Reviving downtown: the latest misguided attempt?

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Sunday's Whirled had a front-page article about the city's plans for downtown east of Detroit and south of the Frisco tracks. (I know, I know -- it's been Burlington Northern for a long time now, but doggone it, the Saint Louis and San Francisco Railroad laid those tracks in 1882 and determined the cockeyed orientation of downtown Tulsa. I'll still call them the Frisco tracks, so as to differentiate them from the Katy tracks and the Tulsa Street Railway tracks.)

This 115-acre area, prospectively titled the East Village, was the subject of a redevelopment contract between the Tulsa Development Authority and DESCO, a St. Louis-based big box retail developer. The deal quietly expired without any progress. Now Mayor Bill LaFortune is in discussions with some private groups about redevelopment plans, which may involve a soccer or baseball stadium. The Whirled quotes the Mayor as saying, "The primary thrust of the redevelopment projects we're in discussion with will have the end result of the new urbanism concept for this city that we don't have now."

To be fair, the Mayor acknowledges that a stadium shouldn't be the focal point of the redevelopment:

LaFortune said any sports facility that is part of the redevelopment discussion "is more of a secondary theme to the primary theme of multi-use development. A stadium, whether it be soccer or minor league baseball, would be woven into the fabric of that project."

LaFortune said everyone has seen the success that downtown stadiums can bring to revitalization.

"We've seen it in city after city after city," he said. "The major difference of any discussions now regarding any professional sports is that it is not the No. 1 focus as it has been in the past."

City after city? Where, exactly, have downtown sports facilities sparked downtown revitalization? Not the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Not any of the sports facilities in downtown St. Louis. Where there has been revitalization around a sports facility, there are other attractions in place. I think the canal has had more to do with the liveliness of Oklahoma City's Bricktown than the Bricktown Ballpark or the Ford Center. If an attraction is going to make a difference, it has to be something that you can enjoy at any time, not just on certain scheduled occasions. The canal provides a promenade -- a place to stroll along, to see and be seen. The sports facilities bring people into the area to see Bricktown for the first time, but that only makes a difference because first-time visitors can see that there are lots of people who are enjoying themselves outside of the sports facilities.

A couple of things bother me about this news item. One is the hope placed in a sports facility, or any one big thing, to revive downtown. Another is the focus on finding one big developer to fix up the whole area.

It has taken fifty years to reduce downtown Tulsa from its glory days to its present state. This process has been helped along by expressway construction, urban renewal, skyscraper construction (and the increased demand for parking), and plenty of well-meaning revitalization attempts.

We won't erase half a century of mistakes overnight. The best examples of revitalization in Tulsa are along 15th Street and along Peoria, and in each case it has been a process of more than 20 years, beginning with some pioneers who saw potential in the old commercial buildings of Cherry Street and Brookside. The best city government can do is provide encouragement and remove obstacles.

  1. Treat the conversion of downtown into a parking lot as the shame that it is. Call a summit of office building owners, downtown pastors, city and county officials, and the leaders of OSU Tulsa and TCC, and work out a way to meet parking needs and expansion needs without ever more demolition.
  2. Improve connections within downtown. At long last, fix and reopen the Boulder Avenue overpass. Make the Denver Avenue viaduct and all the overpasses more comfortable and less forboding for pedestrians. Create a direct route connecting 3rd and Main in the downtown core with Archer and Main in Brady Village -- even if it means tearing down some ugly modern buildings.
  3. Keep the street grid open. Don't close any more streets, and open some to complete the grid, like Frankfort between 1st and 2nd, Greenwood between 3rd and 5th, and 5th between Frankfort and Kenosha.
  4. Insist that OSU-Tulsa build out its campus in an urban fashion. OSU-Tulsa has their land because the City of Tulsa condemned it for them. The City should strongly encourage OSU-Tulsa to remediate, and not repeat, the isolated suburban mall design of its current campus.
  5. Improve connections between inside and outside the Inner Dispersal Loop for drivers and pedestrians.
  6. Remember that retail follows residential. Encourage the urban pioneers who are already creating living spaces downtown and find out what obstacles are standing in the way of others following in their footsteps.

You'll find a very intelligent discussion of downtown revitalization happening at the TulsaNow forums.


susan said:

Please run for Mayor Mike!!! Mike Bates is young enough to leave his excellent job and still go back if to that profession if elected Mayor of Tulsa when election times rolls around.

He has a degree from M.I.T. A degree from M.I.T. we have NEVER had in any Mayor of Tulsa. Tulsa needs to desperately gets some high
tech jobs back to Tulsa.

susan said:

Vote for Mike Bates for our next Mayor of Tulsa!
He is a common voice many people listen to on the radio and in this radio time he has can take on heavier Mayor election questions callers could send in their questions and Mike could answer their questions on their air. Start early getting your name out for the next Mayor campaign. Do you remember Ronald Reagan when he
first lost when he ran for president of the U.S.?

He also was a common voice people listened to on the radio. When he lost, many wished they had made the sometimes inconvenient trip to the polls and made their vote count. So many think
they are just ONE vote. But each vote counts.

We need to get MANY high tech jobs that bring in decent salaries because when people in Tulsa are making decent salaries that match their education skills, they go out and BUY which in turns make another company profitable -- such is the point in good business!

Plesae give to the Red Cross or Salvation Army
because these are two reputable organizations that can ALWAYS be counted on to help in a crisis
like hurricanes and other disasters like 9/ll.

susan said:

To celebrate Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005 groundbreaking for Tulsa's arena, of course Tulsa
World has announced John E. will emcee the event -- it's amazing that the Tulsa World newspaper favors this emcee so much -- anyone ever notice?

Another problem with an 18,000 seat arena is when it is low on attendance, it can be depressing to sit and see all of those empty seats so I sure hope the Mayor has planned many
sell out crowds to make the profits to keep this arena in the black.

Look at the City of Faith which has tons of empty space available. That huge building project in Tulsa was exciting to Oral Roberts University until they had the scandal of direct mail -- I won't go into the details here of what they and other televangelists were accused of (Primetime Live mentioned Oral Roberts in a Primetime Live investigation). If you look at the Mabee Center which is another place in Tulsa where people go to for sport events and concerts, I have gone to events where this place has not been kept up where it once was such a beautiful place to have big events. I have gone to the bathrooms where rust looked like it was in the water pipes -- when you pay good money as the Mayor seems to think people will be paying for arena seats -- 15, 20, 25 years down the road will people still be willing to pay the same price for seating? I guess Tulsa
has an extremely lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng
term plan for keeping the arena structure in
tip top condition 30 and 40 years down the road so it doesn't end up like the Mabee Center? Has anyone thought that far ahead?

Tulsa World has reported different people are complaining and barking loudly about the Yale (Arkansas River) South Tulsa bridge project to open up other traffic possibilities for safety and high traffic volume and how contractors would be making too much money off of this south tulsa bridge project -- but who are the ones making the money off of the ARENA project? Did the Tulsa World newspaper make a list of all the money different people would be receiving that are in on building this arena and how they bid and were awarded the job to build the arena?

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 29, 2005 11:10 PM.

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