Tag Archives: TIRZ

What must Herring Hotel owner be thinking?

I haven’t talked to the owner of the long-vacant Herring Hotel in downtown Amarillo, Texas, for a good while. I know Bob Goodrich quite well. He’s a nice man, a conscientious property owner — and a fellow with big dreams for the building that once served as the go-to spot for Amarillo’s social elite.

That all stipulated, Goodrich must be steamed as he reads about other abandoned downtown buildings finding new life. The latest such structure is the Rule Building, which developer Todd Harmon wants to turn into a boutique hotel. Then there’s the Barfield Building, which is going to open soon as boutique lodging.

Other structures are finding life, or are being repurposed into something other than their original use.

Then there’s the Herring Hotel building. It sits there. Vacant and rotting. Goodrich pays the taxes on it every year. He seeks developers and investors. He once called me to say he had a potential investor lined up; then the deal fell through.

Someone who at the time had intimate knowledge of downtown Amarillo’s redevelopment efforts told me years ago he was certain there would be a happy ending to the Herring Hotel saga. This individual is no longer part of the downtown in-crowd and, of course, I have retired from daily journalism and have relocated to another community. It’s quite possible this person didn’t know what he was talking about, but ‚Ķ well, that’s grist for another story — maybe.¬†

I do have a parting thought. Perhaps there ought to be a statement from the downtown redevelopment gurus addressing the reasons why the Herring Hotel continues to sit quietly with no apparent action on the horizon. Center City? The Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone board? City Hall? The Amarillo Matters PAC? The Convention and Visitors Council? Amarillo EDC?

Might there be some way to reveal to the nosey segments of the public what they think they need to know about the Herring Hotel? Is there a future for the building … or not?

City takes an astonishing turn

downtown

Maybe I’m easily amazed.

Whatever.

My amazement is focused on what I have perceived to be a remarkable about-face at Amarillo City Hall. It involves the city’s focus on its downtown business and entertainment district. It has gone from a hands-off public policy to a definite hands-on approach.

I am utterly convinced the entire city will reap the benefit.

My wife and I arrived in Amarillo in early 1995 to start a new life — and to continue a life we started when we arrived in Texas 11 years earlier.

We saw a downtown district that was, to put it charitably, in a state of suspended animation. Downtown was in shabby condition.¬†In addition to the Barfield Building and Herring Hotel — two significant structures that have been rotting ever since — the city had the vacant Santa Fe Building with which to contend.

Then the light bulb flickered on at the Potter County Courthouse. County Judge Arthur Ware finagled a deal to purchase the Santa Fe Building for $400,000. He then secured a state historic preservation grant to pay for a renovation of the magnificent 12-story structure. The project was completed — and the county moved some of its offices into the Santa Fe Building.

That might be considered the start of downtown Amarillo’s revival.

City Hall’s outlook, though, remained standoffish. Mayors Kel Seliger and Trent Sisemore seemed uninterested in getting involved directly with downtown revival. They preferred to let private business take the lead. The city might lend support — if it felt a project merited it.

Little happened over nearly a decade.

The pace has accelerated tremendously in the past decade. How did it come about? I believe it has been the result of a more activist City Hall approach.

The city launched a Strategic Action Plan, which produced a vision for the downtown district. It created Downtown Amarillo Inc. Center City became even more of a player. The city created the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. The Amarillo Economic Development Corp. invested sale tax funds to help some of these projects along.

Meanwhile, private businesses — apparently sensing the energy coming from City Hall — began a series of tangible improvement projects. New bank branches went up. A convenience store was built. The old Fisk Building was turned into a business hotel.

The momentum was building.

Then came the Embassy Suites hotel project. Plans took root to build a parking garage. And, oh yes, we have that multipurpose event venue/ballpark.

Along the way, some folks started expressing anger. They didn’t like the way the city was proceeding with some of these projects. They alleged “secrecy,” which I believe was a dubious accusation.

Sure, we had some serious misfires. Wallace Bajjali — the master development firm¬†hired to oversee downtown’s resurrection — went kaput overnight. That, too, fueled the anger. Well, WB is long gone.

But the movement is continuing.

The City Council has gone through a serious makeover. There have been some more hiccups, mostly created by tensions among some of the council members.

Is all this amazing? Yes it is.

I do not want the city to turn away from its new course.

The city is going to ask voters to approve more than $300 million in infrastructure improvements, just as it asked voters to approve a referendum to build that MPEV downtown.

There are times when local government can step in — and step up — when it perceives a need.

Amarillo saw the need to boost its downtown district. Believe this: When this project is done — as every U.S. community that has taken this kind of proactive approach has learned —¬†the entire city will reap the reward.

