Tag Archives: Embassy Suites

Pace quickens on downtown reshaping

Is it me or does the pace of downtown Amarillo’s transformation appear to be picking up steam?

I don’t get downtown as much as I used to, but the things I keep seeing and hearing give me hope that this Panhandle outpost city is getting its act in gear as it concerns the reshaping of its downtown profile.

Another storefront on Polk Street — the city’s one-time “main drag” — is getting a new tenant after being dark for longer than I can remember. The old Levine Building has some construction fencing around the ground floor and will be the site of yet another new eatery along Polk.

Crush is moving it location across from where it currently does business; we’re getting that two-story/over-under restaurant nearby; the Embassy Suites is continuing to progress; that parking garage next door is getting closer to completion, with retail outlets making lease arrangements to do business once they start parking vehicles inside.

West Texas A&M University is continuing to rip apart the old Commerce Building to transform that structure into a new WT downtown Amarillo campus.

I am acutely aware that much work needs to be done on major structures. The Barfield Building remains dark; and let’s not forget — if anyone will let us forget — the Herring Hotel, which remains the dream of its owner, Bob Goodrich.

But much of downtown’s face already has been lifted. By my way of thinking, so have some spirits been lifted as Center City continues its work to promote the downtown district. Much of the work done by what used to be called Downtown Amarillo Inc. — I am not¬†clear on the status of that organization — is continuing at a steady pace.

I want to reiterate a critical point here. It is that a city’s health can be measured by the state of affairs in its downtown business/entertainment district. Look around Texas and you see cities working — with a wide range of success — at reviving their downtown districts. This isn’t rocket science, folks.

The proof of cities’ vitality can be found in any community that boasts a healthy central district. Fort Worth? Houston? San Antonio? They all are bustling.

Spare me the response that “We cannot be one of those cities. We aren’t that big.” I know that. My response is simply: economies of scale. We can produce a vital downtown district on a scale that fits a city of 200,000 residents.

What I am seeing is that we are proceeding toward that end.

Let us get busy, though, in getting some paperwork done to finalize that baseball franchise move from downstate to Amarillo so we can start work on that downtown ballpark.

City’s landscape taking on new look

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I attended a luncheon meeting today atop the Chase Tower in downtown Amarillo.

The office building looms 31 floors above the ground and from the top floor you can get a tremendous look across many miles of the sprawling Texas Panhandle landscape.

I chose to look down, though.

Peering east from the top of the tower I was struck once again by the vast change that’s occurring across the street from the Civic Center and City Hall.

The Embassy Suites hotel superstructure has been topped out next to the performing arts center. Next door is that parking garage that’s going to provide parking for several hundred vehicles along with some retail space on the ground floor.

My amazement continues to be at the sight of all that heavy construction downtown, the cranes towering over the sites.

We’ve lived here for more than two decades. During almost our entire time as residents of Amarillo, my wife and I have seen nothing approaching the level of activity that’s proceeding at this moment.

For too long the city appeared indifferent to the vitality and economic health of its central business district. Does that make as little sense to others as it does to me, that the city wouldn’t want to develop a clearly defined strategy to improve its downtown district?

Amarillo did that a few years ago when it ratified its Strategic Action Plan.

I am gratified to see the progress that is underway downtown.

I’ll reiterate that¬†the progress¬†looks pretty impressive when you can look at it from the top of downtown Amarillo’s tallest structure.

‘Catalysts’ doing their job for Amarillo

ballpark

They are called “catalyst projects” for a reason.

You build certain structures, provide certain amenities in the downtown district, then other positive events would follow. That’s the plan, right?

OK, then. So now we hear that Amarillo’s catalyst projects — namely the construction of the downtown convention hotel and a parking garage — seem to have enticed the owners of a minor-league baseball franchise into talking actively with the city about moving here.

Oh, yes. We also have that ballpark that’s on the drawing board.

Amarillo’s Local Government Corporation has confirmed that it is negotiating with the San Antonio Missions to move that franchise from South Texas to right here, in ol’ Amarillo.

It’s far from a done deal.

http://www.newschannel10.com/story/32009762/amarillo-negotiating-with-san-antonio-missions

The San Antonio Missions have made their intentions clear down yonder. The Class Double-A Missions are hoping to clear out for San Antonio to welcome a Class Triple-A club. The Missions — which are affiliated with the San Diego Padres of the National League — say they want to relocate to Amarillo.

The LGC has laid down its marker: It wants the Missions to come here.

“Amarillo is in a position in terms of having our project already under way, of having the MPEV or the baseball stadium already in progress,” said John Lutz, a member of the LGC. “The way that I think it’s working with the hotel and the parking garage, retail, obviously the Xcel building, have really built a strong package that I¬†think was very, very attractive [to the Missions].”

