Tag Archives: Downtown Amarillo Inc.

This is not just an urban pipe dream

FORT WORTH — Gideon Toal …

That name came to mind today as we approached Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth. I now shall explain what that is and why it’s relevant.

Gideon Toal is the name of a Fort Worth-based urban planning outfit that Amarillo officials enlisted when they began discussing the notion of reviving the Texas Panhandle city’s downtown district.

The thought at the time, as I recall it, was that if Gideon Toal could bring some of the creativity to Amarillo, then the city could adopt those ideas and apply them to whatever master plan the city fathers and mothers could develop.

We went to Fort Worth today to look around and soak up the atmosphere of the city’s downtown district. It had been a good while since my wife and I ventured into downtown Cow Town. It is the day after Christmas and it was fairly quiet today. However, I was blown away, as I was the first time I came here, with the enormous variety of cultural opportunities around virtually every corner surrounding Sundance Square.

Then the thought occurred to me: Is this kind of atmsophere — on a scaled-down version — even possible in Amarilo, which is in the midst of its downtown revival?

Scaled down? Yes. Amarillo’s population is peeking over the 200,000-resident mark; Fort Worth’s census is something well north of 800,000. What’s more, Fort Worth is one of two major anchor communities of the Metroplex, which has a metro-area population exceeding 7 million residents.

Melissa Dailey, the former head of Downtown Amarillo Inc., enlisted Gideon Toal way back when. She left DAI eventually and moved to Fort Worth. I’ve lost touch with her. However, the idea of hiring an organization with a demonstrated record of success was an inspired choice.

I have argued on this blog in favor of what the city is trying to achieve with its downtown district. I applaud the incentives it has employed to get private businesses to do business downtown. The payoffs are presenting themselves routinely, with hotels, dining establishments, the championship AA baseball team and assorted forms of boutique retail business coming into the downtown district.

As we walked around Sundance Square and along some of the streets adjacent to it, I got a sense of a certain type of familiarity. I have heard from my friends in Amarillo that they want to see the city turn its downtown district into something similar to what has been born in Fort Worth.

And no, I don’t mean identical. Amarillo cannot duplicate what Fort Worth has developed. It can adapt some form of it to fit its own level of resource.

My hope for Amarillo is that it keeps Fort Worth in mind as it moves forward on its downtown revival track. They have hit a home run in Cow Town.

Downtown Amarillo Inc.: What happened to it?

As I continue to watch from some distance the evolution of downtown Amarillo, I cannot help but think of an individual and an organization that helped kickstart the city’s downtown district’s rebirth into something quite different from what it had been allowed to become.

The individual is Melissa Dailey. The organization is Downtown Amarillo Inc. Dailey once ran DAI. Then she got sideways with the City Council. Dailey resigned from her DAI post and eventually left Amarillo for Fort Worth. DAI then was swallowed up by other municipal entities that took over the organization’s role of masterminding the city’s downtown rebirth/revival/renovation/reinaissance.

I had resigned from the Amarillo Globe-News by the time much of this change occurred. So I wasn’t as plugged in as I had been prior to my departure from the world of daily journalism. I acknowledge a few holes in my memory of what precisely went down.

Dailey had critics in the city. Some of the then-newly elected City Council members didn’t like the way she handled DAI’s business.

But as I take the long view looking back over the span of time since Amarillo’s urban rebirth gained traction, I am left with this thought: Much of the progress we’re witnessing in the city began on Melissa Dailey’s watch as head of Downtown Amarillo Inc.

Were there some missteps? You bet. DAI took part in the hiring of an outfit based in Sugarland, a Houston suburb, that was supposed to oversee the overall management of the downtown effort. Wallace Bajjali fell apart quite literally when the principal owners parted company with each other, thus dissolving the company. There were reports of malfeasance in other communities that had bought into Wallace Bajjali’s grand promise of economic revival; they suffered serious financial harm. To my knowledge, Amarillo had managed to protect its interests sufficiently to avoid any financial liability when the company vanished into thin air.

The city has recovered from potential catastrophe and it has moved on. It has taken control of its own downtown management. They’ve got that ballpark, a minor-league baseball franchise, Polk Street revival, an ongoing hotel renovation of the old Barfield Building, new urban housing, businesses relocating and springing up throughout the core district, a new downtown West Texas A&M University campus ‚Ķ and some other things, too!

As for Melissa Dailey, someone I admit to not knowing well, I sense she is sort of a forgotten principal in the city’s effort to revive itself.

Perhaps one day when the city’s history is written and its downtown revival efforts are chronicled for posterity, Dailey will get the credit I believe she deserves for helping lead the city out of the downtown wilderness into a future that continues to look brighter with each completed project.

Downtown progress promotes optimism

Pollyanna or pragmatist?

