From The Amarillo Independent
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Downtown Amarillo Inc. dithers as plans languish
Part 1 – Documents show behind-closed-door dealings for DAI, city
Downtown Amarillo Inc. director stonewalls information about public business
By George Schwarz and Greg Rohloff
The Amarillo Independent
Revitalizing Amarillo’s downtown has been an on and off the proposition for decades.
But, in 2008, the city Commission seemed to get serious again and authorized the establishment of a nonprofit development firm, Downtown Amarillo Inc., funding it with taxpayer money at more than $200,000 a year. It contracted with DAI to undertake downtown development, including drafting and pushing through design standardsfor the downtown area.
All the activity of DAI went on behind closed doors, despite a call by DAI board member Richard Ware, president of Amarillo National Bank, that the meetings should be open, with executive sessions reserved for those matters authorized under the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Those meetings remain closed, although DAI and The Amarillo Independent have asked the Texas Attorney General’s Office for a ruling.
And while DAI may have plenty on its plate, the main course is a major convention hotel downtown — a dream for city of Amarillo officials and city leaders.
But a review of documents that Downtown Amarillo fought to keep secret shows the plan may be just that — a dream. And as of July 7, that dream may have been put on hold for another six months, if a letter from DAI to developers ever went out.
While much of the material that DAI turned over to The Amarillo Independent was heavily redacted, e-mails and board meeting minutes of the nonprofit’s governing body show discussions about other matters that were not heretofore publicly known.
·The process for qualifying and working with a developer for a downtown hotel to serve the convention center has run in fits and starts, with questions about the entire process from the developers, who wondered about how much taxpayer money the city of Amarillo would have to invest for the project to be viable.
· A ball field or sports complex downtown may be further along than city commissioners have acknowledged during public meetings.
· Combing through the documents reveals a deeper involvement by DAI in city affairs and in DAI’s working with the City Commission and city employees than previously evident.
··A pattern has appeared that almost every initiative discussed at the closed-door board meetings has taken longer than the optimistic time frames that the executive director has indicated to the board.
··DAI is introduced to the idea of a Public Improvement District for a part of downtown that does not encompass the entire area either under the urban design standards the City Commission recently adopted or under the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. Instead, the western boundary of the possible PID is Van Buren Street.
DAI, heavily supported by taxpayer money to the tune of more than $400,000 over two years, was ordered by the Texas attorney general to make some of its records public. The agency did so with heavy redactions while, in an Aug. 31 letter, asking the AG for a further ruling on keeping specific information from public view.
In a series of e-mails, Melissa Dailey, Downtown Amarillo Inc. executive director, refused repeatedly to meet for an on-the-record interview with the Independent. Instead, her e-mail response was similar with each request: “… (p)lease email any questions you have and I will respond as soon as possible;” or “Please email me anyquestions you have and I will comment on them or answer them to thebest of my ability.”
In addition, on Sept. 8, after the Independent acceded to her stonewalling for e-mailed questions so she might respond, Dailey wrote
back to say she could not respond by Sept. 9; but shortly before 9 p.m. she had submitted her non-answers.
In this next part of this multipart series, The Amarillo Independent explores the beginnings of the capstone project for revitalizing downtown Amarillo — a convention center hotel near the Civic Center — possibly on the city-owned land south of the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts.
Part 2 – Convention hotel downtown: Dream or Pipe Dream?
While a downtown-convention center hotel had long been on the city’s radar, the issue came up in the Dec. 10, 2008, board meeting, when Richard Ware, president of Amarillo National Bank, met with Bobby Lee, owner of the Big Texan Steak Ranch and Motel.
At the May 6, 2009, board meeting of Downtown Amarillo Inc., Les Simpson, publisher of the Amarillo Globe-News and president of the DAI board, reported that the state Senate has passed a motel/hotel bill satisfactory to a variety of hotel interests across Texas; the bill at that time awaited House approval.
The bill would facilitate establishment of an Amarillo convention center hotel downtown.
The legislation, according to June 9, 2009, minutes, would allow the city to use taxpayer money to build a convention hotel, explicitly stating, “The City is looking at a lot south of the Globe-News Center for the hotel site.”