Isn’t that the definition of “catalyst”?

Work on the MPEV hasn’t yet begun. The LGC has been tasked with coming up with designs and financing feasibility plans. The City Council has given the LGC a deadline to finish the job and so far the LGC has been faithful to the task it has been given.

If the rest of it comes together, we’ll get the MPEV/ballpark, we’ll get a serious minor-league baseball franchise here, the convention hotel will be open for business, the parking garage will be storing vehicles and doing business in the retail shops planned for the structure.

I am among those who is hopeful that a letter of intent from the San Antonio Missions will be in hand … maybe soon.

That, too, is a catalyst of its own.

 

Downtown’s new look is taking shape

amarillo hotel

I don’t drive that often these days into downtown Amarillo.

So, when I get there I continue to be amazed at the changes that are underway.

I’ve heard about the construction of the Embassy Suites convention hotel and about the rising Xcel Energy business center a couple of blocks south of the new hotel.

However, I have to tell you that seeing the face of downtown Amarillo changing in real time is quite the sight. I went downtown this morning to interview someone for a story I’m writing for NewsChannel 10.com.

Between the hotel and the Xcel site there is a large hole in the ground. Crews have excavated the site where the next major structure is set to rise up: the parking garage.

I understand the city has booked a major convention next year after the Embassy Suites opens for business. There appears to be more on the way to the city.

Oh, yes. There’s also that ballpark that’s yet to be built.

I get that construction of these structures doesn’t guarantee anything by itself. However, let us consider the last time we’ve seen such a flurry of major construction activity occurring in our central business district all at once.

I don’t have quite the “institutional memory” that a lot of native Amarillo residents have, but 21 years living here is pretty sufficient. I’ve seen my share of change throughout the city in my time in Amarillo.

The sight of those structures rising up downtown gives me hope that even better days lie ahead.

 

Beam signing signals huge step forward

embassy suites

They had a beam signing this weekend in downtown Amarillo.

The beam is set to become part of the superstructure that’s going to hold up a new hotel currently under construction.

The Embassy Suites Hotel eventually will open its doors to business clientele coming to Amarillo for conventions touting this and/or that product, or provide professional development for the attendees.

It’s part of what has been called a “catalyst project” aimed at reconfiguring downtown Amarillo. There’s more to come.

I happen to be one of those Amarillo residents who’s quite excited about the prospects for the city’s downtown district.

It’s been a sometimes-rocky ride. The downtown district hasn’t yet reached a smooth road or calm waters. There well could be more tumult to come.

The beam signing, though, suggests — to me, at least — that the city is moving forward.

The Embassy Suites is being financed by a private developer, Chuck Patel, who seems to see a big future in this city. He rounded up some investors to buy in, made his pitch and has broken ground. The hotel is rising up as I write this brief post.

It’s worthwhile to remember the last time anyone saw three construction cranes moving heavy pieces on sites downtown. The Southwestern Public Service building construction is well under way; a parking garage is going up, too.

The Big Enchilada, of course, is The Ballpark, or MPEV, or whatever you choose to call it. It, too, is planned for downtown’s district. There could be a major tenant taking up residence there once it’s built: a AA minor-league baseball franchise.

Today, though, we have a beam signing to¬†symbolize some major strides forward for the city’s future.

Not bad at all.

 

DAI and city part company . . . why?

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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?

 

 

MPEV can boost baseball fortunes for city

MPEV

Paul Matney is a diehard baseball fan.

He admits to it readily, telling audiences how — as a high school student — he used to post the scores along the outfield wall at the old Potter County Memorial Stadium.

Matney, who grew up to become president of Amarillo College, also tells the story of how he saw the great Willie Mays — yep, that Willie Mays — get picked off¬†at second base during an exhibition game between the San Francisco Giants and the Cleveland Indians.

Matney, who’s now co-chairing a political action group called Vote FOR Amarillo, is making the case on behalf of the multipurpose event venue that’s up for a non-binding vote Nov. 3. City residents are going to decide if they want an MPEV — which includes a baseball park — built in downtown Amarillo. It’s a non-binding vote, but the City Council would commit political suicide if it went against the wishes of the voters, which makes the vote politically binding.

I got to hear¬†Matney’s pitch once more this morning and he is as convincing as he’s been all along.

Amarillo has been a baseball town for many decades. It can be a great baseball town yet again if we build a venue that can attract the interest and attention of Major League Baseball executives looking for a place to develop a minor-league baseball affiliate.

Amarillo can be ripe for such a relationship, Matney said.

