Tulsa Downtown Category

It's a paradox: The Tulsa Drillers, our city's minor league baseball team, appear to be in the best financial shape they've ever been and setting attendance records every year. But when I've attended games in recent years, I've been surprised at the large numbers of empty seats.

Below is a draft of an article I wrote on June 23, 2013, after a visit to the ONEOK Field with my son. I've been back to the park on a number of occasions since then, and my observations stand. Last August, my son and I attended four games during the season's final stretch, during which we observed the large number of empty seats, which suggested an actual attendance -- "butts in seats" -- far below paid attendance, which would include season tickets, whether used or not. The photos below, from that June 2013 game, show far more actual attendees than I've seen at more recent games. I should mention that we haven't been to a game this year, simply because we've been otherwise occupied this summer, but we'll probably try to make a game or two before the season is over.

Today, while running errands, I listened to Jessica Dyer's "Down to Business" show on KRMG, and her guest was Jason George, Executive Vice President of the Tulsa Drillers. It was interesting to hear him talk about the shift in the club's business philosophy with the move from Driller Stadium to ONEOK Field. Although the new park has half the capacity of the old one, the team has more than doubled the size of its permanent staff and increased its seasonal staff as well.

George talked about the decision to end the tradition of Pack-the-Park Night, when free tickets were distributed through QuikTrip, Arby's, and other local sponsors, typically for poorly attended midweek games. Our habit was to pay a few bucks extra per ticket to upgrade those free general admission coupons for reserved or box seats. The full house added to the excitement of being there for the game, and I suspect concession sales went through the roof. The lines were certainly long.

I phoned in with a question, which I relayed to the producer. They had me speak to George off the air, during a commercial break. My question: What could be done to allow people who actually show up to the game to buy good seats? George told me that they couldn't resell a seat that belonged to a season ticket holder. He mentioned that there was a higher retention rate among season ticket holders than at the old park.

George's answers on and off the air, along with my in-person observations, have convinced me that the downtown version of the Tulsa Drillers are no longer about baseball fans watching future major league stars. They are about selling corporate suites and club seats to companies -- selling the skyline as a backdrop to business meetings, and oh, by the way, there are some people playing sportsball on the grassy courtyard nearby.

Most of what I wrote four years ago still holds up, except that, of course, the old park can no longer be a venue for a baseball-fan-focused alternative, thanks to the city's foolish designation of the site for the BMX headquarters before the logistics (e.g., conflicts over "pouring rights") had been ironed out. It's a shame that a beautiful ballpark, ideal for watching the game, built and improved entirely with private funds, is being dismantled in favor of a downtown park funded through taxes and misoriented for baseball.

Tulsa's ONEOK Field is a great place to hang out on a summer evening, people-watch, let your kids splash and climb, and (if you're lucky enough to have infield seats) enjoy the view of the downtown skyline as the sun sets. But as a place to watch a baseball game, it's not nearly as good as the Tulsa Drillers' old ballpark at 15th and Yale.

Friday night I took my seven-year-old son downtown to join my daughter and the church youth group watching the Tulsa Drillers against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals at ONEOK Field.

The youth group had planned to sit on the outfield lawn, but I was considering paying extra for infield seats for me and the boy, so that we could see the state of the game more clearly. When we got to the box office, that wasn't an option. Only the $5 outfield lawn seats were available, and already they were filling up.

Fans sit in the right-field lawn at ONEOK stadium to watch the Tulsa Drillers

That wasn't because the infield seats were full. It looked like at least a third, maybe even half, of the 5,000 seats in the infield were unoccupied throughout the game. Presumably these seats belonged to season ticket holders who opted not to attend that night. I have heard that there are companies that buy season tickets as a business expense for entertaining clients and as a perk for their employees; if they're not needed for that purpose on a particular night, and no employee wants them, the seats go empty.

Empty seats in the stands at ONEOK Field

This was the first game I'd watched at ONEOK Field from the outfield lawn. For other games, I'd had infield tickets from a friend -- second row back from home plate in one case, club seating at other times. (Those seats had a great view of home, but during day games they put you right in the sun. We abandoned the second-row back seats after a few innings, preferring to watch from the shade of the concourse.)

From the outfield lawn, you're 400 feet from home plate. You're scarcely above the level of the players, so you're getting a vertically compressed, cross-section view of the game -- outfielders, infielders, pitcher, catcher, batter, umpire, runners, coaches are all on the same level. The batter, catcher, and home plate umpire seem to blend in to the crowd in the seats behind them. In most stadiums, when you look in from the outfield -- the typical TV camera angle -- you see a wall behind the batter, giving you a fairly clear view.. At ONEOK Field, there are fans sitting at tables right at ground level behind the batter.

From the east half of the right field lawn, you can't see the jumbo scoreboard because of the playground and towering batter's eye screen that protects the kids' splash pad. We could see the numbers on the small scoreboard over the 1st base seats, but it took a while to make out the lettering and figure out which number was which.

Batter and catcher blend into the crowd at ONEOK Field

Back in 1987, when friends and I went made three trips to old Busch Stadium and had upper-deck outfield seats to watch the St. Louis Cardinals, we would joke that the action on the diamond was so far away that "the game was only a rumor." But at least from that vantage point we could see the movement of the runners and fielders and have an idea of what was happening. Down on the ONEOK Field lawn, we didn't have that consolation.

At the old Drillers Stadium, there really wasn't a bad seat, although that wasn't the case from the beginning. When the first outfield seating was built along the left field foul line, the seats were oriented perpendicular to the foul line, so you had to sit at a sharp angle to the bench to see home. The closest seats to the field were at least 10 feet up. Owner Went Hubbard reoriented the left field seating and built right field seating angled to face the infield. He also dropped the box seats from their lofty perch to a more reasonable height above the field. The orientation of the park allowed the shadows to begin to shade the stands early in the evening. The results were great for watching baseball.

The downtown stadium backers said our old ballpark was too big at 10,950 seats. We needed a smaller, more intimate stadium so that it would feel full most of the time, they said. But how intimate can it feel when half of the seats are empty?

The Drillers should consider some measures that protect season ticket holders, but at the same time fill up the infield seats whenever possible (and as a bonus, make more money).

Since barcode scanners are used to scan every ticket each game, somewhere there's a computer that knows exactly which seats have already been claimed that game. That makes it possible to fill the infield stands without chaos.

The Drillers could offer season ticket holders a credit for notifying the Drillers and releasing their seats when they won't be used. Go to the website or the mobile app, click a button, and the Drillers can credit your account and resell the seat to someone who will actually use it that night.

The Drillers could offer seating upgrades after the third inning; ticket holders in the park could pay to upgrade to any unclaimed seat. Season ticket holders who are running late could notify the Drillers via the web or a mobile app not to release their seats.

As an alternative, maybe someone could bring an independent minor league team to play at the old park. The American Association of Independent Professional Baseball has teams in a number of old Texas League ballparks, including Wichita, Amarillo, and El Paso. A few of the teams manage to thrive playing just a few miles from a major league park -- the St. Paul Saints, the Kansas City T-Bones, and the Grand Prairie AirHogs (their home field, QuikTrip Park, is just seven miles from The Ballpark in Arlington). These teams draw fans who want to see baseball up close at an affordable price. QuikTrip Park, by the way, cost $20 million to build in 2008, and seats about 5500.

After a few schismatic years, downtown Tulsa will once again have a parade with the word Christmas in the name.

The Tulsa Christmas Parade starts tonight, Saturday, December 13, 2014, at 6 p.m. The rectangular parade route will begin at 7th Street and Boston Avenue, traveling north to 3rd Street, west to Boulder Ave, south to 7th.

Downtown parking meters aren't enforced on Saturday evening, so pick your spot. You'll want to avoid the area between 7th, 10th, Boulder, and Cincinnati, which will be used for staging and disbanding the floats.

You might want to plan on coming early and staying late. Following the parade at 7:15, Winterfest at 3rd and Denver will have a fireworks display. There are shopping opportunities, too: Downtown retail is enjoying a small-business comeback, particularly on Boston Ave between 3rd and 7th, including Decopolis and The Vault between 6th and 7th, Elote and Mod's Crepes in the Philcade building, which is also home to a candy store and some small "pop-up" shops. In the Blue Dome District, you'll find Dwelling Spaces and Lyon's Indian Store / Tulsa Treasures, Boomtown Tees, along with the many dining opportunities in the district.


This parade is the culmination of a four-year effort to get Christmas back into the name of an 86-year-old Tulsa tradition.

In 2010, after the local electric utility dropped sponsorship for the parade, local business owners, including restaurateur Elliot Nelson, stepped up to present a parade downtown, calling it a Holiday Parade. The group's application for a permit to close the streets for the parade turned into a public debate over the decision not to call it a Christmas Parade.

(In fact, the name change had occurred the year before. PSO dropped Christmas from the name of the Parade of Lights in 2009, "to promote inclusiveness and promote the parade to all Tulsans even if they don't celebrate Christmas.")

Eddie Huff, an insurance agent and co-host for KFAQ's Pat Campbell Show, was one of those at the City Council meeting, and he spoke to the Council of his hope that next year, when a Tulsa Christmas Parade sought a permit, the City Council would grant it. Construction company owner Josh McFarland and insurance agent Mark Croucher had the same desire, and within a few days, Huff, McFarland, Croucher and other like-minded Tulsans were planning a Tulsa Christmas Parade for 2011.

The 2011 parade was held on Olympia Ave through the Tulsa Hills shopping center near 71st and U. S. 75 and drew a large number of both floats and spectators. The downtown Holiday Parade went on as well. While the Tulsa Christmas Parade organizers were pleased with the result, they were still hopeful that there would once again be a unified Christmas Parade downtown some year in the future.

In 2013, the Christmas Parade organizers were invited to consolidate with the downtown parade, and Josh McFarland joined the downtown parade's board. The resulting parade included Christmas in the name -- "The Downtown Parade of Lights: A Celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah and other holidays" -- but the compromise was still too watered down for the other organizers of the Tulsa Christmas Parade. A poll in fall of 2013 showed that three-quarters of Tulsans wanted "Christmas" in the name of the parade.

In 2014, the long-time executive director of the parade stepped down, and McFarland stepped into the role. With a new board and new sponsorship, the downtown parade was once again dubbed the Tulsa Christmas Parade, and Huff joined the downtown effort, feeling that his aims had been accomplished. Croucher opted to continue a Christmas Parade at Tulsa Hills, which was held last Saturday night.

The East Village District Association, on the eastern edge of downtown Tulsa, is holding its second Second Saturday street festival this Saturday, May 10, 2014, from 11 am to 4 pm, at the corner of 3rd and Lansing. The event will feature local music, art, vendors, and food trucks.

The East Village is bounded by Elgin Ave. and the east leg of the Inner Dispersal Loop, between 3rd Street and 11th Street, plus the area between the Frisco tracks and 3rd Street east of Greenwood Ave. Until work on the IDL began in 1967, the area had been seamlessly connected to the Pearl District, but somewhat separated from downtown by the Midland Valley tracks.

The heart of the district is a cluster of one- and two-story buildings near the intersection of 3rd and Kenosha. Kenosha is the eastern boundary of Tulsa's original townsite, in which the streets were laid out parallel and perpendicular to the Frisco railroad tracks. East of Kenosha is the Hodge Addition, aligned with the compass. The terminating vistas created by this collision of conflicting grids inspired then-resident Dave Berray to propose the name Hodge's Bend for the neighborhood association he helped to organize. If I recall correctly, Berray was anxious to distinguish the cluster of older buildings that were already being reused and already becoming a neighborhood from whatever massive redevelopment might take place on the former industrial lands to the south.

The potential of the East Village for urban revival was recognized as early as December of 1990, when Spaghetti Warehouse announced plans to locate in the old Crane Warehouse at 623 E. 3rd Street, about a year after the chain had opened in Oklahoma City's Bricktown. The following August, the building was gutted by arson, just as renovations were set to begin, and that December, Spaghetti Warehouse bought a building in the Brady Village area, triggering renewed interest in the warehouse district north of the Frisco tracks, but leaving the East Village to its own devices.

The East Village's comeback gained momentum in the late '90s, as artists (specifically theatrical scenery artists) discovered this area within the IDL that had been overlooked by urban renewal and was too far from the downtown office cluster to be worth clearing for parking. City leaders planned to demolish the neighborhood to make way for a soccer stadium, but the defeat of the Tulsa Project city sales tax in 1997 saved the East Village from oblivion. Living Arts moved to a temporary location on Kenosha in 2000 and stayed there for nine years.

Since that time, buildings have been renovated for residential, commercial, and office use, mainly along 3rd, Kenosha, and Lansing. There have been several proposals for major development in the large tracts of land between 4th and 7th streets, former sites of Nordam, Bill White Chevrolet, Fire Station No.1, and the Tulsa Coliseum, but none have come to fruition. As always, the momentum for redevelopment has been in reusing old buildings that are still standing; new construction is still somewhere off in the future.

In 2011, All Souls Unitarian Church, the largest U-U congregation in the US, announced plans to locate on the former site of the Page-Glencliff Dairy and later Fields Downs Randolph, between 6th and 7th, Frankfort and Kenosha.

The East Village District Association plans to hold a street festival the second Saturday of every month.


I wrote about 3rd and Kenosha in Urban Tulsa in October in 2005, and again here on BatesLine in 2006, about the 1997 letter from Allison Geary that alerted me to the neighborhood's plight.

Mike Easterling wrote a cover story about the East Village in the March 25, 2009, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly.

Tulsa's Young Professionals are holding a mile-long street festival tomorrow, Sunday, May 4, 2014, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., in the southern part of downtown Tulsa. The event, Street CReD 2014: Urban Core, will thread its way through Tulsa's championship parking crater with "music, art, food trucks, vendors, family-friendly activities, disc golf, skate park, walking and bicycling."

Street CReD: Urban Core will celebrate what makes downtown exceptional: Its ability to bring people together and into a unique, walkable urban environment with shops, restaurants, recreation and good company.

This event will bring walkability and bikeability to one of the few areas of downtown yet to see significant redevelopment activity - an area characterized by the towering spires of the Cathedral District, the optimism of Route 66 and, unfortunately, vast expanses of surface parking that add nothing to the quality and character of our downtown.

What would happen if we made southern downtown a hub of foot and bike activity? Come see us May 4 and find out.

Street CReD: Urban Core is an Open Streets event, modeled after the international Open Streets Project, which seeks to close streets temporarily so people can use them for walking, bicycling, dancing, playing and socializing. With numerous city blocks to be temporarily closed to vehicle traffic, we are opening southern downtown's streets just for you.

The route begins at 5th and Boston, turns west at 10th Street to Boulder, then south on Boulder to Veterans Park and 21st Street, then west to River Parks. North of 15th Street, the route will be closed to vehicular traffic, but open to bikes and pedestrians. Parking will be available on TCC's lots south and east of their Metro Campus buildings.

Route 66 pavers in downtown Tulsa, looking southwest across the parking crater, from 10th and Detroit, SX002809

Dr. Jeffrey Myers, a great-grandson of W. Tate Brady, posted a comment today on a BatesLine entry from July 2013 ("The Brady name game") regarding the renaming of Brady Street in Tulsa. Controversy over the early Tulsa civic leader's connection to racist organizations resulted in a bizarre City Council compromise that renamed Brady Street within the Inner Dispersal Loop to Matthew B. Brady Street, honoring the Civil War-era photographer who had no connection to Tulsa.

Below is Dr. Myers's comment, which is unedited, except for the addition of an authorship line to ensure it is properly attributed.

What´s in a Name: The Legacy of Tate Brady [by Dr. Jeffrey Myers]

As one of the great-grandchildren of W. Tate Brady, I was deeply saddened to learn of his affiliation - direct or indirect - with racist organizations. Although he died long before I was born, we great-grandchildren often heard of his deep affection for "Tulsey Town" and his coining of the term "Tulsa Spirit".

Personally, I have never thought of "Brady" Street simply as a personal tribute to one of Tulsa´s founders, but rather a reminder of one of the most eventful and "spirited" chapters in the history of the city - with all of its triumphs and tragedies, virtues and vices, successes and failures. To preserve a name - including both the achievements and the shortcomings it represents - serves to convey historical identity.

In some ways, Tate Brady can be said to have been a child of his times. He was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in a young city painfully divided along racial lines. He was a man filled with larger-than-life dreams, as well as inconsistencies. Having joined the Ku Klux Klan as a young man, he later renounced the group, going on to support an anti-Klan gubernatorial candidate for election.

If I am not mistaken, though, he is being judged for one substantiated act of cruelty which, despicable as it is, remains one single act. I am not aware of any evidence of his complicity in other crimes, nor is there convincing evidence linking him to an active role in the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Fortunately, times have changed; needless to say, actions must always be understood and judged in the context of those times. Historical revisionism is sometimes tempting, but often self-serving.

It has been said that Wyatt Tate Brady was known for hiring African Americans to work in his hotel and other businesses. Not long before she died at the age of 104, Mabel B. Little, a survivor of the Tulsa Race Riot who was once employed by Brady, recalls in her book, Fire on Mount Zion: My Life and History as a Black Woman in America (1990): "Another man, Mr. Tate Brady had good feelings for black people. He hired several black boys as porters. But he told them up front, "Listen, boys: I'm gonna train you so you can get your own businesses someday."

I´ve always liked the fact that this historical street north of Main only bore a surname - and not a first name, thus pointing beyond itself, not only to the larger Brady family - many of whom loved and gave generously of themselves and their gifts to Tulsa, but also to the wider family, named and unnamed, of pioneer-spirited Tulsans. The name Brady invokes that which is unique to Tulsa - not only at its best, but also that which needs to be transformed and redeemed, individually and together.

In a moment of larger vision, W. Tate Brady was once quoted as saying: "Indian and white man, Jew and Gentile, Catholic and Protestant, we worked together side by side, and shoulder to shoulder, and under these conditions, the 'Tulsa Spirit' was born, and has lived, and God grant that it never dies." Though framed in words from another era, this vision would seem to capture the magnanimous, unifying "spirit" of Tulsa - the direction surely intended by the street sign bearing the name "Brady".


Route 66 "planter" and "nature band-aid" attempt to distract from ugliness of Tulsa Community College surface parking lot.

This afternoon, Wednesday, September 18, 2013, the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission will consider a proposed change to the zoning code intended to discourage the demolition of downtown buildings for surface parking.

Here is a link to a PDF of the draft zoning code amendment regarding downtown Tulsa demolition.

The proposal is long-overdue, and the TMAPC should allow it to move forward to the City Council for consideration.

Route 66 pavers in downtown Tulsa, looking southwest across the parking crater, from 10th and Detroit, SX002809

Looking southwest across the parking crater, from 10th and Detroit. Fancy Route 66 streetscaping doesn't make up for the desolation of block after empty block of surface parking.

Along with it should be the removal of financial and regulatory incentives for demolition and obstacles to adaptive reuse. The downtown assessment, which is a flat rate per square foot of building and land, allows a property owner to give himself an instant tax cut with a bulldozer. The owner of the old Page Dairy at 7th and Frankfort did just that in July 2009. Regulations requiring old apartment buildings to retrofit with state-of-the-art fire protection features are another burden on creative building reuse, increasing the likelihood of another demolition of what had been affordable downtown housing.


Page Glencliff Dairy (Fields Downs Randolph building) being demolished in 2009. Photo by Daniel Hickman.

Earlier this year, Tulsa won Streetsblog's national competition for worst "parking crater," the vast asphalt wasteland that stretches with few interruptions across the south end of downtown and reaches up along the east fringe. As hoped, the national attention has bolstered the effort to address the problem which began last July with a temporary moratorium.

Tulsa Community College, Boston Avenue Methodist, 1st Methodist's contributions to Tulsa's parking crater (SX002813)

Tulsa Community College, Boston Avenue Methodist Church, and First Methodist Church's contributions to Tulsa's parking crater. Near 10th and Detroit looking south.

And it is a problem. A downtown doesn't work the way a downtown should, it doesn't work as a lively urban district, if there are vast voids between clusters of buildings. Surface parking is an inhospitable environment for someone on foot. When you're walking down a street with parking on both sides, there's no place to go if the weather turns, no one around to help if there's an emergency, nothing to keep you interested.

Looking west across the parking crater from Cincinnati between 8th and 9th toward 1st Christian Church and Holy Family Cathedral (SX002831)

Looking west across the parking crater from Cincinnati between 8th and 9th toward 1st Christian Church and Holy Family Cathedral. Tulsa Community College lot is in the foreground.

I remember a 1996 visit from a college friend. He and a colleague came from Massachusetts to Tulsa that July to man a booth at the American Council of the Blind annual convention. Because they were staying downtown at the Doubletree, they didn't bother to rent a car. What a mistake! The first night in town they set off east on 7th Street in search of dinner, thinking that surely they'd find something downtown. Instead, they found a whole lot of nothing -- empty lots and closed office buildings. The view wouldn't be much different today.

Looking west along 9th Street, part of Tulsa's parking crater, SX002814

Looking west along 9th Street, part of Tulsa's parking crater

What life we have downtown, we owe to building owners like David Sharp who chose to buy and hold on to modest, usually unremarkable older buildings in the Blue Dome and Bob Wills Districts as one building after another were taken for parking.

Why do old buildings matter? Here's an explanation from my June 7, 2006, column on the legacy of urban journalist Jane Jacobs:

[Jacobs wrote]: "Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them. By old buildings I mean not museum-piece old buildings... but also a good lot of plain, ordinary, low-value old buildings, including some rundown old buildings."

Think about the most lively and interesting places in Tulsa, the kind of places you'd take a visitor for a night on the town: Brookside, the Blue Dome District, Brady Village, Cherry Street, 18th and Boston. Each of those districts had an abundance of old buildings, buildings that are for the most part unremarkable. But those buildings provided an inexpensive place for someone with a dream to start a new business.

