Arkansas River roundtable

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It's always fascinating when you get civic and business leaders speaking more candidly than they normally would in public. Back in February, the Journal Record published a transcript of a panel discussion concerning Arkansas River development in Tulsa.

It was the Square Feet Real Estate Roundtable, and the discussion involved Steve Walman of Walman Commercial Real Estate Services, Gaylon Pinc, an engineer formerly with INCOG and now with PMg, William B. Smith, vice chairman of the Oklahoma Floodplain Managers Association and president of Hydropower International Services International Consultancy, Susan Neal, from Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor's staff. The roundtable was moderated by Bob Parker, vice president of retail leasing and marketing with GBR Properties.

Walman has been involved in two riverfront developments: Riverwalk Crossing on the Jenks side and King's Landing on the Tulsa side. He expressed a sense of betrayal about Vision 2025:

I think the problem I have right now, and for a lot of Tulsans is, in Vision 2025 I voted for a river and I got an arena. I sat three years ago with a city hydrologist when we were doing Riverwalk and considering King's Landing and I said, 'Listen, with $27 million of private money going on this river, it's imperative to know when this low-water dam's going in that was the No. 1 priority of Vision 2025 and is so critical to the catalyst that's going to come.' And we were never sold the reality of the process. As simplistic as my mind works, I think a lot of people thought that 2025 was going to get a low-water dam. What that did was pay for a plan to get a low-water dam and for the last three years we've been told all the reasons why it's not happening.

I don't care for the reasons why we don't get it done. I voted for it. I won't vote for another thing before that low-water dam gets built. And I don't think any Tulsan will. Remember how long it took to get 2025 passed? Nobody had faith that somebody can pull that off. Until we pull that off, I don't think anybody's going to have faith that we're going to do anything else.

Maybe that's cynical business, but every week I've got $27 million worth of shopping centers on a sandbar. And I was told three years. This is a Tulsa problem, not a personal agenda issue. If in 2025 you'd said this is a 10-year process and you don't have the money, it's going to require a lot of these things and there's federal mandates, I'd put a dollar down 2025 wouldn't have passed.

Steve, some of us tried to point out that Vision 2025 was all about the arena, and there wasn't much river funding in the package, and the river funding that was there was contingent on federal funds that were unlikely to materialize. That last point was the subject of a report on KOTV. Not many people listened.

According to Gaylon Pinc, the arena is still getting in the way of river development (emphasis added):

There were two low-water dams envisioned in 2025, but a third of the money that was budgeted, if you will, was hoping that the feds would provide the other two-thirds, with our congressional delegation as powerful as they were. The election has turned that upside down. We will no longer have as much power and influence as we would have, and Congress did not act in time to pass the legislation that would have benefited us.

And then, when the overage went to the arena, that was very disappointing, because early on the overage (referring to Vision 2025 tax revenue rising beyond projections) was really talked about going to the river. And that would have made up the gap. And it's a severe gap. We don't have enough money in Vision, if we used all the money to build even that one south low-water dam. So we need more money from the public to do that, and if we don't get that, it will be much longer than that three-year process that it would take to get it permitted, designed and then start construction.

I am very hopeful, and I will remain optimistic that we will get that money because the public wants river development. I would hope they would understand enough to know the money was short to begin with and we will need more. And all the things that caused the multimillion-dollar overage on the arena - concrete, steel, electrical, manpower - will plague us on the low-water dam costs, too. But we have a couple of years to get to that point.

But Pinc says the money is already there to fix an immediate problem -- the Zink Lake Dam (emphasis added):

The Tennessee Valley Authority is working with the Corps in finding ways to improve dam safety. Zink Dam is a killer dam; firemen, policemen, rescue folks hate it because it is so inviting. So we have Vision money to improve Zink dam and add safety, actually reface the weir downstream. Along with that we have the opportunity to do a whitewater park launching from Zink Lake, and the plume that would also double as a fish passage.

Pinc also talked about the environmental obstacles to a 71st or 81st Street dam and to many possible development sites:

The corridor master plan really only has eight potential dam sites, all of which could be feasible. Some have more challenges than others, such as the ones downstream of I-44 and 71st Street and 81st Street have a Tulsa wastewater plant upstream. No way can you build a dam where it's dominated by wastewater. So, at some point Tulsa might want to think about moving that plant that's past its day.

