The blogosphere tunes in


Starting to see some comments on far-flung weblogs about our billion-dollar sales election next Tuesday. Lynn of Reflections in d minor, who lives somewhere out in rural northeastern Oklahoma, has this to say:

Since I don't live in Tulsa and rarely even go there anymore I haven't bothered to familiarize myself with the details of the Vision 2025 plan but there is one proposal that has been getting a lot of attention that makes me want to beat the planners over the head with the Sunday edition of the Tulsa World and say "What. The. Hell. Are. You. People. Thinking?" That is the proposal to build a 20,000 seat stadium in the downtown area.

1. It has already been rejected twice. There is obviously something wrong with the whole idea. Figure out what it is before you try to force feed the same plan to the voters for the third time.

2. A stadium downtown? Are these people out of their minds? Has anyone thought of the traffic problems this will cause? Even assuming that nobody drives to an event alone, there will be somewhere between 5,000 to 10,000 cars trying to get out of the downtown area after every event. Consider building a stadium somewhere else.

3. Would a 20,000 seat stadium be large enough? The population of Tulsa is almost 400,000 and that's not even counting the surrounding area. Obviously, a stadium does not need to be large enough to hold every person in the city at once but a stadium that would not even seat one tenth of Tulsa's current population doesn't seem very forward looking.

As for the rest of the plan... I just don't know. It seems like a bad idea to bribe corporations to locate here but there's a lot of competition for jobs. What are other cities doing? If this is the game that everyone else is playing Tulsa might not have a choice.

It seems to me that the best idea, in the long run, would be to spend money on things that will make Tulsa a better place to live and to visit. I'm not knocking the quality of life in Tulsa but it's not the kind of place that decision makers are likely to look at and say, "Yes, this is a good place to live." Such people expect adequate facilities and infrastructure, but they also look at the city's cultural attractions and the overall attractiveness of the city.

The very things that make the average voter howl about the unfairness of "taking from the poor to support things only the wealthy are interested in," are exactly the the things that any city needs in order to attract corporations. A healthy arts community - fine arts museums, the local orchestra, etc. - improve a city's image and make it more attractive to corporate decision makers. And putting the Tulsa Philharmonic back on its feet would cost a lot less than building a stadium.

However, the first priorties - before a stadium, before the arts, even before public parks - should be the basic necessities: roads and bridges, water and sewer, and revitalizing the vast eyesore that is north Tulsa. Most of all, the city's planners need to listen to the people. Find out what they really want instead of offerring up a corporate wish-list and trying to convince everyone to vote in favor of it because "we have to do something."

And Byzantium's Shores offers Tulsa some advice drawn from Buffalo's experience with a downtown stadium and an arena:

Of course, it's one of the never-dying lies in America that sports venues spur economic development. "Restaurateurs will be champing at the bit to open near the park," we are told. "Think of the building that will go on around the new arena," we constantly hear. Of course, this is all nonsense. The area surrounding Pilot Field is no more hopping than it was in the early 1990s, when Buffalo's population was something like 30,000 people greater than it is now. Ditto HSBC Arena, the venue built for the Sabres in the mid-1990s. And it's like this everywhere: just read through the current tour of all thirty Major League ballparks on, and note how few of those articles describe a hotbed of activity beyond the ballpark walls. Sports arenas don't generate economic activity by themselves. They can help attract tourist attention if they're used for lots of other uses, but even those types of tourist-attraction events tend to attract insular fans who don't exactly spend lots of time touring the cities themselves. ...

[A thought related to this: My first visit to beautiful Montreal was to see the Saint Louis Cardinals play a double-header against the Expos in 1985. Six hours drive from Boston to Montreal (past beautiful Vermont foliage which we didn't have time to appreciate), six hours inside the hideous Stade Olympique, six hours home in the dark. We spent $0 and no time at all outside of the stadium. We bought cokes and hot dogs inside the park. Having just returned from my second business trip to that city, I can't believe we spent all that time in the stadium and no time exploring the city, but our beloved Cards were headed to the World Series. Back to Buffalo....]

Nowadays, though, Dunn Tire Park Pilot Field is looking a bit worn at the edges. The stands are never packed anymore, though the place does do pretty good business during the summer.... It's still a nice place to catch a game in summer, and the drum-and-bugle-corps shows they have there are a lot of fun, but the ballpark is no longer the place to be in downtown Buffalo, as it once was.

As for HSBC Arena, there's another sore spot. Built for the Sabres at a time when Adelphia Cable was on the rise and Buffalo was eagerly hitching its fortunes to Adelphia's star, the Arena is a beautiful venue indeed. But all the usual arguments were trotted out: without the added revenue of luxury boxes, the Sabres would lose money and then leave town. It would spur development in Buffalo's Cobblestone District. (Nope.) It would be used for all manner of special conventions and out-of-town events. (Not really. Part of the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament was held here a few years back, but that was that. This is a constant point of annoyance with me. Why can't Buffalo host a Final Four? or the Nationals or World Figure Skating Championships? No reason that I can see, except we never seem to try to get those events. As Toby Ziegler once said on The West Wing: "It's not the ones we lose that bother me, it's the ones we don't suit up for.")

