Tag Archives: Amarillo Civic Center

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?

Memo to City Hall: Reveal location of proposed new site

Amarillo City Hall isn’t going to ask me for political advice, given that I don’t live in Amarillo, but I’ll offer it anyway.

If the city proceeds with a bond issue next year to determine whether residents want to re-do the Civic Center and relocate City Hall to a new location, the city needs to reveal to voters which site it has in mind to move its administrative offices.

One of my Amarillo spies has told me the city hasn’t yet made that decision public, if it’s made it at all. My spy believes the city might want to keep it secret while it negotiates with whomever owns whatever structure the city wants to acquire.

I believe the city needs to tell residents where it wants to go if it is going to ask them to pony up $300 million-plus on an array of public improvement projects.

To keep that information quiet would ring the death knell for the city’s efforts to vacate its current City Hall building for another existing building in downtown Amarillo.

Residents there, as I understand it, remain a bit skeptical of the city’s claim of transparency.

I also am willing to argue that the city shouldn’t ask voters to approve a relocation if it doesn’t have a site in mind. Part of the cost of that bond issue is going to include preparing a new building to become home to many city administrative functions. How in the world does the city spell out the cost if it doesn’t have an idea of where it intends to move and what it intends to do with whatever property it is considering for purchase?

A citywide bond election in 2020 is going to be a big deal. The Civic Center improvements appear to be warranted. The city also wants to revamp the Santa Fe Depot structure just east of the Civic Center.

A City Hall relocation remains a problem, particularly if city officials don’t reveal to the “bosses,” the voters who pay the bill, where they intend to put a new city office structure.

Expecting a bright 2020 for former city of residence

I’m looking ahead to the new year and I cannot help but think good thoughts about what lies in store for the city my wife and I called home for more than two decades.

Amarillo, Texas, appears to be on the move. I mean, think about some developments.

  • Downtown Amarillo’s progress continues at full throttle. A couple of new “boutique hotels” might be opening for business in the coming year. One, for sure, will start welcoming guests at what used to be called the Barfield Building. It once was a rathole. It has become something quite different. There might be some movement in the Rule Building nearby. I’ll have to wait before assessing that structure’s future. It looks somewhat promising.
  •  Amarillo’s minor-league baseball team played before a packed Hodgetown house in 2019. The Sod Poodles won the Texas League championship. They’ll be returning in 2020 as the defending champs. Hodgetown has been honored as the nation’s top AA ballpark; the Sod Poodles have been recognized as the top AA baseball organization in the country. They have built a solid foundation in Amarillo.
  •  Construction will proceed on the new Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine near the Tech medical school campus in Amarillo. This will be only the second vet school in Texas and will serve a growing demand for large-animal veterinary care in a region that relies on livestock.
  •  West Texas A&M University’s downtown Amarillo campus will bring even more energy to the center of the city.
  •  City Hall is looking to renovate the Civic Center, re-do the Santa Fe Railroad Depot building and relocate its municipal offices somewhere in downtown Amarillo.  A big caveat remains on the final item: The city must identify a location and reveal it to the public well before it asks for residents’ endorsement of a $300 million bond issue.
  •  Interstate 40 and 27 reconstruction hopefully will draw much nearer to completion in the coming year. I don’t get back to Amarillo all that often these days, but I am hoping to see some tangible progress toward an end date for that massive I-40 project.

The city’s future — to my way of thinking — looks a lot brighter today than it did 10 to 12 years ago. It’s progress, man. A city that isn’t progressing remains stagnant. Keep moving forward, Amarillo.

Might the Herring have a future, too?

The Barfield Building renovation is proceeding toward a spring opening of the one-time rotting hulk of a structure. It will be reborn as a “boutique” hotel.

By all means, downtown Amarillo, Texas, has much more work ahead of it. I am going to wonder aloud whether there might be something in the wind regarding the Herring Hotel Plaza, which sits a few blocks north of the Barfield.

This isn’t an original thought. I heard it from a little birdie/Amarillo snitch the other day, but I want to share it with y’all.

Amarillo city officials are looking around for someplace to relocate City Hall. They say they want to find an existing structure where they could move what’s left of the city administration still operating at the current City Hall into another location. Much of the administrative work is being done at the Jim Simms building, leaving City Hall with essentially a skeleton crew.

So, here’s a thought: Might there be any interest in relocating City Hall into the Herring Hotel site, along with a mixed-use development that could occupy the rest of the once-grand structure?

City officials are maintaining a code of silence on what they’re thinking, or so I have been advised. They are pondering whether to present a bond issue proposal to voters next spring that would total more than $300 million. They want to renovate the Civic Center, dress up the Santa Fe Railroad Depot and, oh yeah, relocate City Hall.

The Herring Hotel has been dark for a very long time. Its owner, a retired academician named Bob Goodrich, has sought to find a suitable developer; he has come up empty. Goodrich pays the taxes annually on the building and tries to keep it secure against trespassers and transients who seek shelter from the elements.

The Herring used to be the place to go, to see and to be seen. It played host to lavish parties and once was a first-class hotel.

Downtown Amarillo does not lack suitable locations for City Hall. I understand there’s some interest in some bank structures scattered around the downtown district.

