Arena: An ungracious beginning

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UPDATE 9/6/2005: Bobby has reorganized and purged Tulsa Topics, so with his permission, I've taken his audio of the speech, reduced the fidelity to radio quality to get the size down, and uploaded it here (4 MB MP3).

UPDATE 9/7/2005: Bobby has reposted the groundbreaking audio in both MP3 and streaming format here.

And don't miss the commentary on the groundbreaking and Tulsa's downtown revitalization strategy from Oklahoma City bloggers Charles G. Hill and The Downtown Guy.

If you thought that the proponents of Vision 2025 have come to a more balanced, nuanced view of the arena's role in Tulsa's future, you need to listen to the speeches from today's groundbreaking of the new downtown sports arena. To listen to John Erling (the MC) and Bill LaFortune speak, you'd have thought the New Jerusalem just descended from the heavens. (Emphasis added by me in the quotes below.)

Erling's opening:

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to a very historic day in the life of our city, Tulsa, and our county, Tulsa County. To paraphrase, this is the day the taxpayers have made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Today is the day that the result of two government entities, coming together for the common good of the region known as Vision 2025, and we are here, in ceremony, to honor the wishes of our citizens, that we break ground to build an events center that will not only be a gathering place, an entertainment venue, but also because of its design and renowned architect, a reason to make Tulsa a point of destination....

So there's no reason to come to Tulsa until the arena is finished?

Now Mayor Bill LaFortune worked tirelessly with the leadership team and County Commissioner Bob Dick to present the Vision 2025 project to the public, and the arena is the centerpiece of that project, which was approved September 9, 2003.... The vision has always been to create an icon for the community, a center that will be the signature piece of artwork recognized throughout the world.

Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune took the occasion to chastise those who voted against the arena. His tone was defensive and defiant, completely out of place for a celebratory event. It reminded me of some of Bill Clinton's more petulant performances. Here's one segment. Not only does he dismiss those who opposed Vision 2025 as "content with the status quo," but seems to be saying that Vision 2025 is all about grinding other medium-sized midwestern cities in the dust. And, yes, in another Clintonian touch, it's for the children....

John Erling certainly touched on this, but today would not be possible without the efforts of thousands, literally thousands of Tulsans. First and most important, the citizens who voted yes for Vision 2025. They recognized that we had to do something big and bold to move Tulsa forward. They recognized that Tulsa had to build, invest, invest in our infrastructure, to remain competitive with similar cities. They recognized, those citizens who voted yes, that Tulsa had to build to provide facilities that would serve as the foundation for Tulsa's future economic growth. Those citizens, with their foresight, recognized that Tulsa had to build facilities and amenities that would serve us for decades to come. For us, but most importantly as I said -- and we should never tire of this theme -- for our kids and our grandkids, those same citizens rejected the negativism of some, those same individuals who were content with the status quo, content to go by decade after decade with no major public facility improvement, all the while watching almost every other comparable city, including Oklahoma City, move past us, leaving us in their construction dust.

But today I say to you: No more! No more to Oklahoma City, no more to Des Moines, no more to Omaha! Tulsa is alive and well!

"Fie upon you, Des Moines and Omaha, and fie, fie upon you, Oklahoma City! Your vaunted convention centers will be brought low and shall be no more! Not one stone will remain standing upon another. Your downtowns will run with blood! We will loot your concert tour dates, kill your men, enslave your women and children, and sow your fields with salt. My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings! Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"

Look back over that quote. What a paltry vision: Remain competitive with similar cities by building an arena. Nothing about developing our workforce, encouraging risk-takers to start new businesses, accommodating the needs of the elderly and disabled, rethinking our approach to urban design. Nothing about becoming a great city, just making sure Cher has a place to perform when she brings her Frankensteinish carcass to town.

Notice too how LaFortune denigrates the billions of dollars Tulsans invested in streets, sewers, and public schools through the third-penny sales tax and city and school general obligation bond issues in the decade before Vision 2025. Because that money paid for lots of small improvements, and not a single major facility improvement (that always translates to "new arena"), that investment, supported by those of us who opposed Vision 2025, doesn't count.