You might have seen the same kind of vitality develop in the south part of downtown, with business springing up to serve the tens of thousands who attend classes at TCC's Metro Campus or participate in activities at the downtown churches, but so many of the buildings have been taken for parking by the churches and by TCC that a prospective business owner would be hard-pressed to find a location.

"As for really new ideas of any kind - no matter how ultimately profitable or otherwise successful some of them might prove to be - there is no leeway for such chancy trial, error and experimentation in the high-overhead economy of new construction. Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings."

Nearly all of downtown is under a special zoning classification (Central Business District, CBD) which, unlike every other part of the city, has no minimum parking requirements for businesses. But the other factors have encouraged demolition for parking: The costs of bringing an old building up to code, demand for office parking during downtown's late '70s, early '80s boom (roughly 70,000 downtown employees), Tulsa Community College's land-banking (buy a building, level it for student parking), reserve it for future development), and Sunday morning demand driven by our unusually healthy downtown churches.

Way back in 1998, the first time I ran for City Council, I proposed a demolition moratorium and a downtown parking summit. Since offices, churches, and TCC all generated parking demand at different times, it seemed like it should be possible to accommodate everyone's needs without dismantling more of what little remains of our urban fabric.

As bad as downtown already was, it was getting worse. Around that time, the Catholic Diocese of Tulsa demolished the Tulsa Apartments at 9th and Main (a pair of four-story brick buildings from the 1920s) and the old Cathey's Furniture showroom along the west side of Main between 8th and 9th. A diocesan spokesman told me at the time that the intention was to build a new chancery building and a grand plaza with the cathedral as backdrop. Instead, they simply tore down the buildings, paved the lot, and striped it for parking, as it remains today.

Site of Tulsa Apartments and Cathey's Furniture, 9th and Main, demolished in 1998 by the Catholic Diocese of Tulsa; now surface parking, SX002837

Site of Tulsa Apartments and Cathey's Furniture, 9th and Main, demolished in 1998 by the Catholic Diocese of Tulsa; now surface parking

When downtown leaders began the process of reopening the Main Mall to vehicular traffic, I urged that the city get commitments from adjoining property owners not to demolish their buildings for parking. If the point of reopening the mall was to allow businesses along Main to flourish, tearing down the few remaining buildings would defeat the purpose. Not long after, Arvest Bank demolished three older two-story buildings on the west side of Main north of 6th Street. A few years later, the Tulsa World demolished the old Froug's Department Store on the southwest corner of 3rd and Main for an air conditioning plant, and then Kanbar Properties tore down two single-story retail buildings just north of 5th on the east side of Main.

Tulsa Deco District sign decorates Arvest Bank parking lot. The three early 20th century Plains Commercial buildings on this site were pulled down in the early 2000s (SX002842)

Tulsa Deco District sign decorates Arvest Bank parking lot. The three early 20th century Plains Commercial buildings on this site were pulled down by Arvest in the early 2000s.


Site of the Lerner Shops building (once the first home to KGCT-TV 41) and another building that were purchased and then demolished by Kanbar Properties.

In 2006, vocal downtown office building owners, who seemed to see downtown as nothing more than an office park, blocked a set of modest downtown preservation measures called the CORE recommendations from even moving out of the recommendation stage. Susan Neal, an advisor to then-Mayor Kathy Taylor on development issues, played a significant role in obstructing progress on the issue, presumably with the knowledge and approval of her boss.

The recommendations were modest and appropriate, but it took five years before they began to become a reality:

  1. Review all downtown buildings.
  2. Be proactive in meeting parking demand with structured parking, and discourage surface parking.
  3. Make downtown preservation a key component of Tulsa's new comprehensive plan.
  4. Create and promote incentives for redevelopment.
  5. Create a demolition review panel, to be designated by the Preservation Commission, that could halt demolition of a significant building for up to four months.

Plenty of our peer cities in the region, large and small, have put limits on demolition in the interest of historic preservation. Some have managed to combine historic preservation and parking. In Abilene, Texas, we noticed a number of hundred-year-old one-story buildings that had been opened up for parking. The structure is intact, ready for restoration to a more lucrative use.

SX004391 SX004385 Old buildings in downtown Abilene, Texas, converted to covered parking, preserving them for some future use.

That's been done in Tulsa, too, although it's not as visible. For many years the bottom floor of the old Renberg's building on Main has been used as parking, with access from the alley east of Main. When the Snyder family began to restore the Mayo Hotel, their first step was to convert the basement for parking, generating revenue that was later used to turn the first two floors into a space that could be rented for wedding receptions and other special events.

I urge the TMAPC to allow the proposal to move forward to the City Council. I urge the Tulsa City Council to approve limits on downtown demolition and to provide relief from regulatory and financial burdens that create incentives for demolition rather than reuse.


You can attend and speak at the TMAPC hearing, which begins at 1:30 pm today in the Tulsa City Council chambers on the 2nd (ground) floor of City Hall. Enter at 2nd and Cincinnati. The item is fairly early in the agenda, after a series of lot splits (usually routinely approved) and some "housekeeping" amendments to the Comprehensive Plan. (Most of those "housekeeping" amendments involve fixing errors in Comprehensive Plan designations, a couple involve patching the plan to reflect zoning decisions made out of accord with the plan, but one would involve commercial intrusion into a neighborhood on the west side of 2nd and Memorial. There's also a proposal to include more legible, large-format maps as part of the printed version of the Comprehensive Plan.)

You can also register your opinions on the City of Tulsa Planning Department's FeedBack site, which has a page devoted to the proposed downtown demolition ordinance. This is treated as official feedback, and you are required, as you would be at a public hearing, to register with your real name and address. (Your address is kept confidential, but you will be identified on the site by name and council district.)


Tulsa's progress through the Streetsblog "Parking Madness" competition for America's worst parking crater:

Sweet 16: Tulsa vs. Philadelphia: Tulsa won 95% to 5%. (Philadelphia crater had actually been redeveloped by the time of the contest.)
Elite Eight: Tulsa vs. Cleveland: Tulsa won 77% to 23%.
Final Four: Tulsa vs. Houston: Tulsa won 60% to 40%.
Championship: Tulsa vs. Milwaukee: Tulsa won 82% to 18%.

Streetsblog's report on how Denver repaired its parking crater:

In the 1990s, in response to the creeping cancer of surface parking, the Mile High City took action. The city changed its downtown zoning to eliminate surface parking as a use by right. So if you owned a building, you were welcome to tear it down, but you couldn't park cars on the lot. All existing parking lots were grandfathered in.

A relevant quote from a renowned urban planner:

"Actually, there is a point at which a city can satisfy its parking needs. This situation can be found in many small, older American cities and is almost always the result of the same history: at mid-century, with automobile ownership on the rise, a charming old downtown with a wonderful pedestrian realm finds itself in need of more parking spaces. It tears down a few historic buildings and replaces them with surface parking lots, making the downtown both easier to park in and less pleasant to walk through. As more people drive, it tears down a few more buildings, with the same result. Eventually, what remains of the old downtown becomes unpleasant enough to undermine the desire to visit, and the demand for parking is easily satisfied by the supply. This phenomenon could be called the Pensacola Parking Syndrome, in honor of one of its victims."

-- Andres Duany, Suburban Nation, p. 162 [footnote]

A proposed hotel/office/retail development in the Bob Wills District that was stymied in 2008 by Mayor Kathy Taylor and the Tulsa Development Authority now looks to move forward, five years later and after a lawsuit and settlement.

The half-block west of Elgin between Archer and Brady is owned by the Tulsa Development Authority. Currently a parking lot, it was previously home to a Fuelman unattended gas station. Developers Will Wilkins and Cecilia Wilkins (Will's mother) plan to build a four- to five-story building with retail on the ground floor, office space on the second floor, and hotel rooms on the upper floors. They have a tentative agreement with the TDA; final agreement is expected at the TDA's August 1 meeting.

In December 2007, a TDA staffer suggested to the Wilkinses, who had worked with the TDA on a number of previous infill projects, that they consider developing the site, across the street from the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce's planned mixed-use development.

Planning and negotiations were moving along smoothly for several months, until then-Mayor Kathy Taylor set out to get the Tulsa Drillers in a new ballpark downtown. Long story short, in August 2008, the TDA cancelled the Wilkinses' exclusive negotiating rights to the site -- part of an effort to control all the land around the ballpark -- the Wilkinses sued, and the suit was finally settled a few days before going to trial in June 2012.

You can read a detailed account of how Taylor and the TDA treated the Wilkinses in the BatesLine archives:

The Control Freaks' Squeeze Play: The history of the proposed development, who made it unravel, and the damage done to Tulsa as a place for creative entrepreneurs.

TDA chairman's letter announcing intent to terminate Wilkinses' exclusive negotiating period, and Kathy Taylor's response

Novus Homes sues City of Tulsa for interference: In 2009, The Wilkinses added the City of Tulsa and Kathy Taylor to their lawsuit against TDA. This entry explains
what they learned in discovery that led them to add the City and Taylor to the suit.

That last link also has links to other BatesLine articles covering the dispute.

My dilemma in this November's mayoral election is that both candidates have, as mayor, badly mistreated good people trying to do good things for Tulsa and have hurt the City's reputation and progress in the process. I'm not talking about oversights or mistakes, but deliberate actions. There are plenty of examples in Dewey Bartlett's column, but this is one of many in Kathy Taylor's column -- a positive downtown development had to wait five years longer than necessary because of her bulldozer approach to the ballpark deal. If either Bartlett or Taylor were truly repentant for their bad actions -- publicly acknowledged what he or she did wrong, why it was wrong, and how he or she plans to ensure that he or she acts with integrity in the future -- it would go a long way toward winning my support.

The debate over purging the name Brady from Tulsa streets and landmarks has made international news.

Tulsa City Council researcher Jack Blair discovered a December 24, 1907, street-naming ordinance that shows that Archer, Brady, and Haskell streets had different names in the initial draft -- Archer was Atchison, Brady was Burlington. The name crossed out in favor of Haskell is illegible -- an eight-character name presumably beginning with "H". (UPDATE: Paul Uttinger has learned from contemporary newspaper accounts of the debate that the originally proposed "H" street was "Hiawatha." Paul also notes that many of the cities in the list of proposed street names were in northeastern Kansas or northwestern Missouri; Alderman James W. Woodford was from Burlington in northeastern Kansas. See his comment below.)

Jeff Archer was an early Tulsa merchant. Archer was killed in 1894 by an explosion caused by a drunk shooting into a barrel of gunpowder in his store. W. Tate Brady was an incorporator of the City of Tulsa. Charles N. Haskell was the first governor of Oklahoma.

In the 1907 Sanborn Fire Map of Tulsa, there is an Archer Ave. and a Brady Ave., but not at their current locations. Archer Ave. was between Cheyenne and Osage (one block west of Denver Ave.) -- present day Edison St. Brady Ave. was present day Golden St. between Denver and Osage. The street runs to the north of the Brady Mansion. In between (what is now Fairview St.) was Mowbray Ave., named to honor the Rev. George W. Mowbray, Methodist pastor, Mayor of Tulsa, and father-in-law to Jeff Archer.


My theory is that, when the city decided in 1907 to rename the original Archer and Brady streets to create alphabetical order and consistency, friends of the Archer and Brady families pushed to have those names re-used for the "A" and "B" streets north of the tracks. (I'm not sure why Rev. Mowbray was left out.) Someone should check newspaper microfilm from December 1907 to see if there are any accounts of the decision-making process and any controversy surrounding it.

There are a few distinctions that need to be made.

The Brady Theater was built 1912-1914 as the city's Convention Hall. Later it became known as the Tulsa Municipal Theater. It was the place for ballet and symphony performances prior to the Performing Arts Center. When Peter Mayo bought it from the city at auction in 1978, he dubbed it the "Old Lady on Brady" because of its age and its location on Brady Street. Late '80s and early '90s news stories refer to it by the "Old Lady" name. By the mid-'90s, it had been rebranded as the Brady Theater. The theater's connection with Tate Brady is secondary -- the theater was named after the street, which was named after Tate Brady.

Sometime in the late 1980s, as warehouse districts became popular for arts and entertainment redevelopment, the idea of "Brady Village" as an arts district began to catch on. It was formally adopted in the city's 1989 Downtown Master Plan. Mayfest was held in Brady Village in 1991 and 1992. (I remember seeing Asleep at the Wheel in 1992 on an open-air stage in a parking lot where the Fairfield Inn now is, and later that evening at Cain's Ballroom. A co-worker and a couple of friends were leasing the Continental Supply Company building and had converted it into a loft.)

In July 1992, Spaghetti Warehouse opened. In December 1993, Mexicali Border Cafe opened. The connection of the district to Tate Brady is tertiary: The district was named after the theater, which was named after the street, which was named after Tate Brady. My guess is that Brady was chosen as the district's name because it evoked turn-of-the-century railroads and industry. I suspect that the organizers were thinking more about Diamond Jim Brady than Tate Brady.

Brady Heights is the name of a subdivision that was platted along N. Denver Avenue, on a hill overlooking downtown. The subdivision gave its name to the historic preservation district established in the 1990s; the HP district incorporates parts of adjacent subdivisions.

The Brady Mansion, which is in the Brady Heights historic district, is so called because Tate Brady built it and lived there.

The city has control over the name of Brady Street, and the City Council (with mayoral approval) could decide to rename it. Brady Street isn't just downtown, but it extends to the east and west limits of the city and even beyond. A Catoosa subdivision just north of I-44 and east of Lynn Lane Rd used Tulsa street names, since it was developed in the 1960s when the area was unincorporated. Changing a street name has far-reaching impact. It affects every homeowner and business owner

The city also could choose to rename the TIF district that encompasses the arts district or the name of the Brady Heights historic preservation district. These names are matters of city ordinance, but because the names of these entities are derived from pre-existing places, changing the name would create a geographical disconnect.

All the other Brady names are under private control. The owner could choose to change the name of the Brady Theater. The Brady Heights Neighborhood Association could rename itself, as could the Brady Arts District Business Association.

All these places could be renamed, but should they?

Until the campaign to rename Brady Street began, I doubt many Tulsans knew the significance of the name, any more than they knew what Xanthus or Xyler meant. One could argue that the street name has transcended its connection to its namesake. Most Tulsa street names were chosen arbitrarily to fit into an alphabetical scheme, and I imagine most Tulsans, if they thought about it at all, assumed the name Brady was equally arbitrary.

If they do rename it, I hope at least they use a name beginning with a B. The city has already violated alphabetical order twice in recent years, renaming part of Haskell Street to John Hope Franklin Blvd. and renaming half of Cincinnati Avenue as Martin Luther King Junior Blvd.

I would like to see the name of the arts district changed, and I like Lee Roy Chapman's suggestion of calling it the Bob Wills District, as it acknowledges a musician of worldwide renown who made his fame in the district, at Cain's Ballroom, and it fits nicely with the area's reputation as a home for live music. The name "Bob Wills District" on a map would be a magnet for worldwide fans of the man's music who want to connect with his legacy.

As a brand name for the area, the name Bob Wills has positive associations reaching far beyond Tulsa that would add to the good feelings Tulsans have about the neighborhood north of the tracks as a place to have fun. The name Brady has been associated in the minds of Tulsans with restaurants and bars and live music for over 20 years, but those positive associations are now tainted by what we've learned recently about Tate Brady.

I doubt that the Brady name means much to people outside of Tulsa. Even if you disregard Brady's membership in the Klan and involvement in the race riot, which historical figure would you associate with fun: A dour civic leader who committed suicide, or this guy?

Call it the Bob Wills District, and you've got a built-in slogan: "Stay all night, stay a little longer."

Lee Roy Chapman's 2011 story about Tate Brady is a reminder that many other prominent Tulsans of that era, whose names adorn streets and parks and buildings all over town, were as culpable as Brady. If we start by purging Brady's name, we cannot stop there. Names like Lorton and Jones and Lewis will have to go, too. Cyrus Avery, the father of Route 66, whom we've just honored with a plaza and a sculpture, was involved with real estate in Greenwood. If we dug deeply into his record, would we feel the need to erase his name from the map? And shouldn't our purge include the civic leaders who pushed for Greenwood's second destruction in the 1960s and 1970s? That probably means removing the names of the mayors of that era (Hewgley, LaFortune) and other officials (like City Attorney Charles Norman) from buildings and places.


In 2011, Fox 23 interviewed Tulsa Race Riot survivor Wess Young, who lives in Brady Heights:

He doesn't want the neighborhood's name to change. "That's history, why would you try and change what has gone one and not show what progress you have made," he told FOX23. He says he doesn't live in Tate Brady's neighborhood, he lives in his neighborhood. No matter what name it has. "It doesn't bother me because I have the privilege to live where I can afford."

I wrote at the time:

My thinking -- keep Brady Street and Brady Heights as a humbling reminder that men like Brady were a part of Tulsa's past, but pick a better name to market the area north of the tracks downtown. I like Lee Roy Chapman's suggestion: Call it the Bob Wills District.

hello parking meter! by Nahh, on FlickrMy friend Tony Baker was featured on a KOTV News on 6 story tonight about his recent downtown Tulsa parking misadventure. In a nutshell, a $15 parking ticket was written on his vehicle when there was still an hour left on the meter. The time stamp on the credit card transaction in the meter and the amount paid prove that no ticket should have been written.

He could have fought the ticket, but it would have cost money -- a $30 court bond -- and the time to appear in municipal court. Tony was understandably annoyed at the thought that the city could simply slap tickets on any car at random, knowing that most people would find it easier to pay the fine than to fight it. That, ultimately, is what he decided to do.

The story uncovered a hidden alternative: The City Prosecutor, Bob Garner, can exercise his prosecutorial discretion and drop charges on any municipal citation, including parking tickets or city-issued traffic fines. If you believe a citation was issued in error, present it to him, and if you've got a reasonable case and proof to back it up, he's willing to drop the citation. (My paraphrase.)

(Similarly, you can sometimes attend a defensive driving course to prevent a municipal moving violation for counting as points on your state driving record. This, too, involves going to the prosecutor, and I imagine his willingness to accommodate you will depend on the flagrancy of the violation and how clean your record is.)

There's a part of the story that KOTV left out, no doubt for the sake of time and simplicity. Tony works in downtown Tulsa, and his wife and their two young children had driven downtown that day to meet him for lunch at a free "Brown Bag It" concert at the Performing Arts Center. It was the family car that was ticketed.

Many of us who love downtown developed our taste for it as kids, from family visits to Dad's office in the skyscraper or lunch with Dad at a downtown eatery. Coming back from a fun midday meetup with Dad to find a ticket on the car is only going to dampen enthusiasm for a return visit. In fact, many of the proposed parking changes downtown -- extending hours for parking meter monitoring into evenings and weekends, metering streets that currently lack them -- are only likely to annoy and deter potential visitors, shoppers, and diners. We need to make it easier, less confusing, and less annoying for visitors to come downtown to spend a couple of hours and some money.


Trinity Episcopal Church, 5th and Cincinnati in downtown Tulsa, will host two concerts this weekend featuring beautiful Christmas music in its Gothic Revival sanctuary.

On Friday night, December 21, 2012, at 7:30 pm, the Tulsa Boy Singers will perform a concert of Christmas and winter music Tickets are $10, and available at the door. Student admission is free. TBS's junior choristers as young as six will be joining the singers on a couple of songs. A reception will follow.

The TBS program includes familiar carols like Good King Wenceslas and In the Bleak Midwinter, ancient carols like Coventry Carol and Personent Hodie, and more modern seasonal songs like White Christmas, Jingle Bells, and It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

The Tulsa Boy Singers, now in their 65th year of existence, is made up of boys from 8 to 18 who rehearse twice weekly and are trained in vocal performance and music theory. If you know a boy age 6 or older with an interest in singing, there will be an opportunity for a brief audition after the concert. TBS was my oldest son's first musical activity, and what he's learned from director Casey Cantwell and assistant director Jackie Boyd has laid a strong foundation for everything he has done with music since, teaching him to read music, to follow direction, to blend with others, to feel confident performing in public, and to appreciate great music. I'm thrilled that my youngest son has the same opportunity and only wish as strong a program existed for Tulsa's girls.

On Sunday night, December 23, 2012, at 7:30, the Tulsa Symphony Brass and organist Casey Cantwell will present a concert of Christmas music, part of the Saint Cecilia Concert Series. Tickets are $20 ($10 for students and seniors), may be purchased in advance online, and will be available at the door.

One of my favorite memories of this time of year at MIT was walking out of the December chill and into Lobby 7 on my way to class in the morning and being greeted with a brass quintet playing Christmas carols, which filled that vast space. I imagine Sunday's concert will bring those memories back to life.

Weird Al Yankovic lived in the Bob Wills District before it was cool. His character in a movie did, at any rate.

A two-story building at 114 S. Archer provided the interior and exterior shots of the apartment and adjoining karate studio shown near the beginning of the movie. Tonight (Thursday, October 4, 2012), just three blocks away at Guthrie Green, between Brady and Cameron Streets, Boston and Cincinnati Avenues, you'll be able to see Weird Al's 1989 feature film, "UHF," filmed entirely here in Tulsa with a mix of established stars and character actors (Kevin McCarthy, Billy Barty, Victoria Jackson), then-emerging talents (Michael Richards and Fran Drescher), and hundreds of local extras.

It's an outdoor movie night, free admission, part of a series of movies with Tulsa connections sponsored by Circle Cinema. The movie will begin at dusk.

