Eclectic commentary from a progressive voice in the red state

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Did a Wallace Bajjali plan derail another approach to downtown revitalization?

My friend, John Kanelis, works part-time for KFDA-Newschannel 10. He has posted a storyabout
Santa Fe Railway's Madame Queen at
the city-owned mini-park downtown
Walter Wolfram, an Amarillo attorney who has tried for years to establish a railroad museum here. After all, Amarillo was a huge railroad town and remains an important part of BNSF’s Transcon route.

Wolfram has proposed to the city of Amarillo using the old Santa Fe Railway depot for such a nonprofit enterprise. You remember the Santa Fe depot that the city bought for $2.3 million from Bob Goree, the auctioneer, in September 2013. At the time, ABC7 News/KVII reported that now-former Commissioner “Lilia Escajeda said even though the city has no use for it right now, there are definite plans for the future.”

Escajeda went on to say the building and six contiguous acres might be used for the Civic Center and, at that time, also made clear the deal was no intended to attract Amtrak. At the time, Amtrak’s Chicago to Los Angeles Southwest Chief route through Colorado and New Mexico was in jeopardy and sending the iconic train through here on the Transcon was a possibility. However, as far as I know, the city made no real effort to further that possibility. And now, that train has left the station since then Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico have worked out an agreement with Amtrak and BNSF to keep the current route.

But I got sidetracked, didn’t I?

According to the Kanelis story, “Wolfram submitted his proposal to the city this past March. He’s waiting for a response.”

Once again, we can see the damage to the city from the Wallace Bajjali-Downtown Amarillo Inc.-inspired ballpark. Even were the Southwest Chief always a lost cause for Amarillo, the entire issue and controversy about an under-sized ballpark has distracted the downtown development advocates away from a viable form of economic development. Train tourism is a big deal and with a museum in the historic depot as a nucleus, more development could follow. It is certainly no more speculative that vying for convention business against cities with far more to offer.

More instructive to those watching the performance at City Hall is that five months later, Wolfram hasn’t heard from the city. That’s just plain rude. At a minimum, good manners would call for an acknowledgement of receiving the proposal.

I guess, that too, is too much to expect until the culture at City Hall and the city’s leadership changes.