Amarillo City Council gives guidance on path for City Hall project

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — After the presentation surrounding the potential future of the Amarillo City Hall, officials from the Amarillo City Council aimed to give city staff a way forward, a direction on what steps the city should take on this project in the future. 

According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, officials from Sims + Architects made a presentation to the council during Tuesday’s meeting surrounding three potential options for City Hall, including the city renovating its current location, building new construction of a facility downtown or renovating the Amarillo Hardware building, a property currently owned by the city of Amarillo. 

Officials previously aimed to move forward with the $35 million renovations and move of City Hall to the Amarillo Hardware building, intending to issue certificates of obligation (CO) in August for that project. However, that intent was halted after a local businessman filed a lawsuit surrounding the legality of the use of CO’s. 

City Hall Presentation 

During the presentation, officials outlined the cost of the various options, stating that construction costs for heavy renovation range from $240 to $270 per square foot. For new construction, that figure raises from $375 to $400 per square foot. A move to the Amarillo Hardware site would also expand the square footage for City Hall from 80,000 to 150,000. 

A newly constructed City Hall facility, as well as the renovation of the current facility, would bring its own challenges. For a new facility, challenges include finding an open block in downtown Amarillo. Challenges for the renovation of the current facility include replacing its mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, as well as updating the building to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

During the meeting, Laura Storrs, an assistant city manager for the city of Amarillo, also spoke about potential funding sources for the project. This included the use of general obligation bonds, which would bring the decision to the voters, as well as the use of CO’s once again. 

Storrs also outlined other potential funding sources for the project, including tax notes, cash funding, revenue bonds or modifying the scope of the project and using multiple funding sources. 

Opinions from City Council

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson said during the meeting that the goal of this discussion was to give city staff some direction on where the council wants them to go regarding a funding proposal for the City Hall project.

Nelson continued to stress during the meeting her belief of using the funds to move to a bigger building, and not using it to continue repair on the current City Hall location. 

“I am just looking at 10 years from now. We need more space because we are continuing to grow as a staff,” she said. “This building’s already 55 years old so I feel like we’ve gotten five years longer than what it was probably meant to serve us as. If this were my business, I would not invest millions of dollars (in the current facility). Even if we did the lowest range… I wouldn’t invest that in a building that I knew was past its useful life span.” 

Council members Freda Powell, Howard Smith and Eddy Sauer agreed with Nelson’s sentiments, with Sauer saying his opinion has not changed since he voted to purchase the Amarillo Hardware building. 

“That was a smart decision then. It’s a smart decision now. It will be a smart decision tomorrow,” Sauer said. “The way that we pay for it, we’re just going to have to figure out how that happens. There’s not a better alternative.” 

Cole Stanley, a member of the Amarillo City Council, has expressed his reservations surrounding the project in the past, encouraging the city to look at other, cheaper, options for the project. But he said during Tuesday’s meeting that he feels like the best approach he should take for the project is helping find the funding for whatever city leadership decides on. 

“I don’t think it would be worth my time to go look at other buildings or try to find land or anything like that… if you guys have come far enough along to know that you feel and know the Amarillo Hardware building is a good investment,” he said. 

What’s Next? 

Nelson told MyHighPlains.com after the initial discussion that the timeline moving forward on a City Hall project depends on what city of Amarillo staff brings the council as a funding recommendation for the project. She hopes that until then, the current City Hall location can maintain as-is. 

“We are all just holding our breath and hoping that we are holding tight on those repairs,” she said. “There are some urgent needs here and we don’t exactly know when they are going to fail. But we know they are moving towards a failing point.” 

Nelson’s message to citizens surrounding the City Hall project is that years of research have gone into this process. She said that it continues to be an urgent project, with the aim continuing to be moving City Hall to the Amarillo Hardware site. 

“The building we are in has served us for 55 years,” she said. “But we don’t want to spend taxpayer funds on a building that won’t continue to serve our needs.”

This story is developing. Check with MyHighPlains.com for updates.

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