It was at this point that Melissa Dailey, at that time the newly hired executive director, suggested that DAI become involved.
It was at the DAI board’s July 6, 2009, meeting that the minutes show the city had agreed to put together a “stakeholders group” to work with a consultant.
“It is expected that DAI will be part of that process,” the minutes state.
At the Sept. 1, 2009, DAI board meeting, Dailey called for a committee to guide the hotel development, with the board going along with a written request to city officials for the panel to include representatives from DAI, Center City and the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone as well as the city.
The Oct. 1, 2009, board minutes reflect the city’s acquiescence to turning over spearheading development of the Civic Center area to DAI.
“Regarding the hotel study, there is indication that there will be a joint meeting between DAI and the City (sic) to discuss moving forward on the hotel. DAI needs to be ready for the hand-off (sic) of the hotel to DAI when the City (sic) is ready,” the minutes state. “Richard (Ware) motioned (sic) that DAI form a committee to address the hotelpartnership with the City (sic).”
Dailey had sent out a request for qualifications to developers and planned for a Feb. 18, 2010, conference with developers. By April 1, minutes of the board meetings became heavily redacted, meaning some of the information was blacked out.
Whenever the Independent questioned specific redacted information in the documents, Dailey’s response was the same, “Please refer to the letter to the Attorney General dated 8-31-10, which you have been sent a copy of by our attorney.”
Still, in the minutes, Dailey reported responses from eight developers: Garfield Traub, Noble Investments, Zion Hospitality, HRI, Journeyman, MJS Realty, Realty America and Woodbine Development. She also reported to the board that a request for proposals was being drafted, a short list would be sent to the convention hotel committee and the RFP would go out in about a month.
By the end of April, four finalists from the request for qualifications process would be invited to respond to a request for proposal. Those were Garfield Traub, Noble Investments, HRI and Woodbine Development, according to the April 26, 2010, board minutes.
Dailey’s e-mail response to questions about who chose the finalists and how the finalists were chosen shed little light on the process.
“The process was delineated in the RFP as released by the City of Amarillo (see attached),” she wrote.
But she supplied no attachment.
However, by June, hotel development had become iffy, at best.
In the next part of this multipart series, The Amarillo Independent explores how the capstone project for revitalizing downtown Amarillo — a convention center hotel near the Civic Center — starts to unravel.
Part 3 – The “Deal” Starts to Unravel
Over a period of months, city of Amarillo officials and Melissa Dailey, primarily under the guidance of Downtown Amarillo Inc. board president Les Simpson (according to minutes and e-mails), worked to line up developers for a convention center full-service hotel. With the hotel ostensibly near the Civic Center, the plan was to choose developers who would be asked to propose a project to DAI and the city.
But, earlier this summer, things took a turn for the worse.
At the June 3 board meeting, Dailey reported that two of the developers had dropped out of the process.
“Noble stated their concern being an out dated Civic Center and no plans to update it, and Woodbine stated concerns that the city needed to put more investment in the hotel than they were indicating,” the minutes state.
Dailey and City Planning Director Kelley Shaw received word about Noble Investments on May 24 in an e-mail from Rob Hunden, president of Hunden Strategic Partners, the consulting firm that had been selected to do the hotel study and which was now working with developers responding to the request for proposal. In that memo, Hunden wrote that Noble, deciding to pull out of the process, had raised substantial questions about the entire viability of the entire project.
“They do not believe that the product called for in the market can be a long-term success, Even If the City owns it outright,” Hunden wrote. “They’re concerned about the quality of the Civic Center (need to renovation/facelift). They believe that at the most they would get behind 150-room limited service hotel with access function space.”
Hunden called the information disappointing, noting that there was nothing to do to change the developer’s mind.
That prompted a response from Shaw three minutes later: “Wow… This is going to be a real PR problem. Do you think that is actually the reasoning or could it be something else? That’s a weird question but seems like they would have already done such an analysis before wasting time.”
And five minutes later, Dailey responded to Shaw and Hunden by speculating that DAI will likely get similar comments about the need for renovation, not just expansion, of the Civic Center from other developers.
“It’s evident it’s needed,” she wrote. “Maybe this will spark some serious discussion about the idea.”
