OKC's Downtown Guy visits Tulsa

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It's always interesting to see your city through other eyes. OKC-based blogger The Downtown Guy spent some time in Tulsa recently as a tourist and has a few thoughts to share on what we have going for us, and where we fall short.

Part 1 is actually an Urban Tulsa article from the latest issue on why downtown Tulsa doesn't work.

In Part 2, he notes Tulsa's high ranking in salary value, and tells us we ought to cherish and celebrate Cain's Ballroom. (By the way, I love the evocative Flash intro to Cain's website, but I want to hear the whole song!)

In Part 2 1/2, he passes along some exciting news about plans for the East Village area -- mixed-use development including a $500 million production facility. (TulsaNow forums has a discussion thread on the topic here.)

Part 3 is about where Vision 2025 went wrong. He observes Bricktown-type synergy occurring, but it's happening on the riverfront in Jenks.

He promises more commentary tomorrow.

A couple of comments:

He's right about Cain's Ballroom, and I don't think enough of Tulsa's civic leaders fully appreciate what we have in Cain's and in the heritage of Western Swing music. It's almost as if the Chamber Pots are embarrassed by the grubby, gritty blue-collar and barely-tamed side of Tulsa. I see that attitude reflected in the way the two cities promote themselves to tourists.

The tourism brochure that the Chamber puts out (the one you'll find at hotel tourist brochure racks all over this region) paints Tulsa as a high-class, high-culture cosmopolitan city. The brochure highlights our world-class art museums and our opera and our ballet and shopping at Utica Square, all wonderful and worthy of attention. Even the tiny font of the Tulsa brochure suggests that Tulsa is an acquired taste for the discriminating palate. Next time you see a rack of tourism brochures, contrast Tulsa's with Oklahoma City's. OKC's has big type, big pictures of horses, cowboys, and Indians, and a big map showing at a glance where all the good stuff is. It's the sort of brochure that says "We're proud of who we are," not, "We're East Coast wannabes." And OKC's brochure is designed to grab a kid's attention -- "This looks cool! Can we stop there, please?"

Getting back to Western Swing, Tulsa ought to make it easy for visitors to find Cain's, maybe work with ownership to allow tours when there aren't any events, be sure that Western Swing has a place at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, and help Western Swing fans visiting Tulsa find that kind of music. Coming to Tulsa as a Western Swing fan and not being able to find it performed anywhere would be like going to Vienna and being unable to find anyone playing Strauss waltzes. And while we're at it, let's make north Main Street a link between downtown, Brady Village, and OSU-Tulsa, which owns the land just on the other side of I-244 from Cain's. OSU-Tulsa ought to be encouraged, pressured even (since the city gave the school the land), to build out their campus in an urban fashion, not more of the suburban mall approach they've used so far.

Regarding Jenks and the river -- some of the development Downtown Guy mentions is actually on the east bank in Tulsa, like the Creek Casino. But his main point is that this development is off the beaten path, not easy for out-of-towners to find, and far from downtown. He says Tulsa had twice attempted to pass a MAPS-type program, but that's really not so. Tulsa's plans were always focused on the arena and convention center, while MAPS involved a variety of projects, still mostly downtown, but MAPS also included the Bricktown canal, the art museum, the library, and the music hall. There's a synergy in Bricktown which will be difficult to achieve in downtown Tulsa. I'll be interested to read his next installment and would love to know what he thinks about the arena's location relative to other downtown activity centers, the impact of the Inner Dispersal Loop, and ongoing downtown demolition.


Cain's encompasses a lot of local bands these days, as well. Every thing from Country music to hard core speed metal.
I'm glad someone from "outside" notices it's value as well. I wish Tulsa had something similar to Philly's "South Street" mixed with something like OKC's bricktown. That's where I would go, if I had to go into town.

I've been to South Street in Philly (about 10 years ago now), and it was great -- restaurants from simple to fancy, lots of retail, most with living space above. In fact, almost all of Center City Philadelphia is lively, and it's because you have mixed uses that naturally evolved over time. The only parts of Center City that didn't work were the parts that were "urban renewed" in the '60s to create green space or plazas or malls.

The key ingredient to any such lively urban space is old buildings that can be inexpensively acquired or leased by small businesses and then improved over time. If everything's been torn down, the cost of new construction makes it very hard for entrepreneurs to kick-start an area.

The A Team said:

Philadelphia has a free Wi-Fi zone that encompasses it's Downtown area. A neighborhood within the IDL in Tulsa applied for 2025 neighborhood money to try to do this in Downtown, but sadly it was turned down. I hear OKC is looking into this as well. It seems that our capitol will soon be surpassing our rank on the list of most wired cities. I guess we're gonna get whipped by OKC again. This is getting embarrassing.

W. said:

Here's a hear, hear for the fellow who loves Cain's Ballroom. Nightclubs as old as Cain's are as rare as hen's teeth, and it should be cherished. I know I do.

R Spears said:

My wife and I own the Baldwin L series piano that worked as the stage piano at the Cains from about 1960-1999. Steve from the band The Tractors found it on its side by the men's room and told them somebody needed to restore the instrument to its original beauty. Mike, you've seen it in my living room. Not bad, huh?

mad okie Author Profile Page said:

I think it needs to be torn down, downtown Tulas is in dire need of more parking...

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