I’ve wrestled a little bit with those conflicting notions for some time as I ponder the fate of downtown Amarillo.

I have used this blog as a tool to support efforts to revive the city’s downtown business/entertainment district. Yes, there have been some rough patches on that journey and there might be some more on the road ahead.

Through it all — and into the future — I’m going to continue to speak well of the efforts I’ve seen bear fruit already throughout Amarillo’s business district. Yes, I intend to look critically at decisions that might deter further harvesting of that fruit.

Some of my social media friends say they applaud my “optimism,” but keep raising doubts about the motives of the principal players involved.

They refer to allegations that real estate developers over-valued an abandoned downtown building that’s soon to become an urban campus for West Texas A&M University. Some¬†keep bringing back the sour memory of that general development firm — the infamous Wallace Bajjali, which used to be headquartered in the Houston area.

I acknowledge being snookered by the snake oil peddled by David Wallace, one of the principal partners in that firm. He came to the Amarillo Globe-News and made an impassioned pitch that he and his partner, Costa Bajjali, were in business to improve communities. Wallace said something at the time that stuck with me: It was that he didn’t build a successful company by betraying the communities¬†he served.

Eventually, WB went south. The one-time best friends split in a bitter dispute. The company vaporized. Another city that had invested heavily in the firm, Joplin, Mo., was left in the lurch. Amarillo, though, came out of that nastiness in relatively good shape.

The city has continued its march forward — without Wallace Bajjali.

Through it all, I’ve sought to lend support through this blog.

Am I a Pollyanna? I don’t believe so. But I am seeing some progress here that is beginning to resemble — on a smaller scale, of course — what I witnessed in my hometown of Portland, Ore.

Portland has developed an urban oasis in its downtown district. It didn’t happen overnight. It did occur, though, thanks to some vision by a young mayor who didn’t want the city to expand its highway network.

In the early 1970s, the mayor — Neil Goldschmidt — fought against construction of a freeway through the southeast portion of the city. He said the city instead should invest in public transportation aimed at building the downtown district.

The freeway wasn’t built. The city instead invested in its¬†mass transit system into an urban model for other cities to emulate. It’s downtown district thrived.

I also should point out that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Portland’s entrenched political¬†establishment was as risk-averse as many are here in Amarillo. That aversion to risk, though, changed over time as the city began to transform itself.

Does this kind of effort translate precisely to what’s happening in Amarillo? No. Our city’s evolution has taken another form, although it, too, is a process that hasn’t been tried until now.

Amarillo has sought to focus its efforts on reviving the downtown district. It created some political infrastructure to make it happen. It formed Downtown Amarillo Inc. The city’s economic development corporation has been aggressive in promoting the downtown district. The city created a tax increment reinvestment zone that sets aside tax money earned from property value appreciation within that zone.

It created a strategic action plan. It proposed construction of a multipurpose event venue — aka “a ballpark” — downtown. The MPEV project has yet to begin. But it should. It must.

Private investors plunked down some serious dough to build a convention hotel, on which construction is now well underway — as is a parking garage.

Oh, and as luck would have it, Xcel Energy decided to vacate the Chase Tower and move into a shiny new office complex that’s also going up at this very moment.

Change is happening downtown and as I’ve believed for as long as I’ve lived here — more than 21 years — the entire city will flourish once its downtown starts to flourish.

I’m seeing evidence of it now.

Am I a Pollyanna for wishing nothing but the best for the city where we live? Well, I’m keeping my eyes wide open. The fiasco that developed with David Wallace’s empty promise has taught many of us a stern lesson.

I do, though, remain an unapologetic optimist as Amarillo’s core continues to strengthen and grow.

DAI and city part company . . . why?

amadt_main01_r

A whole lot of things go way beyond my ability to understand.

I don’t get Donald Trump’s continuing presence at the top of polls gauging the Republican presidential primary; I don’t understand how scientists are able to calculate when Earth is closest to Mars.

Nor do I understand why Amarillo City Hall and Downtown Amarillo Inc. have said “goodbye” to each other.

DAI executive director Melissa Dailey quit her job on Monday. On Tuesday, the Amarillo City Council ended its financial relationship with the non-profit organization. There will continue to be some kind of relationship, although it’s still to be determined.

I have to ask: How come? Why end a partnership that so far has produced significant movement in the revival of the city’s downtown business district, with more projects yet to come?

Council members spoke well of Dailey and all that occurred on her watch at DAI.

So, then the council decides to end its financial ties to the agency. Interim City Manager Terry Childers spoke of a “new phase” of downtown redevelopment.

I look around the central business district and I see plenty of work that’s already been done. New business has sprouted up. The Fisk Building has been turned into a first-class business hotel.

We’ve got those three huge projects — Embassy Suites, a parking garage, and the SPS office complex — under construction.

