Tag Archives: DAI

Huge future awaits downtown Amarillo

I am beginning to believe I might have set the bar too low in seeking to project the future of downtown Amarillo, Texas and, by extension, the rest of the city.

The picture linked to this blog post is a rendition of what Hodgetown — the name of the new ballpark that is nearing completion — is going to look like. It is going to be the home for the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the AA minor league baseball team that begins its season on April 8 in the new venue.

I don’t get back to Amarillo as often these days. I have driven by Hodgetown and seen it taking shape along Buchanan Street just south of City Hall.

It looks like a fabulous venue.

So, what does it mean for the city? It means it will attract crowds of residents from throughout the Texas Panhandle into the downtown district. The crowds will watch the Sod Poodles play some baseball and then perhaps they’ll wander around the city center in search of a meal, or a beverage or some music.

Downtown Amarillo — like downtowns in cities throughout the nation — used to be retail centers. Department stores did business downtown. Residents flocked into downtown Amarillo to shop. Then came the arrival of those once-ubiquitous shopping malls. Westgate Mall opened on the far west side of Amarillo, attracting those department stores away from downtown.

The city’s downtown district is re-emerging in a new form. It’s going to be more of an entertainment district than it used to be. Take my word for it, the city’s downtown district has sprinted far from the pale ghost of a central district it was when my wife and I arrived in Amarillo in 1995.

How did that happen? In my view, it occurred when the city began investing public money in its downtown district. Amarillo had an organization called Downtown Amarillo Inc. that did a lot of the grunt work that prepared the city to move forward. DAI eventually dissolved. Center City has stepped up, along with a City Hall reorganization. Amarillo established a tax reinvestment zone that channels property tax appraised value back toward improvements inside that zone.

Downtown has continued to advance.

We have moved away. However, I am continuing to watch the city’s progress toward a future that looks even brighter than I envisioned just two years ago.

It’s a thrilling sight to see. I have said it before, but it bears repeating: Show me a thriving city in America and you’re likely to see a city with a thriving downtown district.

Yes on Barfield … what about the Herring?

A trip into downtown Amarillo, Texas, today brought to mind a question about the central district’s future.

If the Barfield Building — a seriously rotting hulk of a structure — can be targeted for renovation as a Marriott niche hotel, why can’t anyone come forward to revive an even more iconic structure, the Herring Hotel?

I am acutely aware that I am shooting from the hip, that there’s a lot about downtown redevelopment’s nuts and bolts that I don’t know.

I’m going to keep shooting, however.

I made the drive this morning down Third Avenue, past the Herring. I turned left on Polk Street and drove past the Barfield. As I looked at the Barfield’s busted windows and hideous exterior appearance, I thought immediately of the Herring, which looks at first (or even second) glance to be in better physical condition than the Barfield.

Robert Goodrich, a retired college professor of urban planning, has owned the Herring for quite a few years. He pays the taxes on it and seeks to find investors willing to sink some dough into reviving it. I’ve talked many times over the years to my friend Bob about the Herring. He is full of ideas and concepts. They include partial-use retail and apartment living plans.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am glad the Barfield might get a new lease on its long-abandoned life. It’s far from a done deal, even though a recent Amarillo Globe-News article on the Barfield offers encouragement to those who want to see the Barfield restored.

Many others, though, want the same thing for the Herring.

I’ve had the pleasure of walking through the ground floor of the Herring. I was working on a story for KFDA NewsChannel 10’s website when Goodrich took me on a tour of the building. I was stunned to note that the Herring is in relatively good condition. We didn’t walk into any of the upper floors. I’ve been told by city planners over the years that the Herring needs a lot of upgrading to bring it up to current building codes.

OK, now that I’ve emptied my rhetorical six-gun on the Herring, I am going to hope for the best, that my good pal Bob Goodrich — with some help from city economic planners — can restore what many Amarillo residents believe is a municipal treasure.

There is likely to be a time when virtually all of downtown Amarillo is shiny, new and vibrant. I cannot fathom the Herring Hotel standing alone forever as the city’s remaining multi-story eyesore.

What became of this Amarillo ‘movement’?

When you see the word “movement” attached to a political activity, you ought to get the feeling of a groundswell, an initiative with staying power.