Next week (2012/10/11) they're showing Mad Dogs and Englishmen, a rockumentary about Joe Cocker's 1971 American tour, which featured many of the musicians that made the Tulsa Sound. Week after next (2012/10/18) it's Eye of God, written and directed by Tulsa's Tim Blake Nelson and filmed around Tulsa and Collinsville. There's an online poll to pick the pre-Halloween horror movie for October 25 -- the choices are Return of the Living Dead, Splinter, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

I've been meaning to write something about Guthrie Green since attending the Sunday night symphony concert on the park's opening weekend last month. The George Kaiser Family Foundation has turned a truck transfer facility into an inviting public space that seems to work well whether it's used for formal events or casual enjoyment. We brought our lawn chairs, enjoyed the Tulsa Youth Symphony (our oldest's first performance with the group), then during the long break, noshed on kettle corn and hot dogs from vendors parked along the Cincinnati side, wandered around and found friends.

Then as the sun went down and the stars came out, we listened to the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra put on a concert of Americana and pops, under the direction of Ron Spiegelman, starting appropriately with the Star-Spangled Banner, featuring a medley from Oklahoma!, a tribute to the armed services, Copeland's Rodeo ("Beef -- it's what's for dinner."), Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever, winding up with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and fireworks. It reminded me of the Boston Pops 4th of July concerts on the Esplanade, but with the Tulsa skyline instead of the MIT campus as a backdrop.

Public spaces are tricky to get right, and Tulsa has plenty of local examples of failed parks and plazas -- nice ideas, well furnished, but they don't draw people in large numbers and often become havens for nefarious activity. There's a national organization devoted to distilling what makes a public space work.

Years ago, I enthused about New York's Bryant Park, a formerly failed space that had been turned around. While I suggested establishing something like it on the river, I see many of Bryant Park's appealing elements in Guthrie Green. I like the way they took an obstacle -- the massive loading dock along Cameron Street -- and turned it into an asset -- a place for restrooms and a small cafe, and steps overlooking the lawn.

The park didn't wind up with the name I wanted -- Bob Wills and his brother Johnnie Lee Wills have a far stronger connection to Tulsa than Okemah expat Woody Guthrie.-- but I'm very happy with what GKFF has created in Guthrie Green, and I encourage you to see it for yourself.

Boondoggle Blog's Don Wyatt has posted audio of the Tulsa County Budget Board meeting on June 7, 2012.

The Budget Board is made up of the three county commissioners and the five county-wide elected officials: Assessor, Treasurer, Clerk, Court Clerk, and Sheriff. (Although our District Attorney serves only Tulsa County, most DA districts are multi-county, and the office is considered a state, not county, office.)

Wyatt argued very politely, from the law and from the principle of transparency, that the budget being considered by the board should cover more than the roughly $66 million general fund. Another citizen, Naomi Koehn, urged allocating more money to public safety in order to retain sheriff's deputies.

Wyatt said that it seemed to him that the budget as it is, underrepresents the scope of county operations. He compared the $64 million in last year's budget to the amount listed in the Excise Board Appropriated Funds Report and the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, issued following the close of each fiscal year, that puts county spending at roughly $256 to $258 million. Wyatt said it was arguable that the county should go a step further and include in the budget all ad valorem taxes, upwards of $600 million. (I'd go yet another step and include revenues and expenditures of the Tulsa County Industrial Authority, the Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority, and the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority, and any other county authority handling public money.)

Wyatt pointed out that Oklahoma County's budget is three times bigger than Tulsa County's and includes revenues that Tulsa County excludes -- beginning fund balances (money not spent in the previous year) and special revenues such as federal grants, inmate boarding fees from the state and municipalities, and resale properties. The FY 2011-2012 Oklahoma County budget covers $166.5 million, although the general fund revenues are only $67.8 million, slightly higher than Tulsa County's equivalent figure.

Wyatt also noted a disconnect between the number of employees listed in the budget and the general fund. For example, the sheriff's office budget request is $9.1 million, but the sheriff's office has over 600 employees. That works out to about $15,000 per employee, and obviously that isn't all the revenue the sheriff has available to pay his people and cover other expenses. Sheriff Stanley Glanz said that they used to include other revenues in the budget.

The comment is made -- although at the moment I can't find it again -- that the budget board can't reallocate surplus funds belonging to one of the elected officials. Once money has been allocated to a county official's fiefdom, that official has complete discretion to spend any surplus, and the budget board has no power to reallocate those funds toward more urgent needs. If that's the case, that's yet another example of the lack of checks and balances built into Oklahoma's one-size-fits-all model of county government.

MORE: Further on in the tape, starting about 1:10, there's a discussion of the city's stadium district assessment on county-owned properties, and whether the county budget board ought to protest the assessment. (The general sentiment is to allow big private landowners to carry the water and make the case for a smaller increase in the downtown authority's budget.)

It was a fun but busy weekend with no time for posting here. Friday night involved ferrying my oldest son from playing in Barthelmes Conservatory's spring open concert to singing with the Augustine Christian Academy show choir at the school's high school graduation. While he was busy with that, I met up with a friend, a Tulsan now sojourning in Texas, back in town to celebrate his birthday at In the Raw South, enjoying sushi, good conversation, and one of the best views in Tulsa. (And now I think of it -- too late -- it would have been a great spot to view Sunday night's sunset eclipse.)

Saturday was focused on Mayfest. Several Barthelmes Conservatory students performed on the 4th & Boston stage. While the temperatures were pleasant, the gusty winds were a challenge, and at one point several students and I were chasing several pages of piano music down 4th Street. I thought my son and his ensemble partner played as well in the open air as they had for the previous night's indoor concert, but he said that several times a gust lifted his bow off the strings. Not the ideal conditions for performing.

After a young female singer performed, we thought we were going to have a few minutes of quiet before the Barthelmes performance began, but instead the sound system was cranked up to a deafening volume. It turned out they were playing music on the 4th and Boston sound system for a "flash mob" at 4th and Main. Now, downtown Tulsa blocks are 300' by 300' from lot line (usually the building face) to lot line, plus 60' between lot lines for streets and sidewalks. So that means we were sitting within 20' or so of music cranked loud enough to be heard by dancers the length of a football field away. If you want music at 4th and Main, kindly put the speakers at 4th and Main.

We spent a little while exploring the art booths on Main Street. I was especially impressed by Douglas Fulks' pen and ink drawings of football stadiums, baseball parks, and musical instruments and Christopher Westfall's romantic paintings of Tulsa cityscapes. A Westfall print would be a great gift for a homesick Tulsan, and our convention and visitors bureau would do well to license some of his images to promote the city. I particularly liked his painting of Shades of Brown coffeehouse in Brookside.

We wound up on Boston Ave. south of 5th Street, next to the Philcade Building, one of Tulsa's Art Deco treasures. Big band music was playing on a PA system and dozens of young people (and a few older) were swing dancing in the street. This was part of the first-ever Greenwood Swingout and also part of Chalkfest, an event sponsored by Kanbar Properties, separate but alongside Mayfest, to bring people over to Boston Ave. At one point, the whole crowd lined up to do the Shim Sham, a swing line dance, to a recording of "Stompin' at the Savoy" with the late Lindy Hop legend Frankie Manning calling out the steps. Many of the folks dancing are regulars at The Oklahoma Swing Syndicate's Saturday night dances at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Brookside.

Inside the Philcade, the Tulsa Art Deco Museum held the grand opening of its preview space and gift shop, a taste of what the organizers hope to develop on a larger scale. The preview space includes displays of Deco-inspired small appliances, such as toasters and radios, and consumer product packaging -- typewriter ribbon cases, potato chip cans, and ice cream boxes. A three-seat theater in the center ran a sequence of Betty Boop cartoons which had my kids cackling. (The Deco Ball is coming up on Saturday, June 9, 2012, in the Philcade's penthouse, once home to Waite and Genevieve Phillips.

Sunday night we tried to see something of the solar eclipse just before sunset but could find only one small spot in our yard where sunlight struck our fence. The sun went behind the clouds -- no good for eclipse spotting but the sunset was beautiful, with sunbeams streaming through holes in the clouds.

The previous weekend was no less busy: Friday evening we journeyed to Fayetteville for a reception -- the University of Arkansas School of Education honored my mother-in-law, Marjorie Marugg-Wolfe, as an outstanding alumna for her work establishing single parent scholarship funds in Benton County and across Arkansas and now across the country through Aspire, a nationwide network of single parent scholarship programs. Saturday was the Oklahoma Republican State Convention in Norman. Sunday night was Mother's Day -- a relaxing celebration with extended family on a beautiful afternoon, followed by the final performance of Fiddler on the Roof at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. ("Sunrise, Sunset" and "Sabbath Prayer" get me choked up every time.)

May has been a month of end-of-school activities, too. Final exams and final projects for the oldest son. Our daughter achieved the Classical Conversations Memory Master milestone for the second year in a row. Our youngest son finished the first book for Awana Sparks -- that involves memorizing about two dozen Bible verses and the books of the New Testament. Closing ceremonies for Classical Conversations featured a skit entirely in Latin, written and performed by the high school (rhetoric) students, and a skit set for all of the grammar and dialectic students set in pioneer days, incorporating in a creative way some of their memory work, such as history sentences, states, capitals, and geographical features, principal parts of irregular verbs, times tables, and presidents.

Let's call it Wills Park


Bob Wills with his brothers and father

The Wills boys, from left to right, youngest to oldest: Brothers Billy Jack Wills, Luther J. "Luke" Wills, Johnnie Lee Wills, and Bob Wills, and their father John Tompkins "Uncle John" Wills. From BobWills.com

The George Kaiser Family Foundation is looking for public input on the name of the park GKFF is building on Brady Street in downtown Tulsa:

As Downtown Tulsa continues to blossom into a center of creativity and an economic hub benefiting the greater community, it soon will be a destination for those wanting to spend time in an outdoor setting at the park located on Brady and Cincinnati.

We are looking for input regarding the name of this new park in the Brady District. The name should commemorate a person with Tulsa roots, who has an enduring legacy through their contributions to the community in the areas of arts, music, culture or education; or, in the alternative, should simply reflect Tulsa's history in these areas.

Learn more about the park in the Brady District on our website -- http://ow.ly/9wZbt and submit your ideas for names to inquiries@gkff.org.

My idea, which I've already passed along to the folks at GKFF, is to name the park in honor of Bob Wills and Johnnie Lee Wills, two brothers who together ruled the Tulsa music scene for a quarter-century and built a musical legacy that has spread their fame around the world. They amply fulfill GKFF's criteria.

Name it Wills Park, then name individual park features and facilities to honor Bob Wills, Johnnie Lee Wills, and key Wills sidemen like guitar pioneer and arranger Eldon Shamblin and steel guitar legend and Tulsa bandleader Leon McAuliffe. (Maybe we could even find a spot to acknowledge Junior Barnard, the proto-rock guitarist from Coweta who played for Johnnie Lee, Bob, and Luke Wills.)

Bob Wills brought together ragtime, blues, swing, and traditional frontier fiddle music and turned it into something new, something that would eventually be known as western swing. Bob Wills was also a pioneer with regard to amplified stringed instruments -- Leo Fender was a western swing fan -- and using them to carry the melody, in place of horns an important evolutionary step on the path to rock 'n' roll. It's why Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 as an Early Influencer.

Chased out of Texas by a vengeful ex-boss who pulled advertising from any radio station that dared to put him on the air, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys found a home at KVOO in Tulsa when station manager Bill Way refused to knuckle under to Pappy O'Daniel's threats. Wills settled in at Cain's Ballroom, home base for daily broadcasts and twice-weekly dances.

Tulsa became Bob Wills's hometown. He bought a ranch in Osage County north of town -- near the present-day Million Dollar Elm Casino on 36th Street North -- and brought his extended family from Texas to Tulsa to live there with him. He held fiddle contests and founded a rodeo. The band played dances six nights a week all over Oklahoma and surrounding states and often spent Sunday playing for the funeral of a Texas Playboys fan somewhere within driving distance of Tulsa.

GKFF has already honored Woody Guthrie by acquiring his library and establishing a center about his career. It would be even more fitting for GKFF to acknowledge these musicians with a much stronger and longer connection to Tulsa. While Guthrie was in New York singing and raising awareness of the common man's burden, Bob Wills was here in Tulsa playing music to lift the common man's burden for a little while each day.

Bob married a Tulsa girl -- well, a few Tulsa girls, but the last and longest marriage was to a Tulsa girl named Betty Anderson. Bob dreamed of making Tulsa his home for the rest of his life, surrounded by his family and his Texas Playboys, but World War II changed all that. California, then Texas, became home base for a while, but he came back to Tulsa often to see family and to perform at Cain's. He came back in the late '50s to reunite with brother Johnnie Lee in Tulsa for a few years. After his death, he was remembered in a service at Tulsa's Eastwood Baptist Church and laid to rest at Memorial Park Cemetery.

Johnnie Lee Wills, next oldest of "Uncle John" Wills's four sons, launched his own band to help cover the high demand for western swing music in the Tulsa area. When brother Bob left for a brief stint in the Army, Johnnie Lee Wills kept things going at Cain's and on KVOO. After his service ended, rather than take the spotlight back from his brother, Bob headed out to California. Johnnie Lee Wills and All His Boys continued the daily radio program, the weekly dances at Cain's, and the dance hall circuit through the end of the 1950s, rejoined by Bob for the last few years.

But Johnnie Lee did more than carry on. He was an innovator and a great bandleader in his own right, and he had hit songs of his own, two of which -- Milk Cow Blues (1941) and Rag Mop (1949) -- have been suggested as candidates for the first rock 'n' roll song.

Johnnie Lee Wills carried on with the annual rodeo -- the Johnnie Lee Wills Stampede -- and opened a western wear store on the south side of 21st Street just east of Memorial. Tulsa remained his home for the rest of his life.

The musicians who defined the "Tulsa Sound" in the '60s and '70s grew up listening to Bob and Johnnie Lee, and I know of at least one -- Rocky Frisco -- who actually performed a few times with Johnnie Lee at Cain's Ballroom.

(I don't want to leave the rest of the Wills boys unacknowledged. Luke Wills and Billy Jack Wills each had great bands based in California. Billy Jack returned to Oklahoma; he's buried beside Bob at Memorial Park. Luke settled in Las Vegas, but many of us remember him performing at Texas Playboys reunion concerts in the '80s and '90s. Their father, Uncle John Wills, played his fiddle at ranch dances all over Hall County, Texas, and had his own band for a time after the family moved to Tulsa.)

There is already an effort underway, spearheaded by artist Lee Roy Chapman, to rename the district north of the Frisco tracks as the Bob Wills District. Its current name, Brady Arts District, is taken (indirectly, via Brady Street) from Tulsa founder Tate Brady, who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and a supporter of vigilante violence. Brady's history notwithstanding, it makes more sense to name an arts district to honor an internationally famous man whose music put Tulsa on the map.

Whether the name Bob Wills District ever catches on, there still ought to be some public space named in his and his brother Johnnie's honor. This new park, just a couple of blocks from Cain's Ballroom, would do nicely.

Western swing music has an international fan base, and every country in Europe seems to have a few western swing bands who play the music of Bob and Johnnie Lee Wills. (See previous entries in the western swing category for a few examples.) Tulsa should have a public place where visiting fans can connect with their musical legacy. To some extent Cain's Ballroom fulfills that role, but Cain's is a working music venue and can't be a full-time tourist attraction. Having a public, always-open space nearby to honor the Wills boys would complement Cain's irreplaceable spot in the heart of western swing fans from around the world. In that regard, it's crucial to have a name that will turn up in web searches.

Bob Wills Stage at Wills Park would be a great venue, along with Cain's, for the International Festival of Western Swing that Tulsa should have every year.

If you agree with me that Wills Park is the perfect name for the new park in downtown Tulsa's arts district (or even if you don't), sit right down and drop a line to the folks at GKFF -- inquiries@gkff.org -- and let them know what you think.

Duane Lester, the All-American Blogger, links to an article in Der Spiegel about a photographer, Stefan Koppelkamm, who toured former East Germany in 1990 and 1991, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and returned a dozen years later, re-photographing the buildings he captured twenty years ago. These buildings had survived World War II and more than 40 years of Communist urban renewal, and they looked as if nothing had been done to repair or renovate them since the war. The photo gallery is stunning. Within 10 years after the end of Communist rule and reunification of the West, private owners had turned ruins into beautifully restored, useful buildings.



Duane Lester is right to say that these photos "tell an economic story leftists either can't comprehend or simply refuse to believe." 45 years of Communism did little to restore East Germany's cities. The economic incentives weren't there: Rent control kept a building owner's income too low to fund renovations. From Der Spiegel's story:

Neither housing associations nor private owners had the money to renovate the older buildings. From the end of the war onwards the government had fixed rents in the GDR and in practical terms they remained constant -- at between 0.40 and 1.20 East German Marks per square meter. On average the estimated cost of restoring an old building in East Berlin was 75,000 Marks, the equivalent of 80 years' rent for a GDR citizen. Many owners preferred to pass their dilapidated buildings onto the state to avoid the cost of the repairs. But the state wasn't in a position to save the buildings either.

Within 10 years, private capitalists had done what a Communist government couldn't do in over 40 years.

The photographer lamented that the renovations had spoiled many of the buildings. For example, a massive former stables in Zittau with exposed exterior masonry had been renovated, including plastering and painting the exterior. Perhaps the result was less romantic than a dilapidated building, but it's surely closer to the original condition of the building when it was being carefully maintained. In Germany, they plaster over brick and stone and whitewash or paint it.

It gave me a sense of hope that came to mind again as I took a walk downtown last night. and looked up to see the Tulsa Club at 5th and Cincinnati, a lovely Art Deco building, but long-abandoned with broken windows, tattooed with graffiti and smoke. I thought of the old Temple Israel synagogue building at 14th and Cheyenne, just a burned out shell. If these dilapidated East German buildings could be restored and returned to profitable use, surely Tulsa's abandoned historic buildings can be restored, too.

Paper Tulsa

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In case you missed it, Ilia Shvetsov, "Russian Sam" on Flickr, from Saint Petersburg, Russia, has built a 1:2000 scale model of downtown Tulsa out of paper --1st to 8th, Detroit to Denver. That link will take you to a Flickr photo set of the model, photographed from many angles.

Shvetsov's hobby of paper models of buildings began with Oklahoma City, and in 2010 he had the opportunity to visit OKC and launched a business to make commissioned city and building models. (His domain just expired, however.)

Downtown Tulsa

UPDATE: In response to an email question, Ilia writes that he shut down his website because there wasn't enough demand, but he continues with his hobby. He is currently working on models of Shreveport and Dallas.

gov.archives.arc.47038_000300.jpgTulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) chairman Bill Leighty came across a wonderful documentary short subject about Tulsa. The 15 minute film was part of the Cities in America series, produced by the United States Information Service, the Cold War-era organization that used a variety of media to promote a positive image for America overseas.

The film tells the story of Sam Carson, a long-time Tulsan who had watched the city develop from its early days, his son Henry and daughter-in-law Ellen, and his grandchildren, Tom, Eddie and Janet. I'm curious to look them up in the Polk directory.

The film shows downtown Tulsa in its post-World War II heyday, with scenes on Boston and Boulder Avenues, a brief shot of kids emerging from a Saturday matinee at the Delman Theater. If you look closely and quickly, you'll spot the Beacon Building when it still had a beacon on top, 320 Boston when it was the National Bank of Tulsa. The University of Tulsa dominates one section of the film, and you get brief glimpses of the American Airlines maintenance facility and the lovely Art Deco municipal airport terminal.

At some point, I hope to give this little film the full James Lileks treatment, a lengthy blog post with still shots and details about each. I'm intrigued by one brief scene about 5 minutes in, showing a modern looking Oklahoma Tire & Supply store (you may have known it as OTASCO), with Vandevers in the background. The next scene shows a modern facade on a dress shop called Dorothy's. It ought to be possible to date the film by some of the features. Near the end of the film, it's mentioned that the Arkansas River has not yet been dammed. There are brief shots of a school, a library, and a park.

For now, enjoy, and tell us if you spot anything or anyone you recognize.

MORE: Architect and Tulsa history lover Paul Uttinger has written a scene-by-scene commentary, identifying locations in the film, and he thinks he's pinpointed the date:

1. On the map of Tulsa (time mark 1:05), West Tulsa and Garden City are shown east of the river. East Tulsa is shown north of the CBD. Trovillion is shown to the southeast of the CBD. I've read that Alsuma was re-named Trovillion for a short time. Howard is shown east of downtown Tulsa, about halfway between Trovillion and Dawson. I've never heard of a place called Howard there.

2. (1:44) Outside the Delman Theatre, Sam Carson waits for his grandchildren. He looks at the placard for The Last Round-up, starring Gene Autry. A poster for The Kissing Bandit, starring Frank Sinatra, is displayed in the window behind the placard.

3. (2:05) Sam, Janet, and Eddie walk north toward 3rd Street on Boulder Avenue in front of the World and Tribune building. The bottom of the Skelly Building sign is visible behind them. On the west side of Boulder, we can see the Citizens State Bank ( http://www.tulsalibrary.org/JPG/B1911.jpg ) and the Beacon Building at 4th, part of the Petroleum Building and the Halliburton-Abbott Building (with the Sears store sign) at 5th, the corner of the Medical Arts Building at 6th, and a spire of Holy Family Cathedral at 8th. There's two-way vehicular traffic on Boulder.

4. (2:15) The Carsons walk west on 4th, heading toward Boston Ave. Two-way traffic on 4th.

5. (2:21) The three have turned south on Boston. They're on the sidewalk next to what was originally known as the Cosden Building, which is now the old portion of the Mid-Contintent Tower.

6. (2:34) They're still walking south on the east side of Boston, but suddenly they are north of 4th Street again!

7. (2:44) Eddie and Janet wave to a policeman from the northeast corner of 4th & Boston. The policeman appears to be standing next to the Pioneer Building, but I don't see the Bell System "Public Telephones" sign that was displayed on that corner ( http://www.tulsalibrary.org/JPG/B9978.jpg ).

