Bass Pro Quid Pro Quo?

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Broken Arrow's City Council meeting (tonight at 7 p.m., in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 200 S. First Street in BA) ought to be interesting.

Many people have marveled that Broken Arrow appeared to have landed a Bass Pro Shops' Outdoor World without ponying up the millions of tax dollars that Bass Pro has successfully extracted from other cities looking for a way to hook tourists. A couple of recent news stories reveals that not only are Broken Arrow citizens financing the deal in some way, the City of Tulsa may have been instrumental in helping Broken Arrow get Bass Pro.

On Thursday the Tulsa Beacon published an allegation that City of Tulsa officials did not actively seek to encourage Bass Pro Shops to locate within the city limits, instead allowing Broken Arrow to snag the big outdoor retailer.

The businessman who brought this story to the Beacon alleges further that this was a payback for Broken Arrow's support for Vision 2025.

There had been speculation in March 2003 Bass Pro locating on the east side of downtown Tulsa, as part of the proposed East Village development or near Mathis Brothers furniture, northwest of 71st & 169, and then we heard nothing else about Bass Pro coming to Tulsa.

Conversely, Broken Arrow made a lot of noise during the Dialog / Visioning process about getting a 20,000 seat arena either built in Broken Arrow or on the line between Broken Arrow and Tulsa. That issue went away, the arena was slated for downtown, and Broken Arrow leaders were fully on board with Vision 2025, despite the fact that Broken Arrow, like Owasso and other suburbs, would be a donor city -- each city collecting more for the Vision 2025 sales tax over 13 years than it would reap in projects.

An investigation by the Tulsa Beacon has uncovered what seems to be a back-door set of dealings that directly cost the city of Tulsa a $500 million development in exchange for support for last year’s Vision 2025 sales tax increase.

A local businessman said Tulsa “gave the cold shoulder” to Bass Pro so the giant sports retailer would locate in Broken Arrow – instead of East Tulsa – as part of a deal to win support for the Vision 2025 election.

The businessman, who fears repercussions if his name is revealed, said the dealings involve county officials, city officials in Broken Arrow and Tulsa, chamber officials in both cities, developers, commercial realtors and financial interests.

Here’s how his scenario unfolds:

• Tulsa special interests wanted an arena built downtown with county tax money. Broken Arrow officials wanted the arena built in Broken Arrow or between Broken Arrow and Tulsa.

• In order to secure the Broken Arrow vote, Tulsa officials secretly agreed to not actively pursue Bass Pro. Broken Arrow officials wholeheartedly supported Vision 2025 and all four propositions passed in Broken Arrow.

• Officials from the Tulsa Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce dismissed the importance of the location, claiming it is a “regional” organization, not just for the city of Tulsa.

• Tulsa officials told Bass Pro they wanted the gigantic retail center in downtown Tulsa and that Bass Pro must build an adjoining four-story parking garage. Bass Pro requires a lake and financial concessions and quickly dismissed building in a downtown site.

• Real estate interests failed to tell Bass Pro about an ideal site in East Tulsa, near 145th East Avenue, close to Interstate 44.

• Bass Pro typically looks for $10 million to $30 million in local incentives – including free land and subsidized rent. According to a Feb. 15 story in The Buffalo (New York) News, Oklahoma City leaders offered $17.2 million to attract its Bass Pro Outdoor World. Bossier City, La. paid $32 million for a parking garage, road and parking upgrades. Norfolk, Va. offered $10.8 million to land Bass Pro. “Yeah, it seems everybody wants one in their back yard, but they don’t come cheap,” said Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch.

• Broken Arrow officials initially said those incentives would be provided by private sources. A source told the Tulsa Beacon the May 11 bond issue in Broken Arrow had “hidden money” for Bass Pro. The $53-plus million bond issue has land acquisition under a large category that adds up to more than $5 million. The language on the ballot does not specify what land will be purchased or how much paid for the land or its location. The Tulsa Beacon source said the land in question is for the new convention center and is priced at “double of its market value.”

