Tulsa: October 2004 Archives

That's what someone at work asked me last week -- lots of big new developments of big new homes (plus new retail and commercial properties) around Tulsa at a time when our economy is said to be in rough shape. "sendoff", posting here on the TulsaNow forums, has an interesting bit of info that may give us a clue:

I'm not trying to be glib here, but I think the developer's/builder's vested interest is primarily themselves doing well. It's the nature of the beast.

In the Tuesday Tulsa World there was the monthly report by the Home Builders Association (HBA) on Tulsa area new home starts. It mentioned the inventory of existing $300,000+ homes (the "gravy" business of new home developers and builders) is at a 19-month supply. To contrast that with the Minneapolis area, which has not seen the degree of economic downturn Tulsa has, inventory of the same is at a 4 1/2-month supply - which is close to the national average. I'm sure similar numbers exist relative to other price categories.

So indiscriminate building and development in a weak housing environment is good? For whom? The Tulsa area or the developers?

What will happen when interest rates rise (and they will, regardless of who wins the White House) and home buyers of both new and used homes decline? Think what the housing inventory will be like then.

The cost and price appreciation of existing homes in the Tulsa area is being artificially held down because developers/builders are allowed to do their thing without restraint or any real growth planning. They make money, our homes do not.

And strategically placed water lines only make the situation worse.

It's still hard to understand how the builders and developers can make money in a situation like this.

UPDATE: A friend in the real estate business speculates that builders are taking advantage of low interest rates to build these homes now, before the price of materials rises any higher, in hopes of selling them when the economy comes roaring back. Many of the customers for homes in this range are professionals with a significant liability exposure, and the home (often purchased for cash) becomes a shelter against lawsuits.

Doubleshot of caffeinated love


A while back I promised to sing the praises of any local establishment that offers free wireless Internet access to its customers. Right now I'm blogging from the DoubleShot Coffee Company on Boston Avenue, just north of 18th Street, enjoying a cup of Tanzanian coffee and a slice of pumpkin cheesecake. They offer a variety of coffee drinks and a variety of blends, along with teas, desserts, and snacks. The coffeehouse has a scattering of tables, large and small, some chairs and couches designed for sinking down into with a book. (They have a shelf of books for browsing, too.) In the middle of it all is an enormous Vittoria coffee roaster, built in Italy in 1953, used in an English coffee shop, then brought to the US in 2003 and restored for use at DoubleShot. Beans are roasted fresh each day.

DoubleShot is selling a custom blend called "g.i. joe", created by the owner, Brian Franklin, in honor of his best friend who is serving in Iraq as an Army medic. With each purchase, $1 goes to buy and ship snacks, DVDs, magazines, etc., to the 1-26 infantry battalion in Samurra, Iraq. The label describes the blend thus: "Smooth and complex. Overtly earthy aroma, slightly sweet apple nuances with peppery body and lingering tobacco-like finish."

DoubleShot is open weekdays 7 am to 9 pm, weekends 8 am to 9 pm. It's an inviting, relaxing place with great coffee. Come check it out.

Whirled won't take its own advice


I guess I'm becoming immune to instances of laughable hypocrisy on the Tulsa Whirled's editorial page. At least my readers aren't, and one of them writes -- from across the pond! -- to call my attention to Monday's editorial about the plan to use $1 million in third-penny capital improvement sales tax dollars to subsidize the construction of 12 rental units in the Philtower Building.

One thing, however, is certain: Unless many of Tulsa's historic downtown buildings are not put to alternate use, such as for residential properties, they will eventually fall into disrepair and stand vacant, which does no one any good.

Tulsa's old oil-boom buildings are beautiful. Their architecture is part of Tulsa's rich heritage. But as breathtaking as they are on the outside, the insides of many do not fit today's market for businesses.

New offices are geared toward open floor plans with work spaces often separated by cubicles. The old buildings generally were built for individual offices. To renovate such space to accommodate the needs of today can be prohibitively expensive.

Turning floors 12 through 20 of the Philtower into lofts is a good idea. Tulsa needs such residential housing.

And because Tulsa needs such housing, and housing is the only practical way to save these downtown office towers, the Whirled's response is to tear down a nine-story building and turn it into a parking lot. The Whirled has the resources to convert the Skelly Building into residential space, or the Whirled could have sold the building. There was a group ready to buy the Skelly Building to do such a conversion, but the Whirled is determined to have its parking spaces.

If the Whirled really believed in downtown's future, the Skelly Building would be a part of that future.

The Philtower project, which went forward despite a divided Tulsa Development Authority, will increase downtown's population by a maximum of 18. The Philtower is in no danger of demolition and the owner has a revenue stream from his office and retail tenants that could have been used for the Philtower conversion. If the point of including that money in the third-penny was to spark residential development, Tulsans may wonder whether they are getting enough spark for the money. Tulsa Today had a story last month which provides details and raises questions about the selection of the Philtower and the elimination of other, larger projects from consideration.