8. (2:55) The Carsons look at an oil boom display in a Philtower Philcade window. (CORRECTION from Paul Uttinger: "They are south of 5th, so it's not the Philtower, as I said in a previous email. It's probably the Philcade, around 511 S. Boston. The construction sign for the First National Building is across the street in the same scene, so that definitely dates the film prior to July 1950, when the tower was slated to open for business.")

9. (4:49) Looking south on Boston from the Katy tracks. The First National Bank Building appears to be under construction, with a crane leaning out over Boston near 5th Street.

10. (4:53) Looking northwest at 4th & Main (Arby's is there now).

11. (4:55) Northeast corner of 4th & Main (Ken Brune's Reunion Center Bldg now).

12. (4:58) 5th & Boston, looking east. We can see the corner of the Philcade Building and the sign for the D-X service station at 502 S. Cincinnati ( http://www.tulsalibrary.org/JPG/D4283.jpg ).

13. (5:16) A brief moment of racial integration. West side of Main, 300 block, looking north. The pedestrians are on the sidewalk next to the Froug Department Store and Kinney Shoes (World Publishing's big and brutal facade is there now). The bottom of the Holly Store sign is in the background at the beginning of the scene. There's a warped reflection of the Globe Clothiers sign, which projected from their store building at 217 S. Main. There's a reflected "NS," which could be part of the signage at Stein's, which was on the southeast corner of 2nd & Main. The 3-story building which stood on the northeast corner of 3rd & Main is reflected in the shop fronts, too.

14. (5:24) Looking northwest near 6th & Boston. The Vandever building spans over the alley between Main and Boston, and an old Vandever's sign is still faintly visible from 6th Street today. The view of the sign we see in the short film has been blocked by the Enterprise Building since around 1954. In the film, Burt's Malt-A Plenty Ice Cream store is on the corner where the Enterprise Bldg is now, just north across 6th St from the Oklahoma Tire Supply building.

15. (5:27) Another moment of racial integration on a public sidewalk? Dorothy's was a clothing store for women, but in those days, men went there for a particular pre-Christmas event:

Recently, men have been returning to "occupy" that location once again.

16. (5:31) Back to the World and Tribune building on Boulder, between 3rd and 4th.

17. (5:34) Renberg's and Clarke's on the east side of Main, 300 block. I noticed that Renberg's changed their logo in the 1948 Polk directory to the lowercase type face we see in the short film and on the facade of the building today. The last time I peeked inside a few years ago, Renberg's former ground level sales floor had been converted to a parking garage.

18. (5:40) Looking south at the Boston Avenue Methodist Church tower from 12th Street. The Fred Jones Ford dealership is on the southeast corner ( http://www.tulsalibrary.org/JPG/D4611.jpg ). Wat Henry Pontiac is on the southwest corner ( http://www.tulsalibrary.org/JPG/C1589.jpg ).

19. (7:08) The exterior of the "Carson" residence at 1735 S. Detroit Ave. In the 1946, 1950, and 1955 Polk directories, James Forster is listed at that address.

20. (7:14) Part of the house at 1725 S. Detroit is visible as Tom Carson leaves home to catch a bus to TU.

21. (7:19) Tom hails the "N. Denver" bus at 18th & Detroit. The bungalow at 302 E. 18th is visible in the background. The bus is heading west on 18th (7:29). (CORRECTED bus direction from "S. Denver")

22. (12:37) Looks similar to a few of the tanks near 21st & 33rd W Aveune ( http://tinyurl.com/TulsaTanks ).

23. (13:53) A partial view of the old Art Deco style Municipal Airport building.

24. (14:21) Looking southwest at 6th & Main.

25. (14:29) Old Public Library building at 3rd & Cheyenne. A bit of the the Mid-Co Bldg is visible in the background.

26. (14:37) 12th between Columbia Place and Delaware Avenue, looking northwest ( http://tinyurl.com/WilsonMS ).

27. (15:04) Henry Carson smoking somewhere northeast of the CBD. The final skyline view might have been shot from the top of the hill near North Elgin and Independence, judging from the perspective.

My best guess is that most or all of the local filming was done during the warmer months of 1949, based on the clothing worn by pedestrians and TU students, the lush foliage, the release date for The Kissing Bandit, and in-progress construction photos of the First National Bank and Trust building in the Beryl Ford Collection.

UPDATE: Paul sends along another confirmation of the 1949 date:

Another movie poster displayed at the Delman. I think it's for The Younger Brothers, which was released on May 3, 1949, according to Internet Movie Database. I can't see much of the Delman's poster, but the Technicolor film starred Bruce Bennett, Geraldine Brooks, and Robert Hutton, which all seems to jibe with what I can make out when Grandpa Carson and the kids leave the theatre.

A peek through the movie ads in the newspaper microfiche for May '49 might nail it down.

He also sends a link to a sharper version of the Tulsa film found on YouTube:

YouTube user Ella73TV2 has posted hundreds of public-domain historical documentaries of this sort.

This has been bugging me for a while; an item on tonight's council agenda brought it to mind again.

It's bad enough that the construction of the BOK Center permanently blocked 2nd Street, once part of a through pair of one-way streets (with 1st Street) connecting to Inner Dispersal Loop exits and entrances. It's bad enough that downtown west of Denver was already riddled with superblocks that break up the street grid and confuse visitors to downtown.

BOK Center management, with the monthly approval of the City Council, adds insult to injury by entirely blocking off 3rd Street between Denver and Frisco for every BOK Center event, no matter how minor.


The BOK Center event application to the city, covering all November events, calls for closing, for 24 hours on each occasion, 3rd between Denver and Frisco for "Limousine Parking," Frisco between 2nd and 3rd (no purpose specified), a lane of traffic along the south side of 1st Street west of Denver for "Support Parking," and special curbside parking designations for handicap, taxi, and media parking.

Do we really need to block an arterial street for limousine parking for a minor league hockey game expected to draw (according to the event application) 3,000 people?

3rd Street links downtown to the Crowell Heights neighborhood, turning into Charles Page Boulevard and connecting other neighborhoods and businesses along the Sand Springs Line. During periods of construction and heavy traffic, 3rd Street is an important alternate route to the Keystone Expressway. Before the expressway system was complete, 3rd Street, as US 64 / OK 51, was the primary connector between Tulsa and Sand Springs.

While cars entering downtown on 3rd have an easy option -- divert onto 4th at Frisco -- leaving downtown on 3rd have to follow a circuitous route: north on Denver to 1st, west to Heavy Traffic Way, southwest to Houston, south to 3rd. The Heavy Traffic Way intersections are confusing -- it's easy to miss a turn and wind up on the expressway or heading across the river.

Exiting I-244 westbound at 2nd Street, a driver is forced to turn north at Frisco and loop around via 1st and Heavy Traffic Way and then finding some way back into the main downtown grid.

Tulsa has already devoted more than 400,000 square feet of land to the BOK Center. As you can see from the diagram, less than half of that footprint is occupied by the building itself. Surely they could carve out some of the unused area for limousine and support parking, and reduce the inconvenience to Tulsa's drivers, who are inconvenienced enough as it is.

MORE: Note that the BOK Center is expected to host only 10 events in November -- seven hockey games, two concerts (Reba McEntire, Zac Brown Band), and a kids show (Yo Gabba Gabba). Not exactly the wealth of entertainment we were promised. (George Jones, Lindsay Buckingham, Gretchen Wilson, Big and Rich, Kenny Rogers, and Ron White are all performing at Tulsa casinos between now and the end of the year. That's got to be siphoning off potential acts for the BOK Center.)

STILL MORE: The BOK Center website promotes a business called Rock and Bus, which provides luxury bus transportation between other cities and the arena for specific events. For the Reba concert, you can (potentially) catch the bus in Broken Arrow, Stillwater, Muskogee, Oklahoma City, Fayetteville or Fort Smith and pay between $25 and $40 round trip, arriving about an hour before the event and leaving shortly thereafter. (Each city needs 20 riders to get a bus.) It's nice for concert goers and for the BOK Center, but it does nothing for the other downtown businesses that the BOK Center was ostensibly created to help promote. There's no time for Rock and Bus riders to hit the Blue Dome or Bob Wills Districts for dinner or drinks before or after an event. (Presumably, Rock and Bus is one of the limos that gets to use blocked 3rd Street.)

Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission chairman Bill Leighty has an excellent op-ed in the latest issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly about the importance of historical preservation to Tulsa's future.

I'm tempted to quote the whole thing. The heart of the article is an account of a recent Preservation Leadership Training workshop put on by the City of Tulsa Planning Department.

In a nutshell, the training included an examination of the financial incentives and other economic considerations in redeveloping historic structures. It also explored how historic preservation as an intervention strategy and policy impacts local economic development. Participants followed the progress of prototype projects and applied this knowledge to demonstration projects located here in Tulsa.

In the course of the article, Leighty addresses the lack of support for historic preservation from Tulsa's political and business leaders and the personal impact of then-and-now photos of downtown Tulsa:

At one point in the slide show, a photo taken in mid 1970's looking north on Boston Avenue from high up in the tower of Boston Avenue United Methodist Church was featured. When it transitioned into the next photo, taken from exactly the same perspective about 35 to 40 years later, the entire audience let out a collective gasp at the dramatically changed landscape.

The first photo documented a vibrant, densely populated urban core that had been reduced to a barren sea of asphalt only a few decades later. The loss of so many historic structures obviously stunned everyone, even the locals. It was a pretty dramatic moment for everyone and it left me with a lump in my throat. I can honestly say it was a turning point for me. I get it now, I so get it.


Photos of Tulsa's Boston Avenue, looking north toward the BOK Tower, in 1978 (left) and 2005 (right); from the Tulsa Preservation Commission's article about endangered downtown Tulsa.

Leighty goes on to catalog the documented economic and quality-of-life benefits of historic preservation, including the value of old buildings to new businesses:

The creative and adaptive reuse of historic buildings has proven to be remarkably versatile in meeting the demands of a wide range of uses. These buildings often provide affordable rent, thereby serving as incubators for entrepreneurs and growing small businesses which account for 85 percent of all the new jobs created in America. Properly executed historic preservation efforts are great examples of the physical sustainability of the built environment, and the functional sustainability of public infrastructure.

The fun, interesting places to be in Tulsa on a weekend night -- Brookside, Blue Dome, Bob Wills District, 18th & Boston, Cherry Street -- are all significant clusters of older buildings that were overlooked by urban renewal and spared from expressway construction. Blue Dome and the Bob Wills District owe a great deal to people like David Sharp, who started buying up buildings to keep them from being torn down for parking. These thriving districts were not developed with public funds.

Leighty points out that, while there are Tulsans actively engaged in adaptive reuse of historic buildings and advocacy for historic preservation, we need elected officials and business leaders to "buy into and support these initiatives" in order for historic preservation to gain traction.

When you look at successful historic preservation in other cities, you will find their efforts began with a group of influential people (often the wives of business tycoons) who were outraged by the demolition of a local landmark. San Antonio and Savannah are two such examples.

Here in Tulsa, business leaders have actively opposed historic preservation and tarred preservation advocates as naysayers enemies of growth, working to keep them off of the City Council, TMAPC, Board of Adjustment, even the Tulsa Preservation Commission.

The tide may be beginning to turn. It was encouraging to see a positive mention of preservation in the Tulsa Metro Chamber's 2011 city election manifesto:

While preservation of Tulsa's historic neighborhoods and structures is paramount, this also requires a transition from residence-only neighborhoods to multi-purpose building that intentionally preserves the character of the area.

The Tulsa Metro Chamber is willing to work toward a model of shared use which accommodates both the need for safe neighborhoods and the preservation of historic areas; while also providing its residents with retail possibilities, increasing walkability, and creating distinct centers of urban density.

The second half of Leighty's essay covers the demonstration project his team undertook as part of the workshop -- taking an underutilized building, examining possibilities for adaptive reuse, and proposing an economically feasible approach to reuse. His team of three proposed an indoor farmer's market for the old International Harvester Building on the southeast corner of 2nd and Frankfort:

The building is rather unassuming with minimum architectural details. I had driven by many times without so much as a second look. That changed the minute I walked into the building, which is basically divided into two sections, the former showroom in the front and the warehouse like space which formerly housed the service and parts department in the back. There are concrete floors, a barrel roof supported by intricate steel joists and super structure, and broad open expanses with skylights....

Our proposal includes financial projections indicating both relatively low total development costs and a healthy cash flow. In other words, it is not just a sound idea for a great addition to downtown Tulsa, but a very viable business opportunity.

As I said, read the whole thing, and say a prayer of thanks that a man of Bill Leighty's insight heads up our city's planning commission.

Jennie Lloyd makes her debut this week as the new city reporter for Urban Tulsa Weekly with two interesting stories about downtown Tulsa, past, present, and future.

The first is about the mysterious goings-on involving the massive portfolio of downtown buildings owned by Maurice Kanbar, for example:

In December 2010, Clay Clark, the marketing director for Fears & Clark Realty Group (at the time, responsible for leasing and public relations for Kanbar Properties), announced that a "wedding mall" inside the Executive Center at Fifth and Cheyenne would open soon. Clark said six vendors had signed on and two others were in negotiations.

As part of Kanbar's plan for redeveloping downtown, the new permanent bridal fair would be a place where Tulsa florists, DJs, limo services and photographers can converge to offer one-stop wedding shopping.

When the mall debuted in January, Clark showed KOTV News on 6 around what appeared to be fresh renovations, paint and signage on the third floor of the Executive Center.

Now, only six months after its grand opening in the Executive Center, the collective of wedding vendors has moved to a new location. Al Hornung at Omni Lighting cited "problems with the landlord" as the reason the mall had to find a new home. Clay Clark, media director for Fears & Clark Realty Group, said the location was awkward and parking was difficult.

Epic Photography, Cherished Traditions and DJ Connection now office at 1609 S. Boston Ave., while Omni Lighting, Icing on the Top and Galaxy Limousines remain involved but without permanent offices, Clark said.

Lloyd's story makes reference to a BatesLine story about Maurice Kanbar and Kanbar Properties, particularly about forcing Barthelmes Conservatory to vacate its location in Kanbar's Avanti Building.

In a story on downtown Tulsa's social clubs, Lloyd dives into the history files to depict the glamour that once was the Tulsa Club and the soon-to-be-defunct Petroleum Club and the ongoing success of the Summit Club and the Tulsa Press Club.

The 11-story Tulsa Club Building offered six floors to its members (the first five were home to the Chamber of Commerce) of leisurely and luxe offerings, including an athletic department, separate men's and ladies' lounges, a barber shop, rooftop "sky terrace," and private dining rooms....

The athletic department was one of the first and most complete gymnasiums in Tulsa. Only for men, the gym offered "handball and squash racquet courts, golf practice court, Turkish bath, steam room, dry hot room, electric cabinets, Swedish body massage, diathermy, whirlpool bath, ultra-violet treatment, infra-red treatment, physical therapy, informal dining room and slumber room."

Holland Hall's Dutchman Weekend prom was held at the Tulsa Club in 1979, when it was still an elegant facility. The next time I saw it was shortly after the club closed when they were selling the remaining fixtures, after the place was nearly stripped bare but before the vandals arrived.

Finally, what may be outgoing reporter Mike Easterling's final story for UTW on the beginning of the beginning of the first piece of the Pearl District / Elm Creek basin stormwater mitigation plan. The city has applied for funding for one of two retention ponds planned for the area.

Happy trails to Mike. Good luck and congratulations on a great start to Jennie.

A word of praise for Joe Momma's Pizza:

The actors in Encore! Theatre Company's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had a two-hour break between the end of the Saturday matinee and call for the evening performance. Proximity, pizza, and video games made Joe Momma's the obvious place to get a bite to eat and hang out until the kids were allowed back into the PAC. My wife called ahead to give them warning, and they set aside the back room for our group of 40 or so.

One waitress, a thoroughly tattooed young woman, took all the orders and kept them all straight. There was an above-and-beyond moment, too. My in-laws avoid wheat gluten as much as they can, so they ordered a 10" pizza with a gluten-free crust. A few minutes after the order the waitress came back to tell them that the alfredo sauce had gluten as well, and asked if they'd like to order a pizza with red sauce instead.

So not only did Joe Momma's offer gluten-free pizza, the staff was alert enough to catch an inconsistency between crust and topping and brought the issue to the customer to resolve it to the customer's satisfaction, rather than bring out a pizza that wouldn't have met the customer's requirements. Well done to the waitress and kitchen staff.

And now a complaint for the Tulsa Parking Authority and their operator for the Williams Center South garage, Central Parking System:

When we came to see the final performance of Charlie, I opted to park in the underground garage right next to the PAC, rather than leave the car out in the hot sun. Saturday and Sunday parking costs only $4, not the usual $8, or so said the ticket.

When I reached the pay machine at the exit, the machine, which seemed to be shiny and new, failed in three separate ways:

"Please pay with a credit card or cash."

[ iInsert credit card.]

"Credit cards are not accepted. Please pay with a credit card or cash."

[Grumbling, I Insert $20 bill. Machine returns $11 in dollar coins. Receipt shows $8 charge for parking, despite ticket and signs to the contrary.]

So the machine wouldn't take a credit card, despite saying it would, the machine charged me the weekday rate, twice the rate I should have been charged, and the machine short-changed me. I'm out five bucks.

An attendant was in the booth, but she couldn't help me. She could see what was wrong, but she didn't have the authority or the means to correct the problem. She told me her name and wrote the Central Parking System number on the back of my receipt. So I get to decide whether to waste at least $5 of my time to get my $5 back. (Since the machine wouldn't take a credit card, they won't be able to credit my account, so I'll wind up with a check that will be sent through the mail and that I'll need to deposit.)

This is not the sort of parking experience we should be providing for downtown visitors.

If you've ever been curious about that hole-in-the-wall bar on 4th Street between Boulder and Cheyenne Avenues in downtown Tulsa, there's a fascinating story in the latest issue of This Land about Orpha's Lounge. Natasha Ball (of Tasha Does Tulsa fame) paints a vivid verbal picture of the bar's founder, Orpha Satterfield, her namesake Lounge, the single-room occupancy hotel (the last in Tulsa?) on the two floors above, and the staff that keep the place running.

(I was especially pleased to see that Natasha included historical details culled from old street directories and phone books. Those books are a great source of contemporaneous documentation of the way Tulsa once was.)

Well done and congratulations to Natasha, who's now the associate editor of This Land.

Steve Lackmeyer of the Oklahoman wrote a response to my item from last week about the possibility that Kanbar Properties may be selling its entire downtown Tulsa portfolio and reportedly will be mothballing some buildings pending their sale.

Lackmeyer sees a pattern at work:

Tulsa, it seems, gets so close, so often, to celebrating something huge only to see their hopes dashed. While Oklahoma City goes in slower, incremental steps on its urban revival that take years to complete, Tulsa goes after one big quick roll of the dice after another.

A giant Indian statue called "The American" (something to rival the St. Louis Arch) was announced to great fanfare - and went no where. Oklahoma City, meanwhile, went with a heroic size recreation of the Land Run, and while it's taking a few years to get done, one small piece at a time, it's quietly becoming a significant tourist attraction (though it will never be the St. Louis Arch).

Tulsa then sought to create urban entertainment districts to rival Bricktown. At first glance, with incredible assets like Cain's Ballroom and the Brady Theater, this should have been a slam dunk. But again, Tulsa went for something bigger than just one district, and the result until recently has been two detached district, each with great qualities, but still falling short of the sort of place people will travel to from across the region. I have high hopes that may soon change with the latest announced developments - if they come to pass.

I have to take some exception to this. No one from Tulsa asked Maurice Kanbar to buy up a third of downtown's square footage. He just did. (Or at least his then-partner Henry Kaufman just did.) Nor was the Big Indian part of some city-approved plan. It was entirely a private initiative.

In fact, the best of what you see in Tulsa has come about by incremental steps. The Mayo Hotel's revival began with using the basement as covered parking to generate revenue, followed by the restoration of the lobby as an event space. The Blue Dome District and Bob Wills District (also known as the Brady District) have been coming back one building at a time. The same is true of shopping and entertainment districts 18th and Boston, Cherry Street, and Brookside.

I think it would be more accurate to say that city officials sought to support what private entrepreneurs were doing, by means of TIF districts that generate revenue for lighting and sidewalk improvements. There was a more formal city effort to assemble land for a large mixed-use development called the East Village or the East End (southeast of the Blue Dome District), but that effort has so far seen two unsuccessful development attempts.

But I want to focus on one passing comment that Steve made:

What's potentially worrisome is that the Kanbar is emptying some of the older buildings of their few remaining tenants. Such moves can lead to regret later if the buildings go dark, and lose their "grandfather" status under code requirements for renovations.

This would make it much harder for a new owner to make use of these buildings, which could lead to demolition.

I am still waiting to hear back from either Kanbar Properties or former Kanbar leasing agent Clay Clark. Perhaps if this story gathers some momentum, they may decide to speak out. If you're on Facebook or Twitter, please post a link to this blog entry, the earlier blog entry, or Steve Lackmeyer's blog entry.

The gastronomic empire of prolific Tulsa restaurateur and publican Elliot Nelson, owner of McNellie's, El Guapo (loud automatic music warning), Yokozuna, Dilly Deli, Fassler Hall, the Dust Bowl Lounge and Lanes, Brady Tavern, and The Colony, was profiled Sunday on MSNBC. There doesn't seem to be a way to embed the five-minute video, so you'll have to follow this link to the MSNBC story, which deals with the unique opportunities and challenges that come with owning so many venues in close proximity to one another, all but two of them in the Blue Dome District.

