The contemporary design of the apartments was overseen by Marjorie Hagan Ellis of Stephens & Hagan Interior Design, and includes upgraded appliances and neutral colors, accented by abundant natural light.
“We thought it would be fun to live downtown,” says Gary Jensen while his wife, Linda, takes their dog for a walk outside FirstBank Southwest Tower. He’s standing in the kitchen of his 11th floor apartment, with a corner view of almost all of downtown, with southeast Amarillo extending behind it. “But this has exceeded our expectations in every way. It’s a very uncomplicated lifestyle compared to a house and all the costs with it.”
The Jensens were among the first full-time residents of Amarillo’s tallest building. At 31 stories and 374 feet, the tower is the tallest building between Dallas and Denver.
As Wes Reeves writes in his feature, Preoccupation with High Elevation, the original American National Bank/SPS Tower was designed for Amarillo’s business community. Then came 2016 and 2017. During a period of just a few months, tenant Chase Bank—which had naming rights to the building, known at the time as Chase Tower—announced plans to downsize in this market.
Likewise, Xcel Energy, scattered over several floors in the tower, began building its new location on Buchanan Street. West Texas A&M University was also preparing to move out, as renovations completed on their Harrington Academic Hall in downtown Amarillo.
“The three biggest tenants in the building, coincidentally, were moving out around the same time,” says Aaron Emerson, whose commercial real estate company Gaut Whittenburg Emerson manages the building. “It took the occupancy of the building to 45 percent.”
In discussions with the building’s owner, it became clear the vacancies didn’t just represent a challenge, but also a perfect opportunity to experiment. Amarillo was growing. New restaurants and a ballpark were opening downtown. But the city still largely lacked something that has been central to other urban revitalization efforts: housing.
According to reports by the Brookings Institute, “walkable urbanism” is one of the keys to reviving a downtown neighborhood like Amarillo’s. Urban environments don’t just need entertainment options, restaurants or retail. They need people. Especially the presence of people after the workday ends. Thriving neighborhoods are 24/7 neighborhoods, so converting former industrial or office space into residential space is often the first step in this process.
The building’s owner was intrigued by the idea and agreed to fund the process of remodeling two floors into luxury residential apartments. Then the pandemic hit. As with nearly all local construction projects in 2020 and 2021, timeframes got pushed back.
Meanwhile, a surge of commercial leases on the rest of the building returned its business occupancy to normal levels.
The tower finally opened the Residence at 600 apartments last year, putting 14 one- and two-bedroom apartments on the market. As of Brick & Elm’s publication date, half of the apartments, which are located on the building’s 10th and 11th floors, are now leased.
The Jensens viewed their apartment as something of an experiment. They had put their much-larger house on the market and begun to think about building. Then the house sold much faster than they expected. They needed a place to live—if only while waiting for their home to be completed. It turns out they love the downtown apartment life, from the security they feel to the way they’ve gotten to meet their neighbors—business and residential—riding up and down the elevators.
“It’s pretty great,” Gary says. He points down Tyler Street, out the massive windows that spill early afternoon sun across his open dining room and kitchen. The views from this height are incredible, and six blocks to the south, the steeple of First Baptist Church pierces the blue sky. “That’s our church right there. We can literally walk to church if we want. That’s pretty neat.”
“Each floor has seven unique apartments on it, but both floors are identical,” Aaron Emerson says. Each apartment has a “twin” above or below it.
“Every bit of infrastructure is brand, spanking new,” Emerson says, due to the need to shift from a typical office environment to a residential one. As a result, every apartment doesn’t just have its own heat and air system, but also a supplemental system within each bedroom. “If you want your apartment at 72 degrees but you want your bedroom at 65, you can set it that way,” he says. “At home, you want it to be perfect.”
Apartments start at 1,050 square feet (one bedroom, one bath). The largest apartments are more than 1,600 square feet (two bedrooms, two baths).
Emerson says the residents are demographically diverse. Some are empty nesters who are attracted to the secure, turnkey living of apartment spaces. Others are younger, just getting started in their careers and enjoy being near the activity of downtown.
Each apartment lease includes covered parking, 24/7 security guard service, security cameras on each floor, and private key-fob-only elevator access to the residential floors.
Each apartment is equipped with a washer and dryer,but the Residence at 600 also offers convenient dry cleaning pick-up and delivery.
Residents have access to a number of amenities, including a pet relief and bathing station, lobby level coffee shop, a 24-hour fitness facility, private dining and room service from the Amarillo Club and an on-site barber shop.