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The response of the downtown building owners and their lobbyists to proposals for downtown historic preservation is ironic, with their talk of capital and free markets. I didn't hear any of them suggest that it was a violation of capitalism to tax groceries to pay for a venue for privately-owned, for-profit sports teams and musical acts, or to spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars to boost their property values.

Up in my linkblog, I linked to a speech by Donovan D. Rypkema, who describes himself as a "crass, unrepentant, real estate capitalist Republican type." The speech is about the rationale and legitimacy of land-use regulation. In particular, he addresses the assertion that land use regulation constitutes a taking for which a property owner should be compensated.

One paragraph in the speech seemed especially relevant to the debate over downtown historic preservation:

Most of the value of an individual parcel of real estate comes from beyond the property lines from the investments others � usually taxpayers � have made. And land use controls are an appropriate recompense for having publicly created that value.

Think about public investment in downtown Tulsa. Tulsa County taxpayers are investing over a quarter-billion dollars in downtown through Vision 2025. City of Tulsa taxpayers have invested tens or maybe hundreds of millions through bond issues and the third-penny -- building Main Mall, removing it, providing incentives to downtown residential development, acquiring land for the Williams Center through eminent domain, streetscaping, changing streets from one-way to two-way, etc. Then there's the federal and state investment in the highway network that connects downtown with the rest of the metro area.

The express purpose of much of that public investment is the revitalization of downtown. Many Tulsans want a downtown where historic buildings are protected, a downtown that is an attractive and interesting place to walk around, not a downtown that looks like the Woodland Hills Mall parking lot.

Every time a property owner knocks a building down for surface parking, it devalues that public investment. It is legitimate and reasonable for local government to protect that investment with modest regulations.

In my column in last week's issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly, I wrote about the many ways that Oklahoma City uses land-use regulation to protect strategic and historical parts of the city, such as the Northeast Gateway and Bricktown. Special districts have been established, with rules and processes specific to each. Bricktown and other older commercial districts, such as NW 23rd St., are under urban design review, which affects major exterior renovation, new construction, and demolition, to ensure consistency with the character of the neighborhood, protecting public investment and the investment of neighboring building owners.

A few years ago, the Urban Design Commission denied three applications to demolish the Gold Dome at 23rd and Classen, a geodesic dome originally built as a bank. The building is now being used for offices and a multicultural center to anchor the city's Asian District.

In 2002, I went on a Tulsa Now bus tour of Oklahoma City, and for part of the ride then-Mayor Kirk Humphreys was our tour guide. I asked him how they convinced developers to go along with restrictions on what they could do with their property. He said that the City pointed out how many millions of dollars the City had invested in that area (the canal, the ballpark, the Ford Center, and more), and that it was reasonable for the City to take steps to protect its investment.

Paul Wilson, one of the property owners who was quoted as complaining about the preservation recommendations in the Whirled's story, was a member of the Dialog/Visioning Leadership Team, the group that put together the Vision 2025 sales tax package. He and his business associates had been pushing for a new taxpayer-funded sports arena since the mid '90s. The last time I checked land records downtown, firms connected to Wilson owned a significant amount of land along Denver Avenue between Highway 51 and the arena site.

No one is proposing to take his land away from him, but now that the City has given him so much of what he asked for, and has significantly improved the value of his investments, it is reasonable for the city to insist that he act in a way that upholds the value of the taxpayers' investment.

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.


S. Lee said:

About that "interesting place to walk around": I can certainly appreciate the sentiment, but I suspect most of those walkers will also want a reasonably convenient, preferrably free, place to stash the family sedan which got them downtown for that walk down memory lane. I've never found old, run down, vacant, box-like buildings especially interesting; but then, I could just be exceptionally obtuse. One might recall what PSO had to do to bring Central High School up to usable standards. I do believe they even had to take out the original floors. PSO could (and no doubt did) pass the cost on to the rate payers. Tulsa Junior College got the tax payers to foot the bill for renovating the manual arts building. These are financing options not available to most property owners. I'll bet the cost of heating and cooling old buildings is getting mighty pricey too. The discomfiting collision of idealism and reality.

As long as we are talking history: I recommend a visit to old Second Presbyterian Church (defunct) building, built in 1927, at Archer and Zunis. If the current occupants have kept it intact, the sanctuary is definitely worth a look -- what I call a true "Norman Rockwell" look. I was the last organist for 2nd Pres. when it was closed and sold in 2004 (iirc). To give you some idea of the size of the place: In its prime, in the mid-1930s, Sunday school attendance was between 900 - 1200 depending on the weather (people walked to church back then). It has three floors plus a basement. A full basketball court occupies about 1/3 of the basement.

Dan Paden said:

I wish "Tanstaafl" was tattooed on everybody's forehead.

On the other hand: I spend about two, sometimes three days a week in Oklahoma City and the surrounding environs, and as far as I am concerned, I ain't impressed. The city as a whole looks dirty and nasty, it is a pain in the rear to navigate, and I don't hesitate to characterize the whole thing as a...well, a hole.

I 'bout believe I'd take a beating 'afore I ever moved to that place.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 14, 2006 10:52 PM.

Developers want no hindrance to conversion of downtown to parking lots was the previous entry in this blog.

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