Each venue is unique, so they avoid competing with themselves, but the restaurants operate in the same way, use the same point of sale system. Being close together makes it possible to share resources. The common system makes it easy to move staff around from one restaurant to another, and to use veteran McNellie's Group staff to help establish a new property. On the downside: McNellie's Group's success has potential competitors looking at the area, and rents are going up.

There's also the need to "grow the pie," to draw people to downtown who haven't yet made it their go-to place for dining and entertainment. From that need comes a new concept: the Dust Bowl Lounge and Lanes.

Many people try to credit Vision 2025 and the BOK Center for the Blue Dome District's success, but that credit belongs to the building owners like Michael Sager who kept the old buildings standing and the dreamers like Elliot Nelson who turned those old buildings into pubs, clubs, restaurants, and retail.

In 2000, eight years before the BOK Center opened its doors, Donal Cosgrave moved Arnie's Bar into the old Blue Dome Service Station at 2nd and Elgin. News stories as early as 2001 were calling attention to the new businesses opening in the district. A 2002 news story referred to the district as a "thriving commercial hot spot."

McNellie's was announced in March 2003, and originally planned to open that June, long before Vision 2025 went to a vote of the people, although its opening was delayed until 2004. Tsunami Sushi opened in 2003. In one news story, the head of the Tulsa Metro Chamber and the head of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited were waxing enthusiastic about the growing critical mass of businesses in the district.

By the summer of 2003, the Blue Dome was well known enough that my wife and I made a point of going to have a look around, and I suggested that Elgin, anchored by the Blue Dome at the north end and bordered by the proposed East Village, could serve as a replacement Main Street. (I made a few more observations when I drove back through the area again the following oppressively hot and humid Saturday night, trying to help my almost-three-year-old daughter get to sleep -- our block was without power from storms the night before.)

By the time Vision 2025 passed, there was already enough happening in Blue Dome to lead some to suggest building the arena nearby (e.g., on the then-vacant city-owned lot that's now home to ONEOK Field, or on the parking lot east of Elgin between 1st and 2nd). Ed Sharrer, now a city planner, wrote,

There are restaurants, dance clubs, pubs, an art gallery, and an art movie house within a few blocks of Second Street and Elgin Avenue. Dinner before the game? Dancing after a concert? All within walking distance -- the day the arena opens. Building the arena on the east side of downtown would turn an emerging scene into an instant entertainment destination. These businesses already exist, so there's no need for a "build it and they will come" approach. Let's build the arena where people are already going!

By 2004, Tulsa Police were increasing their presence in the area to deal with growing crowds.

By 2006 (two years before the BOK Center opened), a couple of young, female, hipster Los Angeles Times travel bloggers on a road trip around the western U. S. thought that the Blue Dome (specifically McNellie's, the May Rooms Gallery, and Dwelling Spaces) was worth writing home about. (Their blog entry is no longer on the LATimes site, but someone else captured it here.)

By 2008, before the BOK Center opened, the Blue Dome District had already achieved critical mass, and had hosted events like DFest, the Tulsa Tough cycling race, and the Blue Dome Arts Festival. (I wrote a column that May about a day wandering around a bustling Blue Dome District in the midst of the Arts Festival.)

There was some public investment involved -- a TIF district captured sales tax dollars to pay for streetscaping and lighting improvements -- but the Blue Dome reflects private investment, including a good deal of sweat equity. The best thing the city did for the Blue Dome District was to ignore it during the urban renewal orgy of the '60s and '70s.

So let's give credit where due, to Elliot Nelson and others like him, for their role in making the Blue Dome District what it is and filling it with good things to eat and drink.

DON'T FORGET: The 2011 Blue Dome Arts Festival runs this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

It was the biggest sporting event Tulsa's BOK Center is ever likely to host: Three sessions of two games each of the early rounds of the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament, the Little Lead-In to the Regional Prologue to the Big Dance. With luck, Tulsa may get another such opportunity in three years.

We got a good draw. Three teams of the eight -- Kansas, Texas, and Memphis -- had big fan bases within driving distance of Tulsa, near enough to make short notice plans in the few days between the announcement of the bracket on Sunday and the opening games on Friday. Getting a Friday/Sunday bracket instead of Thursday/Saturday was a good thing, too -- easier for people to take one day off than two. (We also got Boston University, which averaged only 979 fans per home game.)

It surely didn't hurt that the evening before the tourney was St. Patrick's Day, with traditional celebrations attracting Tulsa non-basketball fans to the Blue Dome District and Cherry Street. Tulsa seems to have made a good impression on some of the thousands who came to support their teams.

I had hoped to see the impact of the tournament first hand at various shopping and dining hotspots around town, but work prevented it. I'd love to read your firsthand stories of traffic or lack thereof, crowded or uncrowded restaurants, and encounters with visitors -- please leave a comment below.

A search of blogs and tweets turned up mostly incidental references to Tulsa as tournament host -- the biggest Tulsa-related NCAA basketball news this week involved TU alum Mike Anderson being hired as Razorbacks head coach -- but there were a few blog responses to Tulsa:

This staffer in Oakland U.'s marketing department seemed to enjoy her time here.

KU Athletics photographer Jeff Jacobsen was impressed with downtown's historic buildings and dinner at Smoke on Cherry Street.

Topeka Capital-Journal sportswriter Tully Corcoran encountered a couple of young women in his hotel who offered "company" for a fee. ("These women had business cards and everything.") But Corcoran wondered if they might provide a more urgent service:

If you're showing up at the media hotel at 2 a.m., you darn well better be carrying pizza or sandwiches. We really have no interest in your other wares.

Which made me wonder: Can you pay a prostitute to run errands for you? Like, if we had said, "No thanks, don't need any of your sexual services, but would you mind running to Taco Bell real quick?" would they do that for a fee?

Read the whole thing. Elsewhere in town, Corcoran reports that there was a lady bartender with no pants.

While we can be proud that visitors came to Tulsa and had a good time, we do need a clear-eyed look at the financial benefit of such an event to Tulsans in comparison to what it cost us to bring it to town -- $178 million for the venue alone, not including debt service on the bonds that built it.

Even if you believe the estimate of $15 million in "economic impact" and assume that it's all taxable and that it all represents money that wouldn't otherwise be spent here, that amounts to $602,500 in city and county sales taxes. It would take the equivalent of 295 NCAA men's basketball opening rounds to give as much local revenue back for the benefit of Tulsa County residents -- in the form of street improvements, police protection, park maintenance, etc. -- as they paid to build the arena. Our next opportunity at an NCAA opening round is in 2014.

(Does anyone know if Tulsa received sales tax dollars on all the tickets sold, or only on the tickets returned by the participating colleges to the NCAA and sold locally? Did the NCAA pay anything for the use of the BOK Center? Did they pay for street closings and police overtime? Or did Tulsa give all that away in the competition to be an opening round tournament site?)

One news story mentioned that BOK Center management had zip code stats on ticket buyers. Zip code stats would be a useful planning tool for future events and a source of hard data for evaluating the economic impact of such an event. The City Council ought to ask SMG to release that information.

Here's the announced attendance, as reported on ESPN.com:

1st session Friday: 12,631
2nd session Friday: 14,353
Sunday session: 15,839

None of them sellouts, but respectable. Compare those numbers to this story on tickets available as of Thursday night, after colleges returned unsold tickets.

Predictions of a massive windfall for local businesses gave way to reports of the disappointing reality. My guess is that threats of big crowds scared local patrons away, and basketball fans took parking spots that drinkers and diners might have used, while the basketball fans themselves were locked into the arena, not allowed even to leave between games and return.

The big tent sports bar at the BOK Center seems like a cruel thing to do to local publicans and restaurateurs -- a temporary competitor with a huge location advantage for what was supposed to be their biggest weekend of the year, drawing business away from the guys who have to pay rent and make payroll all year round.

I have to wonder: If you've spent $79 to $237 to watch basketball and are keeping yourself fed and hydrated at arena prices while you're locked in for the four-hour session, how much are you likely to spend with local merchants outside the arena? Do you double-down on your big splurge, or do you compensate for the high ticket and concession prices by scrimping the rest of the visit?

Your thoughts and observations (particularly your first-hand observations of last week's events) are welcome in the comments below.

Chuck Lamson, majority owner of the Tulsa Drillers since 2006, has sold his ownership shares back to longtime owner Went Hubbard. Hubbard owned the team from 1986 to 2006, retained a minority interest after selling to Lamson, and now has sole ownership once again. Lamson played for the Drillers in the late '70s, began working in the front office while still a player, and made his way up the ladder, serving a decade as general manager before taking over as owner.

Hubbard's previous tenure as sole owner was marked by almost annual improvements in old Driller Stadium: expanding seating, re-angling the seating along the foul lines toward the infield, replacing the original artificial turf with real grass, lowering the box seats nearer to field level, improving concession stands and locker rooms, adding a party suite, picnic area, and a new front office. Driller Stadium was (still is) a great facility for minor league baseball. In 1986 Hubbard took over a new but very incomplete ballpark, turning it into a gem. Now he has a facility that has every convenience and luxury already built in.

I have yet to see a reason given for Lamson's decision to sell. The quotes in the KWGS story hint at reluctance to leave:

"I knew this day would eventually come, but it has arrived a little quicker than I imagined. It is a bittersweet day for me as I have loved my 30-plus years with the Drillers, but I am excited about the new challenges that await me...."

"This change allows me to pursue new opportunities, but more importantly, it insures a positive future for the Drillers...."

Was he forced out? Was he in over his head financially? Anyone have a clue? It all seems rather sudden and strange.

MORE: Here's an item from the Gloucester County (N.J.) Times from a couple of months ago about Lamson's induction into the Woodbury High School Hall of Fame. The story, which covers his impressive high school and junior college pitching career, the injury that stopped him from reaching the majors, and his rise from Drillers groundskeeper to president, adds the detail that he was a 51% owner of the Drillers. As of October, he was in no hurry to move on:

Although Lamson has enjoyed immense overall success in Tulsa, he's in no hurry to make a move.

"I've had opportunities, but nothing has piqued my interest," he says. "With our new ball park, our future is secure. And I love Tulsa."

Reader Sue Snider was kind enough to send along a bit of letterhead from the Oklahoma Hotel, something she found while sorting through things after a move.

Oklahoma Hotel, Tulsa, letterhead


There's no address on it, but it may be the "New Oklahoma Hotel" identified on the 1939 and 1962 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps on the southeast corner of 2nd and Cincinnati, on the second and third floors, above the Oklahoma Tire and Supply Company (better known to Sooner boomers as OTASCO). This is the northwest corner of Block 107 of Tulsa's original townsite. Thanks to reader Mark Sanders, we know that the 1947 Polk City Directory lists the New Oklahoma Hotel at this location. The 1957 Polk directory doesn't show a hotel at that location, so Ms. Snider's estimate of a date in the 1940s is probably accurate.

Oklahoma Tire and Supply Company, 2nd and Cincinnati, Tulsa

In 1960, it was the most populous downtown block with 199 residents. Today it's a surface parking lot serving the Performing Arts Center and Tulsa's new City Hall.

I haven't been able to find out anything about proprietor R. E. Drennan, but I see a few current Tulsa listings for the Drennan name, so perhaps there's a connection.

This sort of thing never happens, right? Never, ever would a secretive group of private business leaders direct the redevelopment decisions of public agencies from behind the scenes. And if they did, well, we just have to trust that these business leaders know far more about urban development than the unwashed masses, as is readily apparent by the wealth they accumulated in completely unrelated fields of endeavor, right? We just have to trust that they have the best interests of the city at heart.

The OKC History Blog has an entry about a group of Oklahoma City business executives called Metro Action Planners and their efforts (of questionable legality) in the late 1970s to implement architect I. M. Pei's plan for downtown redevelopment. The story begins with Pei's return visit in 1976:

His summons to appear came from a new, informal group of downtown Oklahoma City business leaders assembled by the Chamber of Commerce to expedite implementation of his plans for the area.

The group - Metro Action Planners - was led by Southwestern Bell President John Parsons. The group had no office, no phone number, and no mailing list. And no vice presidents or directors were allowed.

Its membership was limited to CEOs, presidents and downtown property owners, and those who belonged included Charles Vose, president of First National Bank and Edward L. Gaylord, publisher of The Daily Oklahoman.

Behind the scenes, the group picked which retail developer would get a shot at building a planned indoor shopping mall:

In April [1977], the Urban Renewal Authority sought new proposals and got them from a local man, Bill Peterson, Dallas-based developer Vincent Carrozza, who estimated he could get the project done in six to 10 years, another outside developer, Starrett-Landmark, and Cadillac Fairview. (5)

While Carrozza, in particular, had no doubts about his project's future success, Cadillac Fairview's proposal was much more reserved in that regard.

The latter's proposal cautioned that there was "absolutely no certainty at this time that sufficient department store interest can be committed to ensure that the major Galleria retail can proceed in the near future."

But, Carrozza enchanted Metro Action Planners. The group, in fact, committed itself to raise $1.6 million needed to create a limited partnership with the developer to get the project going.

Before the end of April, 1978, Carrozza had his deal with local leaders.

Then everything unraveled when the developer asked for a favor from an official who, evidently, wasn't part of the in-crowd:

Oklahoma's attorney general launched a probe in August of 1980 to determine whether Carrozza, urban renewal and Metro Action Planners had restrained trade by creating an informal building moratorium downtown to enhance possibilities that the Galleria project would be successful.

The Metro Action Planners, it had turned out, had approved a moratorium on downtown building in October 1978. The following year, Carrozza had contacted an Urban Renewal commissioner, asking him to seek a second moratorium from the group. At the time, Carrozza was finding it difficult to find financing for a second office tower he was building on the Galleria site.

The commissioner - Stanton L. Young - declined to carry out Carrozza's request, and was not implicated of any wrong-doing.

Neither, curiously, was anyone else.

But while the attorney general's investigation went nowhere, the damage to this super-powerful group of downtown leaders had been done.

Metro Action Planners abruptly disappeared from the downtown redevelopment scene.

So much for corporate commitment to the free market. This shadowy group choked off downtown development to clear the path for their favored developer, who (by the way) never completed his project. The land -- most of a 2 x 2 superblock -- continues to sit mostly empty. The new downtown library was built on the northwest corner of the site.

But I'm sure this situation was peculiar to Oklahoma City, and powerful, private groups have never steered the actions of Tulsa's urban renewal agency, and if they did, I'm sure it was for our own good.

You may know This Land Press as the folks behind Goodbye Tulsa, a podcast devoted to well-known and well-loved Tulsans who have recently shuffled off this mortal coil, but (as reported here a few weeks ago) the online This Land project has expanded to be something much bigger, and now it's extending its reach into print.

This Land has produced its maiden print edition ("Relevant Readings by Oklahoma Writers, Artists, and Thinkers), and it's available now at Dwelling Spaces, 2nd and Detroit in downtown Tulsa's Blue Dome District, for a mere $2.

I'm honored to have a place in this premiere edition. I was asked by publisher Michael Mason to put together the data and text for an infographic, by graphic designer Carlos Knight, illustrating the top 10 private land and building owners in downtown Tulsa and how much of downtown they own. It was fascinating to research, and I think you'll find it just as fascinating to read. Carlos did a beautiful job of bringing text and numbers to life through his design, and it was a privilege to get to work with such a talented artist.

I haven't yet seen the rest of the paper, but the back cover portrait by Michael Cooper of Rocky Frisco is worth the cover price alone.

It's opening day for the Tulsa Drillers at Oneok Field, and some of the downtown property owners who are forced to pay for its construction filed a petition today for summary judgment in their lawsuit to overturn the assessment for the Tulsa Stadium Improvement District.

The case against the ballpark assessment seems pretty solid. State law requires that an assessment be used to pay for improvements that provide a direct benefit to those subject to the assessment. In Oklahoma City, assessments for maintenance of Bricktown, the Bricktown Canal, and the Conncourse (the underground tunnel system connecting downtown buildings), pay assessments based on a formula. The more you benefit from the improvements and their maintenance, the more you pay. The same thing was true for the previous downtown assessment, which was in part proportional to proximity to the Main Mall. The current assessment is a flat rate per sq. ft. of land and sq. ft. of building, applied equally to properties across the street from the new ballpark to properties over a mile away.

More excerpts after the jump, but the point of law that jumped out on me was part III of the petition:

Oklahoma Const. Article 10 §26 protects the citizens from government run amuck. It protects the citizens from long term financial obligation without a vote of the people. A stadium is exactly the sort of municipal building project that should be paid for by all of the property owners in the city after approval by a three-fifths majority of the voters. The City of Tulsa cannot avoid this constitutional requirement by the legal legerdemain of labeling the project a local improvement, and decreeing that it shall be paid by assessment by a relatively small group of arbitrarily selected property owners. A ninety million dollar assessment, almost sixty million of which is to service debt incurred to build new ballpark and for which the people forced to pay receive nothing in return,--not even box seats or season tickets-- is a coercive use of government authority so unfair and oppressive as to shock the conscience, and in violation of clearly stated statutory and constitutional protections.

The point and purpose of the constitutional provision cited above is to protect the citizens from exactly what has happened here. Admittedly, the City itself theoretically escaped obligation through the artifice of creating a public trust, but the constitutional provision is there for the protection of the citizens who would ultimately be forced to pay the financial obligation. The fact that the City has essential laundered the obligation through a trust does not alter the essential constitutional principle at issue. Furthermore, the fact that rather than the cost of a new stadium being born evenly by the entire city, this 60 million dollar burden has been thrust upon the shoulders of a very few makes it all the more egregious, the damage more significant and all the more deserving of constitutional limitation. For the reason that the City of Tulsa may not evade the restrictions of Article 10 § 26 by engaging in the fiction that this is a local improvement, this assessment district is unconstitutional and should be declared unconstitutional, and null and void by the court.

That same constitutional provision should have protected Tulsans from getting stuck with the tab for Great Plains Airlines, should have prevented the pledging of a municipal trust's asset as collateral without a vote of the people.

A lot of my friends hail Kathy Taylor as a visionary mayor. However good her intentions may have been, her decision-making approach and her disregard for the constitutional and statutory limits on local government led her to choices that ultimately will prove very expensive for the citizens of Tulsa to clean up. Oneok Field is one example, the new City Hall purchase is another.

After a brief visit to a nearby church's Easter egg hunt (where we bumped into Tasha Does Tulsa and her family, and where my four-year-old picked up only one blue egg and decided he was done, and my nine-year-old decided she was too old to participate), we headed downtown for DrillersFest and a sneak preview of ONEOK Field, the new stadium for Tulsa's minor league baseball team.

The stadium, financed by downtown property owners, both willing and unwilling, is an attractive facility with a stunning view of the downtown skyline. The ability to look in on the game from the street is a very nice feature. You'll be able to keep an eye on the game while waiting in line for food or watching your kid on the outfield playground. Shagging for foul balls ought to be the best it's been since the days of old Oilers Stadium next to the Fairgrounds racetrack pits, and since Elgin is a public street, Mr. Lamson won't be able to chase the shaggers away.

When the move downtown was first being discussed, I wrote that it would be great for downtown, particularly the Blue Dome and Bob Wills Districts, but maybe not such a good thing for the Drillers. Today's visit reinforced that concern.

As I was waiting in line for hot dogs (which became hamburgers when they ran out), I noticed that the seating below the concourse was labeled "club seating." Above the concourse are the luxury boxes. Both are types of premium seating. So where, I wondered, is general admission? Where are the cheap reserved seat sections?

In going from about 11,000 seats to about 6,000 seats, they've eliminated the middle-class seating section, the part of Driller Stadium where you could have a great view of the game for less than the price of a movie ticket. In ONEOK Field, $8 is the minimum for sitting anywhere near the infield; $10 if you want to be between 1st and 3rd.

You can still get a $5 ticket, but in ONEOK Field that entitles you to sit on the grass way out in the outfield. For $7 you can sit at a picnic table behind right field. For an indication of how much action you'll see in right field, know that my 3rd grade little league coach put me -- when he let me play -- in right field and hoped a lefty wouldn't come up to bat.

At the old park, you could pay reserved seat prices and sit behind home plate, up a ways, but in the shade and sheltered from rain. A couple of sections further down the foul lines, you still had a great view of the field for general admission prices.

The seven Tuesday home games will be cheap at the new park -- $3 off any available seat, and hot dogs, pretzels, pizza slices, and soft drinks for $2.

It was said, when the Drillers' move downtown was first being discussed, that the old stadium was just too big. Was the real problem that the old stadium has too many good seats at cheap prices, not enough incentive for fans to pay for premium seating?

Hopefully, the Drillers' new, more upscale clientèle will spend more in the park and before and after at the areas eateries and watering holes.

ONEOK Field, the new home of the Texas League's Tulsa Drillers will be open for Drillersfest from 10 am to 2 pm, Saturday, April 3, 2010. From the TulsaNow mailing list:

DRILLERS FEST - Sat. April 3 (10:00 AM- 2:00 PM) This will be the first opportunity for Drillers' fans to tour the new ballpark, located in Tulsa's historic Greenwood district.

During DrillersFest, the ONEOK Field Ticket Office will be open for fans to purchase individual tickets to all 70 home games, including all twelve fireworks shows. Individual tickets for the annual Bedlam Series between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will also be on sale.

In addition, fans will have their first chance to visit the Drillers new merchandise store, Black Gold Outfitters. The store has over 2,000 square feet of shopping area and features a large selection of Drillers merchandise and apparel.

Hornsby's Hangout, a play area for kids, will be operating free of charge during Drillers Fest. The area features a Jupiter Jump, obstacle course, inflatable slide, and skeeball. The TD Williamson Kid Zone playground in the outfield plaza will also be providing entertainment for young fans.

Selected concession stands will be open and serving hot dogs, soft drinks and ice cream for $1.00 each. Selected specialty stands will also be open offering items at discounted prices.