You know, there are major projects that could hinder riverfront development in certain corridors and that 71st corridor is one of those areas. With Helmerich Park (just south of 71st) the public owns a lot of land, there's a lot of land for development, but the bio-solvents facility across river takes away a lot of developable land for a public use that's probably no longer appropriate for that type of urban setting. But it takes a couple hundred million dollars though to move those facilities to a less visible public location. So who's going to put up that money? It's going to take higher water rates, sewer rates, to do that, but that is going to be an obstacle.

Here's Susan Neal on how Riverwalk Crossing falls short of the ideal of riverfront development (emphasis added):

But it's interesting to me how the community defines riverfront development. If they define it by Riverwalk, which is a wonderful project, acceptable to most people - well, that's different from what many of us around Tulsa County view as real riverfront development, which actually lets you interact and recreate with the river. And that's what makes it costly. If you are dining, you are dining on the river. It's not just a restaurant that you look out and you can see the river. And I think that if it were easy, it would have already been done. But until we can play on it and interact with it, walk alongside it, have a dinner beside it, navigate it on a boat and fish on it, I think we are missing the boat on riverfront development.

This little detail in the piece's introduction of Gaylon Pinc raises all sorts of questions:

When Tulsa County took over that guidance role from INCOG last year, Pinc moved to PMg to continue his participation in the next phases of river studies.

This is no reflection on Pinc, who simply moved where he needed to move in order to stay involved with a project he cares about. But who decided that INCOG would be relieved of its involvement in the plan? Did City of Tulsa officials agree to the change? And when was there a competition to decide who would provide engineering services to the County for the river plan?

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5 Comments

sbtulsa said:

the last paragraph is why you will see the momentum for river development stagnate.

government has to accomplish things openly in order to have people's trust. incog giving way to the county "under the radar" smells. trust is now lost.

i will now vote against the boeing money to be collected.

also, susan neal's bs about interacting with the river speaks volumes about why she should not be in government. Tulsa needs a shot in its tax base. Retail and entertainment, as well as residence will do that and that's where river development needs to go. if she would like, once the branson landing people build their project, i would gladly go skinny dipping in the river at midnight with the former counselor. imtil then, interaction needs to center around proper zoning, permitting, and building.

Bob said:

Michael as usual has done a wonderful job, in this case of distilling the Journal article down to digestable portions. Really fascinating original sourced comments.

There are so many negatives with actual development near the river, I think it is beyond arrogant to assume that if we spend enough money we can:

1) Put water in a river that frequently has very little water;

2) Occassionally, however, the Arkansas River has a LOT of water, like it does right now. Almost TOO much water. If the Kaiser River Plan was implemented to hasten and channel the river flow, then right now $100,000,000's in taxpayer "Investment" would be literally:

UNDER WATER.

Covered up by billions of gallons of water, and feet of gooey, and potentially hazardous new sediment.

3) The refineries are here to stay, and their less than pristine bouquet aroma is here to stay, too. The Sinclair refinery is a big money maker, and the Sun Refinery cannot be closed because for the simple reason that then it would require Sun to CLEAN IT UP after shutting it down. So, they keep it open running with at least minimal throughput; forever.

4) The 51st Street and Elwood Sewage Treatment plant is huge taxpayer investment worth $100,000,000's. When it was built, there was little around it. That has changed. It has been repeatedly expanded over the years, presumably according to some kind of Water Department plan that didn't harmonize at all with the Kaiser River Plan.

The treatment plan adds that distintive "West Tulsa" aroma to the air thereabouts, especially with prevailing southerlies. Cross the I-44 Arkansas River bridge with all car windows rolled firmly UP!

sbtulsa said:

I think the shore/banks can be developed nicely. The water in the river is for esthetics. Actaully, I'm one who thinks the low water times are not unattractive. As long as the banks are mowed, weeded and in other ways maintained. I would point to the small bistro type restaurant at 21st and Riverside as an example.

JW said:

just a note to sbtulsa:

THERE IS NO BOEING TAX.

The sooner you realize this the better off you will be. That tax is GONE! Any new tax proposal is A NEW TAX!

sbtulsa said:

NOTE TO jw:

THE TAX IN THE ORIGINALLY PASSED VISION 2025 WAS EARMARKED FOR BOEING. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH REFERING TO THE .4 PENNEY THAT IS PROPOSED TO BE REDIRECTED TO THE RIVER.

My reference was perfectly accurate as this is a tax once approved for another purpose. The reference to "Boeing" was simply to remind the reader of the history.

GET OFF YOUR HIGH HORSE.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 9, 2007 7:55 AM.

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