Neglected downtown?

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Ken Neal's comments in the Whirled's Sunday about all the street work going on downtown set me off, particularly this bit (emphasis added):

The story of Tulsa's downtown is a story of decline, but the downtown neighborhood is still one of the most valuable in the city. Although commerce has largely fled to more lucrative locations in suburbia, magnificent old skyscrapers remain and downtown is the seat of banking, government, courts and the legal and financial community.

The city government sadly has neglected downtown for decades. Much of the work under way now would not be necessary if infrastructure had been replaced as needed through the years.

Neglected? If only! If anything, downtown has been doctored to death.

For the last 50 years, city government has gone from one scheme to another to improve downtown: Urban renewal, the Inner Dispersal Loop, the Civic Center, the pedestrianized Main Mall, the Williams Center, and now the arena. Each city government-driven project has closed streets, driven out residents, brought down buildings, and generated new surface parking lots. As I've explored old news clippings, I've found that Ken Neal was a fervent advocate of most of those destructive ideas.

The parts of downtown that are the healthiest and liveliest are the parts that the planners of decades past thought unworthy of their attention, like the Blue Dome District and the Brady Arts District. In those few enclaves the buildings survived and provided affordable space for someone with a dream of starting a new business. Benign neglect would have given the rest of downtown a chance to survive, to be rediscovered, and to be restored.

Now, if Neal had only been referring to streets and water lines and sewers, he'd have a point. That's real infrastructure that needs to be kept in good condition, and it makes sense to replace the subterranean stuff while the streets are torn up.

But you can't mark downtown's problems down to a lack of public attention.

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11 Comments

susan said:

I am sure the Tulsa World newspaper would love for downtown Tulsa to thrive again so that cost of their real estate would go way up. Tulsa World supports the outrageously expensive taxpayer funded arena.

It's amazing how there have been so many expensive downtown projects that have not done well. People hate that unsafe feeling on many of the streets downtown, broken glass from people that get drunk at night. No one likes to have the hassle of the parking meters or paying for parking in the lots that ask for a lot more than a little bit of change.

If the Mayor were able to fill all of that empty business space with hundreds of highly paid I.T. computer jobs, IT well paid consulting jobs with interesting business projects and top paying companies, downtown would come alive again.

What I can tell you is the PGA at Southern Hills was absolutely wonderful today. I saw Tiger Woods play golf and he was the friendliest golfer with the crowd. The Oklahoman newspaper asked if they could take my picture while I was watching Tiger Woods just a few feet away. What a beautiful golf course, and security was everywhere.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

Do you think its possible Ken Neal is setting the stage for the announcement of more lame brained ideas to come out in the near future?

susan said:

Downtown years ago used to be active for shopping for Sunday dress when it was normal for the family to get all dressed up for church -- men and boys suits, and ladies and girls wore their best Sunday dresses -- back-to-school shopping was done downtown because it was about the only place to shop. Once more convenient and beautiful shopping centers that had the stores that shoppers wanted such as the thriving Utica Square on 21st and Utica, people no longer had to put up with annoying and inconvenient parking or streets.

Downtown was where their parents worked, but that's certainly no longer the case. Downtown businesses were filled with clout and you could go to Nelson's get your "hello chicken fry and homemade food" and sit right next to very wealthy business executives. That's in the past.

Booksider said:

Bates is exactly right. The city cannot enforce prosperity. The administration seems to have no clue how to effectively encourage development. A mayor who says a new city hall (her legacy) will inject life into downtown is one who looks at her poop and sees art.

The mayor seems to think, "If I build it, they will come." The truth is, they will come when someone, not the city, builds what people want. The Riverwalk is just a few shops by the river; Cherry Street is just a few businesses along 15th Street. They work because people want to go there. Neither is the big-time, whiz-bang stuff that interests the administration.