ONEOK field is north of Archer St between Elgin and Greenwood Aves, in downtown Tulsa. More here about DrillersFest, plus photos, from Tasha Does Tulsa.

The city's economic development planners would like your thoughts on housing in and near downtown, and they've set up an online survey to collect your input, now through November 23. They want to find out who would be willing to live within the IDL and the neighborhoods immediately to the north, east, south, and west if their housing requirements could be met at a reasonable price.

I've taken the survey, so here's a preview of what to expect:

In the survey you'll be asked about your willingness to live in each of five areas -- downtown proper, Crosbie Heights/Owen Park (they misspelled Crosbie), Brady Heights/OSU, Central Park/Tracy Park, and Riverview/Uptown. You'll be given a chance to express your reasons for your likelihood or unlikelihood to move into each. I was frustrated that the choices didn't include "somewhat likely, if I were planning to move, which won't be anytime in the near future, because moving is a pain."

You'll shown photos of types of new houses -- townhomes, luxury condos like those north of Cherry Street, typical suburban snout houses, luxury homes like those popping up around Brookside, and new homes designed in a traditional fashion -- and what you'd be willing to pay for them. (The example of the new home designed in a traditional fashion appeared to be a craftsman by Novus Homes in the Brady Heights historic district.)

When the survey asked what I'd be willing to pay for each, my number was consistently lower than what the survey said was the typical minimum in this area for new construction. I guess I don't see the point of packing up and moving to pay more for less house than I already have, no matter how luxurious the features. It just seems like bad stewardship to me. I don't get people who move house every couple of years. Given that there's no such thing as a perfect house, any more than there's a perfect spouse, car, job, or church, there's no point in pursuing an ongoing quest to find it. You learn to take the bad with the good and work around the limitations.

In the news release, below, you'll see that the aim is to collect information that will help "attract urban housing developers to the community." That focus on new construction seems at odds with the aim of creating inner city housing within the price range of most Tulsa families. New construction, particularly on expensive land, is rarely affordable for median-income families.

Do we want to limit center-city living to wealthy empty-nesters and trust-fund babies? Or do we want creative young twenty-somethings and young families to repopulate our inner neighborhoods? If so, they need cheap but decent places to live. As a start, the city can help by yanking on the Fire Marshal's leash. The City Council's decision to uphold the Philtower's appeal last Thursday night was a positive step, but the council needs to go a step further and get rid of the new sprinkler requirements set to go into effect on January 1, 2010. The city needs to look carefully at how renovation of existing single-family and multi-family housing is inhibited by our zoning code, building code, and fire code -- particularly the burdensome extra requirements Tulsa has added to the standard codes.

A customized neighborhood zoning ordinance could be used to make it easier to add on to a home in an older neighborhood -- smaller "livability space" requirements, for example -- and that in turn might make those older homes more attractive to families. At the same time, such an ordinance could require any new construction to be similar in height, setback, and arrangement (no snout houses!) to existing homes in these historic neighborhoods.

Finally, schools are an issue for families with kids. A meaningful school choice program that allows low- to moderate-income families to take some of the state funding for their children's education to a private school would do much to eliminate a deterrent to families living in the urban core.

MORE: Mike Easterling has a story on the downtown housing survey in the November 18, 2009, Urban Tulsa Weekly.

Here's the news release, after the jump:

Last Sunday, as an early birthday lunch, my parents took us out to eat downtown at a new place that's been around for a while.

Escargot's is a catering establishment at 8th and Main, in the old Harrington's / KOME building. The dining room has long been used for special events, but only recently has the owner opened up for one and all for an all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch.

When Mom asked me where I'd like to eat, I had just read Katherine Kelly's review of Escargot's brunch in the latest Urban Tulsa Weekly, and I thought it would be worth a try. I was impressed at the owner seeing a way he could extend his successful business to meet the opportunity presented by several of Tulsa's largest churches within a few blocks of his front door and few available dining options nearby.

The food and service were as good as advertised. The younger kids were very happy with their food choices. (One buffet is devoted to kid favorites like chicken drumsticks, macaroni and cheese, pancakes, and corn dogs.) The salad was especially good -- not the usual bland iceberg. The food was hearty and fresh. My older son enthused over the fried okra. I especially liked the biscuits and gravy.

Prices were on par with most Sunday sit-down dining options. $12.50 for adults includes your drink, tax, and tip. It's $6 for ages 5-10. That's less than we'd spend at Delta Cafe for entrees alone (plus tax and tip), but at Escargot's the price covers drinks and desserts, the kids get to eat what they like, and there's no waiting to eat.

Escargot's is open for Sunday brunch from 10:30 to 2:30. Off-street parking is available north of the building, and there's plenty of street parking nearby (free on Sundays).

Claim your steak

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oksteaklogo.gifTomorrow, Saturday, September 26, 2009, is the Oklahoma Championship Steak Cookoff, to be held on the grounds of Trinity Episcopal Church, 5th & Cincinnati in downtown Tulsa. The meat hits the grill at 12:30. 1st place wins $2,500. Beyond the contest steaks, there will be steaks for the spectators, too:

Join the fun on Saturday afternoon to watch the grilling competition as teams prepare and cook 16oz Certified Angus Beef ribeye steaks. After each team cooks a steak for judging, they will then grill steaks to be served to those persons lucky enough to have a ticket. Dinner will start at 5pm. The $20 ticket includes a dinner of a 16oz steak, salad, baked potato and bread. Live music will fill the air as diners enjoy their meal in the area surrounding Trinity Episcopal Church.

Musical acts include Shelby Eicher and Mark Bruner, DuoSonics, Timothy O'Brian's Celtic Cheer, and Matt Jewett-Williams.

There's also a celebrity steak cookoff. For a schedule of events, information, and tickets, visit the Oklahoma Championship Steak Cookoff website. The event will raise money for Trinity Episcopal Church's outreaches: Iron Gate food ministry, Habitat for Humanity, and New Hope ministry to children of incarcerated parents.

For more ways to gorge and entertain yourself this weekend in Tulsa, check out Tasha Does Tulsa's weekly roundup.


Photo by Daniel Hickman.

On Saturday I went to a barbecue with lots of good food and a wide variety of people. One of the highlights of the day was a lesson in the economics of downtown preservation and demolition.

In the midst of a political discussion across the table with someone I knew, the lady to my right found a break in the conversation to tell me that she tore down the old Page-Glencliff Dairy. She encouraged me to post the story of the building's demise on this website.

Her name is Elenore "Snowie" Roberts. She and her late husband Raymond Roberts owned the building, which was most recently occupied by Fields Downs Randolph. It has been vacant for many years.

Mrs. Roberts told me that her husband wouldn't be happy to learn of the demolition, but he's gone on to heaven. It had been getting too expensive to insure the building, pay the taxes, and keep the building secured against squatters. (They thought they had the building secured but they found someone who got in somehow and was living on the top floor.) Paying the ballpark assessment -- a per-square-foot rate on that enormous old building -- on top of everything else was too much.

People told her she should convert it into lofts, but she didn't have that million-plus it would take to do the renovations, and no one else had the money either.

The building was on the market, but for most of the last few years it was under option to Global Development Corp, which had planned to build a stadium and mixed use development on the eastern edge of downtown, and then to John Williams, the Claremore developer who had been working on Wal-Mart, offices, and residential development in the area. While those plans were pending, it wasn't available, even if someone had wanted to buy it and renovate it.

Mrs. Roberts hired a company out of Oklahoma City to take the building down. They would clear away all the concrete, even the basements, down to the dirt, take away the concrete, grind it down and recycle it as roadbuilding material. Another company she considered would only go four feet down and then fill it in with dirt. It was a sturdy building, and leaving the foundation might cause problems for the next building to go up on the site. She said that during the demolition many folks who used to work at the dairy came by to ask of a brick as a memento.

With the building pulled down, the property taxes are much lower (no improvements on the site) as is the ballpark assessment. She only has to pay a small amount of liability insurance. There are no more expenses to keep the building secured against intruders. Mrs. Roberts is hopeful that the land will be more attractive to potential buyers now that the building is not an obstacle to redevelopment. She thinks it would be a great place for a new Central Library. I told her that Jamie Jamieson has been talking up that idea for several years.

I don't like to see buildings pulled down, but it's hard to fault Mrs. Roberts for taking that step. The building couldn't be occupied without expensive renovation. Anyone buying the land from her would either have to pay to fix up the building or to tear it down themselves. Even if she had given the building away, there would have been few potential owners in a position to cover those costs.

I hate downtown demolition, and I wish it would stop. But it's important for those of us who are preservationists to recognize the pressures that make demolition the best of a series of bad options. Local building and fire codes, Federal laws on asbestos and accessibility, property taxes that go down when the building is gone, courts that punish building owners for injuries incurred by vandals and trespassers, and special assessments that take no account of the marketability of the building -- all of these add to the cost of keeping a building standing.

While the demolition of the Page-Glencliff Dairy was an unintended consequence, it was not unforeseen. Councilor John Eagleton, who voted against the Tulsa Stadium Improvement District and the assessment roll, asked me to pass this message from him along with Mrs. Roberts's story:

"I told you so."

MORE: A reader writes with an analysis of the cost savings that Mrs. Roberts will realize by tearing down the building:

Tax Parcel: 00500-92-01-41420
Tax Year: 2008
Annual Tax: $9,874
Land Assessment: $925,200
Improvement Assessment: $419,900
Total Assessment: $1,345,100

% Improv: 31%
Taxable Assessment: $80,850
Lot Sq Ft: 92,517.084
Building Sq Ft: 95,361

Calculations for Tulsa Stadium Improvement District (TSID):

Annual land contribution to ballpark: 92,517.084sf x $0.043/sf = $3,978.23
Annual land contribution to street maintenance/cleaning: 92,517.084sf x $0.022/sf = $2,035.37

Annual bldg contribution to ballpark: 95,361sf x $0.043/sf = $4,100.52
Annual bldg contribution to street maintenance/cleaning: 95,361sf x $0.022/sf = $2,097.94

(I'm assuming that if the building's value was approximately 31% of the taxable assessment, then its part of the total tax was proportional.)

Annual bldg portion of the total tax: 419,000/1,345,100 x $9,874 = $3,082.36

Annual TSID assessment fee savings after bldg demo: $4,100.52 + $2,097.94 = $6,198.46

Annual tax savings (at year 2008 assessment and rate) after bldg demo: $3,082.36

Annual insurance premium savings after bldg demo: $ ???

Annual operation and maintenance savings after bldg demo: $ ???

From Rocky Frisco's Tulsa Metro Chamber questionnaire. Nail, meet hammerhead.

The more the city government has tried to "develop" the downtown, the worse it has become. I firmly believe that if had been allowed to develop naturally, without all the wild ideas for "development," it would still be an exciting, successful part of the city. I would like to see the city government stop meddling with the downtown area, re-synchronize the traffic lights and stop killing the area with excessive revenue generation based on parking tickets, fees and fines. The first fatal blow was the loss of the Ritz, Orpheum, Majestic and Rialto Theaters; the second was the ill-advised "Downtown Mall." It has gone downhill from there. The time to stop "fixing" a thing, even when it's broken, is when every attempt to fix it breaks it worse.

See my May 13, 2009, column for the 53-year-long list of attempted fixes and Downtown Tulsa Unlimited's role in promoting same.

RELATED: I have received a tip that the Tulsa Metro Chamber is seeking to take over DTU's former role handling downtown marketing in exchange for a share of the cash from the Tulsa Stadium Improvement District assessment. I was unable to find an RFP online, but if this treated as a personal services contract the City may be able to award the contract without a bid process. It should still, however, come through the City Council. The tipster speculated that the Chamber is trying to push this through quietly, before the advent of a new Mayor and City Council that may not be as friendly.

HelenAlvarez1952-200.jpgI'm in the throes of a major effort at work and only have time to throw you a few links to good reading elsewhere:

For your viewing pleasure, Tulsa TV Memories links to the Life archive and photos from February 1952 of KOTV general manager Helen Alvarez. Besides photos of the lovely Mrs. Alvarez, the archive shows the Channel 6 news, weather, and sports sets of the day, plus photos from the Sun Refinery and of a powwow. (Does this qualify as a Rule 5 post?)

Irritated Tulsan discovers that the Boulder Ave. bridge is safe enough -- for the crane that's demolishing it.

Steve Roemerman has posted a new podcast, reacting to Councilor G. T. Bynum's comments during last week's ballpark assessment vote.

Chris Medlock has a new podcast up
, reacting to comments about city election "reform" made by former Mayor Susan Savage. And he talks to State Sen. Randy Brogdon about the legislative session and the gubernatorial campaign.

I've got some thoughts about the Council's 5-4 vote to approve the assessment roll of the Tulsa Stadium Improvement District -- the controversial funding mechanism for funding the Tulsa Drillers new downtown baseball stadium -- but no time right now. Watch for something Monday morning.

Steven Roemerman has posted some hard-hitting commentary about the vote. It has extra relevance as the mayoral race looms near. It's a hard thing to say, "wait," or "no," when everyone is shouting that we must act and must act now. It's even harder to do that from inside a baseball mascot costume. Steven's commentary:

An excerpt from the second of the three entries:

Aside from the citizens exercising their right to vote her out of office, the Council is the only check and balance to the Mayor. It is the Council's duty to flush out such things before passing something as weighty as a 64,900% increase on a downtown assessment on the citizens of Tulsa. To complain now is sad and pathetic. Moreover, the very idea that Councilor Christiansen is thinking about running for Mayor now after this fiasco is insulting and scary.

Tulsa's Mayor has a lot of power, and the person that sits behind that desk on the top floor of the One Technology Center needs to be a strong leader, one who makes the tough calls, and flushes out all the details before making important decisions. We do not need a follower that stands in the Council chambers complaining that they cannot see past the next action they will take.

Tulsa City Councilor Rick Westcott emailed me a short time ago to point out the bind into which downtown property owners have been put by Mayor Kathy Taylor's administration's insistence that owners had only limited rights to protest the assessment for the new Tulsa Stadium Improvement District, which will finance a new ballpark for the Tulsa Drillers. Now that the Oklahoma Attorney General has contradicted the Taylor administration, it's too late for property owners to file a protest, according to Taylor's timetable for getting the assessment roll approved.

There are a couple of points that no one seems to be making about the ballpark assessment and the Attorney General's advisory letter.

Since last July, the Mayor and the City Attorney have repeatedly said that the assessment on a piece of property does not need to have a relationship to the benefit which the property will receive from the ballpark. They have said that all downtown property can be assessed at the same rate, no matter how near or far it is from the ballpark. I have disagreed with the Mayor and the City Attorney on that issue since last July. I believed that state law was clear, that there must be a relationship between the assessment rate and the benefit which a piece of property will receive. The less the benefit, the less the assessment rate.

Now, the AG's letter says the Mayor and the City Attorney are wrong. The AG says that the assessment rate for a piece of property must bear a relationship to the benefit which the property will receive. The further away a piece of property is from the ballpark, the less the benefit and the less the assessment rate. Or, if the County believes that the jail will not receive any benefit from the ballpark, then the jail should be assessed as a lesser rate.

In April, the City Council was preparing to conduct a hearing on the assessment roll and approve the assessment for all downtown property. The Mayor and the City Attorney told property owners that, if they had not objected last July at the formation of the assessment district, then they could not object at the hearing on the assessment on their property. In fact, the City Attorney provided a lengthy, written legal opinion justifying her position on that issue.

The AG's letter says they are wrong. The AG says that a property owner could object to the amount of the assessment on his or her property, even if they hadn't objected to the formation of the assessment district.

But, based upon the assurances by the Mayor and the legal opinions by the City Attorney, most property owners did not file objections in April. They were told that they couldn't object, so they relied on that advice and they didn't object.

Now, the AG says that the Mayor and the City Attorney were wrong. The AG says that the property owners could have objected at the April hearing. But, since they relied on the Mayor's statements and the City Attorney's opinion, they didn't object. Now, the deadline has passed and they can't object.

And, now, the assessment roll may proceed.

The Mayor and the City Attorney misinformed people as to what the law was and what their rights were. The property owners relied on that advice. Now, the time to file an objection has expired.

But, the Mayor is spinning this as, "The AG says there's nothing wrong and the assessment can go forward."

I am not against the ballpark. I have never been against the ballpark. But, I have a duty to protect the citizens of Tulsa and make sure that all aspects of it are done legally and properly.

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I've covered a variety of topics: First Presbyterian Church's exciting plans to replace a surface parking lot with a beautiful new addition to their downtown complex, whether the BOK Center should charge a per-ticket fee to cover Tulsa Police Department overtime relating to event nights, and a few parting thoughts on the PLANiTULSA process.

That's right: parting thoughts. This issue contains my last column for UTW, at least for now.

I had written a brief farewell at the end of the column, but it was edited out, presumably for space reasons, so I'll post it here:

And with that I'll say goodbye for now. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have been part of the UTW team for almost four years. Many thanks to the UTW readers who took time to read my words, who wrote in with praise and with criticism, and who voted my blog, batesline.com, Absolute Best of Tulsa two years in a row. Best wishes for continued success to the staff, management, and advertisers of Urban Tulsa Weekly.

I'm sad to be leaving but pleased to have made a significant contribution to UTW and, I hope, to the public debate. By my count, starting with the September 15-21, 2005, issue, I produced 194 weekly columns -- without a break -- plus several extra op-eds, cover stories on Tulsa bloggers, the 2006 city election, the history of our plans for the Arkansas River, and PLANiTULSA, and a few other feature stories and news items, and even a handful of photographs.

In the process, I've had the pleasure of working with some very creative and talented people, attended a dozen or so editorial meetings, met a lot of interesting Tulsans in many walks of life, spent a lot of time at the Coffee House on Cherry Street and Shades of Brown, and even handed out candy in the Boo-Ha-Ha parade. It's been fun, and there's a lot I'll miss about it.

It's no small feat to start an independent weekly paper and to keep it going for 18 years, and Keith Skrzypczak and his wife Julie (who oversees the paper's operations) are to be admired for their achievement. I'm thankful, too, that Tulsa's alt-weekly truly is an editorial alternative to the daily paper, publishing free-market and pro-life voices alongside the left-wing columnists and cartoonists more typical of the alternative press.

So why will I no longer be writing for UTW?

Recently UTW established a "freelancer's agreement," a standard contract for all freelance contributors, including writers and photographers. The agreement includes a "work made for hire" provision, which means that UTW would own all rights, including the copyright, to anything I submit for publication during the term of the agreement.

For many freelancers, that won't be a cause for concern, but to borrow a phrase from Roscoe Turner, "I've got a problem with that." By giving up all my rights, I could be setting up problems down the road should I want to incorporate into future projects any of the material I would write under the agreement.

In my weekly column, I've researched and analyzed current local issues and tried to put them into historical and political perspective. I've discussed urban design and planning concepts used elsewhere and applied them to Tulsa's circumstances. Beyond the immediate value of a column to the public conversation in the week it's published, I think there's some long-term value as well.

That value might take any number of forms, such as a book or a documentary on the history of Tulsa in the early 21st century or on Tulsa's post-World War II transformation. Such a project is many years in the future, I suspect, which is all the more reason for me to avoid agreeing to something now that creates obstacles for me in a decade or two. What if UTW is sold to a chain of weeklies or goes out of business? (God forbid on both hypotheticals.) Those possibilities seem very remote today, but a lot can happen in 10 or 20 years, and if they happened, who would own the rights to my work under the agreement? Would I be able to get permission to use my own work? Who knows?

At the very least, I would want to continue to retain enough rights for anything I write to be able to keep it accessible on the web.

There are no hard feelings here. UTW is doing what it deems prudent in requiring a standard agreement from all freelancers. I'm doing what I deem prudent by choosing not to submit work under those terms.

I will continue to post news and vent my opinions here at BatesLine on a fairly regular basis, along with interesting links (on the left side of the homepage) and the occasional tweet on Twitter. (My latest 10 tweets can be found on the right side of the BatesLine homepage.)

As for long-form commentary, I'm exploring some possibilities, but for the immediate future I will be using my now-free Sunday afternoons and evenings to catch up on chores around the house. I've been thinking about doing a podcast. (If that's of interest to you, let me know. I'm not much of a podcast listener myself, but I know many people prefer it to reading articles online.)

I wish the staff, management, and ownership of Urban Tulsa Weekly all the best for the future.

I had the honor of being the first interviewee on The Chris Medlock Show podcast. Chris and I talked about my column on the history and future of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited and other downtown development issues. Visit Chris Medlock's MedBlogged to download the current podcast and catch up on earlier editions.

Last fall, Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor asked the International Downtown Association to send a team to study our downtown, and in particular to look at the city's arrangement with Tul-Center, Inc., the arm of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited (DTU) that has handled downtown services since the current business improvement district was established in 1981. (The DTU executive committee serves as the board of directors for Tul-Center, Inc.)

Here's what the City asked the IDA team to do:

The City of Tulsa seeks to create an organization that can coordinate, plan, direct and manage a wide range of downtown revitalization functions, including the integration and implementation of downtown plans, management of downtown public/private partnerships, support for downtown business groups, and support and management of programs as designated by the City. Possible functions include parking management, management of downtown business improvement district programs, event functions, and other downtown operations.

The IDA Advisory Panel will examine and assess the current organizations, agencies and programs focused on the revitalization of downtown Tulsa, including the relationship between the City of Tulsa, Downtown Tulsa Unlimited and various stakeholders; discuss and compare best practices and successful strategies employed by other similar business districts in terms of organizational structure, functions, and programs, particularly with regard to functions within the scope of a downtown management organization; review and make recommendations regarding any appropriate organizational development strategies; examine advantages and disadvantages of collaborative planning and funding strategies, especially in business improvement districts; and recommend ways that programs, if initiated, can be sustained.

