Can we trust the Tulsa Stadium Trust?

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Some wise words in a letter from retired architect Bob Sober to the members of the Tulsa City Council, regarding the proposed Tulsa Stadium Improvement Trust indenture, on the Council's agenda for Thursday night:


The Mayor has asked you to approve the Trust Indenture in this Thursday's Council meeting in one more artificial self-created emergency. Once more you have been set up to overlook the obstacle, this time possibly depriving the public of a new ballpark, stalling the revitalization of downtown and possibly causing the Drillers to move to Jenks. Please, don't fall for it this time.

Take the time necessary to assure that the Tulsa Stadium Trust is really a Public Trust, designed to fairly represent the people. At this point, the Trust has the appearance of a private business disguised (in name only) to look like a Public Trust. The representation of the members and the length of the terms assure tight control of a small group of donors for the first twelve years of its life. This is very important when you consider that all of the decisions concerning the development of the property surrounding the ballpark will be made and committed to bricks and mortar during this period.

Please consider that the following scenario built on both fact and personal opinion:

Faced with the possibility of the Drillers moving to Jenks, the Mayor attempted to find a location in Downtown to keep the Drillers in Tulsa and use the ballpark in conjunction with the Arena to revitalize downtown and stimulate housing and retail growth. The City picked-up the options for the failed attempt to develop a Wal-Mart in the East Village and began negotiations with the Drillers to locate the ballpark in Downtown Tulsa. Frustrated by the sellers inability to establish a purchase price (due to internal lawsuits), the Mayor looked for alternative locations. Turning to her planning consultant for advice, the Mayor selected the current proposed site in the Brady/Greenwood districts. This location is well suited to support the aggressive Brady "Arts" District revitalization effort already underway by the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) and the conceptual plan to use light rail to solve transportation problems and stimulate high density growth nodes. Like any development deal there are a myriad of problems to solve. First is how do you assemble enough land to construct the ballpark and provide parking (assuming that a ballpark surrounded by parking is appropriate in a downtown location). The solution is to connect the ballpark to the proposed light rail (only one block south) so that existing parking around the city can be used to serve the ballpark. This allows the ballpark to be surrounded by mixed use development, instead of pavement, and furthers the revitalization of the area. This is a beautiful solution and a wonderful service to the citizens of Tulsa. Disappointed by the pace of redevelopment around the new Arena, the Mayor decides that the City should take responsibility for the development of the property around the Ballpark. Creating a special zoning district was inadequate for her vision, the City needed to own the property to assure that the development is family oriented and provides a proper connection to the proposed light rail. This creates two additional problems. First, it doubles the cost of the project from $30M to $60M, second, the property must be assembled (this was already accomplished at the East Village site).

My issues with the Trust Indenture begin here.

Evidence that the City and the donors took the task of assembling the property very seriously is the July 7 meeting of the Brady District Property owners where in the presence of high ranking members of the administration Mr. Boylan stated the eminent domain would be used to acquire property from owners not willing to sell. Possible additional evidence is the termination of the exclusive negotiation agreement between the Tulsa Development Authority (TDA) and Novus Homes, LLC (Novus) an action resulting in a lawsuit and allegations of violations of the City's Ethics Ordinance. Both of these acts are aggressive unfriendly acts of the City threatening the use of its authority to overpower the individual in "the best interest of the City" to assemble the property necessary to support the Mayor's vision. None of this heavy-handedness was required at the East Village location because the land was assemble by a private developer without the threatening power of the City. This property was assembled the "old fashioned way" with and interested buyer and a willing seller. Is it fair to assume that the ballpark in the East Village was to be a private development, the way it was in Jenks, since no trust proposal was considered and no public money was requested? If so, the authority to threaten property owners unwilling to sell came with the discussion of establishing a Public Trust. I don't believe a Public Trust, with 50% of its members not from the donors group, would endorse these actions.

Creating an assessment district including all property owners in the Inner Dispersal Loop (IDL) became necessary to fund acquisition of the property surrounding the ballpark and improving this property in preparation for family oriented mixed-use development. Leasing this property to developers is a very creative method of maintaining the ballpark and surrounding area and assure the vitality of the area for the next 30 years. My hat is off to the Mayor and donors.

Who will develop this property? Obviously, this will be determined by the Trust. Why should these decisions be limited to the Mayor, five donors committing at least $2M to the project and one IDL property owner? Why do the donors have 12 year terms? This has the appearance of a private business using the authority of a Public Trust to threaten and tax property owners. What is to prevent the donor controlled Trust from using Public money to purchase and enhance the value of the property surrounding the ballpark, then lease it back to them selves to develop projects to recover their donations (making the donations an investment not a gift)? This is an appropriate strategy for a private business not a Public Trust. If this is what the City and donors wish to accomplish then they should raise an additional $30M, assemble the property without the authority if City government and run this business as they wish. If the donors are truly making a gift to the City, then create a trust that is dominated by IDL property owners that are not donors nor at businesses dependent on members of the donors group. Please consider a Trust with 15 members (mayor, 7 donors and 7 IDL property owners that are not donors nor at businesses dependent on members of the donors group) with 3 year terms. This is very consistent with existing City Trusts, Commissions, Authorities, etc.

In the recent survey of Tulsa citizens conducted by Collective Strength as part of PLANiTULSA it was discovered that people in Tulsa are worried:

"That those with money have too much influence."

"That city leaders don't understand their needs."

and the key themes from in depth interviews were:

"Well intentioned 'oligarchy' is out of touch."

"Fatalism about lack of zoning and code enforcement and special favors for the wealthy".

The current Trust Indenture supports and perpetuates these concerns. Please reject this agreement and construct in its place one that fairly represents in word and spirit the intention of a PUBLIC Trust.

Thank you,

Bob Sober

Sober was appointed by Mayor Kathy Taylor to chair the PLANiTULSA Advisers and Partners, the steering and community outreach committees for the effort to create a new comprehensive plan for Tulsa. Public confidence in fairness and openness is crucial to the success of that effort. The manner of putting together the ballpark deal undermines that confidence.

Any stadium trust should be limited in the indenture to improvements to blocks 23, 24, and 45, and lots 4, 5, and 6 of block 46 of Tulsa's Original Townsite -- the area between I-244 and Archer, Elgin and the buildings on the west side of Greenwood which survived urban renewal.

It would be simpler just to put the downtown ballpark under the aegis of the existing Tulsa Public Facilities Authority, which manages the Maxwell Convention Center, build it with the assessment and lease funds, and let the donors do their own thing with their own money in the open real estate market.

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Jan Thomas said:

Mr. Sober has hit the nail on the head. And your suggestion that the area they can deal with be limited is really dead on! This trust agreement smells like a dead animal. I hope it ends up as one.

DavidS said:

Mr. Sober didn't even know we had a baseball park in Tulsa a year ago and he is going to help what?

sbtulsa Author Profile Page said:

This is one more bit of evidence that Taylor will be a one term mayor. I really don't see any way an educated, aware voter would support her re-election. She just looks like a head running around with her chicken cut off.

She looks like less like a leader every day, more like an errand girl for the propertied elite.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 25, 2008 8:39 PM.

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