Tag Archives: Xcel Energy

Downtown changing its nature, one resident at a time

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I’ve been enjoying the changes I see occurring in downtown Amarillo.

We all know about the construction underway: the Xcel office building, the Embassy Suites Hotel, the parking garage.

Another element is taking shape. It’s potentially the deal-maker for downtown’s revival.

It involves the continued development of urban residences.

The recently Lofts on 10th have received some recognition for their creativity. Other residences have been completed in an old warehouse not far from City Hall. The Eagle Center at the corner of Seventh and Tyler has housed downtown residents for years.

Where does this end? Does all this portend a growing new demographic among Amarillo’s population, which now sits at 200,000 … and growing?

My wife and I recently returned from Germany and The Netherlands, where one at times is hard-pressed to find single-family dwellings in the middle of great cities. There, urban life is a long-standing reality.

It has led to the “gentrification” of many neighborhoods, according to our German friends, who note that formerly run-down neighborhoods have become places that ooze with charm.

Sure, gentrification comes at a price. In many American cities, it drives up the cost of real estate and makes such property less affordable to those who cannot pay the cost of living in high-dollar downtown lofts or condos.

Amarillo’s transition — as I see it — appears to be well under way.

The ballpark construction will begin soon. Xcel Energy’s new office complex is entering its final stage of construction. The convention hotel will open soon, as will the parking garage.

Amarillo voters will get a chance to vote on seven propositions aimed at financing several key construction projects; one of them involves the Civic Center, which many foes of the ballpark said needs dramatic improvement.

It’s invigorating to see the changes that are afoot in a city that at times has resisted it.

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.

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.

 

Ah, the chaos of construction in downtown Amarillo

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I have just returned from an appointment in downtown Amarillo.

It was in a building at Eighth Avenue and Buchanan Street. I couldn’t spot the building from the street, so I drove¬†an extra ¬†block to City Hall to¬†ask for¬†directions to the place (that’s right, I’m one of those few American males who actually asks for directions when I cannot find my destination).

They told me where it is located. I found the site. Good thing, too, because the construction all around it had me worried I’d miss my meeting time, as I was on a tight schedule.

So, what’s all the commotion about?

That Xcel Energy office complex is rising up out of the dirt across the street from where I was meeting my interview.

And … next to that construction site another one is taking shape. That’s going to be where the Embassy Suites convention hotel is going up.

OK, I get that few of us welcome the chaos associated with all this construction. However, as I’ve noted before, the end product — which I hope includes that ballpark on the east side of Buchanan — will contributed to a downtown district that will make all of us proud of our city.

I have griped as much as the next guy about construction delays. I try, though, to take the long view.

Patience will be required of us to await the finish.

It should be a thing of beauty.

Construction crane: sign of downtown progress

amarillo downtown

There used to be a time when I ventured into downtown Amarillo daily.

I worked there full time. I would¬†see the same sights as I drove toward my place of employment. When you see the same things each day you don’t always notice changes while they’re occurring.

These days I get downtown far less frequently. It’s usually once per week to attend a Rotary Club meeting at the Chase Tower.

Those downtown sojourns, though, are producing a visual treat for me. I’m noticing the changes more readily. I cannot say I notice them week over week, but I do sense some serious changes — for the better — in our downtown district.

The most obvious change has been the sight of that construction crane over a major project going up on Buchanan Street. It’s the new Xcel Energy office complex. They’ve laid the foundation and have begun framing the multi-story structure. Xcel will move into the building in 2017.

OK, there’s more.

As I drive down Polk Street, I get the sense of more activity on what used to be the city’s “main drag.” It’s nothing I can define point by point. It’s just a feeling in my gut.

The last time I saw Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner, I told her how proud I am of the courthouse complex renovation. She’s clearly proud of it, too. And she should be.

The Commerce Building at Eighth and Tyler is going to be transformed into an urban branch campus for West Texas A&M University.

My anticipation is growing as well as I await the start of actual construction of the Embassy Suites hotel, where they’ve “broken ground.”

And, of course, we have this multipurpose event venue that’s now planned for construction at the site of the vacated Coca-Cola distribution complex across the street from City Hall.