The team of four, including Oklahoma City planning director Russell Claus, came to Tulsa, Nov. 15 to 18, 2008, right before the Tulsa Run. A 27-page report was released in February 2009. (Click here to read the IDA Advisory Panel Report on Tulsa (PDF format).

The IDA team's report begins:

A first-time visitor to downtown Tulsa may be somewhat mystified. Streets and sidewalks are clean and well-lighted. A collection of handsome, even extraordinary art deco buildings adorn the office core. A strikingly designed arena stands dramatically on the edge of downtown, complemented by perhaps the most attractive new City Hall in America. Here and there, a café or coffee house lights the street. And yet...where are the people?

As a visitor spends more time in downtown Tulsa, other impressions emerge. There are few street level establishments of a retail nature. Windows facing the street are far too often dark. The hustle and bustle that today characterizes many downtowns across North America is simply absent. It feels like a time warp - as if it's 1988 in downtown Tulsa, not 2008.

Here's the IDA report's description of the current arrangement:

According to the DTID (Downtown Tulsa Improvement District) Summary Sheet, the downtown Tulsa district "was created to provide public improvements and maintenance beyond normal City services to help sustain, increase, and re-attract businesses as well as entertainment activities to downtown." According to the Summary Sheet, the City is the governing body and Tul-Center, Inc., a non-profit organization of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited, manages the daily services provided by several subcontractors."

The 2008-2009 contract of approximately $952,000 between the City of Tulsa and Tul-Center, Inc. comes from two roughly equal sources: assessments on property owners in downtown and the City of Tulsa itself. The current contract, approved by the Tulsa City Council in 1999, is in effect through June 30, 2009.

Part of the report deals with criticisms of DTU:

With more than 50 years of history, DTU is one of the oldest downtown organizations in the US. It has a track record of accomplishments during its existence. It has a board of directors composed of some of Tulsa's most prominent corporate citizens. And, through Tul-Center Inc., it has managed the business improvement district since it was established.

Like many downtown organizations today, DTU relies on the BID assessment for its very existence. BID revenues constitute about 9 out every 11 dollars passing through DTU each year. With the BID assessment, DTU manages a fairly standard menu of "clean and safe" services, and also promotes downtown with events like Mayfest and by installing , removing and storing holiday decorations.

The recommendations and observations are well worth reading. One highlight is the strong interest among young people in downtown and their desire to protect buildings that may not be "architecturally or historically significant, [but they] represent adaptive re-use possibilities for residential development, office space for small companies, and street level space for restaurants, clubs, and retail shops."

DTU President Jim Norton responded to the team's visit in DTU's December 1, 2008 newsletter:

One of their first recommendations was that the current custodial responsibilities, which DTU performs, are done as good as or better than anyone in the country. That's very encouraging news for us, and it tells us that what we've been doing for the last 30 years has been a tremendous success. They were very impressed with the cleanliness of Downtown and with the efficiency of our operations. They made suggestions that DTU needs to reach out to the surrounding neighborhoods and to other interest groups to include them in creating a vision for Downtown that everyone buys into. They also made other recommendations regarding the marketing of our Central Business District in creating lively activities throughout the year. These are items which we have totally embraced and look forward to making the future better for everyone.

The Downtown Tulsa Improvement District expires on June 30 and is being replaced with the Tulsa Stadium Improvement District. The City of Tulsa has issued an invitation to bid (TAC 843) on providing the public property maintenance services (Microsoft Word document) currently being provided by DTU/Tul-Center. The deadline for submissions is 5 p.m. on May 20, 2009. The base bid includes maintaining 215 miles of sidewalk (daily), 18 miles of alleys, 1320 trees, and 80 trash containers. Bidders also have to quote a price for sidewalk cleaning per square yard, sidewalk snow and ice removal per mile, special event sidewalk sweeping per foot, brick sidewalk paver replacement per square foot, general labor per man hour, mowing/landscaping per square yard, and additional trash service per can per month.

The specification is precise in requiring particular fertilizers and lawn treatments, and there are some other interesting provisions:

Personnel must be fluent in English, as they will be expected to provide information, directions and help to the public.

All paved sidewalk and plaza surfaces must be swept daily (with a complete cycle each week) using mechanical sweepers and/or manually. Mechanical sweepers, blowers, or power vacuum equipment will not be operated during the lunch period or at other times when large crowds of people are present. The paved sidewalk surfaces shall be inspected weekly and specific trouble spots, INCLUDING CHEWING GUM, cleaned with a power scrubber, high pressure sprayer or other means as needed. The standard of maintenance for this service shall be to provide litter free, clean sidewalks and alleys.

Water usage specifically for this area will be metered and recorded by a portable water meter obtained by the landscape contractor from the City of Tulsa Water and Sewer Department. CONTRACTOR shall pay the required deposit and all other costs associated with obtaining such metering device.

In preparation for an upcoming column, I spent some time last night photographing the Downtown Tulsa Unlimited vertical file at Central Library. Vertical files are newspaper clippings organized by topic, and they're often the best way to get a sense of the evolution of some aspect of the city over several decades.

I figured out sometime ago that it was cheaper and quicker and more portable to shoot a digital picture than to put a bunch of articles on the photocopy machine, and then scan the resulting copies into the computer. I can then review the documents as needed, even if the library is closed. (Accountability Burns strolled by and -- without stopping -- informed me that I would get better image quality if I photocopied the articles and then scanned them in.)

Skimming the articles as I photographed them was both amusing and depressing, as I read the various policy initiatives that DTU has promoted over the years. My tentative title is "DTU: ****ing up downtown for 53 years." DTU began with a focus on keeping retail downtown. Nearly all of DTU's key ideas came to fruition -- the Inner Dispersal Loop, the Civic Center (meaning the eight-block complex, not just the Assembly Center), the Main Mall, the Williams Center, and plenty more parking -- and they all contributed in some way to the demise of downtown retail.

Just as appalling are the plans they never got around to implementing. A Tulsa World business story from April 7, 1981, reports on a 10-year plan to redevelop the "Crosstown Sector" of the city's urban renewal plan, the area within the IDL north of the tracks. You probably know it as Brady Village or the Brady Arts District. Urban Design Group proposed replacing the 18 blocks of the city's original townsite with an "urban campus." (Emphasis added.)

[UDG's John] Lauder said the original Tulsa Townsite, the area from Denver to Detroit avenues and from the Frisco tracks to Cameron Street, could handle 250,000 to 300,000 square feet of new structures and could be the site of what UDG terms an "urban campus" with potential of several thousand students....

"The Municipal Theater, our Old Lady of Brady, could serve a purpose in the urban campus concept," Lauder said.

The original townsite has 12 1/2 acres of property which could be put to use for loft office buildings, retail stores and warehousing. This area would be screened from streets with low walls, trees and sidewalks.

"There's not really much character left in the Old Townsite," said Laur [sic], "so we see no reason to restore it, as some cities have done to their original site. We could just call it the Townsite, but we're open to names."

Urban Design started its survey and work on redevelopment of the Crosstown Sector last summer with a $62,500 block grant through the City Development Department handled by DTU.

The 1981 plan also recommended high-rises and garden apartments where the jail is now. (It was residential before demolition for the jail.) They also planned to move the Salvation Army from the southwest corner of 2nd and Cheyenne to "land adjacent to the residential areas."

Last fall Novus Homes LLC, W3 Development LLC, and principals of the two companies filed suit against Tulsa Development Authority for breach of contract involving TDA's termination of the exclusive negotiating period with Novus Homes LLC for redevelopment of the vacant the half-block west of Elgin Avenue between Archer and Brady Streets. Novus Homes planned a lofts and retail development on the site, which is now part of the land the stadium donors plan to redevelop in connection with the new downtown stadium for the Tulsa Drillers. On Tuesday, the suit has been expanded to include the City of Tulsa as a defendant, citing actions by Mayor Kathy Taylor which, the plaintiffs allege, resulted in the early termination of the exclusive negotiating period for the land.

According to a story in today's Journal Record, "Through the discovery process, the developers said they learned of Taylor's alleged interference in TDA business and procedures, leading to termination of their exclusive deal in her quest to complete the ballpark deal."

Here's a link to the OSCN page on the suit, CJ-2008-5713. Here is the amended petition for the lawsuit (PDF). It includes the following allegation:

30. Beginning in late May, 2008, City of Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor began inserting herself into TDA operations related to this downtown Tulsa location, without TDA approval. The TDA viewed Mayor Taylor's interference as "irregular," and TDA Commissioners were "concerned" and "surprised" by her "irregular" interference in their operations. See, e.g., Transcript of Deposition of TDA Commissioner John Clayman, Tulsa County District Court Case No. CJ-2008-5713, at pp. 40-48 (November 11, 2008).

31. Mayor Taylor was, without consulting or obtaining approval from the TDA, personally renegotiating and amending existing TDA contracts, conveying TDA-owned properties in exchange for properties the City of Tulsa and the eventual Tulsa Stadium Trust desired, and influencing existing TDA relationships, all to enable the City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Stadium Trust to procure the real property necessary for the proposed new downtown baseball stadium and surrounding development.

32. Mayor Taylor's actions were in violation of O.S. §11 38-107, whereby powers of the Urban Renewal Authority (TDA) "shall be exercised by the commissioners thereof."

Here's the press release from Novus Homes:


Two Tulsa development companies and their principals have filed a lawsuit against the City of Tulsa alleging that the City, and specifically Mayor Kathy Taylor, unlawfully interfered with their exclusive contractual rights to develop a downtown property. The developers allege that the City's interference was part of the Mayor's effort to relocate the Tulsa Drillers baseball stadium to the downtown Brady District.

On April 14, 2009, Novus Homes, LLC, W3 Development, LLC, Will Wilkins and Cecilia Wilkins added the City as a second defendant to their lawsuit originally brought against the Tulsa Development Authority (TDA). The developers sued the TDA on August 14, 2008, one week after the TDA prematurely terminated the developers' exclusive negotiating right on this property, situated on the half block west of Elgin between Archer and Brady, known as 120 Brady Village.

Since filing the original lawsuit, the developers learned through the discovery process that the City of Tulsa, and specifically Mayor Kathy Taylor, had irregularly interfered with TDA business and procedures in violation of Oklahoma statutes, which led to the TDA's unlawful termination of its exclusive deal with the developers. The developers allege Mayor Taylor unlawfully inserted herself into TDA operations in her quest to relocate the Drillers stadium to a site directly across the street from the property on which the developers had an exclusive right to negotiate.

As part of the stadium relocation effort, Mayor Taylor recruited a group of private donors which included herself and her husband through the Lobeck Taylor Foundation. These donors funded a significant portion of the project, and in return, were awarded the construction and financing of the ballpark project and the surrounding properties, including the property for which the developers had an exclusive right, under a self described "master plan."

Mayor Taylor's decision to rush this project through during the summer of 2008, bypassing normal process and due diligence, has resulted in multiple lawsuits and threatens to tie the City up in litigation for years to come.

Previous BatesLine entries and Urban Tulsa Weekly columns on this topic:

A group of urban planners from the Mayors' Institute on City Design (MICD) is in Tulsa today looking at the city's most significant brownfield: The Evans Electric and Fintube plants, which are located east of OSU-Tulsa, north of Archer St., between the BNSF (formerly AT&SF) tracks and US 75. The group will present their recommendations this afternoon at 4 at City Hall. From the press release:

During the three-day visit, the panel will study the Evans-Fintube site, a local development opportunity site located at North Lansing Avenue and East Archer Street. This City-owned site borders the Crutchfield neighborhood, OSU-Tulsa, Lansing Business Center, and downtown.

The panel will also meet with local stakeholders and develop planning recommendations for the site, based on this community input process. The MICD Resource Team will present their recommendations for the Evans-Fintube site to the public on Tuesday, January 13, 2009 from 4:00 - 5:30 p.m., in the 10th Floor North Conference Room of City Hall at One Technology Center.

Tulsa is one of four cities to receive a grant to participate in the MICD Alumni Technical Assistance Program. The Mayors' Institute on City Design (MICD) is a partnership program of the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Architectural Foundation, and the United States Conference of Mayors. Since 1986, the Mayors' Institute has helped transform communities through design by preparing mayors to be the chief urban designers of their cities. The program is dedicated to improving the design and livability of America's cities.

The MICD Resource Team includes Ron Bogle, CEO & President, American Architectural Foundation; Maurice Cox, Director of Design, National Endowment for the Arts; Jess Zimbabwe, AIA, AICP, LEED-AP, Director, Mayors' Institute on City Design; Elizabeth Blazevich, Special Projects Manager, Mayors' Institute on City Design; Angie Brooks, Principal, Pugh+Scarpa Architects, Santa Monica, CA; Phil Erickson, AIA, Principal, Community Design + Architecture, Oakland, CA; and Laura Solano, ASLA, Principal, MMVA Inc., Boston, MA.

I'm intrigued by one line in the description of the group: "preparing mayors to be the chief urban designers of their cities." It's hard to imagine a mayor in that role, but there's no question that the mayor has the authority to have an enormous impact on urban design. The mayor appoints planning commissioners, oversees code enforcement officials and the departments responsible for infrastructure development. As I noted in my column this week, we need elected officials who can balance a variety of concerns, rather than deferring to lower-level unelected functionaries.

To look at it another way, every department and interest group has its own narrow view. The fire marshal wants to prevent fires. The impact of fire prevention rules on historic preservation or the economic value of a building are secondary concerns in his mind. Traffic planners want to move cars -- pedestrian-friendliness comes later, if at all. Developers just want to get their project done and their lender paid back. Homeowners are trying to protect their quality of life and the long-term value of their homes. Everyone thinks his own concerns are paramount.

You need someone in charge of city government who can see the big picture, who can balance various concerns and then direct the lower-level departments so that everyone is pulling together in the same direction.

An e-mail from Tulsa baseball history expert Wayne McCombs led me to this Digital Ballparks feature on Oiler Park, home of Tulsa minor league baseball from 1934 to 1976. It's a sequence of historic photographs accompanied by text setting out the history and highlights of the park and the players who called it home.

Wayne has published two books about Tulsa baseball history: Let's Goooooooo, Tulsa, and Baseball in Tulsa, one of Arcadia Publishing's books of historic photographs. That last link leads to a Google Books preview, where you can digitally rifle through the pages.

On the Digital Ballparks website, I found this feature about Ray Winder Field in Little Rock, which was home to the Arkansas Travelers through 2006. It was a wonderful place to watch a ballgame, as was Durham Athletic Park, former home to the Bulls.

You don't need much to make a classic minor league ballpark. A framework of steel beams, a canopy over the stands, a canopy over the concourse where the concession stands are. It doesn't have to be complicated or expensive.

If you want to be fancier, put a brick or concrete facade around the stands, something like Greensboro's War Memorial Stadium, New Haven's Yale Field, or Savannah's Grayson Stadium. (More here about Grayson and talk of replacing it.)

This is what Tulsa will do to City Hall in a year or two and in 20 years or so to the BOK Center and to the new downtown ballpark as well, assuming the current design concept is used:

RCA Dome, 1984-2008, rest in pieces.

Meanwhile, Wrigley Field, age 94, and Fenway Park, age 96, continue to delight fans and players alike.

I was looking for the remaining schedule for Tulsa Ballet's presentation of The Nutcracker, and saw this on the Google search results:

Tulsa Performing Arts Center

This site may harm your computer.

The Nutcracker (Tulsa Ballet-Tulsa). The well-known holiday fairy tale springs to life through the dreams of a child as The Nutcracker and Mouse King battle ...

www.tulsapac.com/ - Similar pages -

Google's Safe Browsing diagnostic site gives the following explanation for the Tulsa PAC website:

What is the current listing status for www.tulsapac.com?

Site is listed as suspicious - visiting this web site may harm your computer.

Part of this site was listed for suspicious activity 1 time(s) over the past 90 days.

What happened when Google visited this site?

Of the 26 pages we tested on the site over the past 90 days, 2 page(s) resulted in malicious software being downloaded and installed without user consent. The last time Google visited this site was on 2008-12-15, and the last time suspicious content was found on this site was on 2008-12-13.

Malicious software includes 2 scripting exploit(s), 1 trojan(s). Successful infection resulted in an average of 4 new processes on the target machine.

Malicious software is hosted on 4 domain(s), including 17gamo.com/, dbios.org/, yrwap.cn/.

1 domain(s) appear to be functioning as intermediaries for distributing malware to visitors of this site, including yrwap.cn/.

This site was hosted on 1 network(s) including AS40139 (JACKSON).

Has this site acted as an intermediary resulting in further distribution of malware?

Over the past 90 days, www.tulsapac.com did not appear to function as an intermediary for the infection of any sites.

Has this site hosted malware?

No, this site has not hosted malicious software over the past 90 days.

How did this happen?

In some cases, third parties can add malicious code to legitimate sites, which would cause us to show the warning message.

Google advises, "If you are the owner of this web site, you can request a review of your site using Google Webmaster Tools. More information about the review process is available in Google's Webmaster Help Center."

(BatesLine is clean, by the way.)

Championship city

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Two Tulsa teams competed tonight for the Class 6A football championship. Union beat Jenks 34-20 at Lewis* Field in Stillwater, their first time ever to beat Jenks twice in the same season. I was surprised they didn't play the championship at Skelly* Stadium, but I suppose they needed to get Skelly ready for tomorrow's Conference USA championship game between TU and East Carolina.

Tomorrow there will be three state championship games played in metropolitan Tulsa, all kicking off at 1:30: Carl Albert vs. Booker T. Washington in Sand Springs (5A), Glenpool vs. OKC Bishop McGuinness in Broken Arrow (4A), and Cascia Hall vs. Claremore Sequoyah in Bixby (3A). Tulsa's Lincoln Christian plays in Ponca City at the same time against Oklahoma City's Heritage Hall, as two private schools compete for a slot in the Class 2A final against either Chandler or Kingfisher.

(Carl Albert vs. Booker T. Washington is not a Pythonesque battle of historical re-enactors, but a football game between the high school of the Mid-Del school district -- Midwest City and Del City -- and one of Tulsa's high schools.)

And if all that isn't enough sports action for one Saturday, the TulsaNow Spontaneous Softball Invitational will take place on the future location of Driller Stadium -- near Archer and Greenwood downtown -- tomorrow morning at 10:30 am. This may be the first outdoor ballgame of any sort downtown since the days of McNulty Park. You're welcome to come and play, or just cheer the players on.

Inside baseball

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A surprising item in today's Whirled:

The Tulsa Stadium Trust received only one bid Monday to construct a nearly $40 million downtown baseball stadium and no bids to finance $25 million of its cost.

The construction bid came from Tulsa Stadium Construction Co. LLC, which guarantees that it will build the ballpark for no more than $39.2 million at specifications outlined by the trust.

Phil Lakin, the construction company's manager, submitted the bid.

Lakin also is executive director of the Tulsa Community Foundation, a tax-exempt, public charity created by George Kaiser and other philanthropists in 1998 to receive, protect and distribute gifts from individuals and organizations for the improvement of Tulsa and eastern Oklahoma. Kaiser is not a foundation board member.

The bid also included a statement that no conflicts of interest exist between the construction company and the stadium trust that would interfere in any way with fair competition in the bid- selection process.

The Bank of Oklahoma is a major donor of private funds to the project. Kaiser is chairman of the BOK Financial Corp., and Stan Lybarger, president of Bank of Oklahoma, is the stadium trust's chairman.

The trust is overseeing a $60 million project that includes construction of a 6,200-seat stadium to house the city's Double-A baseball team, the Tulsa Drillers, and the acquisition of adjacent properties for mixed-use development.

Fascinating. I knew Phil Lakin was an accomplished gentleman, but I never knew he was in construction. Here's what Guidestar says about Phil Lakin, on its page about Tulsa Community Foundation:

Phil Lakin, Jr., is the first executive director of TCF. He returned to his hometown with eight years of development experience from his alma mater, Baylor University, where he served as regional director of development and managed the Dallas/Ft. Worth office. Earlier, he had worked as a consultant with Andersen Consulting. Phil earned his BBA and MBA from Baylor, and is a Certified Fund Raising Executive. He is married and has three sons.

The Whirled story leaves out some information about TCF that might have undermined the claim that no conflict of interest exists. There is certainly the appearance of a conflict. While George Kaiser is not on the board of TCF, Ken Levit, the executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, is. More significantly, Stan Lybarger, CEO and President of the Bank of Oklahoma, and Steve Bradshaw, Sr. Executive VP of the Bank of Oklahoma, are both board members of TCF. Lybarger, as the story notes, is also the chairman of the Tulsa Stadium Trust.

Several questions spring to mind:

1. When was the Request for Proposals (RFP) issued?

2. Where was the RFP posted? On the internet? On the City Hall bulletin board? Hermetically sealed in a mayonnaise jar on the porch of Funk and Wagnalls?

3. How was the RFP advertised? Were ads placed in national publications and websites that are used to advertise municipal construction projects to prospective contractors? Were contractors for recent ballpark construction in other cities contacted and encouraged to submit bids? Was an active effort made to solicit the best possible deal for Tulsa?

4. Even if the RFP was widely advertised, were prospective bidders deterred by the appearance of a conflict of interest, that Mr. Lakin's firm was almost certain to get the job because of his connections with Tulsa Stadium Trust members and donors? Putting together a proposal can be very pricey, and a company will no-bid a job if it sees little chance of recouping its investment in developing a proposal.

5. Who are the principals and members of Tulsa Stadium Construction Co. LLC?

This is a public project, and most of the funding is being extracted from downtown property owners by force of law. It's called an assessment, but for all practical purposes, it's a tax, and the tax revenue is being handled by a public trust of the City of Tulsa. The public deserves full and open competition, with not even the appearance of a conflict of interest, for such an important civic asset. The people of Tulsa, especially the downtown property owners, deserve answers to these questions.