One minute after responding to Shaw and Hunden, Dailey forwarded the entire exchange to Les Simpson, the president of the DAI board, with the reminder that she brought up a concern about the condition of the Civic Center six months earlier.
Fifteen minutes later, Dailey forwarded Hunden’s e-mail to the remainder of the DAI board as well as Civic Center Director Sherman Bass, Amarillo Convention and Visitors Bureau head Jerry Holt and city Purchasing Agent Taylor Norman, telling them that Journeyman, the developer that had finished fifth out of eight on the DAI preference list, was still an alternative.
But a June 8 e-mail from Dailey to the board raised further questions.
Dailey wrote she followed up on a board discussion of that day about the convention hotel process and the developers’ pulling out.
“I just spent several hours with (redacted),” she wrote. “We discussed the hotel and Noble and Woodbine electing not to continue to the RFP process. Their take on the situation was that if the development community knew the big picture, the comprehensive land use plan we’re working to implement, that we would have likely seen a different (better) response to the RFQ and ultimately to the RFP.”
Dailey released no minutes from the DAI board meeting that, she wrote, took place June 8.
And, at that point, it would have been hard for developers to see Dailey’s big picture.
The June 3 meeting minutes contain the following sentence attributed to Dailey: “None of the developers were aware of the land-use planand efforts going on to redevelop the civic center (sic) area.”
And, there is a contradiction about whether the developers really understood the land-use plan that Dailey claims is available. When asked if DAI had contacted hotel developers without any indication of the land-use plan for downtown, she wrote, “A broad land use plan is delineated in the Strategic Action Plan which was provided to developers.”
But, the confusion gets worse.
In July 7 minutes, Dailey referred to the hotel developers’ being privy to the land-use plan before the public was, but in response to the Independent stated this wasn’t true. And when directly asked in writing if private developers were made aware of details of the land-use plan before the public was, she wrote, “No. DAI has not released the current land use plan we are working to the public or hotel developers.”
And where was the land-use plan?
During the July TIRZ board meeting, Dailey remarked in passing that information on the land-use and housing studies would be available by the next board meeting. But she was absent from the August meeting, and the September meeting was canceled because the board had no pressing business, said board Chairman Richard Brown. Dailey had not indicated to the board the status on the information from the studies.
In the next part of this multipart series, The Amarillo Independent explores how the capstone project for revitalizing downtown Amarillo — a convention center hotel near the Civic Center — is stalled for a variety of reasons, including money and confusion.
Part 4 – Down the drain?
Developers pull out amid confusion and planning secrecy
The city received word from Woodbine Development in a June 4 letter from B. Gregory Mowatt, senior vice president, that raised questions about a variety of issues surrounding the convention center.
Mowatt took note that other developers indicated they would invest in and own the property taking the city off the hook for ownership.
“Even though it would have been possible to bring potential owners to the table with our group, we were not in a position to do so without understanding more clearly the City’s preferences and the value of the subsidy package in public/private relationship,” he wrote. “Since we presume the city is looking for the path of least resistance and getting this hotel property completed, we believe it is proper to step aside and allow the city to move forward with those groups that indicated a willingness to come into the project as direct owners.”
But it’s the next two lines in Mowatt’s letter that raise questions: “Woodbine’s credibility has been built, in part on its integrity in its dealings within the municipalities in which it is active. Accordingly, we believe this to be the proper action on the part of the Woodbine team.”
On Thursday, Mowatt said there was nothing nefarious to read into that sentence. The city had another developer who was more likely to put equity into the deal and Woodbine did not want to interfere with or slow down the process.
“It wasn’t intended to infer that something happened that led us to pull out. It wasn’t that at all,” he said.
One thing driving Woodbine’s interest in the project was the city’s inducement package, but the city’s participation at that point was ill-defined. And, Woodbine knew the city was looking for minimal participation from the city and a larger proportion of equity from the developer.
“The rumor mill and real estate is pretty effective,” he said. “What we had been hearing was that there were already a couple of prospects that had lined up in the queue with us that were willing to directly own the project.”
With that information and no other information from the city, Woodbine’s greatest fear was it they would get into the project and “mess it up” for another developer or the city.
