Pretty much everyone is in agreement: the Amarillo Civic Center needs to be renovated. The question is, how do we do that?
For those who don't know, I absolutely love the Amarillo Civic Center. From seeing legends like George Jones and Willie Nelson grace the stage to seeing the biggest professional wrestlers in the world do battle in the Coliseum, I have attended hundreds of events (including concerts, conventions, trade shows, comic cons, gun shows, collector shows, antique shows, rodeos, graduations, etc.) at the Civic Center. I love that building and the history it has and I think that the Civic Center's general manager, Sherman Bass, is doing a great job. However, pretty much everyone in Amarillo agrees that the Civic Center is in need of repairs.
The Civic Center could always use more convention space, but the primary place that needs help is in the Coliseum of the building. Promoters have cancelled shows at the venue due to the small dimensions of the roof and the seating is lacking in all honesty. It is unfortunate, but there are a number of reasons that performers like Blake Shelton, Garth Brooks, Metallica, Pitbull, Taylor Swift and others are playing at Lubbock's 15,000 seat United Supermarkets Arena versus Amarillo's 5,000 seat Coliseum. This is not to knock the Coliseum, because I love that venue as well and the most recent event I attended there, Aaron Watson and Pat Green's show, was excellent and the venue was just right. However, there are still concerns that need to be addressed.
I received a call on Friday morning from a gentleman who said that he received a telephone poll from a company in Utah that asked about several municipal issues. I cannot speak to the subject matter of that poll, as I have not received it and do not know what is asked. However, I was told that the pollsters asked recipients how they would feel about increasing term length for City Councilmembers and about whether voters would approve a $200 million bond election for Civic Center repairs or replacements.
Obviously, I would be against increasing the City Council's terms, as two year terms have been the norm for years and I don't see a major reason to change unless the City Council is considering single-member, staggered elections. The Civic Center question is where things get a little more complicated.
Personally, I would love to see Amarillo have some form of what Lubbock has with the United Supermarkets Arena and I don't feel that a ballpark is going to cut it. The thing to realize about the USA in Lubbock, however, is that that venue was primarily funded by private donors. Private citizens like Laura Street and Bill Gililand said that they planned to raise money for the ballpark in 2015, but have seemingly disappeared. So, in saying that, I don't have a lot of faith in Amarillo's private donors for entertainment projects.
While I would love to see a version of the United Supermarkets Arena, I recognize that funding (or a lack thereof) is a major issue.
First, I do not think that funding could even go on a ballot for Civic Center renovations until after November of next year, as the City Charter states that a single item cannot appear on a ballot in Amarillo more than once every three years and voters turned down Civic Center renovations in 2016.
Secondly, if the City actually wants to renovate the Civic Center, there needs to be a better plan than what was presented in 2016 in the form of an $83 million package. The entire City Council all said they voted for Proposition 5, which was Civic Center improvements. However, this shows that the City Council is out of touch as Proposition 5 would have done very little for the Civic Center. The majority of Amarilloans want improvements in the entertainment venues of the Civic Center first. Proposition 5, which I was against, would have added a kitchen to the Civic Center and would have added some new convention space and a new facade improvement. That's nice, but everything there, with the exception of the convention space, would not have added any new money into the local economy and that is a problem. There also wasn't even a guarantee that the City could attract any new conventions with the added space.
Finally, I am not in favor of voters adding on new debt for the Civic Center projects. The City of Amarillo has not even proven themselves capable to handle debt on the ballpark with HOT tax money. Do we really trust them to handle debt on the Civic Center with property tax money?
In saying all of this, I am by no means against Civic Center renovations. However, I want to see an actual detailed plan before anything is decided. Also, I would like to see the City Council obey the City Charter and wait to hold an election until 2020 if that is what they plan to do. I also want to see a better plan for the Civic Center than just piling on the debt. Remember, Winston Churchill said "I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle."
We simply cannot abide under this idea that increasing taxes and piling on debt is the way to prosperity. I would love to see a larger venue in Amarillo, but I want sensible solutions instead of supercharged rhetoric. While Mayor Ginger Nelson has said that having a low tax rate should not be worn like a "badge of honor," I contend that having a fiscally responsible government is something worth bragging about. Unfortunately, we don't have a fiscally responsible governing body at the top of the structure.
If Amarillo wants Civic Center renovations, let's talk about it and come up with a plan that does not involve burdening future generations with a crushing property tax burden. It is not even known whether the ballpark will be able to cash flow yet, so I just don't feel comfortable racing out to add up more debt when the ballpark very well could, and likely will, end up on the backs of property taxpayers in one way or another.
So, let's come up with solutions and actually figure out a path forward. We shouldn't even consider starting our way down a path to a new Civic Center if we don't know what that path entails. And we definitely don't need to start down that path if we can't even afford the journey.