While local businesses struggle with the effects of recent coronavirus shutdowns and many citizens are still out of work, the Amarillo City Council voted this week to buy more downtown property—including an abandoned warehouse—justifying the purchase as a potential site for a new city hall.

On Tuesday, city council voted unanimously to purchase three properties in downtown Amarillo from Rio Canadian Rental Properties for a cost of $4,750,000 to the taxpayer. According to the Potter-Randall Appraisal District, the three properties purchased have a cumulative tax appraisal of $974,464.

After making the purchase, the City of Amarillo released a social media post stating the old warehouse could be a prospective site for a new city hall. In an interview with KFDA-TV, Mayor Ginger Nelson defended the expenditure, claiming that buying a new property and refurbishing it would be the cheapest way to acquire a new city hall.

“We thought that was a better use of taxpayer dollars, and there was some cost efficiency to be gained by refurbishing an existing building versus buying a brand-new building,” Nelson said.

City officials say refurbishing the building will cost taxpayers roughly $12 million.

The expenditure has come under scrutiny, with taxpayers pointing out the city council already bought a number of other properties within blocks of the newly acquired properties in recent years. Many of those structures are currently sitting as storage. Taxpayers have also raised questions regarding whether the existing Amarillo City Hall needs to be replaced.

Citizens will have a say on the proposed new city hall in November’s election, where they will decide the fate of a $275 million bond package. That debt would fund the lion’s share of a $319 million Amarillo Civic Center and a downtown projects plan, which includes a new city hall. All bond debt must be repaid with interest using local property taxes.

Amarillo citizen James Schenck is among those expressing concerns about the project.

“To me, city hall is some more of the unneeded pork attached to the civic center bond project,” Schenck said.

Early voting will begin on October 13. Citizens concerned about the city hall plans are encouraged to contact their local elected officials.

Thomas Warren

Thomas Warren, III is the editor-in-chief of the Amarillo Pioneer newspaper in Amarillo, Texas.