However, would it not be a masterful public relations stroke of genius to identify a way to convert the Herring into a usable office building, combined with housing and perhaps a smattering of retail business?

I believe there remains a significant bit of nostalgia for the Herring around Amarillo. Heck, I even have changed my mind about the building. I used to believe it needed a wrecking ball; I no longer hold that belief. Surely there can be some use for the structure.

If City Hall is committed to relocating into an existing downtown structure, officials have a grand building looming a few blocks away.

Psst … hey, City Hall, be sure to tell public where you’re going

A little birdie has informed me of a development that needs some fleshing out up yonder in Amarillo, where city officials are pondering a way to present a bond issue to voters that could drastically remake the shape and location of municipal government.

At issue is a discussion over a potential $300 million-plus bond issue that would involve an expansion/renovation of the Civic Center, renovation of the Santa Fe Depot and the relocation of City Hall.

It’s the last item I want to discuss briefly.

I understand from my source that the City Council is keeping its relocation options quiet regarding where it wants to relocate City Hall. The city wants to move the government operations center into an existing structure downtown.

So, you might be wondering: Where? Which building? What’s involved in the renovation of that structure into a workable municipal complex?

City officials are looking at a possible May 2020 bond issue election date. That’s not too far out there, folks. It seems to me that the site of new City Hall would need to be known to the public that would decide whether to spend that kind of money.

I don’t know how far along the city is in its determination of where to relocate City Hall. My hope would be that once the city administration and the council decide that they all would reveal in detail to the public what it has in mind and how it intends to accomplish its goal.

The city already has peeled off a lot of its administrative functions from City Hall, moving many of those functions into the Jim Simms Administration Building. So it would appear that the city doesn’t need as much space for a new City Hall as has at its current site across the street from Hodgetown, the Sod Poodles’ ballpark.

But … first things first.

Be sure to let the public know what the council has in mind and where it intends to place it. The sooner the better.

Do not split this bond package into bite-sized bits

Whatever decision comes from the Amarillo City Council regarding a theoretical bond issue to fix the Civic Center and relocate City Hall, my hope stands eternal.

Do not break this bond issue into small pieces, giving voters a chance to shop for which of the projects they prefer.

Put it all out there under a single measure. Make the voters swallow all of it or spit it out.

The city is pondering a bond issue that would total more than $300 million. Under discussion is a plan to renovate the Civic Center, built in 1968 and in dire need of an upgrade; renovation of the Santa Fe Railroad Depot building next to the Civic Center, turning into a showplace; relocation of City Hall into an existing downtown structure.

I don’t know what the cost will be. It’s likely to be well north of $300 million. I do believe the city needs the projects it is considering.

I suppose the city could decide to forgo some of the ideas under consideration. At the very least the city should proceed with the Civic Center project. The Cal Farley Coliseum is too small, too cramped and too old to be good for much more than what it hosts already: arena football and minor-league hockey. As for City Hall’s relocation, perhaps that project can be sold, too, as an essential need that would enable the city to provide better service for its 200,000 constituents. The Santa Fe Depot job? That might be a debatable point.

Still, whatever the decision, the city shouldn’t bust up the projects into bite-sized morsels for voters to ponder.

The city is considering putting this bond issue on the ballot in May 2020. That’s as good a date as any.

Just keep the bond issue proposal all together, city leaders.

Wishing I could vote in favor of this issue

I am left to endorse a project without having an actual voice in assuring its approval.

The project to which I refer involves an extreme makeover of the Amarillo Civic Center, the renovation of a historic railroad depot across the street from the center and the relocation Amarillo’s City Hall to a suitable existing structure downtown.

But … I cannot vote on it when it comes to a vote. My hope is that the city doesn’t back down from a proposal it will consider.

The bill will be hefty, more than $300 million. The Civic Center needs more convention space and the Cal Farley Coliseum needs a serious upgrade to accommodate more than truck/tractor pulls, hockey and arena football; OK, the coliseum occasionally hosts a concert … but those who’ve been inside understand the need for a serious upgrade.

As for the City Hall relocation, I am a bit torn on this one. One of my social media friends wondered the other day whether the recently vacated Amarillo Globe-News building at Ninth Avenue and Harrison Street might work. I answered him with a “Maybe.” I don’t know how the square footage in the G-N building compares with the current City Hall.

I also remember something that a former Amarillo mayor once said to me about the municipal headquarters. He called it the “ugliest City Hall complex in the United States.” I have to agree that the exterior of the building is pretty damn ugly.

Here’s another potential hiccup: The stone Earth on the municipal complex. How would the city relocate that, if it needed to be relocated? It was a gift to the city from the Globe-News as part of its Celebrate 2000 commemoration back at the turn of the 21st century.

Well, the city is considering a bond issue that I believe it should present to voters in a single package. All or nothing, man! It’s worth doing, in my humble view.

The city might schedule the bond election in May 2020. That would work, too. At least one chronic sorehead has pitched the idea of having it on Presidential Election Day, in November of next year. It shouldn’t matter.

If the city is going to bring maximum public attention to this needed project, residents ought to respond with a hefty vote total.

My only regret is that I cannot cast a vote in favor of this project.

Amarillo would be poised to reap the benefit of a shiny new Civic Center. Let the debate commence.