TDA breaks its word, dumps Lofts @ 120

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What a day. We learned a lot.

We learned that when the Tulsa Development Authority approves an exclusive negotiating period, it's not necessarily exclusive -- they'll shove you aside if a more powerful suitor comes along -- they may not negotiate in good faith, and the period may be terminated at any time. (The TDA's exclusive negotiating periods are neither exclusive, nor negotiating, nor a period. Discuss.)

We learned that Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor is on the verge of a crackup, perhaps because of the pressure of holding together a crumbling behind-the-scenes ballpark financing deal by publicly screwing over a small businessman who is offering the very kind of creative, urban residential and retail development everyone says we want downtown. She knows full well how bad this looks, but I'm guessing that if she were to stand up for what's right, she'd have to renege on some secret promise that was made concerning the Lofts @ 120 parcel of land. One thing was clear from Taylor's teary appearance: Whoever's in charge of city government, it isn't her.

Taylor said she didn't have a vote, but she did have a voice. She used that voice to belittle Will Wilkins's attempt to rally public support as "bickering." She used it to justify booting the Wilkinses out of their exclusive negotiating petition in the name of "a beautifully woven fabric" of new development around the new ballpark.

They say they want lofts, restaurants, and off-street parking, and that's exactly what the Wilkinses had proposed for that corner long before the ballpark was announced for the other side of the street. The Wilkinses were willing to adjust their plans as necessary to be compatible with the design and use aims for the ballpark's environs. But I suspect their chief deficiency is that they aren't named Jay Helm, and their company isn't called American Residential Group.

We learned today that the TDA board isn't fond of public scrutiny, and they're a little fuzzy on what constitutes a conflict of interest and how to handle recusal. If you're a TDA board member and your employer is part of a group that wants control of the same piece of property that is the subject of this premature termination of an exclusive negotiating period, you have a conflict of interest. Saying that your employer doesn't stand to gain financially and is only acting in what it perceives to be the public interest isn't the point. It's still a conflict because your employer's aims don't necessarily line up with the TDA's best interest or the interest of fairness to all.

Also, if you do feel the need to recuse yourself, you're supposed to absent yourself from the entire discussion. Instead, board member John Clayman, employed by Frederic Dorwart Lawyers and someone who has often represented Bank of Oklahoma in court, not only sat through and participated in discussion (shaking his head rapidly during much of Will Wilkins' remarks -- I thought we were about to see the reenactment of a scene from Scanners), he seconded the motion to abort the exclusive negotiating period. Then after Wilkins reminded him that he recused himself during the April 17 vote to extend the contract, Klayman abstained when his name was called. Paula Bryant-Ellis, a BOK executive and the newest board member, recused herself right before the vote. George Shahadi, director of real estate for Williams, another company that is part of the group trying to control all the land around the ballpark, should have recused himself, but didn't.

Here are some links to help fill in the blanks. I thought the Tulsa World's Brian Barber did a fine job of capturing the mood and the substance of the meeting. (Don't be surprised if his piece is severely edited for the print version to make the Mayor look better.) I was pleased to see KOTV and KTUL there. KTUL's Bert Mummolo has followed the story closely -- here's his coverage from today and here's the video. But today I thought KOTV did a better job of telling the story of today's meeting with words and video, including some video from Mayor Taylor's speech. I'm just happy to see a couple of TV stations show such interest in covering an issue which is not very telegenic.

1170 KFAQ's Chris Medlock was at the meeting today and had audio from the meeting plus Will Wilkins as a guest in studio. (Here's hour 1; here's hour 2.) Also, Pat Campbell was asking questions about a secret meeting involving Councilor Eric Gomez and the ballpark donors. (His podcast from Thursday morning hasn't been posted yet for some reason.)

There's more to be said about this meeting, which architect Bob Sober, who counts himself a friend to both Mayor Taylor and the Wilkinses, said was like watching a "slow-motion train wreck." For now, check out those links.

And here are a few comments from around the web.

On TulsaNow's public forum, Floyd responds to Taylor's comments about wanting a "beautifully woven fabric" around the ballpark:

Wow.

Honestly? Get it together. How tone deaf can she be? It's not hard to see how this narrative has developed. At least counter the narrative with a prepared statement regarding the specific plans/intentions of this "trust" and perhaps an offer of inclusion. Don't cry about destruction and beautiful fabrics--give the entrepreneurs some credit for their vision. How about a multicolored quilt, instead of a "beautiful fabric?"

Me, later in the same thread, responding to Taylor's complaints about the environs of the BOK Center:

I recall a lengthy thread on this forum right after the Vision 2025 vote about the best location for the arena. Many people remarked about the drawbacks of the site that was chosen. I think someone even suggested the site now being discussed as the ballpark site, because it was close to existing entertainment areas and OSU-Tulsa.