Some of those concerns may be reflected in a June 10 e-mail from Rob Hunden to Taylor Norman, the city purchasing agent, with copies to Melissa Dailey, Kelley Shaw and assistant city manager Vicki Covey. In that document, Hunden explained that bringing Journeyman in and giving them a month would work, but dragging the process out longer would frustrate the original developers chosen for the next step.
“There is already some fatigue with the process given the RFQ+RFP process,” Hunden wrote. “The more time provided the more costs mount for all involved.”
Hunden indicated that HRI and Garfield have already indicated some concerns to him about the rules of the game changing after the game starts.
With that, planning for the convention center hotel came to a halt.
And it did so very quietly.
The July 7 minutes refer to a meeting between the City Commission and DAI about ceasing the public (city) RFP process, a discussion not held during an open meeting with the City Commission, according to Dailey.
According to a July 7 e-mail exchange between Dailey and Les Simpson, Dailey was drafting a letter to the remaining potential developers telling them that progress on the hotel project would have to wait until the creation of a master land plan for the Civic Center area.
According to Dailey’s e-mailed response, the letter went out.
“I received phone calls from the developers, but no written replies,” her e-mail stated.
The optimistic draft letter, which apologized to developers for the inconvenience, touts the idea that such a plan would have a positive impact on the proposal process for hotel developers, and also states: “We anticipate initiating the hotel selection process in the near term. You may expect to be contacted within the next 180 days with complete information on the redevelopment effort including additionalproject elements.”
Woodbine’s Mowatt said Amarillo was a tough market and he was not surprised to learn that DAI and the city had put the process on hold.
The only way convention center hotels are going to be done in the current market, and maybe in most markets, is with substantial city participation, if not city ownership, he said, adding they become very political in nature.
Hunden did not respond to calls but on Sept. 9 e-mailed a refusal to comment: “Without knowing more information about what was released, I would not feel appropriate commenting at this time. Perhaps at a later date when we have a better understanding of what has been released and what has been redacted. I’m sorry I cannot be of more assistance today.”
Despite the perception of a hold on the hotel development, Dailey indicated in the minutes that someone was working in partnership with DAI to make a recommendation for the hotel developer. The person’s name was redacted and the standard answer to the reason was given: “Please refer to the letter to the Attorney General dated 8-31-10, which you have been sent a copy of by our attorney.”
In a review of documents that the Texas Attorney General’s Office ordered Downtown Amarillo Inc. to make public, The Amarillo Independent found that: a stadium or sports complex downtown may be further along than city commissioners have acknowledged during public meetings; DAI’s involvement in city affairs and with city employees is deeper than previously evident. Further, almost every initiative discussed in closed-door board meetings has taken longer than the optimistic time frames that the executive director has indicated to the board. And, DAI has introduced to the idea of a Public Improvement District for a part of downtown that raises questions — questions not answered byDAI’s responses.
Part 5-Will downtown revitalization be a home run?
Downtown ballpark remains possibility
On the second weekend in May, Downtown Amarillo Inc. Executive Director Melissa Dailey led a group to Grand Prairie for a night at the new ballpark there, the season opener for the Grand Prairie AirHogs.
QuikTrip Park is home to the AirHogs, who compete in the independent American Association, a league that last year had bid for the lease agreement for Potter County Memorial Stadium.
The AirHogs’ ballpark was built after a Grand Prairie election in 2007 on a 1/8th-cent sales tax to pay for the bulk of construction costs. When the measure was approved, Ventura Sports Group, which owns two minor league teams and is developing plans for four others, and which develops and operates stadiums, began work on QuikTrip Park in the city’s entertainment district.
The city of Grand Prairie put up $17 million, backed by the sales tax, and Ventura Sports, $1 million. The target for paying off the stadiumdebt is eight years, said Grand Prairie city spokeswoman Amy Sprinkles.
The city owns the property and collects $200,000 a year for its general fund. Ventura Sports operates the stadium and is responsible for its maintenance and upkeep, Sprinkles said.
QuikTrip Park— a convenience store chain bought the naming rights — seats 4,500 and includes 13 luxury seats. The outfield seating sections next to the foul poles and grass berms alongside the outfield foul lines make up the general admission areas and the $6 tickets. Club seats, at $13 a ticket, are along the infield foul lines and closest to the dugouts, while behind them the box seats go for $9.