As the administration casts its eyes around for more cheap property to throw concrete at, it will probably destroy the Blue Dome and Brady districts, replacing those struggling small communities with large, hulking structures which will have the same lasting value as, well, as the mayor's favorite art.

sbtulsa said:

Downtown will not come back until jobs come back. All the spending in the name of "economic development" miisses one grave point. These edifices create low paying jobs. they are basically service industry. Does anyone think that waiters/waitresses, hotel employees, arena employees, call center workers, et al, are going to buy houses, cars, attend high prioced events downtown with tickets they have bought. of course not. they will have little money left over in the household budget to do such things. The sales tax boost the governing boobs are hoping for will only come from transient visitors to the city. that will not be a reliable enough revenue stream to hire more cops, better fix the streets, and get other city services back to being adequate.

until Tulsa finds a way to bring the oil industry type salaries back to the city, downtown once again development will fall short of what we need. where is our so called "EDC"? where is the Chamber of Commerce? they are the ones who will determine the future of this city. other than making faces behind Bates on T GOV, we haven't seen or heard much from them. Maybe the two mill a year we pay them ought to go to hiring more cops.

Bob said:

My classic favorite of the Downtown ruling elites ineptitude for "downtown re-development" is the Main Mall.

In the early 1980's, when the fad to create downtown pedestrian malls was starting to fall out of favor, our local rulers latched onto that idea as the Last Best Hope to revitalize downtown.

It did not work. For the simple reason that the long-term decline in downtown RETAIL was immediately followed in the 1980's and 1990's by the server decline in downtown employment.

Several major downtown oil companies were acquired by out-of-state oil companies, and moved or eliminated almost all of our local jobs at AMOCO, Cities Service, Amerada Hess, etc.

Now, in their certified round-trip folly, they have now RE-OPENED main street to traffic. And, in the process denuded a finally mature 20-year old shaded street for some little sticks stuck in the ground.

So, to recap:

We got to pay to convert Main Street from a one-way street to a Pedestrian Mall.

Then, we got to pay to convert Main Street from a Pedestrian Mall back to a two-way Street.

Sometimes doing NOTHING is better than doing the WRONG thing.

Unless you're the construction company.......

sbtulsa said:

"Sometimes doing NOTHING is better than doing the WRONG thing."

We can also add "at the wrong time". The topic we are talking about requires forethought. I worked in downtown from '80 through '84. Went to Mayfest at lunch. Regularly ate at Ike's Chili, Nelson's. Then went home to family. The people that stayed in business made their money at lunch and stayed open in the evening because they could afford to or catered to those who stayed over after work.

The time to act was when the buyouts of the oilies occured. If saving downtown was some kind of tradition or imperative, it would have been done or at least started in the 80's. Neither happened.

That's the proof that downtown redevelopment has an ulterior motive. Anyone smart enough to gebnerate wealth and trust funds knew when to really save downtown. They probably bought up land cheap and on purpose. Now they are using our legitimately hard earned tax dollars to make their investment profitable, "for the sake of the next generation".

BATPUCKY -

susan said:

Ken Neal may not be printing "his opinion" much longer as some in the world news feel printed newspapers will be obsolete by 2011.

Floyd said:

You're settting up a strawman. I just read the editorial in question, and agree or disagree, Neal was clearly referring to infrastructure neglect, not grand projects.

But I guess you've got to write about something.

tulsawillis Author Profile Page said:

I agree somewhat with Floyd. Over the past two decades downtown has not suffered from a lack of iconic (or proposed iconic) projects. But until about 7 years ago, the city had grossly ignored the state of the basic infrastructure.

This issue just adds to the overall image problem of downtown. Bad streets create another excuse for people to avoid downtown. Those of us who work downtown are facing jackhammers outside our windows and large construction equipment as the new traffic obstacles.

But, hopefully it will be nice when it's finished.

Paul Uttinger said:

The repairs below ground are one issue. The "improvements" at the surface and above are another. In general, the new rough brick sidewalks are not better than the concrete sidewalks they replaced.

Ken Neal:

"Sidewalks will be brick, not only for aesthetics but because it's easier to tear out brick than a poured concrete sidewalk."

Why would the new bricks need to be torn out, anyway? Does my asking about the quality of the curbs and sidewalks make me a grump?

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 6, 2007 10:57 PM.

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