself to someone for the rest of your life.

The great thing about faith, though, is that if it’s strong enough, it can carry you through. You rely totally on it.

So it might be with Amarillo City Hall’s grand new plan for its downtown district. It might well require us to take a leap of faith that a new direction for the city is worth the effort.

I’m still dumbstruck by the timidity I keep hearing from those who for whatever reason — real or imagined — feel somewhat intimidated by what’s being proposed for the downtown district’s future.

Planners want to build an athletic/entertainment venue. They want to construct a downtown convention hotel. They are planning to build a parking structure. Three building are going to be built downtown. The aim is as plain as it gets: They want to reshape downtown. They want it to become something of an entertainment attraction.

What is it now? Well, it’s really more or less … how do I say it nicely, nothing to brag about. At least not yet.

It’s come some distance from where it was, say, 20 years ago. The Santa Fe Building is bustling with Potter County government activity; Polk Street is slowly coming back to life; that big ol’ Chase Tower is full — for the time being — but it will lose a lot of tenants when Xcel Energy and West Texas A&M University vacate the tower for new digs elsewhere.

Xcel’s and WT’s departure from the Chase Tower, therefore, isn’t a net loss for the downtown district. It’s a net plus.

There’s movement, finally, on the Barfield Building at the corner of Sixth and Polk.

The leap of faith will occur when the multipurpose event venue is built and the city starts to promote it for a wide range of activity. It will rely on hotel-motel tax revenue to keep it going. The convention hotel is tied directly to the MPEV. It, too, will require some serious marketing and promotion.

It’s time to keep the faith, man.

I am acutely aware of the need to improve the Civic Center. That, too, will come eventually, at least that’s my hope. And what about the old Herring Hotel building on the northern edge of the downtown district? Believe it or not, downtown leaders tell me they believe there is a place for the Herring, that it can be renovated and turned into something not yet envisioned or imagined. It, too, requires a leap of faith.

I am willing to take that leap. My faith in the potential for success makes it possible.

'Spanishgate' is beginning to smell

An unpleasant aroma is beginning waft out of West Texas A&M University’s campus.

I don’t believe it’s the smell of cattle.

My pal Jon Mark Beilue has referred to an incident as Spanishgate, referring in tandem to the infamous Watergate scandal of 1973-74 and an incident that has just erupted at WT involving a young football player who did schoolwork for a teammate in a case of academic fraud.


Jon Mark asks: What did head WT football coach Mike Nesbitt know and when did he know it?

Meanwhile, WT has agreed to “nullify” the games it played with an “ineligible player.” Nullify? I’ve read the Amarillo Globe-News story several times today and I still don’t quite understand. It’s like being given punishment with no real penalty.

Jose Azarte Jr., a former placekicker for the Buffaloes, did the work on behalf of starting wide receiver Anthony Johnson.

The penalty handed the Buffs doesn’t require them to forfeit any wins while playing with an ineligible player. It basically removes them from any playoff seeding after the regular season. Whatever that means.

Meanwhile, it is imperative that we get to the bottom of who know what and when.

Head football coaches are supposed to have their hands on all the levers of their team. An assistant coach, Joel Hinton, has left the team, although it’s not yet been established whether he resigned or was fired because of his involvement in the case involving some Spanish classwork that Azarte did for Johnson.

There remain some questions that demand answers, as Beilue has noted.

The WT brass needs to come clean.


Text messages get WT coach in trouble

Let’s give Joel Hinton the tiniest benefit of the doubt and assume — if we dare — that he’s not a dummy.

He’s the former West Texas A&M University assistant football coach who has gotten entangled in a case of academic fraud involving two players on the WT team. One of the (former) players, Jose Azarte Jr., allegedly did school work for another player, star wide receiver Anthony Johnson.

Johnson then submitted the work as his own and got caught.

Where does Hinton fit in here? He apparently sent text messages to the players, which then were intercepted by someone — who then ratted everyone out.

Text messages got the coach in trouble.

Hinton is a young man. I will presume that he’s telecommunications-savvy, given that most 20- and 30-something Americans are these days.

Doesn’t this individual know that text messages, emails and almost any form of communication on social media can get seen by, oh, every human being on this planet of ours?

WT says Hinton is no longer associated with the school. It won’t say whether he got fired or quit on his own. Just that the he’s gone.


The investigation into this matter ought to be comprehensive. It ought to reveal to what extent this kind of thing has gone on at WT. It ought to disclose whether it’s happened with other athletes in other sports. Indeed, this kind of thing gives the NCAA governing body a chance to peel the skin off this onion all across the land.

