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EDITORIALS

Civic Center bond proposal represents opportunity for Amarillo to seize its future

Staff Writer
Amarillo Globe-News

AGN Media Editorial Board

No matter what happens in the upcoming election, the citizens of Amarillo will help determine the future course of the city.

That’s because the ballot includes an ambitious $275 million bond proposal to fund a state-of-the-art Amarillo Civic Center Complex. The total cost of the project is $319 million. It includes renovation and expansion of the current Civic Center, adding a 75,000-square-foot exhibit hall, constructing a new 10,100-seat arena, renovating the Santa Fe Depot, creating a central plaza or park area and relocating City Hall.

Let’s make no mistake regarding how we feel about this proposal. We applaud this bold vision and recognize it as critical to the community’s future success as an enhancement for quality of life and a driver of tourism dollars. We urge citizens to vote in favor of this proposal. It is an opportunity for people today to chart the course of tomorrow.

The extended early voting period begins Tuesday, Oct. 13 and continues through Oct. 30. Election Day is Nov. 3. Originally, the civic center bond package was on the ballot in May, but that election was postponed because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Local officials were given several options regarding May items, including moving them to November.

The city has gone about this the right way, bringing a citizen committee on board in January 2019 and holding public forums to discuss the proposal and answer questions. It has also launched a website dedicated to the project, providing depth, scope, information and detail.

We recognize this is a significant ask and it comes at a time when there is an undercurrent of uncertainty about the future as a result of the ongoing pandemic. That said, it is also an opportunity for Amarillo to double down on a vision that will expand the city’s vibrant downtown and amplify its competitiveness for numerous events on which it is missing out right now.

Likewise, the needs addressed by this package are not going away. This project has been on the city’s radar and part of the public conversation since 2011. The existing civic center was a wonderful facility, but after 52 years, it has served its purpose, and the window is closing as far as how many years it has left.

Longtime residents will remember the civic center was approved in 1964 and opened in 1968, and in many ways, it remains trapped in the 1960s, obsolete and antiquated.

Challenges include a lack of meeting space, a lack of pre-function space and the fact that it is undersized for large events. Ceilings are far below industry standards, and the current capacity of 4,800 takes it out of play for numerous concerts and similar events. The facility also lacks a full kitchen, which hamstrings caterers.

Simply put, the city, the surrounding area and current tenants have outgrown the facility. The impact is twofold: Amarillo is not competitive in terms of bringing new events to the community, meaning those events and their corresponding dollars are going elsewhere. Second, tenants who have been loyal partners and supporters of the city are looking at other options.

While some have suggested tackling the project in phases, that’s not a viable option as each piece of the proposal hinges on the others. If approved, the project would be complete by 2025, and a great downtown would become even more attractive.

The ongoing pandemic has caused a lot of trepidation in recent months, but if there has been one good thing to come out this, it’s the fact that interest rates have dropped significantly, and the city’s borrowing power has increased as a result. Since the original proposal earlier this year, the property tax impact has decreased from 15.1 cents per $100 valuation to 13.1 cents. Annualized, that translates to a $130.82 increase on a $100,000 valuation.

Once fully operational, the projected return on investment for the city will be significant. A conservative estimate suggests that would begin with the venue booking an additional 85 events, drawing 170,000 people and resulting in 32,500 hotel room nights for an economic impact of $27.3 million. Going forward from there, projections tick upward from $36 million to $63 million per year.

The complex would be another game-changer in terms of economic impact, following the pattern of Hodgetown, the downtown home of the city’s Texas League baseball franchise, and the Texas Tech vet school, scheduled to welcome its first class next fall.

Rather than think about what it costs to take on this project, the better question might be what it will cost if Amarillo does not do this. The needs will not go away, but economic opportunities will vanish, lost forever.

Vote yes and help Amarillo move toward an even brighter future.