I thought recently of a “movement” that surfaced in Amarillo in 2015. It was called the Amarillo Millennial Movement. Do you recall it, too? Good on ya if you do.

The AMM is gone. It vanished into thin air seemingly the moment that city voters in November 2015 approved a non-binding referendum calling for construction of the multipurpose event venue in downtown Amarillo.

Its co-founder was a young woman named Meghan Riddlespurger, who followed her friend and mentor Melissa Dailey to Fort Worth; Dailey was forced out as director of Downtown Amarillo Inc. When Dailey hit the road, the AMM’s co-founder hit the road with her.

The ostensible idea behind the AMM was to energize the city’s younger residents, to encourage them to stay in Amarillo rather than bolt for greener pastures, more opportunity, greater career choices. AMM got excited about the MPEV and a few of those young folks — their numbers aren’t exactly clear to me — became involved in the pro-MPEV campaign.

It’s troubling to me that AMM isn’t around today to relish the news that came out about the pending start of the 2019 Texas League baseball season, which will include an Amarillo-based team affiliated with the San Diego Padres of the National League.

The Local Government Corporation managed to finish the deal. The LGC persuaded the San Antonio Missions to come here in time for the 2019 season. The ballpark where they’ll play must be done on time for them to throw out the first pitch.

We’re focusing on the baseball element. The team that will play at the ballpark will be its primary tenant. There will be other events at the MPEV/ballpark. That’s what I always understood was the focus behind AMM’s mission, to generate youthful exuberance to attend the various other entertainment-related events at the venue.

Riddlespurger has spoken publicly about the negativity she experienced while leading this AMM effort. That was one major reason why she decided to leave Amarillo. Interesting, yes? She helps found an organization that urges young residents to stay home, then she bails on the city to pursue a career opportunity.

Hey, I don’t blame her for seeking to advance her own future.

The Amarillo Millennial Movement, though, is a “movement” in name only. AMM is no longer around to witness the culmination of its greatest political triumph.

My hope springs eternal. Perhaps another group can rise up and join the marketing effort that will be required to ensure that the MPEV/ballpark attracts the activity it must to make it worth the effort to build it

Municipal incumbents need to defend themselves

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David Swinford used to feign anger at me whenever I wrote a column insisting that state legislators — no matter how effective they were — deserved to be challenged every election cycle.

The Dumas Republican, who served in the Texas Legislature for several terms, usually would skate through without much opposition — although he did get a stout primary challenge late in his legislative career from Anette Carlisle, who now serves on the Amarillo College Board of Regents.

My only suggestion then was that all incumbents need to defend their record and it was up to challengers to make them do so.

Here we are in Amarillo, getting ready for the filing dates for our City Council. That rumble you hear around the city might be the sound of challengers getting ready to run against this five-person governing body.

We’ve seen the names of a couple of mayoral hopefuls. One of them belongs to Elisha Demerson, who currently serves on the council. Another name is Ginger Nelson, an economic development expert. The current mayor? Officially, Paul Harpole is undecided about seeking another term. I’m beginning to think he’s going to call it a municipal public service career.

What about the rest of the council. You have Randy Burkett and Mark Nair, two of the three change agents who were elected in May 2015. Nair also apparently is trying to decide whether to run again. Burkett seems a lock for another run.

Those two fellows clearly will need to defend themselves against challengers. They have some explaining to do, as does Demerson — the third new guy.

They engineered the departure of a competent city manager, Jarrett Atkinson. Then they brought in an interim manager, Terry Childers, who turned out to be, um, less than stellar; Childers is gone. There has been backbiting and needless bickering, causing Childers to bemoan what he called a “dysfunctional” atmosphere at City Hall. Atkinson wasn’t the only¬†senior city administrator to hit the road. City Attorney Marcus Norris resigned and Assistant City Manager Vicki Covey retired. All in all, City Hall’s level of expertise took a serious nosedive … rapidly!

Then came the departure of Melissa Dailey — apparently at Childers’ insistence — from her post as head of Downtown Amarillo Inc. I’m still puzzled over that move, given the demonstrable success that DAI had delivered in downtown’s ongoing revival.

