Tag Archives: Amarillo Civic Center

No pleasure in criticizing good folks

Let me be crystal clear about something, which is that I take no pleasure at all in criticizing the fine men and women who serve on the Amarillo City Council.

I just believe the council messed up when it foisted on voters a $260 million debt obligation in the form of “anticipation notes,” despite the undeniable fact that city voters had delivered a resounding “no!” vote on a bond issue to pay for the projects sought by the council’s anticipation notes.

At issue is the Civic Center renovation. Does it need to refurbished, expanded, modernized and gussied up? Probably, yes. Had I been able to vote on the 2020 bond issue calling for the work, I likely would have supported it.

But … I also accept the verdict of a voting majority who said no to the project. Which also is why I reject the move that the council sought to pull off by passing those anticipation notes, in effect going over the voters’ heads.

I don’t need to remind anyone that in a representative democracy, the voters are the bosses, not the people who represent them.

All this is my way of endorsing a Texas Senate bill that aims to attach stricter regulations on the issuance of these kinds of financing tactics. The Senate puts a five-year minimum on cities; Amarillo sought to shove the anticipation notes down voters’ throats in two years. It prompted a lawsuit by a local businessman, who eventually won his court fight.

I want to stipulate that during my many years living in Amarillo I was generally supportive of most initiatives that came from City Hall.

Not this time.

Timing, as the saying goes, is everything. Amarillo’s council was too quick to pull the trigger on those anticipation notes. The voters of the city clearly had not forgotten the decision they delivered in rejecting the bond issue.

The result has been that the City Council has learned a tough, but necessary, lesson about the government they inherited. It is that the voters clearly deserve the last word when it comes to spending their money.


Texas Senate sticks it to Amarillo

Wow! What does one say about the Texas Senate’s approval of a bill that is in direct response to an action taken by the Amarillo City Council that, according to the bill’s sponsor, flies in the face of the will of the voters.?

Senate Bill 2035 would restrict city governments from enacting “anticipation notes” sooner than five years after voters reject a spending proposal. Sound familiar?

Amarillo City Council members voted to enact anticipation notes in 2022 just two years after voters in the city rejected a $275 million bond issue to renovate the Civic Center and build a new City Hall complex. The council decided it wanted to proceed anyway, so it acted … prompting a lawsuit filed by local businessman Alex Fairly contesting the action.

Senators voted 20-10 to approve the bill. One of those voting in favor is the newly installed senator from District 31, Kevin Sparks, who lives in Midland but represents the Panhandle in the Senate.

“The City of Amarillo should never had gone behind their voters’ back to finance a project that their voters overwhelmingly voted down,” Sen. Paul Bettencourt, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. “It’s an appalling example of an Elected City Council and Mayor thwarting the will of the voters!”

A friend of mine calls this “Ginger’s Law,” named after outgoing mayor Ginger Nelson, who spearheaded the anticipation note idea. Nelson isn’t running for re-election this year, so this could remain as her most visible legacy during her term as mayor.

It’s a shame, given all the good she was able to accomplish during her time as the city’s presiding officer.

But you know … I cannot blame the state Senate for taking this action. Now it heads for the House of Representatives, where I am certain the city’s two lawmakers, John Smithee and Four Price, are paying very close attention.


Back to beginning for Amarillo’s council?

Amarillo’s governing council has received a kick in the gut, thanks to a judge ruling that its issuance of $260 million in anticipation notes is “invalid” and “void.”

What is that all about?

Amarillo businessman Alex Fairly had filed a lawsuit seeking to block the issuance of the tax notes. A visiting judge hearing the case in a Potter County district courtroom agreed with him.

From my vantage point, the city has been the chance to do it right.

The city issued the tax notes after voters had rejected a $275 million bond issue the city had called to repair the Civic Center and to relocate City Hall to a new site. The city wasn’t about to be dissuaded, so it issued the notes that sought to circumvent the will of the voters.

I believe the judge’s decision in favor of Fairly’s suit should send a message that City Hall needs to honor.

It seems like a complicated outcome. The City Council says it disagrees with the judge’s ruling and it will consider whether to appeal it.

