Just months after voters rejected the Amarillo City Council’s ballot proposal to issue $275 million in debt for a number of downtown projects, including renovations to the Amarillo Civic Center Complex, council members have voted to kickstart the process of considering new renovations to the facility.

Last week, the Amarillo City Council voted 5-0 to hire Garfield Public/Private LLC to fulfill a predevelopment services contract related to the Amarillo Civic Center. According to a memo attached to last week’s agenda, the item allows the City of Amarillo to seek Garfield’s “advice and counsel in connection with the planning, design, and construction of a project consisting of a modern arena, the rehabilitation and expansion of the Amarillo Civic Center Complex, the rehabilitation of the Santa Fe Depot, and associated parking facilities to serve the citizens and businesses of the City and the general public.” The item carries a maximum cost of $494,200.

The memo for the meeting also goes on to state the predevelopment period includes services such as conceptual design; updating construction cost estimates; analyzing current civic center operations; third-party review of environmental, geotechnical, and market studies; public and stakeholder engagement; and preparation of a public/private finance plan for the project. During predevelopment, the city will also negotiate with Garfield the terms and conditions of a professional services agreement that will include services related to the funding, strategy and potential ownership structures for the civic center project, a business plan for the program, conceptual design, estimated development cost, development schedule, operating pro forma, and funding, operating and ownership alternatives for the civic center project.

Prior to the vote, Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson said she believes the item allows the city council to explore options for the civic center before moving forward to their next step.

“I think we’re in an exploratory phase, wanting to know what are the options, what are the different ways to pay for it—not just landing on the property taxpayers. So, that’s really what I see as a focus of this next step,” Nelson said.

With a focus on the rehabilitation and expansion of the civic center, the rehabilitation of the Santa Fe Depot, and parking facilities downtown, the agreement with Garfield includes a focus on three projects turned down by voters last November in Amarillo’s Proposition A. The $275 million bond issue, which would have carried a 39 percent property tax increase if passed, was rejected by a margin of 62-38 percent.

Much of the criticism of the November ballot issue focused on the fact that the city council not only put forward a 39 percent tax increase, but they also included several projects in the spending package that were unrelated to the expansion, renovation, and operation of the Amarillo Civic Center.

After the item’s defeat, Amarillo businessmen Alex Fairly and Jerry Hodge presented the city council with a new plan that would have focused on minimal renovations to the current civic center facility and the construction of an arena with expansion capabilities.

That project, which was priced at roughly $209 million less than the city council’s defeated plan, was ultimately not accepted as a roadmap for the facility, with Nelson declining to consider the project before her re-election campaign this past May.

Thomas Warren

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