The fifth council member, Lisa Blake, is new to her job. She was appointed by her colleagues to succeed Brian Eades, who quit the council when he moved out of state.

Does the council deserves a stout challenge? Do all five incumbents — whether they’re running for re-election or seeking another seat on the body, which Demerson might do — need to account for the actions they have taken during the past two years?

Absolutely! Without question!

Although I no longer am into predicting political outcomes, it does seem a pretty good bet — at least at this moment — that the City Council ballot is going to contain a healthy number of candidates. They will seek¬†to persuade voters that they are the best fits for the job of governing a city in midst of profound change.

Voters deserve choices. I’m hoping we get them as the municipal election cycle comes to a full boil.

Time flies at Amarillo City Hall

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Where does the time go?

A year has passed since the Amarillo municipal election occurred that seated three new City Council members.

It’s worth noting this month as the first anniversary, given that the final new guy — Mark Nair — had to win his seat in a runoff that occurred more than a month after the initial balloting.

I’ve tried to give the city the benefit of the doubt as the new folks have settled in.

I am left, though, to give them a mixed rating — at best.

I’ll stipulate up front that I am acquainted with just two of the new councilmen — Elisha Demerson, who I have known from a distance for many years, and Nair, who I only¬†met recently and with whom I had an¬†informative and cordial conversation. I have not yet met Randy Burkett, although I’ve been quite aware of his presence on the council.

What continues to trouble me is the discord that seems to have infected the council. There once was a time when the council sang in nearly perfect harmony on the big issues.

Granted, it wasn’t always pitch-perfect. The late Jim Simms was known to be a contrarian on occasion, as was the late Dianne Bosch in the late 1990s. They would make their objections known and then would back whatever decision the majority of their colleagues made.

That doesn’t seem to be the case these days.

The new guys took office and immediately began damning the performance of then-City Manager Jarrett Atkinson. One of them called for the termination of the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation board. Then came a temporary truce.

The truce came undone when Atkinson resigned. The council brought in Terry Childers to serve as interim city manager.

AEDC executive director Buzz David quit, as did City Attorney Marcus Norris. Assistant City Manager Vicki Covey retired. Other senior staffers bailed.

The council seated new members on the Local Government Corporation. One of the founders of the LGC, Richard Brown, walked away, taking with him a trove of experience at business development and promotion.

The director of Downtown Amarillo Inc., Melissa Dailey, also walked away from a job that had produced some stunning progress in the evolution of the downtown district.

What’s left? Who’s running the show?

Terry Childers will be gone eventually. He might get to hire a new police chief to replace Robert Taylor, who is retiring in just a few days.

Meantime, the City Council must choose a new council member to replace Dr. Brian Eades, who’s leaving town to set up a medical practice in rural Colorado. That selection process has been something of a cluster hump, too, with the council deciding how to handle some pithy and crass social media posts delivered by one of the finalists for the council appointment; there appears to be disagreement among them over the significance of those comments and whether they should be considered as the council ponders this decision.

Yes, we’ve seen considerable progress in the city.

Construction is proceeding on the Embassy Suites Hotel and the parking garage. Xcel Energy’s new office complex is well underway. The council has instructed the LGC to negotiate a deal to lure a Class Double A baseball franchise to Amarillo, where it will play ball in the ballpark¬†to be built across the street from City Hall.

The fate of the MPEV, though, might be in doubt if the council cannot learn to at leat pretend it is working together.

Not long ago, Mayor Paul Harpole stormed out of an executive session to protest what he said was a lack of “trust in the process” of selecting a new council member. Although I generally support the mayor on most policy matters, I am dismayed at the public pique he exhibited — and the message it might send beyond the city’s borders.

The three new council members vowed to bring “change” to City Hall. They brought it all right.

I won’t give up on them just yet.

However, my own patience is wearing a bit thin.

Let’s step it up, shall we?

Downtown mechanism needs attention

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A former colleague and dear friend, the late journalist Claude Duncan, used to say, “There¬†are about as many original ideas as there are original sins.”

That was his way of saying that it’s all right to capture others’ ideas and use them as your own.

I’ve heard some folks with expertise in civic development say out loud in Amarillo that they are concerned about the push to move the city’s downtown revival efforts forward. Chiefly, they wonder whether the machinery that had been set up to start the process has been dismantled too abruptly.

