Tulsa County: November 2006 Archives

A Tulsa Whirled story Saturday reports that 20 years ago, then-Police and Fire Commissioner Bob Dick supported Tulsa annexing the Tulsa County Fairgrounds, saying the city could use the additional revenue. Roscoe Turner, then a city boiler inspector, advised against it. At the time, Turner said that nearly every boiler on the fairgrounds would fail inspection and nearly every building would have to be shut down, generating no revenue to the city.

Today the two have changed sides on the issue. Turner is a city councilor in search of additional revenue for the city. Dick is a retiring county commissioner who is also a member of the board that oversees the fairgrounds.

Since 1986 most buildings at the fairgrounds have been refurbished or replaced, so Turner's concern about boiler safety is no longer an impediment to annexation.

Today Dick's objection to annexation seems to center around the city sales tax that he was after in 1986:

"I bought a hot tub at one of those [Expo Square] shows. You spend $6,000 on something, 3 percent makes a difference," he said.

"Dear Commissioner Dick, congratulations on your purchase of a $6,000 hot tub at the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. You owe $180 in city use tax on said item. Please remit at your earliest convenience. Sincerely, City of Tulsa Finance."

Dick also mentions that the City will have to provide services, but the City already provides every service except law enforcement. As an out-of-city water customer, the fairgrounds pays higher water rates than in-city customers, but loss of that extra revenue wouldn't detract from the sales tax gain. Water revenues go to a different fund which cannot be used for City general fund operating costs like police protection and street repair.

Susan Neal of Mayor Kathy Taylor's office gave a passive-aggressive response when asked about the Mayor's opinion on the issue, suggesting that Turner would have to develop his own analysis of the benefits, rather than offering the assistance of the Mayor's staff to look at the possibility. (Of course, Mayor Taylor appears to be about to do a deal with Jenks and Bixby and the county cronies at Infrastructure Ventures, Inc., to get their private toll bridge built. Taylor's had a meeting with IVI people, but has left the South Tulsa Citizens Coalition (STCC) out of the loop.)

Bell's notes

| | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (0)

Current and former Okies and amusement park enthusiasts from other parts of the world have been weighing in on Tulsa County's refusal to renew a lease with Bell's Amusement Park.

Dave the Oklahomilist posted a new entry yesterday, wondering about Expo Square CEO Rick Bjorklund's sudden decision to cut off all talk of renewing Bell's lease:

And this after, and in spite of, Bell's agreement, with a condition, to allow its books to be audited by an independent trio of accountants. The condition? That the information contained in Bell's business plan "not be disseminated outside" the fair board offices.

One is left to conclude that this was a deal-breaker for Bjorklund and the county commissioners. Why? It seems reasonable enough on the surface. Is it possible that the plan all along was to pass the Bell's information on to others? Is it possible that it was, in truth, the only reason for requiring Bell's to jump through this particularly hoop? And that the condition insisted upon by Bell's would put the fairgrounds officials in jeopardy should any information get to persons who have no business having it? People who, perhaps, are planning to go into business directly competing with Bell's?

Ms. Cornelius of A Shrewdness of Apes remembers the park from her childhood, including getting ride tickets for good grades and the old giant slide, and she's taken her own kids there the last two summers during visits to her parents.

Screamscape ("The Ultimate Guide to Theme Parks") has a whole page devoted to Bell's with a chronology that goes back to Bell's second coaster proposal in 2001.

Thrill Network has a forum topic from August devoted to the new coaster that Bell's finally got the go-ahead to build.

Finally, a word to friends in the neighborhoods directly adjacent to that side of the fairgrounds, some of whom have expressed surprise at my concern about the fair board's dealings with Bell's. I supported their effort to stop the expansion of Bell's to the west, closer to the neighborhood and in violation of the 1984 Expo Square master plan, part of the Comprehensive Plan, and the written expression of a commitment made by the fair board to the surrounding neighborhoods about what kind of development would be allowed in each section of the fairgrounds. I can understand why many of them hope to see Bell's gone from the fairgrounds, and they don't care how it happens.

It's probably the best for all concerned if Bell's relocates, preferably to a site within Tulsa's city limits, but this is the wrong way to bring it about. I have similar feelings about City Attorney Alan Jackere's situation: I'd rather he no longer be City Attorney, but the way Mayor Taylor is going about it has me and a lot of other people very suspicious.

I was on KFAQ this morning with Councilor Roscoe Turner, who is calling for the City of Tulsa to bring the Tulsa County Fairgrounds (aka Expo Square) within the city limits. Currently, the fairgrounds, roughly 240 acres (3/8 of a square mile), is an unincorporated enclave surrounded by the City of Tulsa on all sides. Annexing the fairgrounds is a good idea, and it should have been done a long time ago.

Some background: Tulsa County acquired the fairgrounds when the site was well outside the city limits of Tulsa. Eventually, new housing developments surrounded the fairgrounds, and they were brought into the city boundaries, but the fairgrounds as a whole were never annexed. Parts of the fairgrounds to the west of the Pavilion, used for temporary housing during WW II, were annexed by the City and later deannexed. A small tract of land near the corner of 15th & Louisville is still owned by the City and is within the city limits. (This was the location of a large water tower which once provided adequate water pressure to the higher elevations of midtown. The tower is gone, and now the water used in these neighborhoods that has to flow downhill from some other reservoir then back uphill. But that's a rant for another time.)

