Tag Archives: downtown hotel

Barfield Building gets another look … maybe

I would love to cheer this bit of news regarding a long-standing downtown Amarillo eyesore.

I’m afraid I have to hold back the hoo-rah. You see, we’ve been down this path before — many times before, in fact.

The owners of the Barfield Building — at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Polk Street — have hired a Dallas architectural firm and will be seeking tax credits to help finance a project to turn the building into a downtown hotel. They’re looking at using the Barfield’s historical significance as a lure for the credits; they cite the Fisk Building’s conversion into a downtown hotel using about $16 million in tax credits.

Does any of this sound familiar regarding the Barfield Building? It should.

The building was erected in the late 1920s. It’s been vacant since the early 1990s. Its prior owner, Todd Harmon, couldn’t get anything done. Another investor, Tom Pauken, took ownership. He then handed it off to a local investment consortium. Now the current owners have enlisted the help of a firm to develop plans.

As I read the news report about the Barfield, I see words like “plans” and “hopeful.” I translate that kind of language into “pipe dream.”

Barfield may get aid

Don’t misconstrue my sentiments. I would applaud the renovation of the Barfield Building were it to come to fruition. Any effort to restore an old structure and return it to something of actual value is going to benefit the city.

However …

Have you seen the Barfield Building — lately? A construction team years ago managed to tear out the ground floor. Then work stopped. They boarded up the place to keep transients from using it as shelter.

We’ve hit starts and stops. Building owners and investors have come and gone. I’ve witnessed much of this during the 22 years I’ve lived in Amarillo.

I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m not yet ready to climb aboard this bandwagon. At least not yet.

Early vote numbers for MPEV election … way up!

early voting

The early indications from both sides of the line dividing Randall and Potter counties in Amarillo are encouraging … I hope.

Early voting for the Nov. 3 election is way up over what it was for the municipal elections this past May. I’m quite sure the Texas constitutional amendment proposals aren’t pulling voters to the polls in the early balloting.

What’s more, the 3,063 voters who cast ballots during the first two days is just a shade less than the 3,151 who voted in the first two days of early voting in the 2014 general election — when we were voting for governor.

The multipurpose event venue is pulling voters to the polls.

Is that a good thing? Well, I hope it is.

And by “good,” I hope that means that those who support the MPEV as it’s been presented are turning out. Do I know who’s turning out? Of course not.

Me? I ain’t voting until Nov. 3, which is Election Day. I hate early voting. I prefer to wait until the last minute.

Back to issue at hand.

The early vote totals should bode well for the pro-MPEV side. I count myself among them. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking. Then again, when I say “should,” I am not necessarily predicting that’s what happening, but instead hoping for what I want to happen.

I’ve been trying to parse through all the arguments for and against the MPEV. I’ve heard the skeptics, the naysayers, the conspiracy theorists. I have sought to examine the issue inside, outside, forward and back.

I keep coming back to this conclusion:

We’re hoping to build a $32 million venue that includes a ballpark in downtown Amarillo; the money will be paid back with hotel/motel tax revenue generated by out-of-town visitors; a hotel developing is plunking down $45 million of investors’ money to build a four-diamond hotel; we’re hoping to build a parking garage with revenue bonds that also will be repaid with hotel/motel tax money.

Property taxes will not increase.

This is a classic public-private partnership that’s seen success throughout the nation. Amarillo’s civic and political leadership has not reinvented the wheel with this project. It’s merely done something new … for Amarillo!

I see virtually no downside to this project. I’ve been on board since the beginning and I have grown weary of the cynics who just know it isn’t going to work.

How do they know it? They just do.

I am going to put my faith in the hard work that’s been done to date.

Furthermore, I am going to continue to hope that the pro-MPEV political action groups have done their spade work and have mounted a massive get-out-the-vote effort that well might be showing itself in these impressive early-vote totals.

As Paul Matney, co-chair of Vote FOR Amarillo, said the other day, the early vote will set the trend. When the city spits out those first early-vote numbers on Election Day after the polls close, we’ll know where the MPEV is headed.

I’m hoping for the best.


Can city return to semblance of calm?

Now that the knee-jerk faction of the Amarillo City Council has gotten its scolding out of the way, it appears the city can return to conducting business and moving ahead with some ambitious plans intended to improve everyone’s outlook and perhaps even their economic well-being.

The council had intended to take City Manager Jarrett Atkinson to task for things not entirely specified. Instead, it decided to table that talking-to. It’s now going to wait until next January, when Atkinson’s normal job performance review is scheduled.

It also had planned to seek the resignation of the entire Amarillo Economic Development Corporation board, which when you think about it is an even goofier idea. The council took that idea off the table altogether.

So, where do we stand?

I hope we stand on firmer footing than it appeared when the final of the three new council members took his oath and then that same day called for Atkinson’s resignation.

A lot is riding at this moment on Amarillo’s political stability.

We’ve got this downtown project to consider. There’s a number of projects all linked together that need to happen. The multipurpose event venue should be built; the city is negotiating a little more with a hotel developer to build a downtown convention hotel; and we have this parking garage under consideration.

