Amarillo mayor speaks out about former downtown master developer

Amarillo mayor speaks out about former downtown master developer
SOURCE: KFDA
SOURCE: KFDA

Amarillo, TX - Former downtown master developer Wallace Bajjali unexpectedly closed shop in January, putting into question if the city properly vetted the company before hiring them and if taxpayers lost out.

A feud between principal partners David Wallace and Costa Bajjali of Wallace Bajjali Development Group ended in both their resignations, leaving the company without anyone to run it. This all happened while they were still developing Amarillo's $14 million parking garage and in negotiations with the city about developing the multi-purpose event venue, commonly referred to as "The Ballpark."

Amarillo Mayor Paul Harpole sat down with NewsChannel10 Monday and showed us hundreds of pages of documents detailing the good and bad of Wallace Bajjali. A law firm in Dallas uncovered binders full of information to vet the developer before the city hired them back in 2011. "They looked at everything they could to say are these people reasonable, can they perform and and have they been honest in their past dealings. Every one of these (documents) says to move ahead," said Harpole.

However, the city moved ahead with caution, especially this past year. "We have watched them over a year, year and a half as they haven't quite performed," explained Harpole. "I'm not happy with how they left. No one's happy with that. We expected they would be better partners in the long run. But we've restricted them and protected the taxpayers all along the way."

Harpole said certain contractual agreements ensured Wallace Bajjali never received a dime they didn't earn. In total, the city paid them $924,412.35. City officials said that amount was for tasks they accomplished during the development planning process. On January 27, the Amarillo Local Government Corporation Board voted unanimously to terminate all four remaining contracts with Wallace Bajjali.

"It's like one of those terrible, ugly divorces that no one wants," said Harpole. "We're not happy with that, but we retained the assets. And we will move forward with those assets to let the city grow and prosper."

City officials will now oversee the construction of the downtown parking garage and the ballpark. "We can do that just like we built our airport. Our airport was over a $50 million project," explained Harpole. "It's a matter of having the right support staff, the right people, the right contractor to do it, and the city is well qualified and has proved with our airport that we can do a ballpark and a parking garage."

The downtown convention hotel will be built without the city paying a cent thanks to Newcrest Image. "They will invest $42 million on our property, making us the ultimate owner of the hotel and their payment for that $42 million hotel is they get to operate it for 80 years. So we couldn't have a better deal for a downtown hotel," added Harpole.

Harpole said he is confident the projects will move forward as planned, even without a master developer. "I believe in two years, they will be booking people at the hotel desk. And I believe about six months before that they will be parking cars in that garage. And I believe a year after the hotel is open, we will be throwing the first baseball at the park."

Harpole said he wants to be completely transparent about the city's dealings with Wallace Bajjali. He said anyone is welcome to stop by his office to look through the documents used to vet the former master developer.

Madison Alewel - NewsChannel 10