Judge rules that tax notes for Amarillo Civic Center are ‘invalid,’ ‘void’ | KAMR – MyHighPlains.com

Fairly issued a statement, according to MyHighPlains.com: “I’m thankful that a regular, ordinary, everyday guy can still raise his hand and say, ‘I don’t think this is right,’ and get a fair day in court and a voice,” he said. “I think we all have that voice. It’s too expensive, I know that. But I’m so thankful that the system is there and we were able to use it and that it worked.”

Fairly questioned whether the city decided to impose the tax notes with proper notification. I happen to side with those who believe the city’s decision so soon after a November 2020 bond issue election denial smacked of arrogance that just didn’t set well with a municipal electorate that is angry with government … at all levels!

The city issued a statement: The City received the court’s final judgment this afternoon. We respectfully disagree with the judgment in this case, and we’re reviewing the decision with our legal counsel to determine our next steps.

Well, here’s a thought. The city could craft a new bond issue proposal and take it back to the voters for yet another decision. Maybe it can persuade enough of them to back City Hall’s desire to improve the Civic Center and find a new site for its government office.

If not, well … then the city has some serious soul-searching to do.


It’s in the timing

Amarillo city officials are going on trial very soon in which they will have to defend the legitimacy of a multimillion-dollar effort to deliver a new municipal complex of offices and convention space.

The lawsuit comes from businessman Alex Fairly. The trial will be in a Potter County district court. Fairly believes the city acted illegally in issuing $260 million in “anticipation notes.”

I am not going to assess whether the city’s actions broke the law. I am, though, in a position to comment on the timing of the issuance.

You see, voters already had spoken decisively in November 2020 when they rejected a $275 million general obligation bond issue to — that’s right — revamp the Civic Center and relocate City Hall. The City Council didn’t seem to care about what voters decided.

So, it acted without voters’ approval by issuing those anticipation notes. The debt load carried by the notes is virtually identical to the load that voters rejected.

I hate saying this, because for years I was a staunch supporter of City Council initiatives, but the decision to supersede voters’ rejection smacks too much of municipal arrogance.

It’s the timing of the issuance juxtaposed with the rejection of the bond issue that ought to rankle residents. Fairly has intimated, further, that the issuance of the debt notes was done without adequate public notice, giving residents a chance to comment publicly on what they thought about the project.

To be sure, if I still lived in Amarillo and had a chance to vote on the bond issue in November 2020 I likely would have voted “yes” on the city request. I can argue all day and into the night about the need for the city to upgrade its Civic Center and find a new site for City Hall. Most voters, though, said “no” to the proposal.

For the city to then come back and issue the anticipation notes — which do not require voter approval — well, plays right into the righteous anger that fuels a lot of voters’ interest in government.


City faces stern test

Amarillo City Hall is going to court against an individual who is angry enough at the city to file a lawsuit that says what the city did to incur a mountain of debt is illegal.

I won’t contest the legality of it, but from my perspective from the Metroplex it looks as though it might have been seriously ill-advised.

Amarillo businessman Alex Fairly has sued the city over the council’s decision to levy $260 million in debt through what it calls “anticipation notes.” To be candid, I never had heard of that type of municipal funding until I heard about that decision.

The reason I am questioning the wisdom of this move is its timing. The city put a $275 million bond issue up for a vote in November 2020. The voters offered a resounding “no” vote on whether to renovate the civic center and relocate City Hall. So, what did the council do?

It said, in effect, that it didn’t matter what votes said, that it would proceed anyway. Anticipation notes don’t need voter approval.

Boom! Just like that the city started turning the wheels on a project that voters had just rejected.

Can you say “pitiful timing”?

A visiting judge from Lubbock County decided recently to combine two lawsuits into one, which I presume means the matter will be settled with a single judgment.

If Fairly wins and the court determines the city acted illegally by not providing sufficient public notice in advance of its decision, then the city will have a serious legal matter to clear.

If the city wins and then proceeds with the plan to act over its constituents’ objections, then the city faces a larger political obstacle. I hope to keep watching this matter play out.


City facing stern court test

My cheap-seat perch has enabled me to weigh in on a matter involving a community where I lived for 23 years and remains a place where I maintain a deep affection.

Amarillo City Hall is going to trial Tuesday to face a lawsuit filed by a local businessman over a city effort to foist a $260 million debt on property owners to build a new Civic Center. I use the term “foist” understanding what it implies.