No MPEV, no hotel. Neither of those two things, no parking garage.

The $90-some-million project is worthwhile. It’s concept is sound. It would turn Amarillo’s downtown district into a place worthy of the city residents’ pride.

Assistant City Manager Vicki Covey already has retired; City Attorney Marcus Norris has resigned and is slated now to “pursue other interests.”

To toss out the city manager and the entire AEDC board now would be foolish in the extreme.

I hope it doesn’t happen. I trust now that council members will have told Atkinson what they expect of him and if Atkinson intends to stay on the job, I also expect he has agreed to do what they have requested.

Let’s give this entire process some time and careful study before plowing ahead with the “change” that some folks think was mandated by the May 9 municipal election.

Are we clear now on downtown plans?

Well, that explains it, correct?

Amarillo officials teamed up with business and civic leaders to go through downtown’s revival plans in minute detail. They explained a lot, answered questions, heard gripes and compliments. Roughly 300 residents gathered at the Civic Center’s Heritage Room to hear it all.

End of debate? Not even close.

Now, for the record, I wasn’t one of the attendees; work commitments kept me from going downtown to hear the pitch and to watch the reaction. I cannot comment specifically on the details of the hearing. Having stipulated all of that, I’ll now tell you that I continue to scratch my head over this notion that the city is somehow conducting all this stuff in secret.

I’ve looked at some of the online comments posted on Amarillo.com; I still am amazed.

The downtown project needs a couple of starters to keep it going. One of them is that multipurpose events venue, aka MPEV and/or “the ballpark.” Without the MPEV, there likely will be no downtown hotel, which would be built and operated by a Dallas-based hotelier. Without the hotel and the MPEV, there’s no parking garage.

The project would be done.

And yet …

Some folks in high places think the MPEV is a bad idea. They’ve dislike the notion of building a convention hotel downtown without first expanding the Civic Center to make it more conducive to conventions they say are going to other cities.

Weaving through all of this is this notion that the city has done things under cover. They’ve kept vital information from the public.

From what I have heard about the daylong public meeting Wednesday at the Civic Center, nothing of the sort can be validated. Yet the cynics out there — as illustrated by some of those online comments — keep insisting the meeting was a put-up job, meant to paper over the “real issues” relating to the downtown development proposals.

The project was estimated originally to cost $113 million — give or take a few hundred thousand bucks. I understand it’s been reduced to around $92 million. It’ll be financed by private investors, who’ve been given tax inducements from city and county governments. The city will put hotel-motel tax revenue to work in helping finance the project.

Oh, and let me add as well that the tax revenue in question comes from people who come here to, uh let me think, attend conventions or other entertainment-related events.

Those tax inducements? They involve tax abatements, contrary to what one leading local — and vocal — businessman, Craig Gualtiere, said recently, do work. They actually do provide incentives for business to come to communities, set up shop, build things, hire people and provide whatever service they are in business to provide. OK, so we exempt those businesses from paying property taxes for a few years. Then they join the tax rolls. Amarillo is not creating a new invention with this device; it’s been tried and proven all across the nation.

Yes, one can overdue tax abatements, but do you really think city and county officials are unaware of that risk?

So here we are. The community has heard from the downtown redevelopment brain trust.

Let’s proceed.

Still wondering: How does downtown plan hurt?

Amarillo MPEV

Let’s take the long view, shall we?

The drawing here depicts what Amarillo’s downtown district is set to look like in about, oh, five years.

It shows a nifty little ballpark directly across the street from City Hall. To the west of the ballpark we’ll have a convention hotel. Next to City Hall there’ll be a covered parking garage.

City officials think all of this is doable. They believe that once the project is complete, the city will draw additional convention business, with flocks of convention-goers putting themselves up in lodging downtown and perhaps as well along Interstate 40.

Xcel Energy has broken ground on a new office complex it will occupy once it vacates the 31-story Chase Tower.

City and downtown development officials are planning a daylong session Wednesday to lay out the project in detail. They’ve invited the public to take part. They want to hear everyone’s concerns; they’ll certainly accept supporting comments. They also say they intend to listen to the concerns of those who are opposed — some of them adamantly — to the downtown project.

What on God’s Earth, though, can be wrong with redeveloping a downtown district that once flourished as a gathering place for Panhandle residents, but which has languished over many years as a place that remains a business and financial center, but needs some energy?

The City Council and economic development leaders have told us until they’ve run out of breath that the downtown redevelopment will occur without spending additional property tax money. They contend that hotel/motel taxes will pay for it. The money will come from those who visit Amarillo, from folks who live elsewhere.

And even that has drawn criticism.

The projects are moving forward. Agreements have been signed. They’re finally starting to bust up some pavement to make room for what promises to be a grand new look for our downtown business district.

The price tag is around $100 million. Development leaders are securing private investors to foot a huge part of the bill. Has that quieted the critics? Oh, no. They’ve persisted in the demagoguery.

I need to ask: Are we going to forsake this investment in our city’s future because some of us just cannot believe it’s possible in little ol’ Amarillo, Texas?

How about stretching our reach just a little bit to grasp what — to my eyes — looks quite promising?