Amarillo, TX - Wednesday morning in downtown Amarillo was filled with supporters, WT cheerleaders, and sledgehammers.
"We took sledgehammers and hit the side of the building showing that it's going to be redone," said Mayor of Amarillo Paul Harpole. "It's just been exciting."
West Texas A&M University launched the renovations that will turn the vacant Commerce building on south Tyler into a standalone Amarillo campus downtown.
"It's a big deal," said Vice President of Institutional Advancement at WT, Tim Bynum. "It will be an avenue for people that are pursuing advance degrees and graduate degrees to come to Amarillo from rural areas. It's more convenient to do that in Amarillo than it is in Canyon and we understand that."
It will take about $15 million to turn the building into the new WTAMU Amarillo Center. The first phase of renovations will include an exterior demolition. The next phase will begin next fall and focus on the inside of the building.
University officials say the school is still raising funds for renovations. Amarillo National Bank donated $1 million this week for the project that will also help fund down classes for the college. Amarillo National Bank joins the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation and the Harrington Foundations as partners for this project.
"Our family believes in any project that makes our city better and we believe education is key. So, it was an easy decision," said Vice President of Amarillo National Bank, William Ware. "Bringing WT to Amarillo is one of the greatest improvements our city's seen in years. As part of revitalization, you need a lot of different projects. Bringing a university will bring more people than any single project."
City officials agree and say having a four-year university will help begin a new era for downtown Amarillo.
"This is just another piece of the puzzle to transform the city," said Mayor Harpole. "It will also help entrepreneurs come into this one center and have a kind of one stop place to get the advice they need to grow."