At a special meeting of the Amarillo City Council on Friday, council members voted 3-0 to approve funding for a pavilion at the Santa Fe depot. The special meeting was called to move the project forward before the World Championship Ranch Rodeo, which begins the week of November 9.
Originally on the agenda for last Tuesday’s regular city council meeting, the project was first discussed with proposed 14-foot-tall entrances to the pavilion to accommodate trucks and trailers. bigger as they set up stalls for the horses using the structure, rather than the time-intensive and expensive method of setting up tents for the horses of the Working Ranch Cowboys Association (WRCA). The original projected cost for this building was approximately $1.5 million, not including concrete.
At the previous meeting, council member Cole Stanley had proposed expanding the project with a higher roof to accommodate sporting events such as basketball and volleyball. Council members agreed that such a use would be of immense value to the community, and Mayor Ginger Nelson proposed a special meeting within 72 hours so as not to delay the start of the project. Amarillo facilities manager Jerry Danforth was tasked with getting appraisals and plans drawn up within that timeframe to explore the cost and feasibility of expanding the project.
At Friday’s meeting, Danforth came back with three different plans and the costs associated with each. Ultimately, moving the height up to 25 feet would cost about $1 million more than the initial cost of just moving to 14 feet and about $400,000 more than just moving up to 20 feet.
Nelson and Stanley were not present at the meeting. Still, the three members present voted to approve the tallest and most expensive option that could comfortably accommodate a wide variety of events, including sports. The board approved up to $3 million to complete the entire project.
Danforth spoke about the process of getting back to their chosen contractor and finding multiple estimates on the size of the pavilions, and whether they could meet the time frame needed to meet event deadlines for the structure needed.
“It was good for the board to consider maybe some extra scope; we are grateful that we were able to provide them with what they wanted in this scenario,” Danforth said.
He said the chosen contractor had monitored the situation and made every effort to be able to accommodate what the city wanted in the time available to him. Danforth said that with this height being a common size for many of these structures, it made changes easier to modify for the extra height.
Danforth said the lights and concrete would only be installed after the WRCA and when the weather is more conducive to building these add-ons. He said the pavilion would be complete for use during the rodeo as previously planned. Additional labor will be brought in to complete the project on time in its current scope. The fabricator will start making the metal this week.
“We are doing everything we can to expedite this project,” Danforth said. “It’s a very ambitious schedule, but we’re working closely with our contractor and will do it for the WRCA.”
He also said that much of the project will still need to be worked out in terms of how the stands and sports facilities will attach to the concrete, but he was confident this would be resolved when needed.
Danforth also said it gives the WRCA an extra area to store equipment that couldn’t fit in the civic center and be placed under the clubhouse in case of bad weather.
“I think these (changes) address where we need to be looking to the future; there are a lot of positive things happening here,” Danforth added. “If you go to other parts of the country, something like this is not that unusual.”
Danforth said this would give Amarillo an edge in trying to host various events it was not equipped to oversee in the past.
Laura Storrs, Deputy City Manager of Amarillo, explained how the project will be funded.
“We had several options to finance this project; the direction we received from our board today was to use a portion of the hotel occupancy tax collections we received in the current year and the prior year,” Storrs said.
She said that since the pandemic ended, these collections have come back extraordinarily strong and give the city the ability to pay for improvements like this project.
“From a financial perspective, if we can price it and move forward with funding it, especially with the money we already have, that helps keep costs down,” Storrs added.
She said this was due to the uncertainty of rising construction costs and moving forward with this project was now a win-win scenario for the city. She also felt that this project was the result of public outreach to vendors of those who use these city facilities.
“The hope will be that our citizens will understand that by funding it in this way, the money for the project will come from those who stay at our hotels rather than all local citizens,” Storrs said. “Primarily it will be tourists coming into our community and spending those dollars right here in Amarillo. It’s always a win for the community when projects like this can be funded by those who visit the area.