We already have a river authority

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It's not often I find myself in agreement with Bobby Lorton, publisher of the Tulsa Whirled, but in this case, he is absolutely right: We don't need a new river development authority, because we already have one with a 32-year-history -- the River Parks Authority. All of the roles being suggested for the new authority are already under the RPA's purview.

While there might need to be changes to the board or staff to enable it to serve an expanded role, there's no need to reinvent the wheel.

After the jump is a letter that Lorton, as chairman of the RPA, sent to Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller, leading proponent of a new authority. Be sure to notice the contrast he draws between riverfront development in Jenks and development across the river in Tulsa. I think the suggestion for expanding the RPA board could be tweaked a bit -- there ought to be someone on the board representing near-river neighborhood associations -- but it's a pretty good letter all told.

January 4, 2006

The Honorable Randi Miller
Chairman, Board of County Commissioners
500 South Denver
Tulsa, OK 74103

Dear Commissioner Miller:

There is much current discussion regarding development of the Arkansas River in Tulsa, including various approaches to economic and real estate development of the banks or even creating islands for development in the middle of the river itself. Such discussions include a wide variety of potential public and private development, extending to commercial retail and office as well as residential uses, along with the more obvious public park areas.

Amidst discussion of the various options, the question “Who should coordinate evaluation of the many proposed alternatives?” naturally surfaces. It only makes sense to strongly consider the existing River Parks Authority, perhaps with some additions to its current structure.

Existing for more than 30 years now (since 1974), the River Parks Authority has demonstrated its ability to use the resources at its disposal to successfully develop the Arkansas River in Tulsa to the benefit of the local citizenry. More importantly, and more pertinent to the current discussion, the River Parks Authority has ensured over the years that the various uses of the Arkansas Riverfront under its control have worked in harmony together for the public good.

You have been a frequent, vocal champion of developing Tulsa’s river, noting the valuable community asset that it represents. The River Parks Authority wholeheartedly agrees and recent private development along the riverfront highlights the immediate need for a more consistent and unified approach.

Specifically, the River Walk Crossing in Jenks is an example of a well-planned retail development which capitalizes on its access to the river front. Sitting areas and walkways face the river, encouraging customers to both enjoy the beautiful views and to patronize the businesses at the same time. Not only are these shops and restaurants staying quite busy, they beautifully enhance and complement the river’s shoreline at the same time. This is truly an example of a win-win development, for the river and the general public.

In stark contrast, the earliest commercial development on the Tulsa side, near the Creek turnpike just north of 101st Street, has unfortunately ignored its riverfront location, making no effort to connect or capitalize on this great asset. This configuration of retail space could have been built anywhere, and the effect would have been just the same: Customers park, enter, shop, and exit all from the “land” side of these businesses. While some of these restaurants and stores are busy enough, it has nothing to do with their river location. Importantly, this also results in the “back end of the buildings” facing the river itself, reducing (rather than increasing) the river bank’s potential attractiveness for future recreational development.

The River Parks Authority has a single objective: Reasoned, intentional, deliberately thought-through development of the Arkansas Riv er. The Authority’s track record of development, maintenance, conservation, and stewardship would prove invaluable to the next significant phase of river development. Our members welcome development of the river area which would complement the riverfront itself, and we are excited about the prospects of having a truly beautiful river corridor. At the same time, the River Parks Authority stands alone in being able to balance development with conservation and preservation, goals which are equally important and must be carefully integrated into the planning and development process. The potential for a unified approach that would benefit both businesses/developers and the general public is enormous.

The River Parks Authority has seven members (three each appointed by Tulsa County and the City of Tulsa, and one by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission). The Authority suggests that, for the purpose of consideration of various proposals for Arkansas River development, the current Authority be augmented with a handful of additional people. (The current seven-member structure of the River Parks Authority would be unchanged for all of its current purposes, including all operations and maintenance of the River Parks.)

The expanded group would take on consideration of the various proposals for further economic development along the river corridor, providing input and making recommendations to the city and county. Additions for this purpose could include, for example, a member from the city councils of Jenks, Sand Springs, and/or Tulsa; a Tulsa County Commissioner; and/or one or more people with commercial real estate development expertise.

The Indian Nations Council Of Governments recognizes that the current River Parks Authority would be a very appropriate body to coordinate and help further this development, having endorsed the idea a year ago.

There is, simply, no need to create another public body, consuming valuable time and expense in the process. An additional body would also inevitably result in complications trying to sort out where the responsibilities of the River Parks Authority end and those of the new body begin, both initially and then as real-life, real-time operating and development decisions arise, which must be handled by one or the other, yet affect both. Further, the particular composition, authority, responsibilities, and selection of members of a new body would take some time to sort out and agree upon.