Has cheating occurred? Sure it has. This isn’t anything new, if it’s proven to have occurred. Let’s presume that the school and/or the NCAA prove it happened. What then?

I’m rather old-fashioned about some things. There should be no tolerance at all for this kind of malarkey. It involves student-athletes who are attending class with the help of scholarships. They’re getting an education paid for by the school, even though the scholarship rewards them for athletic — not necessarily academic — prowess.

As for the coach who sent the text messages related to this matter, the young man needs a refresher course in what not to say on social media.

I’d start with keeping self-incriminating messages off the grid.



How much cheating is going on at WT?

Well now. This is an interesting development that smells like it needs to be probed much more deeply.

West Texas A&M University is looking into a serious allegation of studies fraud involving a former football player and a star for the current for the team.

Jose Azarte Jr. used to kick field goals and points-after-touchdown for the Buffaloes, until Oct. 13. He told WT athletic department officials that he completed homework and other Spanish class assignments for starting wide receiver Anthony Johnson.

Oh, boy. This could get real nasty.

WT officials have announced that an assistant coach, Joel Hinton, is no longer on the staff after being implicated in what could become a significant academic scandal. Hinton allegedly played a part in the former player doing the classwork for the current player.

WT is planning to investigate this matter fully.

Boy, howdy! Do you think the school needs to examine the entire system from top to bottom?

I am hoping the school gets to the bottom of this and determines how much of this kind of cheating is going on.

Was this an isolated case? Is it part of a more pervasive practice?

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, which governs athletics for schools such as WT, needs to enter the picture. The NCAA has a staff of competent lawyers who likely are eager to look intently into whether there’s more fire and smoke at West Texas A&M.

Turn them loose and let’s get to the bottom of this.

In a hurry.



WT to get actual Amarillo campus

Someone once told me that if Amarillo had been chosen as the home for what was known as West Texas Normal School, what is now West Texas A&M University today would be the size of Texas Tech University.

WT would enroll 30,000-plus students rather than just a shade less than 8,000 who attend school’s Canyon campus.

Still, the news that WT is purchasing the Commerce Building in downtown Amarillo and relocating its downtown operations from the Chase Tower to a new campus setting is good news for the school and, I hope, for the development of the downtown business district.

WT is getting some foundation grant help as well as financial aid from the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation to make the move.

As I understand it, WT plans to renovate completely the Commerce Building, from which existing businesses are relocating. The university plans also to dress up the area around the building, creating what they have referred to as a “campus atmosphere.”

Most interesting of all is that WT’s downtown Amarillo operation enrollment has far exceeded what the school had projected when it opened in the Chase Tower. The student enrollment is about 75 percent greater than expected, with more than 1,000 students attending classes in three floors of the 31-story office tower.

WT’s century-old presence in Canyon, of course, is well-established. Think, though, of the possibilities if the downtown Amarillo campus takes off. Might there be incentive to grow the Amarillo campus even more?

It’s heartening as well to see the relationship between West Texas A&M and Amarillo begin to blossom. There hasn’t always been that kind of warmth. Both the city and the university will reap yet untold rewards if they continue to build on it.

WT set for crucial season opener

Few times in the football history of West Texas A&M University has an opening game had as much significance as the game that’s coming up Sept. 12 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

The Buffs will take the field against Chadron State. They will have to deal with the shadow of a man who’s no longer a part of the program. Former Coach Don Carthel got canned two weeks ago over an ethics violation.

The interim coach this year will be Mike Nesbitt, who I believe could be an early-season favorite for Division II national coach of the year if he holds his team together.

Carthel’s firing couldn’t have come at a worse time. The team was finishing its preparation for a season most observers believed — maybe they still do — would be full of glory for the Buffs. I’m still uncertain as to whether the violation rose to the level of punishment that WT’s athletic department levied against Carthel. The coach took players to a baseball game, received reimbursement from the athletes and then fibbed about the timing of the reimbursement.

Boom! Like that he was gone. What’s done is done.

Nesbitt has taken over. He’s saying all the right things to local media, about how his team is “focused” and is getting ready for the season — as if he’s going to say anything to the contrary. You never hear coaches talk of turmoil upsetting team chemistry or causing emotional heartache. The stated public view is always the same: We’re soldiering on.

So we’ll see in short order whether the Buffs are as focused and dedicated to the task at hand as their coaching staff is saying. Texas A&M-Commerce comes to Kimbrough Stadium on Sept. 21 to begin the Lone Star Conference season.

The WT brass still has some explaining to do regarding Carthel’s firing. I hope it comes clean. Meanwhile, the players and the coaches who remain deserve the support of a fan base that had returned to the Buffs’ side when Carthel’s teams began winning so many football games.