On Friday afternoon, Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson spoke about the city council’s decision to issue tax and tax memos to fund $260 million for the Amarillo Civic Center project, to renovate the outdated facility to attract more sellers and entertainment to the site.
Passing 4-1 at the May 24 Amarillo Council meeting, the order authorizes the issuance of funds for the project, locking in the current interest rate. Nelson said based on the Garfield report, she and three other board members saw the urgency to lock in current interest rates, especially with the Federal Reserve planning several rate hikes over the next two years.
According to the report, a continued delay would cost the city more than $50 million for the project. Currently, the city provides about $2 million a year in grants to the Civic Center, and the goal of the renovation is to make the Civic Center self-sufficient and increase the sales tax introduced to the city. Over the life of issuing debt in grants alone, the city could potentially save $60 million.
Referring to residents who may believe voters have made their feelings known about the taxpayer dollars used to fund the project, Nelson said the circumstances at this point are very different from when the bond proposal was raised. been voted. She said that at this point the council’s hands were tied and they had to make a decision, which she said the council is elected to do.
“A lot has changed in the last 18 months; a lot of information came in that I think presents a different environment than what was there,” Nelson said. “When we last voted on this, we had a lot of uncertainty about COVID. We didn’t know if we’d be able to hold big meetings, you know. Now we have a vaccine, and we meet in person, and we meet in large groups. So this uncertainty is removed.
Nelson spoke of the current economic environment with interest rates still relatively low, and waiting for more time to approve funding for the project was not an option.
Councilman Cole Stanley, at the May 24 city council meeting, asked to wait two more weeks to hold the vote, saying he hadn’t had time to review the ordinance . During the meeting, he said that to his knowledge, revenue notes issued in this way were only for certain types of requirements.
“The longer we wait, the more it costs; it’s undeniable,” Nelson said. “I know there has been a request for two more weeks,” she added. “What do two more weeks get us for the project? We know what the need is. We know the project needs to be done. Two more weeks just puts us at risk of our interest rate going up. If it goes up one point, it’s $15 million.
Nelson said the projected rise in costs affecting taxpayers in the long term was the main impetus that meant a funding decision had to be made at this time. She also said that while the city will always have needs, this project, unlike many, would create needed revenue for the city.
“It’s just the environment we’re in, and I don’t see any other way to do it that doesn’t cost us a lot more money,” Nelson said. “At the end of the day, I hear from taxpayers that we need the project, and we want to pay for it as little as possible, and given the urgency of the situation with the Garfield report, we have taken the necessary measures.
Speaking about the funding the Civic Center project will bring to the city and its taxpayers, Nelson said it will reduce reliance on city grants to operate the facility and attract more tourism to the city. the community, which would generate more sales taxes collected. by the city. She said increased hotel occupancy and the versatility of having more and bigger events would be a boon for businesses, providing taxpayers with a return on their investment, which can pay off debt issued. earlier. Getting more people to rent, rent and use the facility would ease the burden on taxpayers.
Nelson said that with all the repairs and renovations to be done, this project had to come to fruition to remain competitive in the convention market. She said this has been a persistent problem and was not going to improve on its own without a financial commitment.
“The process always involved some type of debt issuance by the city; the urgency involved determined the mechanism we chose to issue this debt,” Nelson said. “As soon as we voted at the last board meeting, it locked in the interest rate. It’s like any consumer who wants to get the best rate possible. if they wait, they risk a higher rate.
She said the city has been considering renovation plans for the Amarillo Civic Center for more than a decade. The current plan is a scaled-down option, to do a smaller project that will still meet the city’s needs, according to Nelson. Both Nelson and council member Howard Smith served on the subcommittee tasked with resolving the issue. Nelson emphasized that this was not simply a plan laid at the feet of council at the last minute, and that the council worked with one-on-one meetings to act quickly as needed. Emphasizing that time was not a luxury in putting off a decision, Nelson said the Garfield report on the project made it clear that action needed to be taken by council.
Addressing critics of the council’s decision to issue the debt, Nelson was adamant that the council’s decision was carefully considered and consistent with state law. She said the board was very confident the attorney general would see this as an appropriate use of debt issuance.
“I can say very clearly that the option we chose to issue the tickets was a legal option, and we wouldn’t consider it if we didn’t think it was a legal option,” Nelson said.
Asked when the project could go ahead with the renovations, Nelson said that while the project is in its design phase and once the city has decided on a design, it will move forward with it. the bidding process for the project. She said that in total, the project will take about three years to complete.
For those who think it should have been reduced to another bond vote, Nelson said she and the rest of the council are elected to make good decisions for the city and its people.
“They elected leaders to run the city, which means leaders need to study and invest the time to understand complex issues,” Nelson said. “Much of this council has spent five years studying the issue of the civic center. So we chose a funding method that is necessary to accomplish what we have known we must do for a long time.