Is the Herring Hotel really coming back to life?

herring

Robert Goodrich purchased the Herring Hotel in downtown Amarillo in 1988 as an investment opportunity.

Now he says he’s got investors lined up to turn the once-opulent night spot into some semblance of its former glory.

He’ll announce — possibly soon — who those investors are along with plans to turn the long-abandoned Herring Hotel into a gleaming downtown jewel.

http://www.newschannel10.com/story/31776627/investors-look-to-revive-herring-hotel

Lame-duck City Councilman Brian Eades, who’s leaving office this summer, said he has seen the plans. He added that local investors are lined up to foot the bill for the project.

Do we know the cost? Do we know the precise details of what it will take to restore the Herring? No.

I’m one of those who hopes the Herring can be restored. It’s good,, though, to temper one’s hope with a dose of reality.

http://www.newschannel10.com/story/29547737/herring-hotel-revival-remains-on-wish-list

The hotel has been vacant for a long time. I’ve seen the first floor. It’s a mess. There will be a lot of modernization required to bring the building up to snuff.

But yes, it’s a beautiful structure.

Bob Goodrich has told me on many occasions that the building can be restored, renovated and reincarnated.

Eades apparently believes in Goodrich’s dream. Others involved with city government aren’t so sure. The Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone board kept Goodrich dangling for years before denying his request for financial help this past year.

However, Goodrich — a retired academician — hasn’t given up.

He has said once again that he’s persuaded investors to pony up the cash to get the job done on the Herring.

Let’s hope for the best.

 

Amarillo need not replicate other cities’ success

dfwfc_phototour15

When I get a chance to travel to other cities that can boast of robust downtown districts, I often think of the community¬†I’ve called home for more than 21 years.

Amarillo is in the midst of a serious downtown revival. They’ve broken up some pavement, leveled some land, poured some slabs and begun erecting structures downtown.

More of it is on the way.

I just returned from a¬†few days visiting my hometown, Portland, Ore. It’s gone through a decades-long downtown revival that’s still on-going. Heck, it might never end.

That city turned a moribund downtown district into a rousing, sometimes raucous place where people enjoy a robust night life and spend a little time and money shopping in retail establishments.

I’ve written about what I saw on my latest visit to Portland. However, I do not want anyone to presume that I believe¬†what the Rose City has done can be replicated here on the Texas Tundra.

Portland’s municipal population is approaching 625,000 residents, with about 2.2 million folks living in a sprawling metropolitan area that covers several counties — and even reaches across the Columbia River into Washington state.

Amarillo’s population is just a shade less than 200,000, with a metro population nearly double that amount.

Do we have the resources here to replicate what other larger cities have done? No.

My intent in calling attention to what Portland has done, or what Oklahoma City or Fort Worth have done with their downtown districts, is remind us here in little ol’ Amarillo that we must think creatively.

All three of the cities I’ve mentioned — Portland, Fort Worth and OKC — have done so. Oklahoma City used a public investment tax to rebuild warehouse district into Bricktown; Fort Worth used some public/private investment in creating Sundance Square; Portland scrapped a planned highway project and redirected money into creating a robust downtown district.

Amarillo has developed a Strategic Action Plan that took form after years of public hearings and discussion. It, too, involves public and private money. Indeed,¬†the vast majority¬†of downtown Amarillo’s progress has occurred with private money. The city created a downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone that uses money derived from increases in property value within that zone to help finance needed projects.

We’re thinking creatively here. That, I submit, is the first step in a long march toward revival.

Do the city, civic and business brain trusts think we can emulate dollar for dollar what bigger cities have done? I hope not.

They shouldn’t shy away from doing what they can, however, ¬†with what they have.

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.

Still waiting for some breaking of ground

Downtown Amarillo’s renovation is proceeding at a snail’s pace.

A couple of things have happened in recent days that give me hope that something might be about to move the city forward.

The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation signed off on the relocation of the Coca-Cola distributing plant from downtown to the business park near Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. That move had been stymied when it was learned that the place where the Coca-Cola center would relocate was structurally deficient. The repairs have been made and the deal is done.

Then came news this week that West Texas A&M University’s downtown “campus” is moving from the Chase Tower to the Commerce Building two blocks south on Tyler Street. WT will vacate two floors in the 31-story tower, which I’m sure will be gobbled up by someone seeking some prime office space downtown.

I don’t mean to sound impatient, though. I keep wondering when the big stuff is going to start taking shape. I’m talking about the planned parking garage, construction of a new downtown hotel and the building of that sports/activities venue, aka the baseball park.

Friends and acquaintances closely associated with the project tell me the city is being extra-careful, ensuring that all the hoops are cleared adequately and that no legal hurdles will stand in the way of the projects getting done.

