Tag Archives: downtown Amarillo

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.

How do you measure success?

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I wrote an item nearly four years ago that projected good, even great, things for the city where I used to live.

My wife and I plan to return there soon on a brief stopover on our way to the Pacific Ocean. We will be hauling our RV behind our big ol’ pickup. I intend to take a quick look around Amarillo, Texas, just to see if my projection holds up.

I think it will. I certainly hope that is the case.

The blog I posted referred specifically to what was called the “MPEV,” which became an acronym for “multipurpose event venue.” The MPEV, when completed, took on the name of Hodgetown, which is in honor of former Mayor Jerry Hodge, who possesses one of the city’s deepest pockets, not to mention an abiding love of Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle.

When it’s built, MPEV will benefit entire city | High Plains Blogger

Hodge and many others worked hard to lure a AA baseball team to Amarillo. The community honored him by putting his name on the site known formerly as the MPEV.

The city continues to undergo a major facelift in its downtown district, or so I have been told. They’re going to open the Barfield Building — presumably soon — as a boutique hotel. Those of us who used to see the rotting hulk of a structure regularly are amazed at its transformation.

Interstates 40 and 27 are in the midst of major expansion and improvement. They’re installing a new and improved version of Loop 335 along the city’s western boundary.

So, yes, the city is trekking toward a future that remains a bit unclear. I do believe it will emerge from all this makeover a better place. It will be a more livable community … not that it was unlivable when my wife and I called it home.

That baseball team, the Sod Poodles, will open its 2021 season very soon after sitting out 2020 because of that damn COVID pandemic.

I intend to report back to you what I see upon our return to the Caprock.

Getting set to play ball

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

We have many friends in Amarillo, Texas, where we lived for two decades before relocating southeast to the Dallas ‘burbs.

Thus, it is with great pleasure that I join my friends — and baseball fans — as they prepare to start cheering for their beloved Amarillo Sod Poodles baseball team.

The Sod Poodles open their 2021 season next Tuesday in Tulsa, which if you think about it for a second is a most appropriate place to commence your second season in existence.

You see, the Sod Poodles came into being in time for the 2019 season and then they won the Texas League title. Where did they do that? In Tulsa, where they defeated the defending champs on their own field. The COVID pandemic wiped out the 2020 season, leaving the Sod Poodles to wait an extra season to defend their league title.

To be fair, the Texas League is now called the Central League. So the Sod Poodles won’t be defending precisely their pennant.

I am happy for my friends up yonder that they’ll now be able to return to the ballpark — aka Hodgetown — to cheer for their Double AA team.

The Sod Poodles’ home season opens May 18 when Midland rolls into town to play six games in a row at Hodgetown.

I have been cheering for the Sod Poodles from some distance. I realize that I no longer am able to attend games at Hodgetown.  Indeed, the park didn’t open until after we had departed the Caprock. That hasn’t dulled my interest in all the good things that have occurred in Amarillo since our departure.

The Sod Poodles’ initial-season success is just one of the things we’ve been cheering from afar.

With that, I will enjoy looking at the standings each day to see how the team from my former city of residence performs. I wish them well. I wish the fans — and our many friends — well, too, as cheer on the home team.

Old hotel site coming back to life?

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

One of my sons occasionally serves as my eyes and ears in Amarillo, Texas, where my wife and I lived for 23 years before we moved to the Metroplex.

He posted something today that piques my interest greatly: Well, I passed by the old Ambassador Hotel site today and noticed a banner for some construction and remodeling company on the fence. Could it be that someone is finally going to resurrect that place? About time!

Texas Panhandle residents might be interested in this little bit of news. You see, the Ambassador Hotel once was the place to see and be seen. It was that place when my wife and I arrived in Amarillo back in early 1995. It was located on Interstate 40 and served as a way station for motorists traveling through the city, not to mention for artists who performed in Amarillo or just those artists who were passing through. It served as a meeting place for conventions.

It closed its doors a few years ago after going through some changes in names and ownership. It has been laying fallow ever since.

Now, according to my watchdog son, someone has posted some signage on the property, preparing to resurrect the structure.

