OPINION

Beilue: Like generations past, Amarillo must be bold

Staff Writer
Amarillo Globe-News
Beilue

If our nation is at a crossroads Nov. 3, then so too is the city of Amarillo. Proposition A, the $275 million bond for a new Civic Center complex, is yet another defining moment in the 133-year history of Amarillo, a crucial marker that could shape this city for the next half-century.

Nearly 170 years ago, in 1852, Army Capt. Randolph Marcy was assigned to make an exploratory search of this barren region and the possibility of making this area into a permanent settlement. This was his official report:

“The Llano Estacado is the Great Sahara of North America…a region as vast and tractless as the ocean. It is a land where no man, savage or civilized, permanently abides. It spreads forth in a treeless, desolate waste of uninhabited solitude, which always has been, and must continue, to be uninhabited FOREVER.”

Fortunately, some hearty souls could see what Marcy could not. Men from the Midwest and East, men like J.I. Berry, Henry Sanborn and J.B. Glidden, saw the potential of this open area.

So 35 years after Marcy declared this part of the world uninhabitable, the tiny town of Amarillo was established in 1887. In 1918, gas was discovered north of Amarillo, and oil was discovered in 1921. And here we go.

The 1930s could have – and maybe should have -- killed Amarillo with the double whammy of the Depression and Dust Bowl, yet resilient Amarillo’s population grew by 19 percent that decade to 51,000.

The 1950s were the dawn of a new era in which Amarillo’s population exploded by 85 percent. The city went from 74,000 to 138,000 by the end of the decade. Amarillo was coming of age. Life was good.

Then came 1964. And life wasn’t. The announcement Amarillo Air Force Base would close was still the worst single economic blow in city history. Conventional thinking was it was a time to circle the wagons and minimize risk.

City leaders and this community of voters did what may seem an odd thing, but they invoked the spirit of this city’s stubborn founders 75 years before them. They weren’t giving into fear, but they pushed their chips to the middle of the table and said, we’re all in. We believe in this city. We believe in ourselves.

So with nervous rumors of the base closing, the city proposed a $5.5 million bond in 1964 for a new Civic Center complex to replace the old Civic Auditorium. Now? If there had been social media, the Internet would have exploded.

That $5.5 million is $45 million in today’s dollars with 80,000 fewer people to fund it. But in a time of economic uncertainty, it passed. For many, they were paying for trees under which their shade they may not rest. But their children would, their grandchildren would.

The Civic Center was that jewel in the crown that ushered Amarillo into the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s. It was that gathering place for a community and the Panhandle.

But everything has an expiration date. Over 52 years, the times are passing and frankly have passed the Civic Center by. The Coliseum is a dinosaur and has simply become physically obsolete for many events. The required space is limited.

Competitors in other similar cities have passed Amarillo. Events, like the World Championship Working Ranch Rodeo, events that were born here, don’t want to leave, but they all but will. Others will follow.

So here we are, where 2020 in a way is like 1964. We have stood on the shoulders of giants, lounged in the shade they have provided, and now it’s this generation’s turn.

This city faces the final and biggest of three pieces that could catapult Amarillo over the next half-century to heights unrealized. The most recent is the Texas Tech Vet School on Coulter, approved in 2019, which overcame immense political pressure and financial obstacles.

The first piece this city experienced with 450,000 settling in their seats on warm nights last summer in a $47 million jewel of a downtown stadium known simply as Hodgetown.

And now comes the biggest piece – the $275 million bond for a state-of-the-art Civic Center complex. Its anchor is a 10,100-seat arena designed by the preeminent stadium architects in the country and all the impressive surrounding amenities that will make the huge complex a delightful destination for events and the public for the next 50 years. (For all pertinent information, see conversationciviccenter.com)

It’s a big ask. It’s $130.82 additional property tax increase annually per $100,000 valuation. It represents just more than a 5 percent increase on a total property tax bill annually. Those age 65 and over have no increase.

For Amarillo, it’s a total commitment. But in this city’s 133 years, this is not the first big ask, not the first total commitment. And there’s no question we’re a better city because others said yes, we will sacrifice today for a better tomorrow.

Regardless of the election, Amarillo will not stay status quo. We will either take a major leap forward or fall further behind to the point we may never recover.

Amarillo, even in these times, is on the cusp of a future that dreamers like myself could only imagine. It’s a city that rises on its own merit and courage.

The future of this city -- from the infancy of the 1880s in a place that some thought should remain uninhabited, to the Depression and Dust Bowl of the 1930s, through the growth of the 1950s, to the uncertain 1960s -- has never been entrusted to the timid or the negative.

It’s our town. It’s our time. It’s our turn.

Jon Mark Beilue is a member of Build Amarillo political action committee. He is a former Globe-News columnist and sports editor.