I drove to Fritch this morning and sped past the new Coca-Cola distribution center at the business park where relocated from downtown. The old site? It’s going to make way for a downtown ballpark.

All this happened on DAI’s watch . . . on Melissa Dailey’s watch.

She’s gone. DAI’s future now is limbo. City Councilman Randy Burkett referred to it possibly going away in the near future.

Why is the City Hall brass monkeying around with a successful formula for creating a resurgent downtown?

 

 

Downtown’s future takes a hit

downtownamarilloinc1

They’re messing with an agency with a mission to improve downtown Amarillo’s fortunes.

Just the other day came word that interim Amarillo City Manager Terry Childers is considering moving some of Downtown Amarillo Inc.’s economic development duties to an office in City Hall.

My question then was: Why mess with success, given all the good that has happened downtown while DAI has been on task?

Now comes the latest boulder to get tossed into the machinery. DAI executive director Melissa Dailey has resigned.

I’ll admit that I’m not privy to Dailey’s reasoning, but the timing of her resignation — which the DAI board accepted unanimously — suggests some relationship to what the city manager is considering.

DAI board president John Lutz said¬†that downtown’s future is “bigger than one person.” Fair enough.

Still, this isn’t good news for the city.

I’m not entirely clear about all the issues surrounding Dailey’s tenure at DAI. I’d heard some of the grumbling from those who blame Dailey directly for the Wallace Bajjali fiasco. Yes, Wallace Bajjali turned out to be all hat and no cattle with regard to downtown revival efforts here, but the breakup of the master development company didn’t bankrupt the city.

The two company principals had a huge falling out. One of them, David Wallace, has filed for personal bankruptcy. So they’re gone. Good riddance.

Has downtown’s movement slowed? No. Does DAI deserve to be castigated over the work that’s been done so far? Hardly. It has done well — and so has Dailey. The proof can be seen throughout the downtown district.

However, the non-profit agency now appears to be a target. My strong hunch is that Dailey didn’t want to become collateral damage if the city decides to revamp DAI’s mission.

The city is messing with success.

 

DAI getting support from AMM

downtownamarilloinc1

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?

 

Matney gets fired up about MPEV

matney

It’s next to impossible to listen to Paul Matney make the case for whatever project¬†on his radar and not feel some sense of buy-in.

I’ve known Matney for as long as I’ve lived in Amarillo. That’s more than 20 years. I have listened to his pitch for Amarillo College, which he led as president until he retired a year ago. His AC spiel was polished, passionate and on-point.

Matney has turned that passion now to a Nov. 3 non-binding referendum facing Amarillo voters. You’ve heard about it, yes?

It’s the multipurpose event venue, which is part of the three-pronged “catalyst project” that’s been developed for the city’s downtown business district.

Matney broke out of his chains today while speaking to the Rotary Club of Amarillo.

The MPEV includes the much-discussed “ballpark.” The ballot measure asks voters if they want the MPEV built as it’s been presented.

Matney’s view? Not just yes, but hell yes! (OK, he didn’t say it quite that way, but that was the message.)

It’s a $45 million project, combined with a parking garage. The city will issue revenue bonds to pay for the MPEV construction and will retire the debt with hotel occupancy tax revenue collected by visitors who come to Amarillo.

City¬†and business leaders are breaking ground Friday on a $45 million convention hotel to be built downtown; the developer of the Embassy Suites is footing the bill for the hotel’s construction … and that, too, got Matney’s juices flowing today.

Matney believes in the MPEV and predicted that its construction will put Amarillo on the “baseball radar” for an organization looking to locate a team. Oh, but what’s wrong with the Potter County-owned ballpark at the fairgrounds? Matney didn’t say it precisely, but I’ll say it here: It’s a dump.

Matney did say that Potter County shouldn’t spend another nickel on improvements to that stadium. Amen to that, Mr. President.

Matney presented his brief remarks as someone “who was born here, educated here, lives here, worked in higher education here, has retired here, will die here and will be buried here.”

The MPEV, he said, could play host to a wide variety of events that could attract thousands of folks into the downtown district.

So, the campaign for and against the MPEV will continue. I’ve known Paul Matney to be a man of high integrity and honor.

The political organization that he has joined to support passage of the referendum could not have found a better spokesman for this worthy project.

As he noted in talking about Xcel Energy’s own plans to build a new office complex downtown and the company’s struggle to replace key employees who are reaching retirement age. “Xcel is struggling to find people to fill those spots,” Matney said, “so this is a quality-of-life issue.”

Melissa Dailey, the head of Downtown Amarillo Inc., had to walk the straight and narrow in her remarks to the Rotary Club about the MPEV. As a public employee, she is limited to speaking only about the facts. No campaigning  allowed, right, Ms. Dailey?

That’s fine. She turned it over to Paul Matney who — as a “civilian” — is allowed to speak from the heart.

