Downtown ballpark hangs in the balance

Published: Jun. 5, 2015 at 1:57 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 5, 2015 at 12:45 PM CDT
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Amarillo, TX - The future of the multi-purpose event venue (MPEV) in downtown Amarillo is now unclear and the promise of playing ball by spring 2017 could be broken.

That is because the recent election ushered in a new age for the Amarillo City Council with two new councilmen and one more on the way.

The new councilmen, Elisha Demerson and Randy Burkett, gave their word that they would make the public's voice heard when it comes to downtown projects like the MPEV. However, their word could now affect the word the previous city council gave to investors when they promised there would be a ballpark downtown.

"All the dominoes are lined up to fall one way or the other," said Mayor Paul Harpole. "If they start the wrong direction, I'm afraid all the other dominoes will fall too and that does concern me."

After almost a decade of planning, you can now see dirt moving in downtown Amarillo. Demolition of the Renaissance in the 700 block of Buchanan recently began and will be the home of the new Xcel Energy Headquarters. This is one of two projects totaling more than $80 million in private investments.

However, Harpole said the investor of the other project, the convention center hotel, could pull out if the MPEV is put on hold. "I don't see how the hotel could possibly be successful nor does the hotel owner unless we do a venue like the ballpark, a multi-use stadium where he can get people to stay an extra night in his hotel."

Harpole said it is now up to the new city council to decide if the MPEV will move forward. "Could it stop? Sure it could. If three people get on there that join in the idea of stopping it, it could be stopped. Sadly for our city, we will begin to regress horribly. I also would ask what developer would ever come here again if we don't follow through with everything we are looking at right now."

The two place 4 candidates, Steve Rogers and Mark Nair, both support downtown revitalization but feel differently when it comes to the ballpark.

"The city has effectively given those private investors our word that the ballpark would occur," said Steve Rogers. "For us not to build it would mean that we welched on our word and I don't think the city wants to be put in a position of not being good on its word."

"I question the value of the stadium," said Mark Nair. "I cannot find an economic analysis that shows stadiums work. I can find many that say they fail or they do zero for the economy of the city and it's not worth the investment. I cannot find any that makes them succeed, so I am asking for that information to see if there is any validity into what we are talking about."

Harpole agrees educating the public on the MPEV fell through the cracks and now the city is playing catch-up.

Many residents have suggested expanding the Amarillo Civic Center instead of building a ballpark. The ballpark comes at no cost to residents since it will be funded through the hotel occupancy tax and patrons visiting the stadium. However, funding a Civic Center expansion would be a different story.

"We cannot touch the Civic Center without putting a referendum in front of the voters," said Harpole. "At this point it is estimated it would raise your taxes from 34 cents to probably above 50 cents."

Harpole said he still stands by his belief the MPEV and other downtown projects will bring in outside sales tax revenue and prevent the city from increasing property taxes.

The city council decided that no action will be taken on the MPEV until the place 4 council member is elected. The runoff election is Saturday, June 13.

RELATED: Why does Amarillo need a new baseball park and hotel?

Madison Alewel - NewsChannel 10