Ever since the city made building a multi-use stadium the centerpiece of downtown development, leaders and citizens alike have expressed doubts. The lack of progress in changing the face of downtown, along with concerns about transparency is not inspiring a great deal of confidence among skeptics.
Downtown development initiatives, according to many citizens Pronews 7 spoke to for this special report, was originally about attracting residents and business back to the city center. Currently, what is widely perceived as straying from the original vision is fueling dissent among citizens and community leaders. The primary point of contention remains the decision to dedicate the downtown bureaucracy??s resources to building a multi-use stadium.
Former Mayor Debra McCartt said that many people believe making the stadium area the number one priority for downtown is a mistake.
??I??ve heard folks say that they want downtown to be continually developed, but that they??re kind of shooting themselves in the foot by focusing on the baseball stadium,?? said Debra McCartt.
Melissa Dailey, the Executive Director of Downtown Amarillo Inc. said it??s still a work in progress, and that these projects are pivotal to the future of downtown.
??It is very complicated; there are lots of entities, lots of partners, to create a public-private project,?? said Melissa Dailey. ??It takes a long time to work through these contracts.??
Former Mayor Jerry Hodge, who is now the CEO of Maxor, shares concerns about the stadium area being downtown development??s current focus.
??I don??t know what the transparency is and I don??t know how funding is going to be,?? said Jerry Hodge. ??It looks like we need to know, and the citizens need to know what the budget is and where funding is going to come from.?? ??AEDC money is taxpayer money and if they??re going to throw it away on things like that, and they??re not going to bring jobs to Amarillo, then maybe it??s time to look at disbanding the AEDC.??
One of the components that many feel has been lost in downtown development efforts is bringing actual residents to the city center. While some small scale projects have gotten off the ground, they are small and pale in comparison to residential development in the suburbs.
??The residential development in any successful downtown is very important and we??ve had one project open up recently, the Vineyard Manor,?? said Jarrett Atkinson, the City Manager of Amarillo. ??There are several others on the drawing board, but we??re not at liberty to reveal them.??
Alan Abraham, a concerned citizen, said that a lack of transparency as to where the city is going means that it??s difficult for city residents to keep track on what??s going on.
??Citizens have very little input, very little opportunity for input,?? said Alan Abraham. ??When things show up on the city??s agenda things have already been decided.??
Pronews 7 traveled to Lubbock, to see what lessons can be learned from their inner city development efforts. Marc McDougal, the former mayor, developer of the successful Overton Area, and now the master developer of Downtown Lubbock said that flexibility is key when developing master plans for revitalization efforts.
??I think that Overton may be a good plan for other people to look at because we did all specific use zoning down there, and we have design guidelines, but with room to make that work in special cases,?? said Marc McDougal.
Hopefully, the city can one day, have a project like Overton under its belt, because the rewards for the tax base have the potential to be enormous.
??When we started theTax increment financing district, everything in that over 300 acre development, was valued at 26 to 27 million dollars,?? said Marc McDougal. ??The city of Lubbock collected taxes this past year and this year on something that was very close to or even north of half a billion dollars.??
The stakes in downtown development are high and former mayor McCartt said it??s time to review the decisions that have been made up to this point.
??Maybe it??s time to bring these original folks back together about where did we start, where are we today, and how we can continue to move forward smoothly and in a way that we all anticipated,?? said Debra McCartt.
Melissa Dailey and Jarrett Atkinson both told Pronews 7 that they??re working hard with land owners to move projects forward. Many of the people interviewed for this story believe that while there are some obvious points of progress that we all can see downtown, that perhaps development initiatives should be reviewed for financial sustainability. While no one we spoke with was against investing in a better downtown, many of them emphasized that the original vision has been lost in the bureaucracy and that maybe it??s time to make sure that we??re headed in the right direction.