Kathy Taylor and the BOK Center budget
Former Mayor Kathy Taylor should get a "pants on fire" rating for her campaign's ads claiming that she brought BOK Center in on time and within budget.
During my conversation this morning with Pat Campbell on 1170 KFAQ, Pat asked me about Kathy Taylor's claims that, as mayor, she completed the BOK Center on time and within budget. The question Tulsa voters should be asking is, "Which budget?" It's easy to come in within budget when you boost it by a third. Not only was the BOK Center over budget, the overage tied up close to $100 million that might have been used to complete the low-water dams promised in the Vision 2025 sales tax.
As for schedule, the arena was supposed to be complete by late 2007, according to the Tulsa County commissioners' October 2004 Vision 2025 newsletter. It actually opened in August 2008.
(Here's a direct link to the podcast of my segment on Pat's show.)
The original combined budget, as approved by voters in 2003, for the new arena and improvements to the convention center was $183 million. The final taxpayer-funded budget was $228.5 million, and the decision to go over the original budget was made by Kathy Taylor shortly after the beginning of her term in 2006.
Taylor's predecessor, Bill LaFortune, selected star-chitect Cesar Pelli to design the new arena, and Tulsa Vision Builders -- Manhattan Construction and Flintco -- were selected to do the work. In April 2006, Taylor's first month in office, bids for construction materials were opened and came in way over budget. $68.9 million had been budgeted, but the lowest bid was $101 million.
Kathy Taylor had a choice: She could go back to the architects and engineers and asked them to scale back the arena to fit the budget. Instead, Taylor asked the Tulsa County Vision Authority for more money. She got more money, but it came at a high price.
The Tulsa County Vision Authority was defined by the ballot resolutions for the Vision 2025 sales tax. The board consists of the three Tulsa County commissioners, three suburban mayors appointed by the county commissioners, and the Mayor of Tulsa. The authority has the power to "approve any deletion or addition of projects from those listed above and any major change in scope of any such project following a public hearing by such trust." The Authority wasn't called into existence until Kathy Taylor came looking for more Vision 2025 tax money.
A July 18, 2006, news story reported the combined budget need for the arena/convention center as $241.7 million, with about $15.4 million covered by naming rights and other private sponsorships. On July 18, 2006, the newly constituted Vision Authority met and approved allocating an additional $45.5 million (out of an anticipated $104 million surplus) for the arena and convention center.
The price for that money was a commitment that any other surplus Vision 2025 money would fund improvements in the suburban municipalities. This commitment was affirmed by County Commissioner Randi Miller a year later, in July 2007, and last year by John Smaligo on Pat Campbell's May 23, 2012, show, both times in the context of explaining why the Vision 2025 surplus couldn't be used to fund the low-water dams promised by Vision 2025.
While the commitment to use any remaining surplus for the wish lists of the suburbs was not formally adopted, the Vision Authority's structure effectively gives the suburban mayors veto power over any proposal to change the Vision 2025 budget.
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