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      Special Report: Digging up Downtown - Part I

      In the world of Downtown Development, expectations have not met reality, as projects have been delayed, and the city has relatively few achievements to showcase to the community. Some leaders Pronews 7 talked to say red tape, a lack of transparency and misguided priorities all mean that the Downtown Development is off course.

      As Amarillo thrives economically in these boom times, commercial activity continues to grow, but far from the city center. The suburbs along the loop bustle with activity, while downtown seems largely vacant, despite aggressive efforts on behalf of nine organizations, both public and private, to revitalize downtown. Debra McCartt, the former mayor of Amarillo, says it??s time to review the city??s strategy, as it may not be working.

      ??We want to encourage business downtown and some of the things maybe that we??ve done, myself included, maybe it discouraged business owners,?? said Debra McCartt. ??Maybe there??s a different way of looking at Downtown Business.??

      Jerry Hodge, the CEO of Maxor Pharmaceutical, and also an ex-mayor of Amarillo agrees with former Mayor McCartt. He said that red tape is strangling the ability to do business downtown, and that a lot of downtown development initiatives are driving business elsewhere.

      ??I think that their goals and plans on Downtown development are probably very good, and I don??t disagree with that,?? said Jerry Hodge the CEO of Maxor Pharmaceutical. ??There is a lot of bureaucracy going on; how many committees do you have to go through to get a project approved and done.?? ??I think you need to cut the red tape out and you need to make it very user friendly on people who want to develop downtown.??

      Business interests downtown are concerned about the effect of the design standards, which are intended to create an urban environment and a pleasant streetscape. Melissa Dailey, the Executive Director of Downtown Amarillo Inc., says that design standards don??t necessarily increase costs.

      ??They don??t always increase costs and I think that is a common misconception that design standards increase costs, often they don??t increase costs, often they lessen costs,?? said Melissa Dailey.

      Jarrett Atkinson, the City Manager, says that while design standards do increase cost of construction, there are several assistance programs available help businesses meet the new standards.

      ??Certainly I think that there is a bit of cost to put that streetscape,?? said Jarrett Atkinson. ??I think that the important thing to remember about the design standards is that many projects receive assistance from the TIRZ to help offset some of the increased costs and it??s been successful.??

      Unfortunately, these programs aren??t working, at least for Maxor Pharmaceutical??s expansion plans. Pronews 7 inquired about whether they would grow their operations here locally.

      ??Probably not, because we did a parking lot over here and it took us twice as long and twice as much money to build it meeting the new design standards,?? said Jerry Hodge. ??We are going to expand, but we will probably do it in either Nashville or Phoenix.??

      Joe Bob McCartt, of McCartt and Associates, large commercial real estate services company that is deeply involved in many transactions downtown released a statement to Pronews 7 saying that ??we feel that the regulatory procedure is much more lengthy that it once was, and while everyone has their eye on the same goal, everyone is not on the same page as to how we actually get to that goal.??

      Some citizens have doubts as to whether the city is achieving its mission of attracting businesses through the creation of the downtown bureaucracy.

      ??I haven??t seen where the private sector is coming in,?? said Alan Abraham, a concerned citizen. ??I see the city purchasing this piece of property and that piece of property, and that??s easy money for the city.?? ??They??re spending other people??s money, and that??s not investment.??

      Melissa Dailey urges people to be patient, as Downtown Development is something that takes time.

      ??I think we need to remember that Downtown Development is a marathon not a sprint, and we??ve been at it for five years,?? said Melissa Dailey. ??Downtown Amarillo Inc. has been at it for five years, and we have seen huge increases in property values, and that??s what has caught everyone??s attention.??

      Notwithstanding, the former mayor says that the vision has substantially changed for downtown since she left office.

      ??Maybe we??re putting the cart before the horse maybe that??s what??s happening and we??re not seeing those visions that we all have for Amarillo come up as quickly as we thought they would,?? said Debra McCartt.

      In the second part of the series ??Digging Up Downtown,?? Pronews 7 will take you to Lubbock, and speak with their master developer, McDougal Properties, to see how they??re tackling Downtown Development. Also, we??ll review the city??s ambitious plans to build a multipurpose stadium, a hotel, and a parking garage downtown, and how prominent leaders and citizens feel about the city making that project its overwhelming priority.