A millstone by any other name would sink as fast


Sunday's Tulsa World has what appears to be the shortlist for the Dialog / Visioning package to be put before the voters this fall.

Here, in PDF format, is the first part of the story, and here is the jump page.

There's a lot of variety in the list, and it totals nearly $800 million. (I'm gratified to see that my proposal for a Neighborhood Assessment Process, modeled after Kansas City's successful program is on the list, although at a modest price tag of $2 million, I think it could be funded without being part of a tax increase package.)

Then there is this thing called the "Tulsa Regional Events Center", estimated to cost nearly $100 million. I don't recall seeing it on the list of proposals submitted to the Dialog / Visioning process, but there was an item called "Multipurpose Coliseum", submitted for consideration by the City of Tulsa. I think it's safe to assume that this is the twice-rejected sports arena under an assumed name. The CSL feasibility study calls it an arena -- the study makes no reference to an "Events Center".

I have heard that there is market research that says that if people think of this sports arena as a sports arena, it will fail a third time. Thus, apparently, the reason for the name change. The move is an insult to the intelligence of Tulsans, who will have no difficulty in seeing the arena for what it is and evaluating it accordingly.

If the Leadership Team members try to lump this arena in as part of a tax package this fall, it will sink the whole Dialog / Visioning Process. This would be a sad thing for the whole region, but especially for those of us who have participated in the process, trying to come up with a vision for the future that all Tulsa area residents can embrace. There are no shortage of arguments that can be marshalled against building a large arena with tax dollars, and the CSL study provides plenty of ammunition.

$100 million is a high price to pay in a time of layoffs and bankruptcies at Tulsa's largest employers, but even in prosperous times it would be redundant to build another arena in a city with four currently in use (one nearly new, another recently renovated) and one more about to open.

To make a new arena even more pointless, later this month ground will be broken on the Oklahoma Music Pavillion, a 20,000 seat state-of-the-art amphitheatre to be built five miles west of downtown. This amphitheatre will once again make Tulsa a stop for the top touring acts, and it's going to be built entirely with private money. The CSL feasibility study warns that this privately-built amphitheatre will endanger the feasibility of an arena, and encourages the government to offer a "public-private partnership" -- entangle government with the private project just enough so as to be able to dictate terms and ensure that the amphitheatre isn't big enough or nice enough to compete with the arena for major concerts. Such an offer of help would be about as sincere as when King Herod asked the Magi to report back on the whereabouts of the newly-born King of the Jews, so that Herod could come and "worship" him.

Ponder that for a minute: The government is advised to sabotage a private enterprise to ensure that it can't compete with a publicly-funded facility.

Opposition -- particularly to the arena -- is already lining up across the political spectrum -- grassroots Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Greens, and Independents. A number of people have told me that civic leaders are wondering if I will once again be a leader of the opposition, as I was in 2000. Instead of worrying about me, or any other potential opposition leader, the elected officials ought to think carefully about what they put on the ballot for this fall. I could sit on my hands or even come out in support, but if the arena is part of the package, someone will rise up -- some citizen who just wants to see her tax money used wisely -- and will make the convincing case against the arena. The arena will sink and take the whole Dialog / Visioning process down with it, along with the careers of several politicians.

It doesn't have to be this way, if our leaders have the courage to do the right thing and leave the arena off the ballot.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 3, 2003 2:11 AM.

How NOT to revitalize downtown -- learning from Atlanta was the previous entry in this blog.

A jobless recovery? is the next entry in this blog.

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