And of course, Adelphia's fortunes dried up spectacularly in yet another of those "Big company cooking the books" scandals. The Sabres were sold, and for a time it appeared that they might be sold to someone willing to move them elsewhere. I was prepared to simply say, "Fine, let 'em go," until I learned that the Arena's operations are so expensive to the City and the County that without the revenue the Sabres bring into the place, the Arena would likely be shut down entirely. Talk about putting the horse in front of the cart, eh?

I don't know how this all reflects on Tulsa, a town with which I am totally unfamiliar. I know that Tulsa's population is bigger than Buffalo's, but I don't know if that reflects the metro area or if Tulsa is one of those towns that thwarted suburban outflight by annexing the suburbs, which Buffalo can't do. I also don't know if Tulsa has any major league dreams of its own (the Tulsa Sabres, perhaps?). I'm always of mixed-mind on these kinds of things. I do think that big-league sports events can enhance a city's image, but only if they're done right. And it's not even always necessary. New Orleans has plenty of cache, despite the fact that the Saints always stink. Austin, Texas seems to be doing just fine these days.

So, on the basis of Buffalo's experience, I would say to Tulsa: Be careful. If you do it, do it right, and for the right reasons. Don't delude yourselves into thinking that downtown will become like Times Square by virtue of a big arena or ballpark. And if the choice is having an arena or having schools and arts, choose schools and arts. Please oh please.

Comparing metro areas, Buffalo is bigger (1,200,000 vs. 800,000) and nearly five times denser -- more people packed in a smaller space.

And then this, from Archipelapogo, a former Tulsan who comments on the plan and our downtown's development. (Forgive me, but I've bowdlerized a few words for the family audience.)

I'm always intrinsically skeptical about using taxpayers money to lure investment by private business (be it manufacturaing, a sports franchise, etc.). Tulsans have been sweating p**s for the past two years with American Airlines financial woes and layoffs. Tulsa's been hit hard by layoffs, some 27,000 in this recent economic downturn. That's what happens when you have a very few companies (AA, Williams Corporation and its subsidiaries, BOK and its partners, etc.) employing a significant part of the population. When the s**t hits the investment fan and companies, whether they're HQ'd in Tulsa or not, pull back resources and lay people off, it has a major impact on the city. When Williams Communications and AA had rough fiscal years, lots of Tulsans were laid off.

That's what scares me about the Boeing plant. We seemingly have little guarantee that they'll stay past the extent of their loan. We have little guarantee that the 7E7 is going to be a successful plane for a significant period of time. And what happens when the manufacturing of the 7E7 ceases? Again, thousands laid off.

The flipside of the proposals are numbers 3 and 4, which seem to actually seek to give Tulsa some much needed investment in the city itself. ... That said, I still have doubts about Tulsans and their desire for stuff like this. I've seen the (larger) semi-pro hockey team play in front of a half-empty crowd. The Arena Football Team won't be there five years from now (call me on it if I'm wrong, but I doubt it). And most of the major music acts will instead play Dallas, Kansas City, or Oklahoma City instead of Tulsa, all of which are larger cities and are for the most part accessible to those in Tulsa.

There has been a big push by the powers that be in Tulsa to redo the downtown area, attempting, as many other cities are doing with varying success, to lure young urbanites down there to replace the low-income residents that moved in during the great flight to the suburbs. They've done a fairly good job, attracting several bars and music venues that appeal to those in the target demographic and giving the young folks in Tulsa some desperately needed places to hang out.

There has been the erection of many new lofts and apartments downtown, replacing dilpidated and unused old housing that had no value. All of this is good, but there are still problems. ...

If Mayor LaFortune wants to make Tulsa a better place, both more desirable for tourists and residents, he'd do well to look at what cities like Ft. Worth have doen with their downtown, creating an area where there's free parking, lots to do, safety, and cleanliness. It's family friendly without being overly cheesy. It's not necessarily someplace that I would like to hang out all the time, but it's good for the masses and good for Ft. Worth.

Fortunately I don't have to make a decision about whether I would support all or any of Vision 2025. Although I'll likely never live there again, I do hope the best for the city and I hope that any or all of the four sections that pass come to full fruition. I would, however, encourage the voters to be careful and not be blinded by idealism. Make sure it's practical, doable, and enforceable.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 5, 2003 1:14 AM.

Boeing: Tulsa doesn't make the cut was the previous entry in this blog.

Forum and debate notes is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]