Counting the arena cost

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For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. -- Luke 14:28-30

The Whirled reported today that ground breaking for the arena will occur on August 31.

The budget for Tulsa's new downtown sports arena is $141 million. Land acquisition, which is now complete, cost $10.6 million, leaving $130 million for design, engineering, utility relocation, and construction. There's ample reason to believe that amount of money won't be enough, but exactly how much the arena will cost still isn't known. The arena's blueprints won't be ready until December, and only at that point will it be possible to say, with some degree of accuracy, what this thing will cost. And if the cost exceeds the Vision 2025 funds that have been allocated to the City of Tulsa for that purpose, where will the rest of the money come from? Shouldn't we have answers to these questions before we start construction?

Jim Hewgley III, the former street commissioner who oversaw the last expansion of the Tulsa Convention Center in the early '80s, has said that there are three things the city needs to have in hand before we proceed with construction: warranty deeds for all the land, blueprints, and a turnkey contract. That last item means we've got an agreement with the builder that says we'll pay you so much for a building that meets our specifications and is complete by a date certain -- we turn the key in the lock and it's ready for use.

The Mayor and others have said that any gap between $141 million and the actual cost of construction can be closed by selling naming rights and premium seating -- club seats and luxury boxes. But during the campaign to pass the sales tax to pay for the arena, we were told that premium seating revenues would go toward operation of the arena and possibly result in an operating surplus. According to the numbers in the feasibility study by CSL, if premium seating revenues are diverted away from operations and toward construction costs, the arena would have an annual operating deficit of $1.6 million, which would come straight out of our city budget for public safety and streets. Before we build this thing and start paying to keep it open, shouldn't we know where we'll get the money to cover the operating deficit?

In other arena news, Tulsa Front Page, a new weekly newspaper, has a couple of cover stories about the arena. (The stories aren't online.) One story features quotes from concert promoter Larry Shaeffer, who says the arena won't be enough to revitalize downtown on its own, but it will "probably help some people redevelop downtown." He goes on to say that it won't be enough to bring in a few big name acts a year; the arena management will "need to get things in there that nobody's thought of."

Another story has this gem from Mayor Bill LaFortune: "Cesar Pelli's masterpiece will serve as an irresistable attraction to our city.... People will come from all over to see this arena and its design." I'm hoping that's just garden-variety boosterism speaking, because an arena, even a starchitect-designed arena, won't be a compelling reason for anyone to visit our city.

The front page photo has this caption: "Cathy Boatright, along with her sons Davis and Bryant, examines a scale model of Cesar Pelli and Associates' design for the new downtown Tulsa arena. Boatright and her sons, who attend Metro Christian Academy, gave an enthusastic thumbs-up to the final design." Their approval shouldn't be too surprising -- Cathy is the wife of Bart Boatright, the project director for the arena.

1 Comments

bitweever said:

I was looking out of a conference room window down at the future arena location, and trying to figure out why they would choose there. It's a few blocks from any highway access, and there's nothing around it (except for the jail a few blocks away). It's a really strange location. I would've thought they would have wanted to draw attention to the Greenwood and Brady districts by placing it on that side of the tracks, but I guess not...

There was a recent episode of 'The Simpsons' where they built an arena. Mayor Quimby's rallying call at the town hall meeting was, "Everyone in favor of sending a $300 Million 'screw you' to Shelbyville, say 'Aye'!" The similarities are eerie.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 14, 2005 11:05 PM.

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