Downtown's naysayers?

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I wish the Tulsa Whirled's editorial writers would do some mind-stretching exercises before they sit down at the keyboard. Or maybe they could go out and encounter people with differing points of view. For example, Sunday's offering, Mike Jones, who generally seems to be one of the more reasonable editorialists, but he's got his assumptions about things and they will not be shaken:

The naysayers simply don't give up. Anonymous calls to the editor and signed letters to the editor are rolling in again about the dangers and hopelessness of downtown Tulsa. Maybe it's the unveiling of the new arena project that rekindled their attention.

The best bet is that most, if not all, of this current batch of writers and callers (most likely the same ones as the last round) are people who were against the Vision 2025 project from the outset. No one expected them to change their minds. Closed minds are often difficult to change.

There are several problems here, the biggest being the assumption that everyone who opposed Vision 2025 (and It's Tulsa's Time and the Tulsa Project before that) has a disdain for downtown. That may be true of some, but it isn't true of me.

One of the things that motivated me to oppose the 1997 Tulsa Project and to run for office, first in 1998 and again in 2002, was seeing that Tulsa was progressively destroying the few urban places that still existed, through a combination of demolition, pedestrian-unfriendly redevelopment, and misguided efforts to "revitalize" in ways that destroyed what urban character still remained.

In fact, my biggest cause for opposition to the 1997 Tulsa Project was that it was billed as the salvation of downtown, but would accomplish nothing of the sort, and in fact would make matters worse, by demolishing more of downtown's urban fabric, closing off streets, and pushing out the businesses and residents who have been trying to make a go of it downtown against all odds. Here is an article I wrote that was published in Urban Tulsa back in 1997. And here's what I wrote about the arena and downtown revitalization in 2000 during the "It's Tulsa's Time" campaign.

I wrote this back in 2003 in response to a Tulsa Whirled editorial whining that the arena was in danger of being excluded from the Vision process:

For those of us who want to see downtown Tulsa become a vital, bustling urban place once again, the problem is that most of downtown Tulsa's streets are devoid of human life apart from brief bursts around starting and quitting time. The question to ask is, "How do we re-create Downtown as an exciting place to be, as it once was?" The strategic answer is to get people living downtown once again, and to make visiting downtown a pleasant and inviting experience. To get to that goal, you look for positive trends and opportunities and find ways to encourage and facilitate those trends -- fan the sparks into a flame. It is an incremental approach employing a variety of tactics. Roberta Brandes Gratz calls it "Urban Husbandry" because it's like tending a garden -- you work with the uniqueness of the material you have on hand and help it to flourish. (Read the intro to her book Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown to get a better feel for this concept. Better yet, buy and read the whole book!)

In the end, there were some funds in Proposition 4 that could be used in the spirit of Urban Husbandry. (Whether they will be applied in a way that will make a real difference remains to be seen. Although Prop 4 had some good projects, none were urgent enough to warrant a tax increase; they should have been put on the Capital Improvements Plan and evaluated as part of bond issue or third penny renewal.)

Most of what needs to be done to make downtown appealing again involves the basics -- a visible police presence to act as a deterrent against crime and an assurance to downtown visitors and residents alike, improvements to lighting and sidewalks, fixing and, where possible, reopening streets to auto traffic. (When will the Boulder Ave overpass be reopened? How else do you plan to get pedestrians from the arena to the Brady Village entertainment district? Do you want them to go through the spooky Denver underpass past the bail bonds shops?)

Mike Jones goes on to say that downtown is no more dangerous than 71st & Memorial or 41st & Yale. That may be so, but at those other locations, people feel insulated from danger because they are in their cars. In a real downtown, you're going to be on foot as you go from place to place. If the arena is going to spark new restaurants and clubs downtown, people will have to feel safe and comfortable walking from the arena to the Blue Dome and Brady Village districts. Once an arena patron is in his car, downtown has lost the advantage of proximity -- a myriad of restaurants and clubs are at his disposal, all within a 20 minute drive.

Who are the real downtown naysayers? Mike Jones' own newspaper is working to make it harder for people to feel comfortable walking downtown. By turning one building into a parking lot and another into a windowless air conditioning plant, the Tulsa Whirled is turning more of downtown into a pedestrian-unfriendly zone. Residences and retail establishments provide "eyes on the street" -- that means that as you walk along, you know that there are other people who will notice if anything bad happens. If you feel threatened and need to escape a worrying situation (or maybe just a sudden rainstorm), you look for an open business to duck into -- a parking lot and an air conditioning plant don't provide that kind of shelter. The Whirled's demolition decision also reveals that they don't really believe that downtown has a bright future, otherwise they'd seek to hold on to these buildings for future redevelopment.