Roger W. Christoph, a managing partner of Ventura Sports, recalls that weekend trip, saying he had visited with Dailey, but did not recall any conversation with any of the others in the group.
A May 3, 2010, e-mail indicated that Downtown Amarillo Inc. board members Les Simpson, Gary Pitner and Glen Parkey, and City Commissioner Jim Simms were planning to make the trip, with Commissioners Madison Scott and Ron Boyd and Mayor Debra McCartt checking on the possibility of attending.
Since that weekend, though, Christoph said he has not had contact with DAI or Dailey.
And the only response Dailey would give about the visit was in an e-mail exchange when she was asked why a trip to Grand Prairie was necessary.
“To follow up on a recommendation in the Downtown Strategic Action Plan by exploring an existing outdoor multi-purpose entertainment venue,” she wrote.
“There’s no contracts, proposals or letters of intent,” Christoph said.
Christoph was reluctant to discuss any interest that Ventura Sports might have in an Amarillo stadium, noting that at the end of August, while he was out of the country, DAI had sent information about The Amarillo Independent’s open-records request for DAI’s meetings, expenses and communications, and that he wanted to turn over that information to his attorney before commenting.
What Christoph was willing to discuss, though, were how Ventura Sports has invested in independent minor league franchises and operations and how it is expanding now.
Along with the seating at QuikTrip Park, the stadium includes a pool, a couple of party decks, a 17,000-square-foot playground, a sports bar and grill, and a cigar bar. After each game, as fans are leaving, they are polled about their experience at the park, he said. Some attendees are so busy with the other amenities that they cannot recall which team had won.
Instead of the stadium’s being shuttered at the end of the baseball season, it remains in use for such events as car shows, concerts, festivals and corporate events, which help offset the cost of operating the team.
Ventura Sports also owns the El Paso Diablos and their new stadium.
In August, the city of Laredo awarded Ventura Sports a contract to develop and manage a new $18 million stadium with 7,000 seats, to bedesigned by the architectural firm HKS of Dallas. The decision was made despite protests from the Laredo Broncos organization, which has played in the United League at Veterans Stadium.
Ventura Sports indicates that it will bring several American Association exhibitions and series to the older stadium in 2011 and will open the new stadium in 2012 as part of the American Association. Ventura Sports’ website indicates it is planning three other new stadiums in Topeka, Kan., Montgomery County, Texas, and Brighton, Colo.
Amarillo and a ballpark
In 2008, when DAI’s predecessor committee conducted meetings with the consultant Gideon Toal of Fort Worth, reactions from Amarilloans to a downtown ballpark were mixed, with some fearing a new stadium would mean much higher ticket prices and concessions, given the experience with two defunct franchises, the Amarillo Dusters in Arena2 football and the Amarillo Gorillas in the Central Hockey League. They feared the Dillas would be priced out.
When that committee had completed its work, a ballpark was addressed in the action plan that was handed over to DAI.
Its priorities include: “Attract family oriented venues, events and programs that bring groups to Downtown. Subject to financial feasibility, consider a Downtown minor league ball park associated with mixed use developments.”
Potter County commissioners were thrown into a quandary. The renovation of the vacant Santa Fe Building into county offices had jumpstarted downtown renewal, which now was a possible threat to another county asset, the 50-year-old Memorial Stadium, better known as the Dilla Villa.
When considering the stadium lease last November, commissioners quickly cut off a presentation from Scott Berry of Southern Independent Baseball, seeking an affiliation with the American Association, when he said he was eager to bring a team to town with a new downtown stadium. Thus, the Dillas got their crack at a third straight United League title.
Whether DAI pursues a downtown stadium has yet to be decided; there are few clues in the documents released by the Texas attorney general’s opinion indicating that the committee is fast-tracking a stadium.
But Dailey clearly has some opinions. In an e-mail to Simpson she wrote, “they are the right developers at the right time for us.”
She wrote to the Independent that the statement “was my professional opinion.”
And when asked whether DAI is actively engaged in bringing a ballpark/activities complex or some such facility (no matter what its name) downtown, she wrote, “We are actively engaged in bringing developers to downtown Amarillo and implementing the Strategic Action Plan, of which an outdoor multi-purpose entertainment venue was recommended as a potential development to explore.”
