Special Report: Downtown Misdirection?: Part I

Pronews 7â??s David Grasso-Ortegaâ??s two part special report will explore whether the city is making a wise investment in the future or is misdirected in their priorities.

While most people agree that government intervention is necessary to push forward downtown development efforts, there are some concerns that bureaucrats instead of competitive market forces are picking winners and losers in our downtown. Pronews 7 spoke to one property owner who is especially angry that his property was passed over by the city.

Robert Goodrich is the owner of the iconic Herring Hotel, which has fallen into disrepair and needs a capital infusion in order to be renovation. He told Pronews 7 that when brought a buyer who was willing to renovate the hotel, the owner of the Skirven Hilton in Oklahoma City, the city declined to support his proposed project.

â??He looked at the Herring and said, 'I would just love to take this on and do here what weâ??re doing in Oklahoma City,'â?? said Goodrich. â??'I only ask one thing of you; I want to meet the mayor and know that I would be welcomed in your city.'â??

The city declined to support the project because they said Goodrich was late to the table. In a letter to Goodrich dated Nov. 8, 2012, the city said the time simply isnâ??t right. By then, they had already thrown their weight behind the convention center hotel and promised the master developer tax subsidies, along with a non-compete that prohibited giving tax breaks to a similar hotel.

â??When Goodrich came to us, it was many months, after we made the decision on the first hotel so we couldnâ??t pull back on the contract and an agreement,â?? said Paul Harpole, the mayor of Amarillo.

Goodrich said heâ??s angry that the government is choosing the winners and losers downtown. Meanwhile, the fate of the Herring Hotel hangs in the balance. He said not retrofitting a historical building is contradictory to cityâ??s mission downtown.

â??Contradictory in the worst way, so I am disturbed and a little bit distressed as a tax paying local citizen and a downtown property owner,â?? said Goodrich. â??I donâ??t believe Iâ??ve been treated fair and square and Iâ??m waiting for the time the city will apologize publically and offer all of the help theyâ??ve given all of the other developers downtown.â??

While historical preservation is one of the core missions of downtown development, city leaders felt that building a new convention hotel was critical to downtownâ??s success, and would be part of a comprehensive plan for the convention center area.

â??All the hoteliers made clear that we want to see the hotel, we want to see the parking garage, we want to see the stadium, but you canâ??t stop there, you really need to do something about the civic center,â?? said Jarrett Atkinson, the Amarillo City Manager.

The mayor and fellow city council members told Pronews 7 that the details are being finalized and that these projects will soon be a reality.

â??Things are really moving along now with all the pieces of the puzzle coming together,â?? said Mayor Harpole. â??I think weâ??ll see the next steps and weâ??re looking at having a hotel operating in about two years and a ballpark in about three years, and thatâ??s great news because weâ??ll have a garage on top of that.â??

While the cityâ??s development plans continue to move forward, many citizens remain unaware of where projects stand, and transparency remains a major issue.

â??So really understanding where all of these discussions are happening and who ultimately that gets funneled to and how those decisions are made,â?? said Mercy Murguia, a Potter County Commissioner. â??I think it has been part of the challenge and part of the complexity.â??

â??All of those groups do all of their meetings in whatâ??s called executive session, which are closed to the public and nobody knows what they talk about, nobody knows what theyâ??re considering, and they claim theyâ??re able to do that under law because any public awareness would compromise their negotiation,â?? said Goodrich.

On Part II of the series Downtown Misdirection?, we will speak with public leaders from a city that shares a master developer with Amarillo, and see if lessons learned there are relevant to us here, as our leadership continues to move downtown forward.