He did so today.

 

DAI getting the political ‘boot’

amarillo downtown

Downtown Amarillo Inc. is becoming a political football.

I’m not sure it’s as durable as the pigskin that gets kicked around on the field of competition.

The individuals kicking DAI around are members of the Amarillo City Council. Three of those members — a majority — dislike the panel dedicated to helping improve the future and the fortunes of the city’s downtown business district.

The other two support DAI fully.

My own preference would be for DAI to remain on the books, working hand in hand with the council and business interests and seeking to move downtown’s future forward.

City Councilman Randy Burkett wants to eliminate DAI. He has said some highly critical things about it.

Councilman Mark Nair proposed the other evening for a three-month waiting period and then an evaluation of how DAI is doing its job. Mayor Paul Harpole — one of the two council members who supports DAI’s effort — said three months doesn’t give DAI enough time to do anything substantial.

But then came Elisha Demerson, who said it is folly to “cut off the head” if DAI fails “to hit the mark.”

DAI presents a valuable asset to the city’s downtown planning efforts. However, DAI foes keep bringing up the specter of the failed master developer, Wallace Bajjali, and its role in downtown development — before it vaporized.

Wallace Bajjali no longer plays a role in anything, let alone in Amarillo’s march forward.

The city will decide on Nov. 3 the future of its proposed multipurpose event venue in a non-binding referendum. It is about to break ground on the new Embassy Suites downtown convention hotel. Xcel Energy has begun building its new multi-story office complex.

Plenty of positive events are unfolding in¬†downtown Amarillo to justify the planning that’s being done by DAI.

It need not become a political football.

 

MPEV ballot language becomes an issue

ballpark

Amarillo voters are going to decide a non-binding ballot measure that says the following:

“Should the multipurpose event venue (MPEV) to be constructed in downtown Amarillo include a baseball stadium at the approximate cost of $32 million? A ‘for’ vote would be in favor of including a baseball stadium in the project; a ‘no’ vote would be against having a baseball stadium as part of the MPEV.”

The ballot measure language, as I read it, appears to be quite restrictive.

But if you’ll allow me this tiny bit of nitpicking, the ballot measure’s language also is a bit imprecise. The opposite of a “for” vote would be an “against” vote, not a “no” vote.

But I digress …

The ballpark element has become the focal point of the discussion on the MPEV. Indeed, the MPEV proposal exists because of the ballpark.

MPEV ballot measure

So, if we are to believe that a vote against the MPEV doesn’t doom the project, we are being told that the MPEV has a secret component that someone is going to unveil if the measure goes down in the Nov. 3 election.

I happen to support the MPEV and I will vote “for” the project when Election Day rolls around. I believe in the ballpark aspect of the MPEV and I also believe that the venue can be used for a wide variety of events — not just baseball games.

The language used in the ballot measure quite clearly appears to the work of those on the City Council — comprising a majority of the governing body — who oppose the MPEV. They dislike the ballpark; they oppose the manner in which the project was developed; they want the city to go in another direction than the one it has taken in its effort to rebuild, revive and renew its downtown district.

That’s their call.

The ballot measure as it is written, though, must be seen for what it is: an effort to torpedo a project cobbled together over a period of several years by elected and appointed city officials and residents of this community.

If there is a Plan B, then let’s see it … now.

 

Will they ever start busting up some cement?

Potter County is on board, finally, with a plan that is supposed to get downtown Amarillo’s rebirth started. Maybe. Eventually. Or will it ever get done?

http://www.connectamarillo.com/news/story.aspx?id=1061498#.U6jrcFJOWt8

County commissioners voted 3-2 Monday to grant a 10-year tax abatement for the Coca-Cola distribution plant, which will relocate to a business park near Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

Now construction can begin — one should hope — on a new ballpark downtown that will go where the current Coke distribution plant is located.

Given the closeness of the vote on the commission, one understands the contentiousness of this issue.

City planners had hoped, I’m guessing, to be a lot farther along on this project than they have gotten.

The County Courthouse project is done; the city has rebuilt some curbs at intersections; it has knocked down the old jail; it has welcomed a downtown business hotel in the old Fisk Building; a new convenience store has opened up across the street from a new bank complex.

But the Big Three of the downtown redevelopment effort — the stadium, parking garage and a new convention hotel — haven’t yet begun. It’s been more than three years since the city signed the deal with the Wallace-Bajjali development firm to spearhead a $113 million project that is supposed to occur with a single dime of public tax money being spent.

Officials connected to the project keep saying they have a lot i’s to dot and t’s to cross. It’s complicated, we’re told.

I’m as anxious as anyone else to see the downtown project move forward. However, I’m getting a little nervous about the time it’s taken to line up all the elements.

I’m ready to start seeing some pavement being busted up downtown.