TU dooms another Route 66 landmark

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Sad news in Sunday's paper (jump page here): The University of Tulsa plans to replace yet another Route 66 landmark with empty space.

The Metro Diner is not historic, but it still matters. I remember when it was an Arby's, in the late '70s, and I'm told it was a gas station before that. The Diner was created in the early '80s in the style of old Route 66 diners, and it became an instant tourist attraction. It gives Route 66 tourists exactly what they hope to see (and eat) along the old highway. Its brilliant neon sign is compensation for the many other spectacular neon signs along Route 66 in Tulsa that were demolished along with the establishments they pointed to -- like the Will Rogers Motor Hotel and the Villa -- or replaced with backlit plastic signs.

Losing the Metro Diner will hurt our city's drive to capitalize on our Route 66 heritage, just as we prepare to host an international Route 66 convention and have voted to spend $15 million in taxpayer dollars to enhance our appeal to Route 66 tourists. We want to encourage others to rehabilitate businesses that are still standing and to build new facilities that revive the look of long-gone roadside establishments. But allowing TU to knock down Metro Diner will have a chilling effect on anyone considering private investment along the old highway.

The chill will be even worse if the City uses eminent domain to acquire the property on TU's behalf, as it has done for TU in the past. Why fix a place up if some politically-connected institution can use government muscle to take it away from me and tear it down?

If TU had acquired all its land from willing sellers, you could make the case that we have no place telling this private institution what to do with its own land. But TU has gained so much property through the unconstitutional use of eminent domain for private benefit, the least we should expect is that TU use its land efficiently. Instead we see this ill-gotten land taken up with surface parking lots (TU has no multilevel parking) and suburban-style apartment complexes. Now they want to use four blocks for nothing but a clear view to 11th Street.

TU claims it is doing this for aesthetic reasons -- to create a visual entrance to campus from 11th Street. Of course, they could have created such an entrance along Harvard, but chose not to. By pursuing this course, TU is also doing a disservice to its students, killing the only commercial properties within easy walking distance from campus. Why not create a "campus corner" commercial development on the north side of 11th Street? Leave Metro Diner alone and encourage other businesses to locate nearby to serve the student community.

The Whirled praised TU's plan on Friday's editorial page, as usual innocent of the idea that there might be two sides to the story. The editorial writer praises TU for improving the surrounding neighborhoods, by which I guess the writer refers to the demolition of most of the surrounding neighborhoods. The homeowners that remain live in perpetual fear that TU will take their neighborhood next, with the City's blessing and active assistance.

The Whirled editorial also emits this howler:

TU also retains its roots in buildings such as Kendall Hall, McFarlin Library and Sharp Chapel.

Kendall Hall is a great example of TU's disregard for its roots and history. The first building on campus, it was demolished in the early '70s -- the cupola is all that remains -- and replaced with a modernist monstrosity.

Perhaps the folks hosting next summer's Route 66 festival and the folks overseeing the Vision 2025 money for Route 66 could have a word with the TU folks and help them understand the serious damage they're about to do to Tulsa's Route 66 prospects.

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» A process to condemn from dustbury.com

Michael Bates, a couple of weeks ago, decried a plan by the University of Tulsa to, in his words, "replace another Route 66 landmark with empty space." The University's favored... Read More

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 27, 2003 1:55 AM.

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