Yes, the city has seen progress. The Potter County Courthouse complex is done, and the square looks fabulous. The city has rebuilt some pedestrian crossings, making them a lot more attractive. Some new businesses have opened up downtown. The district has a business hotel in the historic Fisk Building. All of that is positive news. However, the Barfield Building continues to rot, as does the location across the street from the Santa Fe Building, not to mention the Herring Hotel site.

The development firm the city hired to ramrod the project says private investment money will foot the entire bill of the first phase. No tax money is involved, which should please the anti-tax activists who had said they opposed any public funds being spent on what they consider to be a boondoggle.

Some of the rest of us, though, are waiting for something significant to start happening now that the fanfare has subsided.

Patience is important. It’s also a finite resource.

Well?

Going back to school to study Amarillo 101

I’m heading back to school, so to speak.

Sad to say I’ll miss the first day of class, but I’ll pick it up on Day Two and then go with it the rest of the way. It ought to be an interesting endeavor.

Amarillo City Hall has invited me to be part of a class called Amarillo 101. Its aim is to teach its students about the basics of what makes City Hall tick. I’ve been able to watch our city government up close in my job as a daily journalist, which I did in Amarillo for nearly 18 years before leaving that job in August 2012. I’ve been a freelance blogger and part-time employee in other pursuits ever since.

Frankly, I’m flattered that City Hall would ask a washed-up journalist to take part in this exercise. I don’t claim to know everything about how the city provides service to its 195,000 or so residents. I know a good bit about it. What I don’t know I’ll learn.

The first session is going to go over a lot of the city organizational structure, its history, charter, the City Commission, open meetings, the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation and the Public Information Act. The second session will cover some hands-on duties, such as driving a trash pickup truck, a bus, operating a knuckle-boom truck and operating a backhoe.

There’ll be other sessions covering how the city spends our tax money and we’ll get a tour of the city’s newly rebuilt Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. We’ll also talk about the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone and public improvement districts.

I did something similar years ago when I went through an 11-week Citizens Police Academy. That gig, I’ll tell you, was a serious blast.

I might be too old to do a lot of things, but as they say, you’re never too old to learn something.

I’m looking forward to peeking under the City Hall tent.

Call it a career, Judge Ware

It’s time for me to get something off my chest.

Potter County Judge Arthur Ware needs to do one of two things: Either resign his office or declare that he will not seek re-election to the job he’s had for the past two decades. Of course, the first option precludes the second one. Either way, it’s time for the judge — who I admire greatly for all he has done for the county and the country — to end his career.

Ware cannot do his job. He suffered a devastating stroke in 2010 that left him paralyzed on one side of his body and unable to speak coherently. He manages to force a word or two out at a time, but he is unable to articulate county policy, or argue a budget point, or converse with anyone who stands before him in a probate hearing. I saw him about two years ago at a downtown Amarillo restaurant. I sought to engage him in conversation. He answered with single words. “Yes” and “no” had to suffice. It was a sad encounter.

Earlier this week, the judge was shot down by his four Commissioners Court colleagues on his request for a pay increase. Every one of the commissioners opposed the increase. At least two of them spoke quite harshly about the judge, one of them saying he should take a pay “decrease” and other saying the county would be “negligent” by approving the proposed pay raise.

And after taking the verbal battering from his colleagues, Ware had no response. Why? He couldn’t verbalize the thoughts that no doubt were running through his head.

I’m not privy to all the ins and outs of county politics and policy these days. I do know a couple of key points. One is that a number of qualified individuals are considering a run for county judge in 2014, when Ware’s term is up. Another key point is that candidates for county office must be able to articulate a policy. They must make public appearances at, say, church picnics, candidate forums, televised debates, the Tri-State Fair, grange halls, feed stores and … well, you get the idea.

I say all this with deep affection for the man. I remember meeting Ware when I arrived in Amarillo in early 1995. He wasn’t that many years removed from his active-duty deployment as a Marine called to fight during the Persian Gulf War. His office is adorned with Marine Corps banners, flags and assorted photos and other paraphernalia. Semper fi, Judge Ware.

He scored a huge coup in 1995 when the county purchased the Santa Fe Building for 400 grand. He took a colleague and me on a tour of the then-vacant building and talked effusively of the grand plans he had to turn it into a county office complex. After a few hiccups along the way, the county got it done.

He fought for the county’s inclusion in a tax increment reinvestment zone to help fund downtown Amarillo’s redevelopment, acknowledging forcefully that the county courthouse indeed, sits in the middle of the downtown district.

But all that is in the past. The here and now has produced a sad spectacle.

Arthur Ware cannot possibly campaign for an office the functions of which he no longer is able to perform. Tell the public, judge, what you plan to do. My best advice is to quit now and spare yourself further humiliation at the hands of your colleagues.