I've heard complaints from a number of downtown boosters that the Whirled has sensationalized its coverage of downtown crimes and violence while downplaying similar events elsewhere in the city, thus feeding an already negative image of downtown. Who's the naysayer?

Good things are happening downtown, thanks to folks like Michael Sager and his work in the Blue Dome District, and if the Whirled would quit looking to the arena to be downtown's salvation when it finally opens in 2008, perhaps they would start backing the kinds of improvements that will make the greatest positive difference to downtown right now.

Vote for Tulsa's Zoo!


The Tulsa Zoo is one of 15 semi-finalists in Microsoft's "America's Favorite Zoo" competition. Online voting between now and October 29 will determine the five finalists, and then another round of online voting will determine the winner. Tulsa is up against several other zoos in the region, including the Oklahoma City Zoo. Here's the complete list:

Austin Zoo Binder Park Zoo Brookfield Zoo Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Dallas Zoo Fort Worth Zoo Los Angeles Zoo North Carolina Zoo Oakland Zoo Oklahoma City Zoo & Botanical Gardens Oregon Zoo Palm Beach Zoo San Francisco Zoo Toledo Zoo Tulsa Zoo

To be included in the contest, zoos had to submit entry materials, which probably accounts for the absence of world-famous facilities like the National Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, and the Saint Louis Zoo.

Here's what is at stake: The winning zoo gets a $25,000 grant.

So Tulsa readers (or other readers without a rooting interest), click here and cast your vote!

Blue ribbon day was fair enough


Spent the afternoon and evening at the Tulsa State Fair. Made the mistake of not bringing a stroller for the four-year-old. The problem wasn't so much that she got tired of walking as that she would stop holding hands and start off to the next place she wanted to go. A stroller would have contained her. When she heard one of us say we were ready to leave the petting zoo, she headed for the exit. She didn't get far before someone spotted this lost little girl and asked if she knew Mom or Dad's phone number. She said yes and pulled out the index card we had tucked into her jeans pocket with both our cell phone numbers. Reunion occurred moments later.

The highlight of the day for the parents was seeing that the eight-year-old won a blue ribbon for acrylic painting, junior division. He had really been hoping for a prize and was thrilled. (There's a $5 prize, and he was excited about that, too.)

The highlight of the day for the kids was getting their picture taken (free!) with people in Star Wars costumes. The costumed characters photo op was part of Star Wars: The Fan Experience, put together by the Tulsa Fan Force. (The club's logo features Yoda in western gear.)

That was about the only free thing we did today. We spent a buck a piece on a reptile exhibit east of the Youth Building, which was actually a pretty good value. In addition to snakes, tarantulas, lizards, and turtles, they had a baby coatimundi and a pheasant, which was about the prettiest bird I've ever seen -- iridescent blues, greens, reds, and golds.

The kids spent nearly an hour painting a small ceramic piece ($2 each). We were sorry to see the building blocks area gone -- Joseph really enjoyed that in years past. We walked through the animal barns and looked at the Angus and Longhorns and Bramhas -- saw a frustrated longhorn calf on a too-short rope butting his head against mama's side trying to get her to move just a little bit to the right and bring dinner within reach.

We visited the petting zoo and the birthing center, where we saw some adorable three-hour-old kid goats, with their sweet faces and wagging tails.

We bought 20 ride tickets for $15 bucks. Since we'd been to Bell's a few weeks ago and will be heading to Silver Dollar City later in the month, we would just be doing two or three rides each today. Joe loved watching the high flipping and spinning rides but wasn't interested in trying those himself -- he did the fun house, the "Mardi Gras" mirrored maze, and "Starship 2000", a spinning ride. He was disappointed to discover that he's an inch too short to ride the midway's Himalaya on his own.

Fair food? Some, but not much -- a corn dog, a hot dog, chocolate-and-sprinkle covered marshmallows, pork chop dinners.

I was pleased to see Jennifer, the patron saint of travel where I work, volunteering at the Republican Party's booth. You may have believed that St. Christopher was the patron saint of travellers, but I find that when business travel troubles arise, I direct my supplication unto Jennifer, and lo, problem solved.

We were at the Republican Party booth when the four-year-old spotted "dancing animals!" -- a clever sales display of animal marionnettes. We came home with two.

Not nearly enough time to browse through old magazine ads -- an extensive collection for sale, sorted by product type. I did get to look through the gas and oil ads. There were several Sinclair ads from the '40s featuring Dino the Dinosaur as the star of a comic promoting Sinclair's line of farm lubricants and pesticides. One featured a herd of cows, beleaguered by biting insects, crying out to Dino for aid. Dino came to the rescue with a can of Sinclair DDT.

We were all beat by the time we left, but we had a good time. I can't imagine not going at least once every year.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa category from October 2004.

Tulsa: August 2004 is the previous archive.

Tulsa: November 2004 is the next archive.

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