The city is foisting the debt on taxpayers because those very city residents said “no” to a bond issue in November 2020 that would have done what the city wants to do without voter approval.

There is something fundamentally wrong with that approach.

Businessman Alex Fairly wants the 108th District Court in Potter County to slow the process down just a bit to enable all parties — I’ll presume Fairly intends for the city to be included — to present their cases more thoroughly. The city, according to Fairly, wants to fast-track the decision to a quick verdict.

Fairly is contesting the legality of the decision to issue those “anticipation notes.” He argues that the city didn’t give proper advance notice to residents and did so without going through the entire process he says is required.

I won’t argue that case. What does seem wrong is the timing of this effort by the city.

To be clear, if I had a vote in the matter, I likely would have voted “yes” on the money to build a Civic Center; the one they have is no longer adequate. However, most voters turned thumbs down on the project. I tend to respect the view of the majority … you know?

The City Council’s response has been tantamount to sticking its finger in the eye of electorate, telling them: We don’t care what you think. We need to do this anyway and we’re going to go around you … no matter what.

Therein lies what I believe is the crux of the argument that Fairly is trying to make.

This legal challenge represents a significant departure from the way city government has operated in Amarillo for practically as long as I have been acquainted with the city and its leadership.

This can be a healthy challenge to the city’s power structure. I want it to be a constructive one as well.


Hotel signals a potentially shiny future for city

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I was unable to attend the dedication of a new hotel in downtown Amarillo, given that I now live about 360 miles southeast of the city.

The opening of the Barfield Hotel, though, has been on my radar for some time, dating back to my days as a journalist covering downtown Amarillo’s rebirth, revival and its renaissance.

The city has crossed what looks to me — even at some distance — like an important threshold.

The Barfield sat vacant for more than 30 years. It was a rotten hulk of a structure. Homeless people would sleep on the ground floor, freezing during winter nights. Then through a series of ownership changes, some fits and starts and a hiccup or two along the way, the city managed to cobble together a development package that resulted in the opening of what they call a “boutique hotel.”

Marriott Corp. is the lead company in this deal. I haven’t yet seen the newly revived Barfield building. I hope to get back there soon to lay eyes on the structure at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Polk Street.

Why is this an important event? Because it signals to me that the city’s downtown rebirth is continuing. The Barfield is just the latest in a series of triumphs that businesses and the city have scored along the way.

Hodgetown still welcomes fans flocking to the ballpark to cheer for the Amarillo Sod Poodles baseball team; the Embassy Suites hotel is up and running nearby; various storefronts have opened along Polk Street; the city is offering some additional entertainment venues for residents and visitors to enjoy.  Downtown hasn’t become Nirvana. That parking garage downtown is still lacking sufficient business activity to pay for itself, from I have been able to discern.

Still, downtown Amarillo, as near as I can tell, bears little resemblance to the moribund district I discovered when my wife and I moved there in early 1995.

Is the city done? Has the work been completed? Oh, I doubt it strongly. City Hall might be relocated. The Civic Center is slated to get some major work done. They’re building a new courts building to serve Potter County downtown. Oh, and then there’s the Herring Hotel building … another rotting structure that cries out for some tender loving care.

All in all, I am happy to see the progress being made in a downtown district where I used to work and which I once lamented about its future. I worry far less these days about the future of the city. It’s looking brighter all the time.

Civic Center needs help

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I no longer live in Amarillo, but I have a lot of friends there, many of whom read this blog and might be inclined to (a) endorse my world view or (b) tell me to go straight to hell.

With that out of the way, I want to offer an opinion on a ballot measure that would seek to expand/improve/renovate the Civic Center.

I believe it’s a good idea that deserves community support.

It might be a tough sell in this Era of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Folks aren’t likely to be congregating at the Civic Center any time soon, or maybe in the distant future. Eventually, though, this pandemic will pass. The will return to what we think of as “normal.”

The Civic Center would benefit from a $200 million (or so) bond issue that is on the ballot Nov. 3. The idea is to expand convention space, make dramatic improvements to the Cal Farley Coliseum, such as raising the roof and adding seating capacity.

It’s not clear to me whether all of this work is going to put Amarillo on the same playing field as Lubbock, which manages to corral many more front-line, top-tier acts annually than Amarillo. At the very least the renovations to the Civic Center would make Amarillo more competitive in the hunt for top-drawer conventions and gatherings that draw deep-pocketed individuals and groups willing to spend lots of money to bolster the local economy.