Here are some cases in point from those with whom I have spoken.

City Manager Jarrett Atkinson quit after determining he couldn’t work with the newly elected Amarillo City Council. City Hall also lost other key senior administrators, such as¬†City Attorney Marcus Norris and Assistant City Manager Vicki Covey. They all played a key part in administering the city’s Strategic Action Plan that laid the foundation for what has transpired to date.

Downtown Amarillo Inc. executive director Melissa Dailey quit as City Hall absorbed many of the economic development activities that had been left to DAI.

Amarillo Economic Development Corporation CEO and president Buzz David has left his post. He, too, has been a key player in moving the downtown processes forward.

The Local Government Corporation has said goodbye to a lot of intellectual firepower, such as Amarillo lawyer Richard Brown, who is widely considered to be the godfather of the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone that has helped breathe new life into the downtown district.

Where do we stand now?

The LGC is moving forward with plans to develop the multipurpose event venue and ballpark. It has decided to pursue an affiliated minor-league baseball franchise and put that team into the downtown ballpark when it is built.

Construction has begun on the Embassy Suites convention hotel and the parking garage across the street from it. There appears to be a legitimate chance for a big announcement soon relating to the future of the long-abandoned Herring Hotel.

The MPEV price tag has escalated from $32 million to something north of $50 million. Yes, voters approved the lesser price  when they endorsed the citywide referendum this past November. The LGC, though, has signed on to the double-A baseball recruitment effort and has accepted that it requires a little more money to finance it.

Against the backdrop, though, of the dismantling of the machinery that set this process up, it is fair to wonder whether the city and its affiliated agencies have the know-how to finish the job that others have started.

The city is looking for a permanent city manager. DAI’s future is cloudy at best. The AEDC’s mission might be reconfigured as the city looks for a new executive director.

Moreover, the City Council itself will have to find someone to succeed Dr. Brian Eades, who’s leaving office this summer. Eades has been a stellar champion of downtown’s revival efforts and has been a staunch supporter of the multi-faceted apparatus that has been so critical in moving those efforts along.

I remain hopeful that the city will be able to take this process to the finish line.

I also am getting mildly nervous about the potential hazards that lie ahead and whether the newly created apparatus will be alert enough to avoid them.

 

Seeing downtown Amarillo progress up close

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I ventured into downtown Amarillo this morning and saw a fairly dramatic sight.

Construction is well underway on three major parcels of property.

I had noted in an earlier blog about the view of those parcels from atop the Chase Tower.

Here it is.

However, as I made my way to keep an appointment with Potter County Sheriff Brian Thomas for a story I’m writing for KFDA NewsChannel 10, I was stunned to see how much¬†progress has occurred on those sites.

Traveling along Buchanan Street from south to north, I took note of these sites.

The Southwestern Public Service office complex that is now several stories high. The floors aren’t done. The crews have just framed them, but they’re now looming above the ground — with a huge construction crane towering over the project.

The parking garage lot has been leveled and is now full of building material.

The Embassy Suites convention hotel site perhaps was the most stunning of all. Crews have poured the concrete slab. The site is full of building materials. But rising from the ground is what looks like an elevator shaft, which means that the beginning of the building’s superstructure is beginning to take shape.

The multipurpose event venue site across the street hasn’t yet been disturbed, but its day is coming.

There’s a good news/bad news/better news sequence taking place.

The good news? The construction reveals a lot of vibrant activity downtown where there had been little for many years.

The bad news? Crews have had to close off east-west streets to keep traffic away from the construction work.

The better news? When it’s all done, downtown is going to look dramatically, spectacularly different — and better — than it does today.

I could not help but ponder as well this final thought.

Why in the world did the city feel the need to peel away economic development responsibilities from Downtown Amarillo Inc. — which has played a huge role in what’s transpiring downtown at this moment?

 

 

Timing creates strange juxtaposition

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The great baseball slugger Ted Williams used to say that “timing is everything” in hitting a baseball.

Thus, the timing of Amarillo’s announcement that it is filling some key administrative positions seems a bit curious.