Still, questions emerge.
With the Amarillo National Center, the Civic Center, the United Center in Canyon and Memorial Stadium available for a variety of events, could another venue roughly the same seating size as the othersattract enough new events to be profitable for the operators without stealing events from the others?
Would a new stadium mean a working agreement with a new league and team other than the existing agreement with the United League and theDillas if a stadium developer sought a combination stadium-team arrangement?
Urban Design Standards and the convention hotel
The adoption of the urban design standards for downtown was not without some concern.
March 22, 2010, minutes of Center City of Amarillo’s subcommittee on design standards noted that several past attempts to develop and implement voluntary design standards to be led by Center City had failed.
One member of that subcommittee was Gabe Irving, a member of the Center City board, but also an employee of McCartt and Associates, the real estate firm owned by the mayor’s husband, Joe Bob McCartt.
Now, committee members expressed concern that too many small businesses in the downtown core would be affected with the triggering mechanism of $50,000. In some cases, the committee noted, costs could double for projects if the business owner was required to install pedestrian lighting or trees. Furthermore, some inconsistencies between current zoning regulations and the proposed standards could lead to a two-tier set of standards.
And, applying the development of those standards to a neighborhood adjacent to, but outside, the recognized downtown zone, is seen by some as heavy-handed.
After the residents of the Plemons-Eakle neighborhood voiced strong objections to the City Commission in July, the City Commission asked Dailey to meet with those residents. At the next commission meeting, Irma Heras and Amy Taylor-Restine objected to Dailey’s behavior at the meeting, saying she kept “rolling her eyes” at their statements.
Dailey documented her meeting with the residents in an e-mail to Simpson on July 9.
“A few of the residents, 6 or 7, showed up,” she wrote. “The discussion was all over the map, from we’re Americans and are free, to Jesus Christ, to Obama, the citywide comprehensive plan, and a variety of issues in the current city ordinances.”
Noting that DAI board member Gary Pitner and Center City Executive Director Beth Duke were also present, Dailey wrote that the specific issues of fencing, trees, lighting and sidewalks were fully addressed.
“We’re down to the principle of more government control versus less. They’re likely going to show up Tuesday,” anticipating a subsequent City Commission meeting.
Since then, the residents have mounted a petition drive to overturn the urban design standards.
Meanwhile, during March and April, the city’s planning effort confused the hotel developers as well.
City officials backtracked with the hotel developers who were filing responses to request for proposals asking them to respond to additional questions. Whether this contributed to the confusion and the perception of changing rules isn’t clear, but at this point what is clear is that two of the developers dropped out.
One of the issues was asking developers to respond to a question about whether Fifth and Sixth avenues should be closed as part of a redevelopment of the area around the Civic Center and Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts. The responses were mixed.
Journeyman Austin Holdings noted, in an April 9 letter to the city, that closing Fifth and Sixth avenues could create a pedestrian mall or a parking garage between the convention center hotel and the Globe-News Center.
Coming Sunday: The Wrap-up. Delayed projects and out-of-town vendors
Part 6 – On time? Not so much
The July 6, 2009, DAI board minutes report on a discussion of the planned downtown urban design standards, with a committee to begin moving forward on the development of the design standards.
“To date all of the property owners Melissa has met with have had a positive reaction to design standards,” the minutes state. “Topics covered will include building façade, walkways, landscaping, signage. It is expected that the final draft to take to property owners will be complete within 90 days.”
Those design standards were not adopted until a year later, but nowhere in reviewing the documents is there any board discussion about why it took so long.
Perhaps it was confusion over the process because one month later, at an Aug. 6, 2009, meeting, Dailey presented her 2009-2010 priority action items ¾items which were not clearly delineated in earlier minutes released to the Independent. But, according to the Aug. 6 minutes, it was the same list as presented previously.
“It was recommended to reverse the order of the planning and economic development goals when presented to others,” the minutes state, implying a different internal agenda than the one shown the public.
The board unanimously approved that action.
In her director’s report, Dailey discussed the mission statement. She again reported a committee’s having been formed and moving forward on the design standards for downtown. And, she repeated, all of the property owners she had met with to date had had a positive reaction to those standards. Once again, she proposed a 90-day time frame.