The city wisely removed the City Hall relocation from the bond issue, given that it has not yet decided where it intends to put its government office.

Instead, the city has thrust the Civic Center job out there as a stand-alone project.

I feel the need to remind readers of this blog of some of the resistance to the ballpark initiative as it was being developed in 2015. The pushback came from those who thought the Civic Center needed to be tended to before the city built the venue now known as Hodgetown.

The measure’s proponents have enlisted lots of support to make the case, including my former Amarillo Globe-News colleague Jon Mark Beilue, who has written and spoken extensively about the city’s need to keep pushing forward. Standing still, Beilue argues, is a prescription for failure.

I encourage my many friends to take that leap of faith with an expanded, improved and revitalized Civic Center. The city has made enormous strides already in restoring its downtown district.

Why stop now?

Civic Center set for big vote

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

My friends and former neighbors in Amarillo have a big decision to make on Nov. 3.

They will have to decide whether to improve the Civic Center. From what I understand, plans call for a serious expansion of the convention space, the Cal Farley Coliseum, along with lots of cosmetic improvements throughout the complex.

What I am still trying to understand, though, is the supposed “relocation” of City Hall. I have not yet determined whether the city has found a site to relocate its government operations center, which at one time was supposed to be part of the entire bond issue. I do hope it does have a site. The city council recently agreed on a contract in the nearby warehouse district that could produce a location for City Hall. The city reportedly has decided to delay a decision on relocation until after the election. From what I have seen on a couple of news sites the council hasn’t yet made a firm decision on where it intends to place its government office.

As KFDA NewsChannel 10 has reported: Mayor Ginger Nelson says the continuous repairs to the current building and cost efficiency drove this decision. “Just seeing what our options were there, it was important to us to take an existing building,” said Nelson “We thought that was a better use of taxpayer dollars and there were some cost efficiency to be gained by refurbishing an existing building vs buying a brand-new building.”

The city is hoping to invest a couple hundred million dollars-plus of public money on the Civic Center. Getting it approved in this Pandemic Era well could be a tough sell.

A big part of me wishes the city well. The Civic Center needs work. Amarillo isn’t getting a lot of top-drawer entertainment acts, which end up venturing down the interstate to Lubbock where the spacious United Center awaits.

How would I vote? Probably “yes.” As for the City Hall relocation, the city should proceed with tremendous caution and care. That project all by itself is a huge deal.

Hello, City Hall relocation? Where will it be?

AMARILLO, Texas — This just in!

A panel assigned to study potential expansion and improvements to Amarillo’s Civic Center plans to present a $319 million bond issue election proposal to the City Council.

The proposal calls for expanding the convention space at the Civic Center, adding 75,000 of exhibit space. It also calls for a new arena seating 10,100 spectators, which is not quite twice the size of the Cal Farley Coliseum inside the Civic Center. The proposal also calls for renovation of the Santa Fe Railroad Depot next to the Civic Center and the addition of a parking garage.

Then we get to the City Hall relocation. The proposal that is attached to this blog post doesn’t mention a specific site where the new complex will be relocated.

I have thought for some time that the city needs to disclose to the public where it intends to place its new City Hall prior to submitting it to a public vote. Residents need to know for what they would be dedicating their number.

A friend of mine — who also serves as an occasional snitch on Amarillo-related matters — told me this week he thought the city would disclose the location of the new City Hall soon. I told him it had better come clean.

I remain generally in support of what the city wants to do. An expanded Civic Center would appease some concerns of critics of downtown revitalization. They have said the Civic Center should be Priority No. 1. It now appears headed to the front shelf, along with the coliseum complex and the railroad depot on the east side of the Civic Center complex.

I cannot overstate, though, the importance of disclosing in detail where the city wants to relocate City Hall. Voters are going to receive a request to shell out a lot of money. The city has pledged transparency at all levels. If I were King of the World, I would mandate a full disclosure on which existing downtown structure would house the place where residents do their business with city.

Check out the proposal here.

The artist renderings deliver a spectacular view of what the city has in mind regarding the Civic Center and the Santa Fe Depot.

What about the new City Hall?