Bell's to Jenks riverfront?

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Robby Bell, third-generation owner of Bell's Amusement Park, was on KFAQ with Michael DelGiorno yesterday morning discussing the probable move of the 54-year-old park from the Tulsa County Fairgrounds to about fifty acres on the west bank of the Arkansas River in Jenks, just south of the Oklahoma Aquarium and the Creek Turnpike. I think this is a positive development for Bell's and nearby neighborhoods, and the only negative is that apparently Zingo, their 60-foot-high wooden roller coaster, won't be moved to the new location.

Bell's is currently on about 10 acres, which they lease from the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (also known as the Fair Board) for a percentage of their revenues. About 7 years ago, Bell's began to seek an expansion to take in 10 more acres to the west, all the way to Louisville Avenue, an area that is currently parking for Bell's and the Fairgrounds and provides a buffer for the neighborhood. Bell's wanted to add a new 100-foot-high roller coaster, sitting parallel west of Zingo. Neighboring homeowners objected, and proposed that the Fair Board allow Bell's to expand into the interior of the Fairgrounds, north of the IPE Building, rather than toward the neighborhood. The County never gave that idea serious consideration, as it conflicted with their plans for the fairgrounds. (Rather than encourage passive uses around the perimeter of the Fairgrounds as a buffer to the surrounding neighborhoods, the County's master plan puts greenspace in the interior of the Fairgrounds, and pushes more intensive uses to the perimeter.

Bell's ultimately did receive the go-ahead from the Fair Board and received a special exception from the Tulsa County Board of Adjustment to build the coaster. That decision was overturned in district court in 2003 in a summary judgment for the neighboring plaintiffs by Judge David Peterson, on the grounds that the County BOA exceeded its authority by granting a special exception not in accord with the Comprehensive Plan for the area, which called for low-intensity development. Last year, the Court of Civil Appeals reversed Peterson's decision, saying the BOA had the authority to grant a special exception contrary to the comprehensive plan, and the case was remanded back to district court.

Even if Bell's were ultimately to expand all the way to Louisville Avenue, at twenty acres they still wouldn't have enough space to become the kind of regional attraction they aspire to be. For comparison, here are the sizes of some other amusement and theme parks:

Joyland Amusement Park, Wichita, 50 acres
Frontier City, 55 acres
Silver Dollar City, 61 acres
Canobie Lake Park (New Hampshire), 65 acres
Disneyland, 85 acres
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, 107 acres
Worlds of Fun, 175 acres
Six Flags over Texas, 212 acres
Sea World San Antonio, 250 acres

Bell's started out in 1951 as a modest collection of kiddie rides. Zingo was its first major ride, opened in 1968, but with a court order (still in effect) prohibiting operation past 9 p.m. Over the course of the '70s, the log ride, a dark ride called Phantasmagoria, and Himalaya were added transforming the park to something approaching its current configuration. While neighbors had reconciled themselves to the existence of the park under its current constraints, they regarded the expansion plan, particularly the creation of a new, taller coaster, as a violation of promise inherent in the Comprehensive Plan amendment, adopted in 1984 and still on the books, which set aside the west section of the Fairgrounds for low-intensity development. That Comprehensive Plan amendment was an attempt at striking a balance between the interests of neighboring property owners and the County's desire to maximize its revenues with ever more intensive uses, and it was reasonable for homeowners to expect that it would be followed.

Bell's move to Jenks won't be a revenue loss to the City of Tulsa -- the Fairgrounds are unincorporated territory and not subject to city sales tax. It is a shame that we can't find a place for Bell's on Tulsa's stretch of the river. I seem to recall that at one point, south of 71st Street on the east side of the river was a possibility. If they make the move, I hope the park will be designed to connect with the river and nearby attractions. It would be nice if the park were set up somewhat like the boardwalk amusement parks you find along the East Coast, with a public promenade along the river, connecting to the aquarium and the Jenks Riverwalk. Someone might have dinner at the Riverwalk, stroll down to Bell's, then decide to ride a couple of rides. It would be a wasted opportunity if they fenced the place off completely, made it accessible only from an inland parking lot, and made the admission fee so high that dropping in to ride just a couple of rides would be impractical. The Jenks Riverwalk is a good example of what good riverfront development should look like; hopefully other developers will follow its lead.


I remember riding the Zingo when I was a little kid. I used to really love that rickety ol' roller coaster. I hope they change their mind and take it with them. The Zingo was a big part of a lot of Tulsa kids' lives and memories.
Or maybe someone could buy it and preserve it somehow?
I wonder if they could get really crazy and make some kind of ride that somehow involves the river? Kind of like bumper boats or something. I know it's not the cleanest water in the world, but it would still be fun!

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 13, 2005 2:52 PM.

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