It looks like Amarillo may finally have a chance to vote on renovations to the Amarillo Civic Center Complex next year. I have some initial thoughts as local residents begin discussing the future of this proposal and the venue itself.
First and foremost, I am pleased to see that the City of Amarillo seems to be more forthcoming as to what is actually included in this bond compared to previous bond proposals. However, there are some concerns that I have about reconciling the $40 million difference between the bond proposal amount and the actual project cost. If the case is that the remaining $40 million is planned to be covered using certificates of obligation, then the bond should be placed on the ballot for the full amount. Both forms of spending would include a debt increase for Amarilloans, so City officials might as well be fully transparent on that issue and let voters decide the whole enchilada.
It is also fascinating to me how the City of Amarillo included a large 10,000-seat venue in this bond proposal, considering the number of supporters of the City Council incumbents who pushed back against that idea in 2017 and 2019’s municipal elections. It will be interesting to see if their opinions against the arena will remain solidly against, as they were at election time, or if they will come around to supporting the proposal. Surely their opinions weren’t influenced by tribalism, right?
And, before we go any further, let me mention that I am supportive of the idea of renovating and repairing the Amarillo Civic Center. I opposed the 2016 bond proposal because I believed that it did not actually solve any of the existing problems at the venue. I am not well-versed enough with the specifics of this proposal yet to render a verdict as to that issue, but I do plan to do my research and arrive at a position based on the facts and not on a warped view of issues influenced by our local politicians and Amarillo Matters cheerleaders.
Now, let me discuss my concerns about this project.
First, the proposed tax increase is a rather large one. For a home valued at $100,000, the tax increase will come out to roughly $151 per year. That is a large pill to swallow considering that Amarillo College, Amarillo ISD, and Canyon ISD all recently passed tax increases through bonds. Plus, with the complete lack of fiscal responsibility or money management at the Potter County Commissioners’ Court, it seems to be a big gamble to assume that this will be the only large tax increase coming in the next five to ten years. Simply put, a City would be very foolish to tax its citizens into oblivion.
Secondly, I have concerns about the projects that have been revealed to be part of the proposal. I think a hearty debate should be had on the proposals to build a 10,000-seat arena and to renovate the Civic Center. However, I cannot comprehend why voters would support relocating City Hall at the tune of roughly $20 million, or why they would support an additional $15 million parking garage construction project. There has been no evidence to suggest that the parking garage currently located downtown has been a wise investment by the City of Amarillo, and perhaps it is even more notable considering the lack of vendors in the empty retail spaces on the ground floor of the current parking garage
I also have concerns about the Santa Fe Depot’s place in this project. The Santa Fe Depot is a historic property, so there must be a real effort made at historic preservation. However, if the depot is not planned to be utilized as some form of an event venue, then why is it included in the Civic Center bond proposal? Again, I have no knowledge as to what the City’s plans for the depot will be, but I think those should be addressed, especially considering that voters voted against a bond that included Santa Fe Depot renovations in 2016. Let’s hope this proposal will not be some reheated version of the flawed proposal of 2016, and if the proposal happens to be a carbon copy of the 2016 proposal, then voters should very much weigh their 2016 vote into this decision for 2020.
Finally, I have real concerns about the timing of the ballot proposal. I think the City of Amarillo is making the right call in not attempting to place this item on the November 2019 ballot, but I do think that May 2020 is still bad timing for this election. At that point, the Civic Center proposal is very likely to be the only item on the ballot, and as such, will likely draw a minuscule voter turnout. It is already difficult enough to get a turnout higher than 12 percent for a local election in Amarillo when candidates are involved. With just one item, I could see turnout running as low as 4 to 5 percent.
With a tax impact as large as the one carried in this proposal, and with a decision as consequential as the one presented to Amarillo voters regarding the Civic Center, the only right thing for the City Council to do is to wait to place the item on the November 2020 ballot. Placing this item on the November 2020 ballot would ensure that voters have over a year to familiarize themselves with the proposal, as well as it would provide an opportunity for more voters to participate in this critically important vote. Considering that this will be the largest single bond proposal placed on an Amarillo ballot in almost a decade, I believe the wait would be very much justified.
There are my initial thoughts on this proposal. While I plan to familiarize myself even more with the details in the coming days and weeks, I do hope that City officials will hear and consider my opinions and the opinions of the thousands of Amarilloans who tax bills will be impacted by this proposal. And I hope the City will especially consider my proposal to place the bond issue on the November 2020 ballot, as it would be the only right thing for the City to do on this issue.
-Thomas Warren III, Editor-in-Chief