• Broken Arrow officials have not announced that public money would be spent on Bass Pro. The May 11 $53 million bond vote was promoted with the slogan, “Build a Better Broken Arrow Without Raising Your Taxes!,” according to campaign literature from the Build a Better BA Committee, Russell Peterson, chairman. The passage of the bond proposals would not raise city property taxes, as other existing bonds are being retired. This is the first city bond election since the year 2000, when a $27 million package was approved by voters. If the issue failed, taxes in Broken Arrow would automatically go down.

Sunday morning, the Broken Arrow Daily Ledger added to the story, with its front page headline, "City involved in loan for Bass Pro." The City of Broken Arrow made a late Friday announcement -- that's when you release news you hope will be ignored. It was also conveniently released after Broken Arrow's bond issue election last Tuesday:

Details lacking in the initial announcement by the City of Broken Arrow that Bass Pro Shops would be locating here are now being made known.

The city announced late Friday, through a press release, that Bass Pro Shops' Outdoor World will be constructed on 19.15 acres donated to the City by developer Phil Roland. The store will be the anchor tenant for Roland's Stone Wood Hills, a combination residential/business development.

"While initially it was thought that the City would not be involved with any loan to Stone Wood Hills to construct the store, the City has since learned that construction can only proceed with the City's involvement because the City will own the 19.15 acres upon which the store will be built," Friday's press release states. City Council will review Stone Wood Hill's donation of land and the funding of this project at its Monday meeting.

A single paragraph in Friday's press release dealt with the city's financial involvement in bringing Bass Pro Shos to Broken Arrow. City officials said when they announced March 18 bass Pro Shops would be locating in Broken Arrow, that no incentives had been offered.

However, Friday's releae states, "... such incentives were part of the City's role in bringing the store to Broken Arrow."

Friday's release also states details of the city's involvement were not available at the time of the public announcement, but does not explain why they were not available.

The remaining eight paragraphs of Friday's release described the benefits the city, businesses and residents can expect from landing the popular retailer, already quoted in earlier articles.

The Daily Ledger doesn't exactly connect the dots, but the next story down on the front page says that BA's budget will be up 26% over last year for a total of $127,361,979 -- that's 1/4 of the City of Tulsa's annual budget. What's in the increase?

Acting City Manager Gary Blackford noted, "The primary reason for the increase is because this budget includes issues related to Bass Pro in the amount of $12,900,000, an increase in various capital project funds related to bond issues approved previously, an increase in the transfer to the general fund and the requirement to include group health and life insurance ($4.3 million) which has not been required in the past."

[Emphasis added.]

The article lists other items for the agenda:

Resolution No. 378 - authorizing issuance of the city's sales tax revenue note, series 2004 in the amount of $4 million -- will be discussed. The resolution would waive competitive bidding and authorize the note to be sold on a "negotiated basis."

Passage of a second resolution (No. 379) would clear the way for the city's acceptance of an assignment of lease (with options and contracts) between Stone Wood Hills Business Park and Bass Pro Outdoor World.

If the council approves Ordinance No. 2626 (corrected) the director of public works would have "certain powers" to purchase supplies, materials, equipment and contractual services for a period "not to exceed June 30, 2006 and to exempt such purchases from competitive bidding..."

Competitive bidding waivers are a great way for government officials to reward their friends, and may be a way, in this case, of hiding subsidies provided to Bass Pro.

The Tulsa Whirled reported on a March 15th City Council meeting (jump page here) authorizing the Mayor of BA to negotiate an economic development contract. The motion was passed following an executive session. The question is whether the Council misused executive session to hide from the public any obligations it was undertaking on behalf of the public to lure Bass Pro Shops.

There's a tangled web that's been woven. I appreciate the work the Tulsa Beacon and the BA Daily Ledger have done so far -- I hope they'll continue to pursue it.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on May 17, 2004 1:31 AM.

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