Special Report: Downtown Misdirection? Part II

Mark Lee of the locally based baseball team, the Amarillo Sox, said fixing existing facilities may have been a better idea.

For the second part of this special report: Downtown Misdirection?, Pronews 7 spoke with city leaders from Joplin, Mo., a town that shares a master developer with Amarillo. Back here at home, we discussed the frustration over perceived delays with our own leadership, and found out why downtown development has prioritized new projects over fixing existing facilities.

Downtown development efforts in both Joplin, Mo., and Amarillo have been guided by the same master developer, Wallace-Bajjali Development Partners. We spoke to Dr. Benjamin Rosenberg, a Joplin council member, about how theyâ??ve operated in his city.

â??Heâ??s always looking for a co-developer and Wallace-Bajjali never seems to develop anything on their own, they always have a co-developer,â?? said Rosenberg.

Much like in Joplin, our master developer has sought co-developers for the convention hotel, and partnerships have shifted as the project has moved forward. The mayor of Joplin told us that his relationship with Wallace-Bajjali Development Partners is strong, and that most people are unaware of the amount of work that goes into a project even before breaking ground.

â??The vast majority of people donâ??t understand that the bulk of the effort and time is put into a project prior to the project coming out of the ground,â?? said Mike Seibert, the mayor of Joplin. â??People unfortunately judge the speed of a project based on when it breaks ground, and that means development gets cast in a negative light.â?? Additionally, Joplinâ??s downtown development efforts differ from Amarillo because they are recovering from a devastating tornado using federal money, which adds bureaucratic complexity.

Back here in Amarillo, there are still perceived delays about the latest phase of downtown development: the ballpark, the convention hotel and the parking garage. The mayor said that all projects are proceeding as planned.

â??There has been nothing really missed in timelines that were put out in the beginning,â?? said Mayor Paul Harpole. Pronews 7 obtained the a copy of the original civic center area redevelopment plan from the Amarillo Library, and it shows a timeline that perhaps has not been met.

Additionally, questions remain over why the ballpark was prioritized over fixing the civic center. City Manager Jarrett Atkison told Pronews 7 that the Hotel Occupancy Tax, which is being in part to fund this phase of downtown development is reaching its capacity, meaning that a general issue bond would have to be issued to finance updating the civic center. He also added that renovations of the civic center are not necessarily on hold, that multiple projects downtown could move forward simultaneously.

â??As always it will be up to our elected officials, but in terms of when will start and finish other projects, there can definitely be some overlap there,â?? said Atkinson

The decision that was made prioritizing the stadium over the civic center means that a general issue bond will have to be issued in the future if we want to fix the civic center.

â??We want to improve the civic center, we see the potential for that, but we have to get the voterâ??s approval for that,â?? said Harpole.

Mark Lee of the locally based baseball team, the Amarillo Sox, said fixing existing facilities may have been a better idea.

â??We lose out on big acts because our civic center is too small. Maybe thatâ??s where we should have started right there and fixed that up into a state of the art civic center so that these big name entertainment acts arenâ??t going to Lubbockâ??that makes a lot more sense to me,â?? said Lee. â??If you just want a ballpark for people to go watch baseball, we then just need to fix this one up. Fix this old stadium.â??

Potter County Commissioner Mercy Murguia said that if thereâ??s discontent, itâ??s up to the voting public to hold their leadership accountable.

â??It is really hard to help people stay engaged that their one voice really does matter, and especially on a local level that going to the polls, coming to public meetings, asking questions if something doesnâ??t make sense to you," said Murguia.

Amarilloâ??s master developer Wallace Bajjali did not return multiple phone calls made to their Sugarland, Texas, headquarters. Here at Pronews 7, as downtown development plans continue to move forward, this is a story we will continue to closely follow.