For your further consideration, we’ve attached as an attachment a “bullet-point” list which offers the distinguishing factors we believe makes the River Parks Authority the best choice for this assignment.

We appreciate your thoughtful consideration of this request and look forward to continuing our existing positive momentum in the direction of a unified approach to riverfront development.


Robert E. Lorton III, Chairman
Darton J. Zink, Vice Chairman


The current River Parks Authority:

  • Is already comprised of board members appointed by both Tulsa County and the City of Tulsa;

  • Has professional staff currently in place, including office and administrative facilities, avoiding duplication of resources;

  • Has a proven track record of effectiveness in protecting the long-term best interests of the local citizenry;

  • Has, as its mission, the development and beautification of Tulsa’s unique riverfront asset in a way that benefits all citizens;

  • Is experienced at managing the technical and environmental aspects of riverfront operation;

  • Has been involved for decades in the review and evaluation of riverfront projects;

  • Is made up of members who would embrace a planned, aesthetically desirable approach to development, including multiple but complementary approaches in various locations;

  • Is already well-connected and integrated with City and County agencies;

  • Is well-known in the community and has an excellent reputation;

  • Has a proven track record of successful private fundraising, both for popular public events, and for major capital improvement projects. During its 30 plus years of history, the Authority’s Board and staff have raised 41% of the agency’s total expenditures for both operations and capital improvements.

  • Is well established, with operating momentum (and possibly a handful of carefully chosen additions), ready to get to work.

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Second Amendment said:

Yeah - just whose bad idea was it to plunk down those box restaurants and stores at Riverside and Creek? They have destroyed OUR side of the River with bad taste in planning.

As for Riverwalk - I am not sure I want to give it THAT much credit. I think it is a bit crass and overbearing and needed to be more natural looking to fit in better with our beautiful rolling hills and woods environment.

We don't need Vegas on the river in this area. Leave that for the ugly casino on 81st. And that big carnival looking Riverwalks sign? Get that thing down. That's like really bad bling. I would have liked to seen more of a small town "village" type boardwalk atmosphere, single story use with potential for open store front shops.

But hey, the Riverwalk is a far cry better than what Tulsa has done across the river. A Kum and Go? Ugh. I refuse to use those shops and restaurants along the river at Creek turnpike. They have destroyed the area.

Paul Tay said:

All of which could have been reader-digested: Missy, yer full of CRAP. Say, Bobby, MAKE LIFE SIMPLE.

Paul Tay said:

While on the topic of t-whrl'd, say, Bobby, suppose you hire some COMPETANT headline writers? Most of what passes for t-whrl'd headlines are way too WORDY and LAME. Ya need to zip it in 5 words or LESS.

Imagine writing for the SantaMobile on 18"X24" coroplast and you get the idea.

And, the next time I read the tired cliche, "So and so is WANTING, NEEDING, blah blah blah...." I WILL go off the handle and PUKE all over your crappy-ass paper.

Yes, print is losing readership BIG time, if you gotta resort to some crappy game of chance, Win-A-Ride. Nothing more lottery masquerading as genius co-branding. You guys can do BETTER. Give the copy some PUNCH, if you won't lose the SPIN, Bobby.

Bob said:

I think overall that the RPA has been a general success in its 30+ year mission. The land-trade to finance the 31st St. Low-Water Dam in exchange for A LOT of valuable land where Westport now sits being the Nadir of its efficacy.

It's not surprising, however, that Bobby Lorton omits any mention of adding representation from the local riverparks area Homeowners Association to an expanded RPA membership.

This generation of the Lortons World is not really any different than all the previous generations of that myopic gene pool: A prediliction towards Oligarchy Family viewpoint, agitating for ever more taxes from Tulsa's "Little People" to finance the dreams (Hallucinations?) of Tulsa's Founder Family Follies.

Why would he tolerate a nuisance of an actual Homeowner's Association representative on the RPA?

Meaning someone who would be actually AFFECTED by the development along the Arkansas River?

My, what's the WORLD becoming to permit someone OUTSIDE their control to actually be permitted a voice in local policy.

Harrumph! Such impertinence!

If such an ASTOUNDING turn of events should actually be allowed to transpire here in our little Banana Republic of Tulsa, I hereby nominate none more qualified than:

Mr. Michael Bates!

Paul Tay said:

Second the nomination.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 11, 2007 7:49 PM.

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