Amarillo is at an unfortunate economic crossroads built on economic illiteracy and excessive influence.
Almost a decade ago, Amarillo’s city government decided that economic development in downtown needed to be top priority. Officials devised a plan to build a convention hotel, parking garage and ballpark as the “catalyst” to spur downtown development. The project’s development partners eventually closed up shop overnight and left their client cities in the dark. However, Amarillo officials continued to push the downtown ballpark.
In 2015, voters elected three new members to the City Council, each of whom said that they planned to seek an election on the stadium. The new Council pushed for an election, while facing opposition from catalyst supporters. At least one economic development expert told the Council that the stadium would not result in economic development. However, he was dismissed by downtown supporters.
Several shadow groups soon formed to prop up the support for “better life through baseball,” one of which was supposedly pushed by millennial voters. In the end, it was found that several persons tied to the City, including a Councilman, had helped fund the “millennial” campaign.
Along with this group, supporters formed their own organization with a former Amarillo College president at their helm. The spokesman was often seen on television pedaling promises on the stadium.
The Catalyst group, Vote For Amarillo, told voters that the stadium would not cost taxpayers a dime and would host all types of events, bringing in new revenue for Amarillo. Voters narrowly approved building a $32 million stadium downtown, by just a few hundred votes in a non-binding election, even though there was no formal effort by those who opposed the “better life through baseball” argument put forward by the Catalyst proponents. In late 2017, Mayor Ginger Nelson and the City Council voted to approve a contract for a lease on the stadium with Elmore Sports Group. The contract calls for the stadium to cost almost $60 million when everything is said and done.
Nelson’s contract also shut down the City’s ability to use the stadium for concerts and other paying events, breaking many of the election-time promises. One Amarillo businessman helped broker the deal for the stadium, according to the Amarillo Globe-News. Interestingly enough, that person’s company ended up receiving a $1.8 million economic incentive package from the Amarillo EDC around the same time.
At the Amarillo Pioneer, we found out in early 2018 that the City of Amarillo had acquired the property for the stadium downtown through a possibly illegal use of economic development funds through the AEDC. From the available information, it appears that the City Council would have been required to seek voter approval to authorize the use of Type A sales tax funds in a “land swap” to acquire the property for the stadium. However, this election never occurred.
It was also found that at least one Amarillo television station, which is based in downtown Amarillo, knew of the failure to hold an election almost a year before the final contract was signed. However, nothing was ever published.
Claudette Smith and Michael Fisher, two concerned Amarillo residents, announced that they plan to seek an injunction to temporarily stop construction on the stadium until an election is held. Amarillo residents will have to let a court decide this for sure.
Today, Amarillo residents are at an economic crossroads due to a government wrought with economic illiteracy, in addition to stripping taxpayers of certain rights. We will now have to wait to see the fate of this potentially disastrous project.