The way to address the concern about nearby future development is first to pick a site that is already near the kind of development you want -- they've done that by picking the Archer/Elgin site -- and, second, to establish a special zoning district around the ballpark with design and development standards and a means for enforcement. Oklahoma City established such a district in and around Bricktown.

Design standards for downtown were part of the Downtown Tulsa CORE Recommendations:

District One of the City of Tulsa's Comprehensive Plan, the Central Business District (CBD), is a district that deserves special consideration; as such, we should develop District Standards for design review to ensure compatible, high-quality development and redevelopment. Recommendations of the existing Comprehensive Plan for District One (downtown) such as district design standards and review should be revisited for present use and coordinated with the Comprehensive Plan Update.

When the CORE Recommendations came under attack from a major downtown property owner and from DTU, Mayor Taylor might have supported the idea and helped to move it forward. Instead, her aide, Susan Neal, encouraged the recommendations to be shelved.


"The Artist":

I still dont get what they apparently expect is going to happen around the ballpark? What is it that the TDA thinks is going to be better that the Wilkinsons couldnt improve their development to be like or that could go in those other spaces nearby? This finely woven fabric, is that to be one huge developer? Many small ones? If its the former I can understand wanting a lot of land because thats one of the reasons previous developments have fallen through because they couldnt get all the property they needed. But here they are saying they will use eminent domain and there is other property by the 120 lofts site that can be used. If its small developments.... what are the criteria such that the 120 lofts are not a good fit anywhere in the development area? Cause surely the 120 loft people would have traded for another spot if it was deemed that the spot they have now is "needed" to make everything work.

Nothing the TDA or the Mayor is saying makes any sense. Sounds like they are grasping at straws or are just completely oblivious.

They are giving us this "Why cant we all get along and do whats best for everyone and the city." plea. But its been them who have shoved aside the hand the Wilkinsons had been extending in order to try to find a fair, sporting, "gentlemanly" solution. Someone should have said to the Wilkinsons... "Hey, we really feel like we need that spot in order for this project to work. Here is why.... We know you have done a lot of work so far, can we work together and (find another spot in the development, or make design changes, or collaborate on making it better to fit what we think is needed, etc. etc.) There are all kinds of possibilities that would have been the proper way to go.

I was brought up that if you make an agreement, say your going to do something. You abide by that, even if it becomes difficult to do so, even if you become hurt by doing so. You keep your word! Even if its not written, you do the right thing by people. These developers were there first, were doing the right things, and whether anyone else likes it or not, whether its convenient or not. You do the right thing by them, and for yourself. Not to mention in this case there are plenty of opportunities to work this out for the benefit of everyone. Not just blow them off and treat them like dirt.

"Stick61" in a couple of comments on the Tulsa World story:

One of the problems here is that TDA risks losing credibility with the modest-scale element of the development community by treating one of its members shabbily. Mr. Bracy lacks credibility when he says that he is not "bound by politics." Of course, he is bound by politics. This ballpark proposal is a political freight train and he's trying to clear a path for it. In the process, he's asking Mr. Wilkins to shut up and be happy about losing $15,000. If I were in Mr. Wilkins' shoes (I don't know him), I would never do business with TDA again because I would consider its behavior in this matter dishonorable.

I believe that the Mayor does very badly want to see positive development downtown. And she is correct to lend the energy of her office to constructive proposals, including a proposal to build a new ballpark to keep the Drillers in Tulsa. However, she should spare us the tears and make a commitment to treating people with more consideration than Mr. Wilkins has been treated. The gentleman may not have worded his inflammatory email as artfully as he should have, but that doesn't excuse the fact that he appears to have been given the bum's rush. Bickering ceases, or at least decreases, when people are shown due respect. The mayor must do a better job of building consensus.

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5 Comments

Pamela said:

Yesterday's morning program is still not online. Chris Medlock's program is. I would be curious why. I use the podcasts a lot when I'm not able to listen to the programs. I may email them and ask.

The city is being exposed for who they are, bullies that will kick the little man to the curb for their purposes.

JW said:

I'd like to start a recap list of dirty city shenanigans for the last year.

Great Plains payoff debacle.

Inequitble assessment district downtown

TDA breaking out of exclusive agreements


...please feel free to fill in others. These are just the ones that mean the most to me. If we don't keep a running chronicle of these things, they will quickly fall from the public conciousness.

XonOFF said:

City officials don't even do corruption well.

How easy would it have been for TDA to use their vast stalling techniques for another 30 days and let the exclusive option retire normally?

Instead, they decide to stick both feet in their collective orfaces and expose their intentions, fully displaying their conflicts and publically demonstrating to the masses how their power is corrupted.

Bad plan for two strikes. Actually doing it, makes three.

Pamela said:

Podcast for yesterday's Pat Campbell program should be available now. I subscribe to the podcasts for that show and Chris Medlock's program. I just got the podcasts downloaded in iTunes. FYI When I get a minute I will take a listen to the interview.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 7, 2008 11:36 PM.

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