This is a good thing for the city. Yes, there has been an enormous hotel construction boom along the I-40 corridor for many years. None of the hotels, as near as I have been able to see, has provided the kind of “full service” that was available at The Ambassador.

With all the commercial and entertainment activity that has sprung up downtown, it appears our former city of residence is getting new life pumped into an old structure that once was the place to go.

Who knows? It might retrieve some of its old glory.

Sod Poodles to play ball?

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

This message ought to be directed to the couple of Amarillo soreheads who have chastised me for commenting on the city’s minor league baseball team because I no longer live in the Texas Panhandle.

My strong hope is that the Amarillo Sod Poodles will play ball this spring and summer. My stronger hope is to be able to watch the Sod Poodles play hardball, although it is not likely I’ll be able to do so at Hodgetown.

I won’t give up on the notion of attending a Sod Poodles game at the downtown Amarillo ballpark. The greater likelihood will be that I will watch ’em and yell for ’em while sitting in the Frisco Roughriders park, which is a whole lot closer to our home in Princeton.

I had intended to attend a Roughriders game vs. the Soddies in 2020. Then the pandemic wiped out the Texas League season. The Sod Poodles couldn’t defend the league title they won in their initial season in 2019.

A new season well might commence in a few months. I am awaiting the shout to “play ball!”

We have friends who attend ballgames regularly … when they’re playing ball. If we get an invitation to join them when the Sod Poodles come to the Metroplex, we’ll accept.

We might not wait for the invitation. I truly am looking forward to watching the team that has created all the buzz in the Texas Panhandle.

‘Trash,’ you say? Why, I never …

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I feel the need to share a message I received from someone in Amarillo, Texas, who apparently believes I shouldn’t comment on matters relating to the city I once called home.

I won’t tell you his name, since he sent the message to me privately. I responded privately as well, telling him he was full of feces … except that I used a more descriptive term that means the same thing.

He wrote me this message: Your writings about the Sod Poodles is (sic) trash. You don’t live here so you can stop writing about stuff here. I figured by the way you look you would be a Biden fan.

Well, excuse me, buster!

I have taken to  writing about the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the city’s new Double-A minor league baseball team because (a) I believe the team brings a lot of pizzazz to the city and (b) the city has invested a lot of actual and emotional capital in reviving its downtown district and the Sod Poodles are a big part of that revival.

I am not sure what my correspondent has read that would anger him so much. It’s not as though I have been trashing the Sod Poodles. On the contrary I’ve been cheering them on every step of the way. I applauded the team for winning the Texas League title in 2019 in the Sod Poodles’ first season ever. Granted, they weren’t an expansion team; they relocated to Amarillo after vacating San Antonio, so the team was an established entity in the Texas League.

Moreover, I have cheered the construction of Hodgetown, the Soddies’ new ballpark that was erected downtown. If I have one concern about the project it has been the absence of any businesses buying retail space in the parking garage the city built next to Hodgetown. The park itself is a thing of beauty. Granted, I haven’t yet attended a ballgame there, but I have seen it up close on visits to Amarillo. Hodgetown is a beaut, man!

I am not sure what my correspondent’s assessment of my political leaning has to do with anything. I guess he was just looking for something else to sling at me. Whatever.

My goal is to continue to comment on matters relating to Amarillo. I still have a member of my family living there. My wife and I spent many years there and grew to love the community.

That qualifies me as someone who is fit to comment on matters that I deem appropriate. So … there.

What’s next for Civic Center?

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I guess there’s just no pleasing some folks.

My former neighbors in Amarillo griped about the alleged lack of attention the city was giving to its Civic Center while it was plotting the construction of the ballpark that would be named Hodgetown.

Then when they get a chance to approve a $275 million bond issue to, um, enhance the Civic Center and help the city attract conventions and top-tier entertainment events … what do they do? They vote it down!

Hmm. I guess the size of the tax bill attached to Prop A got to them. They must not want to spend public money on public venues to improve public entertainment and business activities.

Go figure, man.

Amarillo long has boasted one of Texas’s lowest municipal tax rates. I guess for now it’s going to stay that way.

