The City of Amarillo may have broken the law in the downtown baseball stadium construction project, according to documents obtained by the Amarillo Pioneer.
As we recently reported, the City of Amarillo recently broke ground on the downtown stadium project after the Amarillo City Council signed a lease on the stadium with Elmore Sports Group in late 2017. In 2013, the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation completed a land swap with Coca-Cola Refreshments for a property which is just south of Amarillo City Hall. The City of Amarillo also served as a party to the swap, ensuring that the property could be used by the City of Amarillo. The property acquired in the trade will serve as home to the downtown baseball stadium.
However, the Texas Local Government Code appears to show that the way in which the City of Amarillo and the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation obtained the land was illegal under the current structure of the AEDC. Texas Local Government Code Chapter 504 says that because the stadium project would be prohibited under the current structure of the AEDC, the organization would have been required to call for an election.
"An authorizing municipality may submit to the voters of the municipality a ballot proposition that authorizes the Type A corporation to use the sales and use tax imposed under this chapter," Local Government Code Chapter 504, Section 152 states. including any amount previously authorized and collected, for a specific project or for a specific category of projects that do not qualify under this chapter but qualify under Chapter 505, including a sports venue and related infrastructure."
As the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation is currently structured, the corporation can only use the tax dollars it receives for economic development projects that "retain" primary jobs. This designation makes the corporation a "Type A" corporation, as defined by Chapter 504 of the Local Government Code.
If the City of Amarillo had decided to pursue the stadium project with Type A AEDC funds, Chapter 505 of the Local Government Code states that the municipality would have had to have held a public forum that would inform citizens of the cost and impact of the project before any tax dollars were spent.
While the City of Amarillo also held a non-binding election on the stadium in 2015, that would not have sufficed the law. According to the Texas Municipal League handbook, the election law would have required the sports venue to be "clearly defined." If Type A tax dollars were also to be used for maintenance of the stadium, that would have been required to be stated on the ballot.
In 2011, City of Amarillo officials also signed a contract that mentioned the need for an election, but an election was never held. In the City of Amarillo's contract with Wallace-Bajjali Partners, the architect of the downtown projects, the developers and the City of Amarillo included a clause in the contract that would have allowed for the contract to be severed if voters turned down any election issues. Specifically, the lease stated that "the need" for elections on the downtown stadium and downtown convention hotel may arise and if voters turned down either project, the City of Amarillo would have no further business with Wallace-Bajjali on the downtown projects.
The failure by the City of Amarillo to hold an election on the stadium deal means that the City of Amarillo may have broken the law during the project.