The Amarillo Thunderheads —¬†for whom¬†Matney moonlights as a public address announcer —¬†is an independent non-affiliated outfit that plays in a venue that Matney said is “at the end of its life.” That’s a nice way of saying what many of us have known for a very long time: Potter County’s stadium is a dump. Why don’t more fans attend Thunderheads baseball games? Look at the place where they play.

Matney mentioned how a visiting team — on the advice of its manager and coaches — changed into its uniforms at the hotel where it was staying, rather than doing so in the visitors’ clubhouse.

The MPEV is slated to cost around $32 million. It will be paid for with revenue bonds, which will be retired through hotel/motel tax and sales tax revenue. Matney insisted yet again that “no property taxes will be used” to pay for the stadium.

He described the MPEV as a vital component to the convention hotel that is planned for downtown, along with a parking garage. The Embassy Suites hotel owner is footing the bill himself — with help from investors — for the $45 million hotel.

The parking garage feature 24,000 square feet of retail space and it will be financed through rental and parking fees.

The MPEV, baseball park — or whatever you want to call it — can become a vital component to downtown Amarillo’s rebirth. What’s more, if downtown sees an infusion of new life, the energy will ripple throughout the city.

As Matney noted, using the clich√©, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

In this case, such a saying is more than just a string of words. It speaks to the future of our city.

Play ball!

 

Matney gets fired up about MPEV

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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.

 

Downtown hotel gets green light

amarillo hotel

They’re busting up some pavement in downtown Amarillo.

Construction has begun on Xcel Energy’s new office complex. They’ve vacated the Coca-Cola distribution center across the street from City Hall.

And tonight, the Amarillo City Council gave its approval — with¬†a little tinkering with some of the terms — to the construction of a downtown convention hotel.

Is it possible that downtown’s redevelopment inertia is too strong to resist?

I do hope so.

Embassy Suites hopes to open for business in 2017. Building planners are going to break ground in a couple of weeks downtown on a $45 million hotel complex. A local bank is providing financing for about $28 million of it. Hotel developer Chuck Patel has discussed getting other investors to cover the rest of it.

Oh, and that parking garage is going to be built as well.

Are the flowers blooming all over the downtown revival project? Not just yet. We still have this election coming up Nov. 3 that will decide the fate of the multipurpose event venue.

Some folks dislike the idea of a ballpark being included in this package. Others have argued that the ballpark will be more than just a place where a team will play baseball. Opponents say there isn’t enough of a market to make suitable use of a $32 million outdoor venue. Proponents argue that creative marketing and promotion can attract more than enough activity to the site.

I happen to be on board with what has been proposed. I plan to vote for the MPEV on Election Day.

However, I am heartened to see the progress that is continuing to push this downtown effort forward.

The Amarillo City Council tonight made the correct decision.

City Hall ‘change’ beginning to take shape

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Mark Nair may becoming a sort of “swing vote” on the Amarillo City Council.

Just as Justice Anthony Kennedy helps determine which direction the Supreme Court tilts on key rulings, so might City Councilman-elect Nair be — in the words of a former president of the United States — a “decider.”

He’s one of three new guys to join the five-member council. He won a runoff election this past Saturday to win his spot on Place 4.

And he’s sounding like someone intent on changing the way business has been done at City Hall.

I remain a bit confused, though, regarding his intentions.

A lengthy newspaper interview published Monday noted a couple of things.

Nair said he doesn’t want to “undo” downtown redevelopments that already are under “contractual obligation.” He does, though, want to rethink the multipurpose event venue and plans to argue that it go before the voters for their approval.

Suppose, then, that voters say “no” to the MPEV. What happens next? Nair referenced the “catalyst projects” that already are under contract: the convention hotel and the parking garage. If the MPEV is torpedoed, does the hotel get built anyway? It’s always been my understanding that the hotel developer’s plans for the Embassy Suites complex is predicated on the MPEV and without the event venue, there’s no need for a parking garage.

It’s all tied together, correct?

Nair deserves congratulations for winning his initial elected office. He presents himself as a thoughtful young man. He said he wants to talk with City Manager Jarrett Atkinson — who he said he doesn’t know — about the problems that have beset the city. Things have to change, Nair said. The water bill SNAFU cannot go uncorrected, he said and he asserts that the manager, as the city’s CEO, is responsible for ensuring the place runs smoothly.

But the folks in charge of it all — the policy team — sit on the City Council. They have to operate as a team, along with the senior city administration. That was the mantra prior to the election.

We now shall see if the new guys can play well with each other — and those who do their bidding.

Mark Nair, the newest of the new fellows, vows to “work for the common good.”

Get busy, gentlemen.