I’ve long believed that any city’s future depends on the health of its downtown district. Show me a city with a dilapidated downtown and I’ll show you a city in serious decline. Believe me, I’ve seen my share as I’ve traveled through Texas over the past 31 years.

I’ve also seen cities with vibrant downtown districts that also reflect the health of their communities.

My hope for Amarillo is that the momentum I sense is increasing in its downtown district will continue and pick up speed.

That Xcel Energy construction crane is a huge start. I’m ready to see more of them.

 

Are we going to be timid about city’s future?

Leaps of faith require a certain degree of risk.

We take them at various stages of our life. When we change careers; when we move from one part of the country to another; there’s even a leap of faith that occurs when you commit yourself to someone for the rest of your life.

The great thing about faith, though, is that if it’s strong enough, it can carry you through. You rely totally on it.

So it might be with Amarillo City Hall’s grand new plan for its downtown district. It might well require us to take a leap of faith that a new direction for the city is worth the effort.

I’m still dumbstruck by the timidity I keep hearing from those who for whatever reason — real or imagined — feel somewhat intimidated by what’s being proposed for the downtown district’s future.

Planners want to build an athletic/entertainment venue. They want to construct a downtown convention hotel. They are planning to build a parking structure. Three building are going to be built downtown. The aim is as plain as it gets: They want to reshape downtown. They want it to become something of an entertainment attraction.

What is it now? Well, it’s really more or less … how do I say it nicely, nothing to brag about. At least not yet.

It’s come some distance from where it was, say, 20 years ago. The Santa Fe Building is bustling with Potter County government activity; Polk Street is slowly coming back to life; that big ol’ Chase Tower is full — for the time being — but it will lose a lot of tenants when Xcel Energy and West Texas A&M University vacate the tower for new digs elsewhere.

Xcel’s and WT’s departure from the Chase Tower, therefore, isn’t a net loss for the downtown district. It’s a net plus.

There’s movement, finally, on the Barfield Building at the corner of Sixth and Polk.

The leap of faith will occur when the multipurpose event venue is built and the city starts to promote it for a wide range of activity. It will rely on hotel-motel tax revenue to keep it going. The convention hotel is tied directly to the MPEV. It, too, will require some serious marketing and promotion.

It’s time to keep the faith, man.

I am acutely aware of the need to improve the Civic Center. That, too, will come eventually, at least that’s my hope. And what about the old Herring Hotel building on the northern edge of the downtown district? Believe it or not, downtown leaders tell me they believe there is a place for the Herring, that it can be renovated and turned into something not yet envisioned or imagined. It, too, requires a leap of faith.

I am willing to take that leap. My faith in the potential for success makes it possible.

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?

 

Mixed bag with big Xcel Energy plans

The news about downtown Amarillo hasn’t been good of late, what with the master developer hired by the city vaporizing into thin air in the span of a 24-hour day.

But it’s not all bad.

Xcel Energy announced plans to build a $42 million office building, which is the first large-scale office construction project in more than three decades.

Good news, right?

Yes. But there’s a catch.

Xcel is going to vacate the several floors it occupies at the Chase Tower, that huge 31-story skyscraper that juts out of the downtown Amarillo skyline.

I ran into my old pal Wes Reeves recently at the coffee shop on the ground floor of the Chase Tower. He made some cheeky remark about the appearance of the new structure. Actually, it looks attractive — at least to my eyes. It’ll comprise four stories and 114,000 square feet at Seventh and Buchanan. Three floors of office space will sit atop a parking garage that will hold at least 500 vehicles.

Xcel plans to move in by the spring of 2017.

I’m glad to see the activity picking up downtown.

What about the floors that will be vacated at the Chase Tower? Developers there have done a great deal to improve the appearance of that skyscraper. It’s a bustling hub of activity now. However, West Texas A&M University is moving its Amarillo campus operation of out there eventually to a new site where the Commerce Building sits.

The exit of WT and now Xcel will vacate about a dozen floors of the Chase building.

That’s an unacceptable level of darkness in a building that towers so tall over our city.