And notice that this arena isn't just going to be a nice place to watch a ball game. According to Bill LaFortune, it's the foundation for Tulsa's future economic growth.

Later, LaFortune goes into full hyperbolic overdrive. Uniter, not divider, that he is, he takes another slap at people who disagree with him:

But what about one of the greatest coalitions ever built? We've heard from of our perennial negative voices that we claim to be coalition builders but we're not, and we're afraid they might have been asleep during the Vision 2025 process. And what has now been a coalition building effort recognized nationally by the US Conference of Mayors and the coalition for most livable communities, Vision 2025 was unprecedented anywhere, anytime in the United States of America. Where else -- you name it -- where else and when could you have an occasion which cities, mayors, city managers, city councils, the county government, chambers of commerce, neighborhood associations, and so on, all came together united behind a single vision, a single plan. I call that a coalition, a major coalition never before seen....

LaFortune went on to compare Tulsa's situation before Vision 2025 to Washington and the Continental Army at Valley Forge.

County Commissioner Bob Dick spoke next and delivered a speech that was more what I would have expected on such an occasion: focused on the positive, not an opportunity to take a swipe at one's rivals.

Matrix President Steve Alter was the next speaker. He congratulates the city on doing such a diligent job selecting the construction team. He knows the city was diligent because it selected his team. And he joins in on the hyperbole:

I'd like to say how proud we are to be part of this and what a diligent process the city and county went through, the leadership team, the design review committee, the oversight committee, in their selection of the team to do the most important and the largest project in the urban core ever....

Larger and more important that the Williams Center? That was six blocks, not four.

Later, Alter picked up on LaFortune's idea of the arena biz as a zero sum game.

The challenge was provide a catalyst that puts Tulsa back on the map for major events and stops them to going to all of the cities that Mayor LaFortune mentioned. We not only will have an events center. We will have the greatest architectural events center and a new paradigm in events centers and arenas in the nation.

We have to stop those events from going to all those nasty cities that dare not to be Tulsa. It's not enough that Phish comes to Tulsa. We have to stop Phish from going to Des Moines. Maybe if we design the arena like a Roach Motel -- artists check in, but they don't check out.

It was entirely appropriate to celebrate the groundbreaking, but it would have been better to celebrate and appreciate it for what it is -- a nice place to see a game or a concert -- rather than insist that it is a magic totem that will transform the city's economy. I'd prefer to believe that the Mayor and the others were being disingenuous in ascribing supernatural urban healing powers to the arena. I'd hate to think they really believe this building is the key to Tulsa's future.

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Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Arena: An ungracious beginning.

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» Vision, schmision from dustbury.com

There is rivalry, and there is utter silliness. Tulsa Mayor LaFortune, speaking at the groundbreaking of T-town's new downtown sports arena, flirted with the line of demarcation, and then flopped... Read More

» My three cents' worth from dustbury.com

A couple weeks ago I brought up the topic of Tulsa's "third penny" sales tax, and suggested that its renewal wasn't exactly a sure thing despite Mayor LaFortune's town meetings... Read More

5 Comments

I think the arena will have supernatural powers. Once construction is complete, I plan to kneel toward the arena, three times a day, for prayer.

mad okie Author Profile Page said:

Im supprised he didnt paraphrase this scripture

"And the LORD said unto LaFortune, Come thou and all thy house and build an arena; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation."

K-Settes said:

Michael,

You, my friend, are a downer sometimes.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

Michael,

Your blog is hilarious! I am still laughing.
After, all if it weren't so true, it wouldn't be funny. We have such an arrogant "ruling" class here in Tulsa, and its to Tulsa's detriment. They always seem to know better than anyone else, and they are always willing to let you know it.

Where does all of this leave you if you voted for LaFortune, but voted against V2025?

May I coin a phrase? How about Myopia2025

Bobby Author Profile Page said:

"Purged" is such a gentle word for what happened over at Tulsa Topics.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 31, 2005 5:01 PM.

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