A curious change in terminology

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This struck me as strange. Maybe this was unintentional, maybe not. You be the judge.

There's a shift in the way the Tulsa World refers to the potential commercial development on the west bank of the Arkansas River at 21st Street.

Prior to the October 9 Tulsa County sales tax election, the paper consistently connected the proposed west bank development to Branson Landing, the retail development on the shores of Lake Taneycomo in downtown Branson, Missouri, and mentioned developer Rick Huffman by name. After the election, the development has been mentioned a few times, but without any reference to Huffman and only one to Branson Landing. After the jump, you'll find examples of what I'm talking about.

From August 1:

Under the plan, a commercial center similar to Branson Landing -- a development in Branson, Mo. -- would spread south of the Westport on the River apartment complex, 1703 S. Jackson Ave., to the 23rd Street Bridge, and could offer a variety of stores....

County officials and other representatives from area government offices have held discussions with Rick Huffman, developer of Branson Landing, about commercial opportunities for the west bank.

Huffman has expressed an interest in developing the west bank, but any proposed project would need to go out for bids before any construction takes place, Miller said.

From August 8:

Henderson also wanted to know the status of a proposed river development by a Missouri developer.

Councilors Cason Carter and Bill Christiansen said the developer of Branson Landing is still interested in Tulsa and in developing the west bank of the river.

Mayoral spokeswoman Sheryl Lovelady confirmed that Mayor Kathy Taylor spoke to the developer Monday and that once the city acquires the land, the developer will participate in a proposal process for developing it.

From August 24:

The man behind Branson Landing is still very interested in building a development along the west bank of the Arkansas River that could include a multiuse sports complex.

"We're very interested," Rick Huffman, CEO of HCW Development, said Thursday. "So we want to be sure the city knows that."...

Huffman said his decision to build in Tulsa is not completely predicated on voter approval of the sales-tax initiative, but insisted that some funding mechanism to prepare the land for development is essential.

"I don't see how it will be possible (without it) because the city's going to need to fund the land acquisition," he said.

"Our company believes it is highly important the tax pass."

From August 25:

Lamson said there also has been an effort to have him meet with the developer of Branson Landing, who is interested in developing the west bank of the Arkansas River between the 11th and 21st street bridges.

The proposed $500 million mixed-use project would cover about 100 acres and would include retail, residential and office space.

A major sports and entertainment venue also is being considered as part of the project.

From a September 4 editorial:

With apologies to Mark Twain (who also helped make Missouri famous): The rumors of the death of the Branson Landing developers' proposed project along the Arkansas River have been greatly exaggerated.

Opponents of the 0.4 percent, seven-year tax proposal to improve the Arkansas River corridor often claim that the tax plan caused the Branson developers to abandon their idea for a west bank project.

Not so, says Rick Huffman, CEO of HCW Development. In fact, Huffman says a lot of money has been put into studying the project, including preliminary work on a site plan, outlining boundaries and looking at possible access routes.

It is envisioned as a $500-million mixed-use project that would cover about 100 acres between the 11th and 21st Street bridges and would include retail, residential and office space.

From a Sunday, September 15, opinion section Q&A:

Developers who have publicly announced their interest are HCW Inc., the Branson Landing developers; T. Lynn Mitchell Companies and The Remy Companies.

From October 4:

Westcott, Miller and Huffman all stressed that for now Tulsa Landing is just a proposal. Should the river tax be approved, a nine-member authority would be charged with seeking requests for proposals for private development along the river.

HCW Development, which built Branson Landing in Branson, Mo., would then be free to present its proposal.

"Then it will be up to the citizens to decide which proposal they like best," Huffman said.

Finally, this October 5 editorial:

For all those who believe that any projects along the Arkansas River could be developed solely by the private sector, the announcement of a possible Branson Landing-like commercial area shows the fallacy of that belief.

Again, few, if any, investors want to put their money in multimillion dollar endeavors along a river without water. It simply doesn't make sense.

Wednesday, Missouri businessman Rick Huffman, chief executive officer of HCW Development Co., announced a proposal for a 700,000-square-foot, multiuse development on the west bank of the Arkansas River between the 11th and 21st street bridges. HCW's private investment could be as much as $500 million.

Huffman, however, said that without passage of the 0.4 percent, seven-year sales tax issue on Tuesday's ballot, the project would not be able to go forward.

Now, two days after the vote, an October 11 story that contradicts the October 5 editorial and its own headline ("River Plans Docked for Now"), but doesn't refer to Branson Landing or Rick Huffman or the proposed size and cost of the development.

Mayor Kathy Taylor said Wednesday that the city, too, is moving on.

"We've got a lot of things on our plate," she said. "We're going to move on to other priorities."

At least one major developer, however, still likes what he sees in Tulsa.

"We believe in Tulsa; we're just ready for Tulsa to believe in Tulsa," said Patrick Cox, an associate with HCW Development Co. of Branson, Mo.

Last week, officials from the company visited Tulsa to once again say they were interested in building a mixed-use development along the west bank of the river between 11th and 21st streets.

Cox said that's still the goal, but the company will need some type of public funding mechanism or tax increment finance district to help provide infrastructure.

He said that if Tulsa still has an interest in HCW's project, "we'll hear from their leaders and we'll get back in the race."

The October 14 story about the ongoing efforts to facilitate west bank development doesn't mention Branson Landing, HCW, Huffman, or Cox:

The west bank is seen as a prime spot for development, a city official says.