There is a similar situation with LaFortune Park. When it was created it was outside the city limits. The City grew up and around it, and I can remember seeing city maps that showed nearly all of that half-section from Yale to Hudson, 51st to 61st, marked as "OUT." Only the Memorial High School campus was within the City of Tulsa's corporate boundaries. Later most of LaFortune Park was annexed, except for the old County Farm, a rectangular plot of land southwest of 51st and Hudson, now known as the Gardens at LaFortune Park. (I can remember our third-grade class going out to the County Farm in 1971 to sing Christmas carols to the residents.) Ultimately this, too, was brought within the City boundaries. The ownership of LaFortune Park did not change. It is still owned by Tulsa County, but it is subject to City of Tulsa ordinances and City of Tulsa sales and property taxes.

Can the City annex the fairgrounds? Yes, and they can do it without the County's consent. Oklahoma state law provides that if a municipality surrounds a piece of unincorporated territory on at least three sides, the municipality may annex the land without the consent of the landowners.

This has been the law for a long time, but new legislation (from 2005, if I recall correctly) requires that the strip of surrounding land (the "fence line") already within the municipal boundaries has to be at least 300' wide, and the annexing municipality must extend city services to the annexed territory within a certain period of time. Neither of the new stipulations would hinder this annexation: There are miles of Tulsa surrounding the fairgrounds on all four sides, and Tulsa already supplies water, sewer, stormwater, fire, emergency medical, and hazmat services to the fairgrounds, nearly every city service except law enforcement, which is handled by the Sheriff.

Again, it has to be emphasized that annexation wouldn't change ownership. The fairgrounds would still be owned by Tulsa County and run by the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (TCPFA, aka the fair board), which consists of the three county commissioners and two other members, currently Jim Orbison and Clark Brewster. Annexation wouldn't affect the fair board's ability to enter into long-term, non-competitive sweetheart contracts.

But annexation would eliminate the anomalies in law enforcement and tax rates. The fairgrounds and the surrounding land would be subject to the same zoning ordinances and zoning process. The same sales tax rate would apply to businesses on and off the fairgrounds. The same hotel/motel tax rate would apply to the fairgrounds motel and to nearby motels. The same noise ordinances would apply on and off the fairgrounds.

When the fair board considers a lease, they'd have to consider whether the proposed activity complies with city ordinances. I'm sure existing uses would be grandfathered in, but any zoning relief needed for whatever replaces Bell's would have to pass muster with the City of Tulsa's Board of Adjustment (which applies the law as it is; one of Bill LaFortune's positive legacies) or the Tulsa City Council. Currently, anything the fair board (made up mostly of the county commissioners) wants to allow only needs approval by the County Board of Adjustment (appointed by the county commissioners) or the county commissioners themselves. There's no independent check on fairgrounds development.

This is a good thing to do, and I appreciate Councilor Turner for raising the issue. The additional revenue will help the entire city, and the uniformity of laws will benefit neighboring homes and businesses.

A Myspacer copies a plea for help from the owners of Bell's Amusement Park in Tulsa:

In case you haven't heard Bell's Amusement Park which has provided entertainment for Tulsan's and others in Oklahoma for fifty years is having hard times. The Bell's are close freinds and are good people who enjoy putting smiles on the faces of their patrons. If you like to give your support for Bells please read the following and send e-mails to those who can make a difference. Thankyou.

There is an article in the Nov. 10 Tulsa World online in the Local Section if anyone wishes to know more.

To our Tulsa and Oklahoma friends: As you may know we were served with eviction papers for the park on Wednesday. They have given us 120 days to remove everything and return the land to its original state (bare dirt). If you want to help us we would appreciate e-mails to all of the poeple on this list, any friends, you have who might like to help and perhaps calls to the Fairgrounds. Thank you in advance should you choose to speak out in our behalf. Signed Sally Bell (Bell's Amusement Park)

The link above has a list of e-mail addresses for you to contact to express your concern.

Here's a link to the Whirled story. The story makes it clear that County Commissioner Randi Miller is the instigator of the eviction.

There are so many things wrong with this, it's hard to know where to begin.

First of all, the decision to evict a 55-year fairgrounds tenant should have been deferred until the two new members of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority, aka the Fair Board, are sworn in at the beginning of January. Those two new members are Fred Perry and John Smaligo, who will replace Bob Dick and Wilbert Collins on the County Commission and will be ex officio members of the Fair Board and several other boards and commissions. Miller is quoted as saying she'll wait until the new board members are on before deciding what to do with the land. Why not wait until Perry and Smaligo are on board before deciding on the eviction?

Second, what's the rush? Bell's won't be able to find a new location and pack up and move a roller coaster, a log ride, and countless other rides in a matter of four months in the middle of winter. Why not give them a full year or two to make arrangements to move? And why not give Tulsans a chance to say goodbye with a final season at the park?