Why? Well, the city just decided to absorb some key economic development duties, wresting them from Downtown Amarillo Inc., the non-profit agency that has developed a stellar track record in the revival of the city’s downtown district.

So, with the city still lacking individuals filling key administrative posts, it decided to bite off a huge chunk of responsibility from an agency that had been¬†led by someone who’s an expert in the duties that City Hall now wants to take on.

DAI executive director Melissa Dailey is out of the picture. She quit her job this past week on the day before the City Council voted to place those economic duties in the hands of City Hall staffers.

A friend of mine noted on social media today that DAI “is a lot better at that sort of thing. Too bad our City Council is too shortsighted to realize that.”

Yes, it does strike me as curious that the city — which lost its city manager, its assistant city manager, city attorney and utilities director all in the span of a few weeks — would seek to take on an enormous task that had been done so well by another agency.

It’s the timing, man.

 

City seeks ‘change,’ but to what end?

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I understand full well what Amarillo voters intended when they voted to revamp the majority on their governing City Council.

They sought “change.” They got it. Some of it has been constructive, some of it has been, well, non-constructive. I won’t say “destructive,” because nothing has been destroyed.

Now comes perhaps the most significant change yet: the de-coupling of the city from Downtown Amarillo Inc., the non-profit agency set up to spearhead downtown’s redevelopment.

I look from my perch in the peanut gallery and keep asking: Why mess with a formula that has brought us significant positive movement?

DAI will continue to exist. It won’t get city money. It will operate as an independent agency. At this moment, it doesn’t have an executive director; Melissa Dailey, who led DAI in that position, quit early this week on the eve of the City Council’s decision to cut the city’s ties with the agency.

She saw what was coming and wanted out.

But the question in my mind remains: Have we enacted change just for the sake of fulfilling some general campaign promise?

I look back on my 21 years living in Amarillo and I see significant improvement in the city’s downtown district.

Polk Street, once the hub of social life in Amarillo, has begun showing signs of life again. New office complexes have sprouted up. The historic Fisk Building was emptied out and then re-cast into a first-class hotel run by Marriott. Southwestern Public Service has begun construction on a new office complex. The Chase Tower, which once was a decaying skyscraper, has been remodeled and modernized. We’ve seen the completion of loft apartments.

Did all this happen by itself? Well, no.

DAI had a hand in some — if not most — of the improvements we’ve seen.

I haven’t yet met the new interim city manager. Terry Childers seems like a mature, forward-thinking individual with a proven record of success. He’ll be running the City Hall administrative show until the council finds a permanent manager.

My hope is that he knows what he’s doing by recommending all these changes.

My fear is that he and the rest of governing machinery have tossed aside a winning formula without knowing what will take its place.

I am pulling for hope to override fear.

 

DAI getting support from AMM

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Downtown Amarillo Inc.’s future might be getting a bit murky.

Why? Well, that’s what a political organization comprising some young Amarillo residents wants to know.

Amarillo Millennial Movement has posted a video proclaiming the successes that have occurred in downtown Amarillo since the founding of DAI.

See the video here.

The Amarillo City Council is considering some major reconfiguration of downtown’s redevelopment strategy. DAI might not figure nearly as prominently in future economic redevelopment efforts.

The council might move some of the economic redevelopment efforts directly into City Hall, which would reduce significantly DAI’s role in future efforts.

AMM’s video cites a number of successful projects that have begun or been completed while DAI — a non-profit agency — has been on the job.

The Fisk Building revival? New lofts along 10th Avenue? Park development near the Potter County Courthouse? New commercial development? Street improvements? Ground being broken for the new Embassy Suites Hotel and for the new parking garage?

AMM wants DAI to stay on the job and is using social media to lobby the City Council to keep the agency as a viable economic development tool.

I happen to agree with AMM’s request.

I am acutely aware of the criticism that DAI has drawn from some quarters here and there in the city. But as I look at how downtown has progressed over the past few years, I keep wondering: Precisely why is this agency being singled out?

City Councilman Brian Eades remains a strong proponent for DAI. He said the other day that DAI “has been more responsible for the success we’ve had than any other entity.” He added that DAI comprises “experts at this and they’ve done a good job.”

So, why the rush to change what appears to be a successful formula for guiding the city toward a brighter future?