AP story on Tulsa County sales tax defeat; Gordon plans private dam funding

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Too tired and too busy with family stuff tonight to do anything more than point you to some articles about Tuesday's defeat of the Tulsa County sales tax proposal.

Justin Juozapavicius, the Associated Press correspondent for Tulsa and a former Tulsa World reporter, filed a report on the tax defeat that had an air of hopelessness about it.

For supporters, Tuesday's "no" vote meant another missed development opportunity for Tulsa, while other cities such as Memphis, Tenn., San Antonio and Kansas City, Mo., continue to profit from their waterfront projects.

Oklahoma City voters also recognized the potential years ago, approving an initiative that turned an aging warehouse district into Bricktown, the city's nightlife and entertainment hub, complete with a mile-long pedestrian canal.

While the reporter did speak to two opposition leaders, Tulsa City Council Chairman Roscoe Turner and Broken Arrow Mayor Wade McCaleb, the story overlooks the opportunities to move forward on river development. It also incorrectly summarizes what was on the ballot:

Both were contingent on the passage of the 0.4-cent tax increase that would have paid for low-water dams, land acquisition, pedestrian bridges and habitat improvements along 42 miles of the river from Keystone Dam to the city of Jenks.

While the improvements would have indeed stopped at Jenks, the 42 miles includes Bixby and Broken Arrow, neither of which would have seen any of the listed improvements had the tax passed.

At first I was upset with Mr. Juozapavicius for filing a story that preached doom and gloom about Tulsa, but a large share of the blame belongs to the officials he quoted in the story. What do you think?

Meanwhile in Jenks, Jerry Gordon, who used his own money to build RiverWalk Crossing, is proposing that he and other developers who would benefit from a low-water dam to pony up and pay for it themselves.

But in south Tulsa, where an estimated $100 million in riverfront development has risen up over the last four years, much of it without public support, a small group of Tulsa-area investors may attempt what Tuesday's election failed to accomplish - fund a south Tulsa dam across the Arkansas River.

Such efforts could face huge permitting hurdles beyond the projected $25 million-plus cost, especially if the private forces tried to proceed without governmental support. But Gordon, the maverick entrepreneur who opened RiverWalk Crossing in 2005, believes other business and civic leaders like himself, with vested interests in growing south Tulsa commerce, could and should cough up the funds necessary for building the dam so vital to maintaining water in the river.

In fact, he's already started quiet discussions with a few key associates to accomplish just that.

"We're going to float our own boat," the 25-year industry veteran said Wednesday, even with the start of primary construction on RiverWalk's second phase just three weeks away....

Gordon would not discuss who may be involved in his efforts. But he used for his inspiration the $117 million that private donors had promised to spend on river trails and parks projects if the vote had passed.

"We'll find a way to do it if you keep the politics out of it," the 48-year-old said. "This really is a city deal, not a county deal. We've thought all along this should be the way it's done."

His initiative would follow Indian Nations Council of Governments' proposal for a south Tulsa dam to maximize the potential of King's Landing, RiverWalk and other commercial developments that have already sprung up. Under his idealistic plan, the dam would be paid for by those who would profit by it.

Jerry Gordon deserves three cheers for clear thinking and initiative.

The story also notes that the Branson Landing folks are still interested in moving forward with their development if they can get the assistance they say they need for land acquisition and site preparation. Perhaps they should speak to Jerry Gordon to see how things can get done.

There's an interesting detail in the beginning of the story which illustrates a suggestion I've made several times:

"Many people told me I was crazy to use such expensive stonework on this, but I didn't care," he said, explaining how, as a private homebuilder, developer and contractor with no partners, using his own funds, he didn't need to worry about targeted returns on investment. "It's the project that's most important to me. If I know I'm going to make a profit, and I know what I'm going to do, that's fine."

That willingness to accept and embrace lower profit margins may explain much about how he hopes to succeed where Tulsa's river tax supporters fell short.

Because he was using his own money and wasn't dependent on partners, he could decide to spend more money on the quality of the materials, and he could step out with an idea like RiverWalk Crossing and just get it done when everyone else said it couldn't be done without public subsidy.

Someone like George Kaiser or John Kelly Warren has the ability to tolerate financial risk. That risk tolerance makes it possible for someone like that to build a commercial development along the river that is innovative, daring, and unusual. Or they could fund redevelopment in the Pearl District or downtown. They could build projects that a conventional lender would never finance.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 12, 2007 12:40 AM.

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