Is Amarillo good enough?
While the minutes as early as 2008 show the use of local vendors for such mundane items as office supplies and furniture, Dailey chose contacts in Fort Worth for two major projects.
As early as December 2008, the board began discussing the possibility of the website for Downtown Amarillo Inc.
But one website domain name was already owned by a local businessman, reported the minutes: “Wes (Reeves) found a link to downtown Amarillo that is owned by Don Paxton. He plans to do some research to determine if the link could be purchased by Center City.”
Reeves is a DAI board member and spokesman for Xcel Energy.
Discussion about the website came up again during the May 6, 2009, meeting, when board President Les Simpson reported that a company purchased the Downtown Amarillo Inc. domain name in 2005 with the intent to resell it in the current asking price of $2,000 was higher than anticipated.
Ultimately, DAI got its domain name, but who would build the site?
In a proposed budget in April 2010, DAI included a $6,000 cost for website design with The Enilon Group, based in Fort Worth.
Dailey acknowledged she didn’t contact any local Web-builders in Amarillo.
“Economic development organizations like DAI require a specific set of tools and capabilities that are very specialized and we approached three companies that had demonstrated experience across the country in this type of website,” she wrote. “While we have many fine local website developers in Amarillo, we are not aware of any that specialize in creating this type of website.”
Maybe not, but Amarillo has at least one company with acknowledged expertise in complex Web design, including projects for national firms.
Eric Spellmann, of Spellmann and Associates, wrote that his company has experience developing websites for a broad range of industry needs, ranging from a “simple two-page brochure” site to “complex, database-driven” sites for national customers.
“Our projects showcase local expertise normally assumed to only be available in larger markets,” he wrote. “While we are disappointed that Downtown Amarillo did not give us the opportunity to bid on their website project, we are open to any assistance we can lend in highlighting the incredible business opportunities that lie downtown.”
The June 9, 2009, minutes state, “Melissa said that we need to get a website up and running as soon as possible to be used as a tool to get the message out.”
As of Thursday, Sept. 16, the DAI website still is only partially operational.
“We’ll be launching our full site soon!” the website states, with no information how to directly contact DAI except for the Web-based form. The only other information on the page are links to the Downtown Strategic Action Plan and Downtown Urban Design Standards.
Reliance on outside support from Fort Worth, which is where Dailey hadworked before coming to Amarillo, was for an even broader task and,
ostensibly, Downtown Amarillo Inc.’s mandate.
Daily recommended, as recorded in the Sept. 1, 2009, board minutes, that DAI retain Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. of Fort Worth.
“They’re very good at downtown planning and Melissa suggested that we may want to use them for projects in the future,” the minutes state. “The master contract essentially serves as a retainer to be able to utilize Jacobs for projects without the delay of going through individual contracts going through their legal dept. A one-page agreement could be entered into for individual project. Board approved unanimously.”
According to the Jacobs website: “Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. is one of the world’s largest and most diverse providers of professional technical services. With 2009 revenues exceeding $11 billion, we offer full-spectrum support to industrial, commercial, and government clients across multiple markets. Services include scientific and specialty consulting as well as all aspects of engineering and construction, and operations and maintenance.”
Dailey wrote that she had contacted local firms for services, but she did not indicate what the specific requests for proposals were nor what the firms were. She acknowledged heavy reliance on Fort Worth-based firms, but didn’t directly answer why she recommended those.
“We currently have partnerships with two Fort Worth firms for planning and market feasibility consulting services, and website development,” she wrote in the e-mail to the Independent.
The Bottom Line
During August, city departments and city-supported agencies such as the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. and Downtown Amarillo Inc. presented their budgets to commissioners during a work session. There were few questions posed to Dailey or Simpson about DAI’s performance.
Perhaps that’s because there are no criteria for performance, a question that came up as early as Aug. 13, 2008. At that board meeting, during a discussion of the bylaws, Rev. Howard Batson, a board member, questioned clauses in that document that mention terms such as “if the company underperforms.”
Batson asked for a definition of what “’underperforms’ means.”
Nowhere in the record of that meeting or subsequent ones was there an answer.