Meanwhile, the Civic Center still needs improvement.

Who in the name of civic responsibility is going to pay for it?

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?

Defending against ‘negativity’

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I feel a strange need to defend myself against what I perceive to be a misconstruing of some previous blog posts.

The subject at hand would be the Amarillo Sod Poodles, Amarillo’s Class AA baseball team that had its second season in existence shelved by the coronavirus pandemic.

I wrote a blog post the other day wishing the Sod Poodles well as they prepare for the 2021 Texas League season. A reader of the blog thanked me for the positive vibe and said previous blogs weren’t so positive.

Hmm. I got to thinking: When have I been a Negative Ned regarding the Sod Poodles?

https://highplainsblogger.com/?s=Sod+Poodles

What I have just posted is a series of previous blog posts regarding the team, about its success, about my desire for the Sod Poodles to do well.

This fellow isn’t the first to suggest I have been “too negative” about the Sod Poodles. I can think of three or maybe four critics who have accused me of excessive negativity.

Well, I don’t get it.

I don’t live in Amarillo any longer. My wife and I gravitated to the Metroplex in 2018. We have set up a new home in a Dallas suburb. We are happy and content. I do keep up with Amarillo and Texas Panhandle news, though. I have managed stay abreast of the Sod Poodles’ success and their journey through their wildly successful initial Texas League season … the one that produced a league championship. 

Amarillo comprised a large part of our life’s journey. We lived there longer than anywhere else during our 49 years of marriage. We built a home there. We enjoyed successful careers.

Then we retired and moved on. I have been a huge supporter of downtown Amarillo’s progress and was thrilled to the max to see the city build a ballpark that they named Hodgetown. To be candid, the name “Sod Poodles” didn’t exactly bowl me over when I saw it on the list of finalist names. Then it grew on me … and I have said so, repeatedly.

Negativity? I don’t see it.

There. Now I feel better.

Growing city needs strong newspaper

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I was speaking the other day to a member of my family; we were talking about two issues simultaneously: the growth and maturation of Amarillo, Texas, and the long, slow and agonizing demise of the newspaper that formerly served the community.

It occurred to me later that both trends work at cross purposes. I find myself asking: How does a community grow and prosper without a newspaper telling its story?

That is what is happening in Amarillo, I told my family member.

The city’s downtown district is changing weekly. New businesses open. The city is revamping and restoring long dilapidated structures. Amarillo has a successful minor-league baseball franchise playing ball in a shiny new stadium in the heart of its downtown district.

The city’s medical complex is growing, adding hundreds of jobs annually. Pantex, the massive nuclear weapons storage plant, continues its work. Bell/Textron’s aircraft assembly plant continues to turn out V-22 Ospreys and other rotary-wing aircraft. Streets and highways are under repair and improvement.

Amarillo is coming of age. Its population has exceeded 200,000 residents.

What, though, is happening to the media that tell the story of the community? I can speak only of the newspaper, the Amarillo Globe-News, where I worked for nearly 18 years before walking away during a corporate reorganization of the newspaper. The company that owned the G-N for more than 40 years sold its group of papers … and then got out of the newspaper publishing business. It gave up the fight in a changing media market.

The newspaper’s health has deteriorated dramatically in the years since then. Two general assignment reporters cover the community. That’s it. Two! The paper has zero photographers and a single sports writer.

The paper is printed in Lubbock. It has a regional executive editor who splits her time between Amarillo and Lubbock and a regional director of commentary who does the same thing.

There exists, therefore, a serious dichotomy in play in a growing and increasingly vibrant community. I see the contradiction in the absence of a growing and vibrant newspaper that tells the whole story about what is happening in the community it is supposed to cover.

Spare me the “it’s happening everywhere” canard. I get that. I have seen it. None of that makes it any easier to witness it happening in a community I grew to love while I worked there. I built a home there and sought to offer critical analysis of the community from my perch as editor of the Globe-News editorial page.

I do not see that happening these days.

Meanwhile, Amarillo continues to grow and prosper. If only it had a newspaper on hand to tell its story to the rest of the world.