The failure of a proposed river tax will not stop the city's effort to develop the west bank of the Arkansas River.

"While disappointed in the outcome of the vote, it does not change the fact that we're moving ahead on the west bank," said city Economic Development Director Don Himelfarb.

Nothing has changed for the city's development efforts other than the funding mechanism for the river piece, he said.

The rejected 0.4 percent county sales tax would have provided $52 million to Tulsa for land acquisition and site preparation along the west bank, "but since that is not in the cards, we're going to have to look at other alternatives to do that," Himelfarb said.

The west bank from the River Festival Park south to the Sinclair property is one of several sites near or in the downtown area where the city is focusing development efforts.

"All of the potential development sites were never contingent on the river vote one way or the other. The funding for the river piece, however, would have made it much easier for that site to move forward," Himelfarb said.

The term "Branson Landing" finally crops up in the October 17 story about Council Chairman Roscoe Turner's proposed resolution affirming the City Council's support for using tax increment financing or some other form of incentive to facilitate west bank development. (By the way, the resolution was passed unanimously by the City Council.)

Councilor Rick Westcott, a proponent of the river tax, said that land assemblage is necessary for the private development of the west bank.

Westcott assured councilors that a Missouri company remains interested in developing something similar to its Branson Landing on the river.

However, any development on city-owned land would require a request for proposal process, Westcott said.

Perhaps the shift in terminology was inadvertent, but someone searching for references to Branson Landing or Rick Huffman in order to trace the progress of this story might miss the fact that the opportunity didn't disappear with the defeat of the sales tax increase. A casual reader might not realize that the potential development now being described with restrained language is the same one that was described before the election in Technicolor terminology as impossible unless we passed the tax.

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4 Comments

Pamela said:

I'm listening to KFAQ right now with a fellow that is working with Ron Huffman. They are discussing the fact that the tax was never an issue for them coming here to build a complex similar to Branson Landing. I'm so glad that KFAq and bloggers like you are out here giving us information that would NEVER be reported in the Tulsa Whirled. I do not believe that this is an oversight. Remember that Randi Miller and our mayor immediately declared the river development DEAD. They are trying to cover their words, especially since other news sources are revealing that plans can still be in the works if city officials want to pursue them.

TulseyTown said:

Online research reveals some interesting facts about "Branson's Landing" that Tulsa Taxpayers need to know.

1. "Branson's Landing" only started construction in 2007 - this year! (Is it finished?) Tulsa's "Yes Taxers" made it sound as though the development had been around for years - and a huge success.

It can not be a success if it's just now being built!


2. Rick Huffman financed 100% of "Branson's Landing" - with no Branson Taxpayer's money!

Why doesn't he offer Tulsa the same arrangment if he's so sold on Tulsa?

Or, more importantly, is Rick Huffman overextended - in debt - and can only build if Tulsa Taxpayers bail him out?

If the latter is the case, it is a scenario for distaster in today's crashing real estate markets. Think Eastland Mall sitting undeveloped as Tulsa's "ghost mall" for years and years. An uncompleted complex - due to developer bankrupcty would cost Tulsa Taxpayers the full cost of the total development. Or if left unfinished in case of developer bankrupcty, it would be a huge eyesore in downtown Tulsa.

Finally, such a monster-size development, a la Wal-Mart Supercenter, could easily flood out the downtown housing and retail store markets, pushing down real estate values and re-sell prices, as well as, spreading customer traffic for what retail business there is in downtown so thin that the current businesses fold for lack of enough consumer demand to support everything - with the huge added competition of the "Branson Landing" like Godzilla on the West Bank.

sbtulsa Author Profile Page said:

I would be worried that the powers that wannabee want the project to die so they can blame the tax for the demise of river development. cynical, but that's where I'm at now.

This whole affair proves how shallow the power structure's thinking is. Its much like someone abusing a credit card. They know what they want and they want it now. going in to debt to "have it" or spending money that appropriately should go for something needed more is irrelevant. River development can happen but in smaller increments over a longer period of time. Miller and Taylor's reaction to the vote indicates they are not all that committed to accomplishment and compromise. Just making a big splash.

Hey, maybe Murphy Brothers could devlope the river. Might be safer because if the Rkansas sprung a leak after they got done with it no one would notice.

C Meek Author Profile Page said:

I hate to be a sour cynic, but does anyone remember how quaint and charming Branson was in the early 1970's?

I liked the old downtown there, with the bridge and river right near the downtown.

If you cut down enough big old trees, and pour enough thousands of yards of concrete, you will end up with a hot, dry, uninteresting modern slab of concrete. Not sure this is what we want for Tulsa.

There is already a lake and low water dam on our river, right in a neat part of town. Could we not engineer some type of interesting development with what we already have, and for much less money?

For that matter, if we really gave a hoot about our river, why have we not done anything to clean the tons of scrap metal and trash that lie in the riverbed from zink dam on down past 71st street?

The Arkansas as it runs through Tulsa is a strange river. It is interesting, but in its own ways. I believe that we will find that it will not lend itself to any sort of recreational development. This is not Taneycomo/white river in Branson. The Arkansas is not going to go along with our plans for development- you will see what I mean later after it is all done.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 18, 2007 11:12 PM.

Two-candidate runoffs: Why they fail was the previous entry in this blog.

Whirled editorial board: "We're too dense to understand this idea, much less write a joke about it." is the next entry in this blog.

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