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High Plains News
High Plains News
Residential market next step for downtown Amarillo
(hppr) - Residential market next step for downtown Amarillo
High Plains Public Radio
Aug. 26, 2008

(soundbite of music and patrons in nightclub)

Mark Haslett: Downtown Amarillo on a Friday night. Most evenings, Amarillo's downtown goes dormant every afternoon when the 9-to-5 crowd heads home. But on the weekends, little pockets of activity center around a few bars and nightclubs. The main drag is the 700 block of Polk Street, where a row of nightspots cater to the young professional crowd. Last Friday night I spoke with one reveler, a Texas Tech doctoral student named Jack. He says he likes coming downtown to socialize, even though he considers the cultural offerings to be somehwat modest.

Jack: Well, there's no ambience. There's empty buildings that you see across the road and, uh, Chase Building for sale. And, ah, that's about it. We got, like three bars to go to...(which is) horrible compared to other cities.

Mark Haslett: Amarillo's efforts toward downtown revitalization have stepped up in recent years. However, the revival remains in its infancy. Many hope that in the long term, downtown can become a real neighborhood again- with plenty of housing, family-oriented businesses and pedestrian traffic. So how can bars and nightclubs help downtown become a neighborhood? I presented this question to Chris Leinberger, a noted thinker in the field of New Urbanism. He's a visting fellow at the DC-based Brookings Institution and also heads the University of Michigan's graduate real estate program. Leinberger says that for downtowns like Amarillo's, creating entertainment venues is the first step toward revitalization.

Chris Leinberger: What we've learned about downtown redevelopment is that you start with urban entertainment- arenas, performing arts centers, restaurants- and they all build on one another. The urban entertainment, though, is crucial to the overall development turnaround because it creates a there there. There's all of a sudden a reason to live downtown.

Mark Haslett: Leinberger says that the second typical phase after developing entertainment is residential development- rental housing first, followed by for-sale housing. Amarillo's downtown rental options aren't numerous, but their number is increasing, according to Center City Executive Director Beth Duke.

Beth Duke: Residential development is really staring to take off. This month we will open the Parkview Apartments down by Polk Street United Methodist Church. It's a great story because that's a three-storey apartment building that was slated for condemnation. The developer bought it, saved it and even got historic tax credits because we researched it and found out that it was built to house oil workers during the boom time in Borger when the oil field came in.

Mark Haslett: The Parkview Apartment building on 14th avenue overlooks Sandborn Park, a little patch of grass with a fountain on the southeastern periphery of downtown. Property manager Tina Colbert showed me the newly rennovated units.

(going up staircase soundbite)

Tina Colbert: Third floor and second floor- they're staining, uh, the hardwood floors. And, uh, all the carpet's laid all the appliances are set

Mark Haslett: The parkview retains many of its original 1926 architectural features. Those elements not salvagable were duplicated using new materials. And since some of the 11 units are smaller, the rent is more affordable than that of a luxury loft. Colbert says there's plenty of interest in the Parkview as well as other downtown residential properties developed by investor Tom Pauken. Colbert also manages the Fillmore Lofts and the Renaissance Condiminiums. The Fillmore is a reclaimed office building. The Renaissance, located a long stone's throw from the performing arts center, also had a previous life.

Tina Colbert: This used to be a hotel. It was called the Coronado Inn- it was very popular and swinging in the 60s and 70s. And this back half, we turned into a gated community, covered parking and there's twelve condos- one and two bedroom. And we're totally full right now- with a waiting list.

Mark Haslett: The enthusiasm for downtown living could inspire more investors to enter the market. At this stage in the story of downtown Amarillo, the development of residential rental options is a central theme- one that could bring together new neighbors- thus creating a neighborhood. This is Mark Haslett, HPPR News.

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