See, I told you so: Does Tulsa need 18,000 seats?


Barry Friedman does some legwork in this week's Urban Tulsa, talking to the committee that toured arenas last month to get ideas for Tulsa's new downtown arena. If the name weren't already taken, we could write a book called See, I Told You So. It's a bit late for someone else to take up the points we made during last summer's sales tax campaign, but we're happy to see someone else asking skeptical questions.

By the way, I don't disagree with the trip to look at the arenas or with the number of people that went. If we're going to do this -- even if it won't work and we don't need it -- we need to do it right. We need to build something that we can be proud of, that will serve our needs for a long time into the future, something that could at least marginally help encourage new life in downtown.

Friedman also talks with a concert promoter, Johnny Buschardt, about Tulsa's need for a big arena:

“I mean it’s a great idea, but does Tulsa need it? Not even remotely,” he says. “This is a waste of money.”

For Buschardt, who brought in Sinbad to the Union High School Auditorium last October and produced the Jay Leno benefit at the Mabee Center in June, the issue isn’t just one of perception, it’s one of numbers.

“Oklahoma City already has a 20-thousand seat arena. And they don’t have another 11-thousand seat place (The Mabee Center)ý down the street the way Tulsa will.”

Further, if the point of the new arena is to attract big name talent, Buschardt believes it won’t be as easy as it seems.

“Only a handful of artists can fill 20-thousand seats,” he says, “and they’re not playing cities with 300-thousand people, like Tulsa,” citing that Rod Stewart sold fewer than 10-thousand at the Ford Center.

“Take an artist like Eric Clapton. He’s not going to play both cities,” Buschardt continues, adding that in his opinion Clapton couldn’t sell out both venues on successive nights even if he did.

As to the contention that once the Tulsa arena is built, it, and not OKC, will be the venue of choice in Oklahoma, Buschardt is less sanguine.

“Obviously, you want a transition like that, but artists are not going to be swayed solely by the fact than you have a new venue. Oklahoma City has ties with Clear Channel Communications (the biggest tour promoter in the country), a bigger population than Tulsa, downtown development, and other things going for it, as well.” ...

Saying that Tulsa is a 2nd-leg town (meaning that it would never get, for instance, Simon and Garfunkle on their initial tour), Buschardt believes that Tulsa would be better off working with the existing venues in town, most notably, the Mabee Center, which artists seem to love for a variety of reasons, most notably, its acoustics.

“You want to build upwards of a 20,000-seat arena for an area that has 300-thousand people. That means you expect one out of every 15 Tulsans to come to your event? Not going to happen.”

Buschardt really should use the metro population of 800,000 for a point of comparison -- that means one in 40 Tulsans, but that's still a huge proportion, and how many acts will be able to attract such a broad audience willing to pay the premium prices a big name can demand?

Friedman also raises the number of arenas already in Tulsa's inventory -- with the new one we will have 50,000 seats versus 77,500 in the Los Angeles metro area -- and the half-empty arenas that witness first- and second-round NCAA basketball tournament action.

Of course, the article veers from the facts it presents and concludes that the new arena is bound to have a positive impact on downtown. It quotes Cesar Pelli, the new arena's architect as saying, "I saw all of the empty parking lots and thought it was such a pity." The empty lots are a pity, but a new arena isn't going to prevent more of them from being created. In fact, unless Tulsa acts to protect the investment we've made to try to recreate a dynamic urban downtown, we may see more buildings come down to provide convenient parking for the arena, rather than visionary reuse of older buildings.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 12, 2004 7:21 AM.

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