Control freaks' squeeze play

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This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is about developers Will Wilkins and Cecilia Wilkins and how they're being squeezed out of their their exclusive deal with the Tulsa Development Authority to develop a parcel at Archer and Elgin. All was well when no one wanted the land back in January, but now it's across the street from the site of the new ballpark for the Tulsa Drillers. The ballpark donors want to control all of the land around the ballpark site, and the Wilkinses' deal with TDA gets in the way of that.

At City Councilor Rick Westcott's invitation, Wilkins appeared at yesterday's Urban and Economic Development committee meeting. KTUL's Burt Mummolo has the story, which will give you a brief overview of the situation:

[KTUL's embed code wasn't working, so I removed it. Click here to watch the video.]

Here's a link to the story transcript.

I was surprised to see Mayor Kathy Taylor tell KTUL, "I have not seen anything that leads me to believe the TDA is opposed to the Wilkins development."

Hey, Mayor Taylor, have you seen this letter from the TDA chairman? I know you have because you issued a response to it last week:

July 29, 2008

Stephen A. Schuller, Esq.
GABLE & GOTWALS
1100 ONEOK Plaza
One West Fifth Street
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74103-4217

Re: Tulsa Development Authority Resolution 5423

Dear Mr. Schuller:

We are in receipt of your correspondence dated July 18, 2008. As you know, the City of Tulsa, and several private donors contributing more than $30 million to a public trust, are developing a master plan for a national class Double A baseball park and associated amenities in the Greenwood and Brady Districts. This master plan incorporates the property in which your clients have expressed an interest. The city believes that the development of a coordinated high-quality, arts, entertainment, educational, and mixed-use development surrounding the ballpark is vital.

At the present time, the land under contract with the Greenwood Community Development Corporation has been set aside as a prospective site of the ball park. We have not seen any plans yet that specify the precise limits and any data concerning the proposals comprising the Master Plan. We therefore have no knowledge of what other properties may be affected or included in the Plan. The ball park may require a larger site or a complete change of land use may be recommended.

After further review and conferring with our attorney, Darven Brown, it is my personal feeling that the Tulsa Development Authority should proceed no further in connection with the marketing activities of any of the property in the vicinity of the baseball site location until we have full information concerning the finalized plans adopted by the city. While the Tulsa Development Authority is a separate entity from the city we have always conducted our business in a manner that we consider to be in the city's best interest. That being the case, it would seem to be unwise for the Tulsa Development Authority to proceed further with any negotiations with your client at this time. After all, the city has the right of eminent domain and can take whatever properties become necessary for its municipal purposes.

Because of the foregoing, I feel that it would be in the best interest of the public and the City of Tulsa to terminate any negotiations and cancel the Resolution now in place. I have asked that this item be placed on the agenda for the regular meeting of the Tulsa Development Authority to be held at 8:30 o'clock a.m., on August 7, at which time you may wish to appear.

Yours truly,

S/Carl Bracy, Chairman

xc: Mr. Leon Davis
Mr. Hurst Swiggart
Mr. George Shahadi
Mr. John D. Clayman
Mr. Melvin R. Gilliam
Ms. Paula Bryant-Ellis

Sounds like opposition to me, and he says he's doing it in the "city's best interest."

(Taylor's discomfort in that interview reminds me of Nathan Thurm, Martin Short's shifty lawyer character.)

Here is Taylor's response to Bracy's memo, issued after the issue hit the airwaves last week:

TULSA (KFAQ) - Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor has released a statement today reacting to a story in the Tulsa World regarding the possible use of eminent domain to acquire property near the future site of a proposed new downtown ballpark.

Taylor said, "The land on which the ballpark is to be located is currently owned by the Tulsa Development Authority. I am not aware of any request to use condemnation powers to build the ballpark. The rules upon which those powers may be used are very limited in Oklahoma.

The goal of the ballpark is to continue to facilitate private downtown development and further encourage the development of business owners, like Michael Sager, Mary Beth Babcock, Elliot Nelson and others who continue to expand on Tulsa's unique nature.

I neither reviewed nor was I consulted on the draft letter sent by the Tulsa Development Authority to Mr. Schuller. I understand the property that was the subject of the letter would have no issue regarding condemnation as the property is currently owned by the Tulsa Development Authority."

Taylor's statement neatly danced around the central issue raised by Bracy's letter: Whether she will stand idly by while the TDA shreds the exclusive negotiating agreement they had with Cecilia and Will Wilkins.

If you care about fairness and openness in government, this story will make you angry. Read the whole thing, then tune in to 1170 KFAQ this afternoon at 3, when I'll be on Chris Medlock's show to discuss the Wilkinses' situation.

And if you can, you might show up tomorrow morning at the Tulsa Development Authority board meeting, August 7, 8:30 am, on the 15th Floor of One Technology Center (new City Hall, 2nd & Cincinnati), when the TDA will "discuss" their exclusive negotiating agreement with the Wilkinses.

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6 Comments

mad okie Author Profile Page said:

The only way they want "private downtown development" is if its one of "them" doing the developing.

sbtulsa Author Profile Page said:

The problem here is they had a developer already. Why not talk to the people already in the negotiation and go from there. Seems those people would get first shot at what the city wants.

Or maybe ethics in business is not a priority in the Taylor landscape.

DavidS said:

Maybe they don't want to get sued by continueing the process and finding out the ballpark will take more room and thus causing more problems.
Just saying but then again "what ballpark?"

Paul Tay said:

Small Guy Getting SCREWED.

ED is OFFICIALLY on the TABLE, people. Be AFRAID. VERY afraid.

Mark Author Profile Page said:

I don't think you can fault the TDA for wanting to take a step back in light of recent developments. However, that "step back" need not have immediately prejudiced the Wilkins.

If the TDA's intentions were truly benign, it would not insist on "terminat[ing] any negotiations and cancel[ing] the Resolution now in place", but rather, it would offer to "toll" (i.e. suspend) the Wilkins' exclusivity period to a point in time when the status of the Ballpark becomes more defined.

Ardent Author Profile Page said:

It's starting to become glaringly apparent that Tulsa is simple a wholly owned subsidiary of BOK/Kaiser. I and many others appreciate the millions that KFF has donated, but remember most of it came from us in the first place.
Reminds one a bit of Potter's Bank in "It's a Wonderful Life."
I'm willing to consider that the BOK/Taylor et. al. gang mean the best for Tulsa, but this is a republic and we deserve at least the appearance of fair treatment and equal consideration.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 6, 2008 12:02 AM.

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