Expo Square CEO Rick Bjorklund says this decision is in the best interest of the taxpayers. I have long complained that the County Commissioners and the Fair Board members are focused on maximizing revenues regardless of the impact on the community. I say that Expo Square is a public facility, to be managed in the public interest. While we want Expo Square to pay for itself, we don't have to maximize the revenue for every square inch of the place, any more than a you'd try to squeeze money out of every inch of a county park.

But Bell's does bring in money for Expo Square, a percentage of receipts. It won't cost the county any money to let them stay there one more year, but it will cost the county if Bell's is replaced with a parking lot.

Finally, and this is what really smells suspicious to me, by forcing Bell's to leave now, before any public discussion of a replacement for that space, the Fair Board is effectively disqualifying Bell's from any competition for the right to redevelop that space. Bell's isn't going to move out and then move back in. If the Fair Board were trying to be fair, they would put out a public request for proposals and allow Bell's and others to specify their plans for the space. The winning proposal would then be selected based on revenue, benefit to the community, neighborhood impact, and other intangibles.

But of course this is Tulsa County and, for about six more weeks anyway, it's dominated by County Commissioners who love making insider, exclusive, non-competitive deals with their pals for the use of public land.

I suspect the eviction of Bell's is part of such an insider deal. You'll recall that a Loretta Murphy gave $5,000 to the Randi Miller for Mayor campaign. Loretta Murphy owns Big Splash water park, another Expo Square tenant. Her husband Jerry Murphy owns Murphy Brothers. Shortly after Loretta's donation to Miller, the Fair Board awarded Murphy Brothers a non-competitive 10-year contract to provide the Tulsa State Fair's midway. Murphy Brothers might be happy just to have Bell's gone, so that all the State Fair-goers will have to ride their midway rides. Miller and the other Fair Board members need to disclose every contact with Murphy Brothers or any other private entity concerning plans for Bell's location.

Like a lot of midtown neighborhood leaders, I supported Sunrise Terrace as they attempted to keep the County from letting Bell's build a new roller coaster closer to their neighborhood, violating the area's comprehensive plan. But the neighbors, with a few exceptions, weren't trying to get Bell's shut down or to prevent their expansion. Most neighbors would have been happy to let Bell's build a roller coaster in toward the center of Expo Square and away from surrounding neighborhoods, but the county was reserving the land north of the Expo (IPE) Building for their landscaping and parking master plans.

Call your County Commissioner (current and future) and call Rick Bjorkland at Expo Square and register your concern. Insist that all dealings involving Bell's location be made public. Insist that Bell's be given a reasonable time to move.


Techie Vampire has happy memories of Bell's from her youth and is angry that her son won't get to share in those memories.

Jeff Shaw puts the eviction of Bell's into the broader perspective -- the growing list of "Things Not in Tulsa Anymore":

I’m not opposed to economic development. To the contrary. But economic development can happen in conjunction with the preservation of historical aspects of the city.

Here is what I see is happening: all these historical and cultural “intangibles” are being or have already been razed, and there is nothing left of “Tulsa”. After a few years, and after the life has been sucked out of our city, we get people coming along with “bold new projects” in order to create something exciting. The reason: there’s nothing in Tulsa that will bring people in.

My response to that reason: Its because all the reasons that people have to love Tulsa, have been destroyed - in the name of development.

I'd go as far as saying historic preservation can be an engine of economic development.

Dave, the Oklahomilist, has been following the Bell's eviction story from the beginning. His initial entry asks how it's possible that a parking lot could be more profitable for Expo Square than an amusement park that pays $135,000 a year in rent. That same entry has an account of KRMG's Joe Kelley asking Randi Miller the same question, followed by a vigorous discussion in the comments, including this letter from Craig Adams to the Fair Board regarding their assertions that Bell's isn't viable:

Mr. Bell secured a bank loan of 3/4 million dollars to build a new wooden roller coaster contengent on a lease approval from the fair board. Banks do not lend that kind of money to companies which are insolvent or on shaky financial grounds. Just doesn't happen.

Mr. Bell has consistantly reinvested in the business the past several years in new equipment and rides to keep attacting new business and to retain current customers.

Despite being closed for 20 days to repair storm damage this past summer the park has had record business and on several occasions had to turn away customers because the park was too full. Doesn't sound like a failing business to me.

By the way, I think I've figured out the connection between the RV park and reduced foot traffic through Bell's. It sounds like work on the RV park reduced the amount of parking on the west side of Expo Square. People who normally would have parked in that open grassy area had to park on the east side of Expo Square and would have entered on the east, possibly spending all their ride money on the Murphy Brothers midway before ever reaching Bell's.

Randi Miller is now saying publicly that she'd be willing to give Bell's more time if they ask for it. Keep the pressure on, folks, and let's insist on full disclosure. Miller and the other members of the Fair Board should disclose all communications they have had about future use of the property, whether among themselves or with potential tenants such as Murphy Brothers.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa County category from November 2006.

Tulsa County: August 2006 is the previous archive.

Tulsa County: January 2007 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]