For the first time in many years, Tulsa will have a downtown ice rink, for a month anyway. It's a nice idea, but the implementation doesn't seem to have been well thought out.

Rather than put it somewhere with nearby activity, they've put the rink on the backside of the BOKarena, blocking off Frisco Ave. between 2nd and 3rd Street, thus rendering the 2nd Street exit all but useless for getting into downtown. You can only turn north on Frisco, and then you have to turn west on 1st. There's a way to get headed back to the east and into downtown, but it's not easy to find or to describe.

The area is windy and treeless and bordered by the Trigen plant (they provide steam to older downtown buildings that still use steam heat), the BOKarena, and the Federal Building. No retail, no restaurants nearby. (They will have concessions and port-a-potties.) No synergy with other centers of downtown activity -- which is the problem with the BOKarena location to begin with.

Too bad they couldn't have put this on part of the big parking lot between 1st and 2nd east of Elgin.

It's been compared to Rockefeller Center, but the real Rockefeller Center rink is surrounded by stores and restaurants, in the heart of a busy pedestrian area, not on the backside of a squashed tin can.

Oklahoma City has an outdoor rink, too, but it has a nicer backdrop -- the Civic Center Music Hall. And while it's not close to the heart of downtown life, it's just a block or so from the art museum and the library. Other "Downtown in December" activities will be happening in Bricktown.

From St. Louis, Steve Patterson reminds us that "only failed spaces require 'programming'":

"Programming" is one of those catch words used by many to indicate events like festivals, concerts, bazaars and such. These are often suggested for spaces that otherwise have little to no natural active users...

Having a concert in an urban space doesn't mean it has failed as a space. But having to bring events to otherwise seldom used space is a good sign it is a failed environment....

We need to not rely on "programming" spaces and simply design better space. Of course, "bold" "world-class" "statements" are often among the worse spaces.

Downtown St Louis has an enormous amount of acreage tied up in space that needs programming to attract anyone. But programming is expensive and it takes a lot of work. One of the best un-programmed spaces
in our city is Soulard Market. Whenever they are open you will see people. It is a great place for people watching.

Most farmers' markets are great. They are not programming -- they are commerce. Bring food to the city from the country is an old tradition. People may go to Soulard Market and buy very little but still leave enriched.

The former 14th Street Pedestrian Mall in Old North St Louis is another example of a poorly designed space. The once active street was deliberately killed off in the name of saving it. It failed big time. Work is nearing completion to reopen the street.

Whenever you hear anyone suggest "programming" for a space be wary. It is a red flag the space needs more than three concerts in the summer.

Failed spaces are made up of dead patterns. Lively patterns, places that are connected to other places, attract people in a self-sustaining way, through normal activity, without the need for special programming.

RELATED: Interesting correlation between downtown parking, employment, and liveliness:

You see, the deadest downtowns have the best, cheapest, most available parking. An international study by Peter Newman and Jeffrey Kenworthy (1999) analyzed downtown parking levels in 32 cities. They were hunting for a correlation between a city's livability and amount of parking in downtowns. One could hypothesize that, the less of the built environment of a downtown area that remains, and the more parking that has replaced it, the less active it is; the less safe it is; the less attractive it is; and so on.

I happened to get a look at Sunday's Tulsa World, which I don't often do, and noticed the front page headline: "BOK Center pumps up tax revenue".

The implication of the headline is that the opening of the BOK Center in September resulted in a dramatic increase in local sales tax revenue over previous years.

But that's not what the story says. The story is that, for ticket, concessions, and souvenir sales for events held in September, the BOK Center remitted $428,498 in sales taxes to the Oklahoma Tax Commission. What we don't know from this story if how much of that represents new dollars coming into the City of Tulsa and Tulsa County from out-of-town visitors and how much represents the reallocation of the disposable income of local residents, who would otherwise have spent the money at other entertainment and dining establishments.

To get an answer to that, we have to look at another story in the same edition, in which we learn that Tulsa County's October sales tax check, generated by sales in late August and early September -- the first sales tax check that would reflect the BOK Center -- are up only 3.1% over last year at the same time. Receipts from earlier in the summer were up 12.6% (May-June), 7.4% (June-July), and 10.7% (July-August) over the previous year.

While sales tax receipts grew from $7.7 million to $8.4 million between July-August and August-September in 2007, sales tax receipts actually fell over the same period in 2008, from $8.6 million in July-August to $8.4 million in August-September.

What about the City of Tulsa, which owns the BOK Center? The August-September receipts were down 1.4% from the previous month, from $18.6 million to $18.3 million.

It's not conclusive proof, but those numbers would suggest that the BOK Center is not yet bringing new dollars into Tulsa.

(This webpage has the Oklahoma Tax Commission's monthly reports of sales tax payments to cities and counties, going back to 2002.)

As we drill down in the BOK Center story, we learn that the BOKarena finished its first quarter of operation over $500,000 in the hole:

For the first three months, the venue brought in $944,623 in income through rental and service charges, facility fees attached to tickets, food and beverage sales, and other sources.

While it amassed $1,573,096 in operating expenses during that same period, the building was not operational the first two months of the fiscal year.

We'll have a better idea whether the arena will make or lose money after the next quarter. The revised profit projected for the year is already lower than the original projection by almost $11,000.

Remember that the arena was justified in terms of economic growth for the City of Tulsa and the entire region. The impact should be measured by comparing sales tax growth rates for the city and county to the overall rates for the state and to historical trends, adjusting by any revenue that operation of the arena returns to or drains from the city coffers.

The BOKarena may yet bring in the promised growth -- although the experience of other cities suggests otherwise, and the lack of development near the arena isn't promising. Whether it does or not, the Whirled's story presented the initial numbers in a way that seems intended to make the public believe that it already has.

I had a little time downtown early this evening and decided to wander around to 1st and Elgin to check on the progress at the downtown location of Joe Momma's Pizza, which has been about a year in the making. There seemed to be people inside eating, so I wandered in, and was seated.

They weren't officially open -- it was a dress rehearsal, a chance for the waitstaff and pizza chefs to practice before they start serving paying customers in the next day or two (after all the final inspections).

I tried the fried mushroom appetizer and a Natalie Portman pizza. Named in honor of the vegetarian actress, it features several types of peppers, roma tomatoes, and artichoke hearts. The mushrooms and the pizza were both delicious, and my server was friendly, attentive, and efficient.

While waiting for my meal, I successfully used the free wifi and enjoyed a Boulevard Wheat. Joe Momma's serves Pepsi products and offers several beers on tap and in the bottle. I noticed Shiner Bock and Red Stripe on display.

I didn't have time to get a complete look around the restaurant, but I couldn't miss the TV screens, including one of the largest in the city on the back wall of the main dining room. They've got a jukebox and pinball too.

Owner Blake Ewing came by to say hello, toting his son. Looking around, I saw families with young children. While kids are certainly welcome at other Blue Dome District restaurants, I get the sense that Joe Momma's will be even more family-friendly while still catering to the grown-up palate.

The opening of the downtown Joe Momma's is the culmination of a longtime dream for Blake, who began almost four years ago to try to create a great downtown pizza restaurant. It looks like he's succeeded. I'm thrilled for him. I'm thrilled for Tulsa, too, that dreams like his can still come true here.

P. S. The website is still under development, but the welcome page is very cool and easy to navigate. Click through and check it out.

Irritated Tulsan says that this non-blogging life is interfering with his ability to write quality content, but that's manifestly not the case. Like an oyster, he continues to turn minor irritations into pearls of hilarity (and sometimes wisdom).

The best of all is not original material but scans of the first 16 pages of the program for the 1969 University of Tulsa football homecoming game, with a promise of more to come. The section that was posted includes ads for Page-Glencliff Dairy (and their Golden Hurricane ice cream), DX, Skelly, KVOO, Rainbo, Eddy's Steakhouse, R. A. Young and Son, Williams Brothers, Thornton, Smith, and Thornton, and Brown Dunkin (with sketches of their downtown, Southland, and Northland stores). There are profiles of TU President J. Paschal Twyman (marking his first anniversary with the school), athletic director Glenn Dobbs, and Head Coach Vince Carillot and his assistants. There's a roster of the 1969 team. Dobbs was honored as Mr. Homecoming 1969 -- Steve Turnbo's byline is over the article about that honor.

An article about the history of TU has this intriguing conclusion:

Recent addition to the University's curricula is a new bachelor of arts degree program in urban studies as a part of a $92,000 contract with the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The first of its kind for undergraduates in the nation, the TU-HUD project will lead to the establishment of TU campuses in Washington D.C., and possibly other major cities.

There is so much happening and so little time to comment, so here are a few local links of interest:

Bubbaworld has questions about the $135 million in unspent funds from past City of Tulsa sales taxes and bond issues:

In what bank(s) are these surplus funds deposited?

Are the taxpayers of Tulsa earning a reasonable interest on these surplus tax revenues, some of which have apparently been "laying around" since the 1970's?

Who has ultimate control of this $135 million "slush fund"?

And most importantly, why when this much surplus tax revenue was available have Tulsans been asked time and again to approve new and additional tax increases for a variety of purposes?

We learn today that Tulsa County Commission candidate Karen Keith is indeed a member, as we suspected, of the JBS. That's the Jim Burdge Society. The campaign consultant is on Keith's payroll, along with former District 6 City Councilor Art Justis. As I wrote in last week's UTW:

Keith's decision to hire Jim Burdge as her campaign consultant further undercuts her squeaky-clean image. Burdge is renowned in political circles for his slimy, underhanded, and often clumsy attacks on his clients' opponents. As the consultant of choice to the development industry lobby, Burdge led the disastrous 2005 recall campaign against Councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock and the even more disastrous opposition to the [zoning protest] petition charter amendment.

Keith's selection of Burdge, like her enthusiastic embrace of Bob Dick's endorsement, doesn't speak well of her judgment.

Keith also got two big checks from the development industry: $5,000 from the Realtors PAC and $2,000 from a group associated with the state home builders association.

Jenn at Green Country Values reports that a Gold Star mom named Angelia Phillips is upset at Andrew Rice, Democrat candidate for Senate. Rice has a "tribute" on his website to her son Michael Phillips and other Oklahomans killed in action in Iraq. Mrs. Phillips considers it an insult, not a tribute, because of Rice's stand against the war. She wrote:

My husband and I believe strongly that if you do not support the troops AND their mission then any "tribute" you might make on their behalf is hollow and nothing more than a scoreboard.

She has asked the Rice campaign to remove her son's name from the website, and the campaign has refused. She intended to ask Rice personally today at a scheduled campaign appearance, but he was a no-show.

Steven Roemerman does a fact check on U. S. Rep. John Sullivan's latest ad about his carpetbagging opponent and finds it factual.

As always, Mike McCarville is the go-to guy on Oklahoma politics. His latest stories include an item on all the money trial lawyers are dumping into Nancy Riley's SD 37 re-election campaign. A Riley win is needed for a continued Democratic majority, which in turn would mean no tort reform. McCarville also reports a last minute $100,000 surprise attack by the Democrats on State Sen. Jim Reynolds, who is being challenged by someone named David Boren (not the David Boren).

The Peregrine Falcon has three reports from the first Ice Oilers game at the BOK Center, one about the game, one about Mayor Kathy Taylor getting booed, and one about the frustration of buying tickets. After going downtown to try to avoid a $9 per ticket fee at Homeland:

So, I get downtown, I stand in line; of which there are only two. That's right, two-lines for the single largest venue in Tulsa; TWO LINES!!! While I am waiting the person operating my line, (1 of 2) walks away. Four minutes later, I find that the section that I want is not available for this game; BOK isn't selling cheap seats (cheap at $10.00 per seat - not that cheap). However, they are willing to sell me seats twice the price. Begrudgingly I bought the tickets. Again, a fee was attached. Two dollars per ticket, to have the privilege of paying for a center that I am already paying for.

The Peregrine Falcon also links to a debunking of Barack Obama's alleged middle-class tax cut, showing that Obama's plans include four tax increases for people earning less than $250,000.

Joe Kelley has a picture of the unspeakably cute new resident of the Oklahoma Aquarium.

(I was on air with Joe this morning, about my question, "Are we really about to elect a far-left president?")

Lynn reminds us that Oklahoma's favorite son, the Anti-Bunk Party nominee in 1928, was born on Election Day and his 129th birthday will fall on Election Day 2008.

Down the 'pike, Steve Lackmeyer checks the Bricktown parking situation during the OKC Thunder's first regular season game and finds plenty of spaces.

OCPA gets a salute from Illinois for their work to let the sun shine in on Oklahoma government expenditures.

The long-anticipated National Preservation Conference, the annual convention of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is just around the corner -- next week! -- and that's my column in the current issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly is a preview of what Tulsans will find in the exhibit hall, field sessions, and workshops. The conference will bring about 2,000 people with an interest in preserving historic buildings to Tulsa, but Tulsans can participate as well. There's still time to register online at the pre-conference rate.

If you live in Tulsa and are interested in preserving our historic buildings, neighborhoods, and streetscapes, you should make plans to attend. Not only will you learn valuable strategies and information, you'll have the chance to connect with other Tulsans who share your concerns.

RELATED: A couple of years ago, I wrote a column about resistance by downtown property owners and Downtown Tulsa Unlamented to a set of proposals to encourage downtown preservation. That column began with a spoof letter welcoming delegates to the 2008 National Preservation Conference:

Dear Delegate, Welcome to Tulsa and the 2008 National Preservation Conference! We want to do everything we can to make your stay a pleasant and memorable one.

Tulsa is a young city, but one with a rich history. As you walk the streets of downtown, we invite you to imagine the bygone days of wildcatters and oil barons and to imagine the bygone buildings where they did their deals, dined, shopped, and were entertained.

For those of you staying at the Westin Adam's Mark Crowne Plaza whatever the heck it's called now, you're sure to enjoy the history of the walk between the Convention Center and your hotel.

Fourth Street was once Tulsa's Great White Way, home to vaudeville and cinematic spectaculars. Close your eyes and you can imagine the Ritz (southeast corner of 4th and Boulder, now a parking garage), the Majestic (southwest corner of 4th and Main, part of the same parking garage), and the Orpheum (east of Main, south of 4th, now part of one of downtown Tulsa's foremost attractions, the Big Hole in the Ground).

Don't miss the site of the Skelly Building on the northeast corner of 4th and Boulder, designed by famed architect Bruce Goff, now an exclusive deluxe gated, 12-space parking community owned by the Tulsa World.

As you head north on Main Street, you'll be awed by the Totalitarian-Moderne Tulsa World building, a design inspired by the pillbox gun emplacements built by longtime Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha.

Main Street dead-ends at 3rd, cut off by your hotel's conference rooms, symbolically celebrating the irreparable division between north and south Tulsa.

We hope you'll take time to get some kicks on old Route 66. 11th Street, also known as the Mother Road, is today a lovely tree-lined boulevard, no longer cluttered with unsightly old motels and diners, which were cleared out to provide an attractive approach to the gateway to the portal to the grand entrance to the University of Tulsa.

We've got an "explosive" event planned for the final night of the conference - or should we say implosive! This town will rock! Promptly at sunset, every downtown building at least 50 years old will be simultaneously demolished in a symphony of light, sound, and debris.

"Clean Slate 2008" is made possible through the generous sponsorship of Twenty-First Properties, the Tulsa World, Ark Wrecking, the Tulsa Parking Authority, and Downtown Tulsa Unlamented.

Enjoy your visit!

Tulsa Convention and Visitors Bureau

Tulsa is about a half-century past due for developing a culture that supports historic preservation. I'm hoping this conference will kick-start the process.

I've been seeing e-mail traffic urging people to show up at tonight's City Council meeting in support of the Tulsa Stadium Trust. I understand that Bank of Oklahoma and other downtown employers are trying to pack the council chambers tonight. Those who show up should remember that the vote isn't about building a ballpark, it's about authorizing a public trust. I support putting the ballpark downtown, but I'm concerned what powers and scope of action this trust will have.

While the trust indenture has been improved significantly, there are still objectionable features, and there still appears to be some confusion, even among the trust's promoters, about what this trust will be authorized to do.

I am happy to see the the trust limited in its acquisitions to a geographical area, but the area (Detroit Ave., BNSF right of way, I-244) is too broad, and there is still the possibility of pressuring the City Council to allow them to make acquisitions outside that area. As I wrote previously:

Any stadium trust should be limited in the indenture to improvements to blocks 23, 24, and 45, and lots 4, 5, and 6 of block 46 of Tulsa's Original Townsite -- the area between I-244 and Archer, Elgin and the buildings on the west side of Greenwood which survived urban renewal.

There shouldn't be an escape clause. There should also be explicit language in the indenture forbidding the use of eminent domain to acquire property for the trust.

Here's the version of the Tulsa Stadium Trust indenture showing markups made following Tuesday's Council committee meeting:

2008-08-21 Trust Indenture (v39) (Marked).pdf

Here's the same version, but without the markups visible:

2008-08-21 Trust Indenture (v39).pdf

At Tuesday's council committee meeting, trust promoter Fred Dorwart claimed that the trust wouldn't just be building a ballpark:

Fred Dorwart, an attorney for the donors, said the trust also is charged with providing services within the Inner Dispersal Loop such as street cleaning. A portion of the downtown assessment fee helps fund the ballpark, and the rest pays for downtown services, he said.

(You can hear audio of an exchange between Bill Martinson and Fred Dorwart on Chris Medlock's Tuesday afternoon show, within the first 20 minutes of the first hour.)

I've looked through the trust indenture, and I can't find any reference to that in Article III -- Purpose and Powers of the Trust (or anywhere else). If that's true, it opens the door to replace the city's year-to-year contract with Downtown Tulsa Unlimited for downtown services -- which seems on the verge of being opened to competition -- with a trust's multiyear contract with Downtown Tulsa Unlimited.

Some wise words in a letter from retired architect Bob Sober to the members of the Tulsa City Council, regarding the proposed Tulsa Stadium Improvement Trust indenture, on the Council's agenda for Thursday night:


The Mayor has asked you to approve the Trust Indenture in this Thursday's Council meeting in one more artificial self-created emergency. Once more you have been set up to overlook the obstacle, this time possibly depriving the public of a new ballpark, stalling the revitalization of downtown and possibly causing the Drillers to move to Jenks. Please, don't fall for it this time.

Take the time necessary to assure that the Tulsa Stadium Trust is really a Public Trust, designed to fairly represent the people. At this point, the Trust has the appearance of a private business disguised (in name only) to look like a Public Trust. The representation of the members and the length of the terms assure tight control of a small group of donors for the first twelve years of its life. This is very important when you consider that all of the decisions concerning the development of the property surrounding the ballpark will be made and committed to bricks and mortar during this period.

Please consider that the following scenario built on both fact and personal opinion:

Faced with the possibility of the Drillers moving to Jenks, the Mayor attempted to find a location in Downtown to keep the Drillers in Tulsa and use the ballpark in conjunction with the Arena to revitalize downtown and stimulate housing and retail growth. The City picked-up the options for the failed attempt to develop a Wal-Mart in the East Village and began negotiations with the Drillers to locate the ballpark in Downtown Tulsa. Frustrated by the sellers inability to establish a purchase price (due to internal lawsuits), the Mayor looked for alternative locations. Turning to her planning consultant for advice, the Mayor selected the current proposed site in the Brady/Greenwood districts. This location is well suited to support the aggressive Brady "Arts" District revitalization effort already underway by the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) and the conceptual plan to use light rail to solve transportation problems and stimulate high density growth nodes. Like any development deal there are a myriad of problems to solve. First is how do you assemble enough land to construct the ballpark and provide parking (assuming that a ballpark surrounded by parking is appropriate in a downtown location). The solution is to connect the ballpark to the proposed light rail (only one block south) so that existing parking around the city can be used to serve the ballpark. This allows the ballpark to be surrounded by mixed use development, instead of pavement, and furthers the revitalization of the area. This is a beautiful solution and a wonderful service to the citizens of Tulsa. Disappointed by the pace of redevelopment around the new Arena, the Mayor decides that the City should take responsibility for the development of the property around the Ballpark. Creating a special zoning district was inadequate for her vision, the City needed to own the property to assure that the development is family oriented and provides a proper connection to the proposed light rail. This creates two additional problems. First, it doubles the cost of the project from $30M to $60M, second, the property must be assembled (this was already accomplished at the East Village site).

My issues with the Trust Indenture begin here.

Evidence that the City and the donors took the task of assembling the property very seriously is the July 7 meeting of the Brady District Property owners where in the presence of high ranking members of the administration Mr. Boylan stated the eminent domain would be used to acquire property from owners not willing to sell. Possible additional evidence is the termination of the exclusive negotiation agreement between the Tulsa Development Authority (TDA) and Novus Homes, LLC (Novus) an action resulting in a lawsuit and allegations of violations of the City's Ethics Ordinance. Both of these acts are aggressive unfriendly acts of the City threatening the use of its authority to overpower the individual in "the best interest of the City" to assemble the property necessary to support the Mayor's vision. None of this heavy-handedness was required at the East Village location because the land was assemble by a private developer without the threatening power of the City. This property was assembled the "old fashioned way" with and interested buyer and a willing seller. Is it fair to assume that the ballpark in the East Village was to be a private development, the way it was in Jenks, since no trust proposal was considered and no public money was requested? If so, the authority to threaten property owners unwilling to sell came with the discussion of establishing a Public Trust. I don't believe a Public Trust, with 50% of its members not from the donors group, would endorse these actions.

Creating an assessment district including all property owners in the Inner Dispersal Loop (IDL) became necessary to fund acquisition of the property surrounding the ballpark and improving this property in preparation for family oriented mixed-use development. Leasing this property to developers is a very creative method of maintaining the ballpark and surrounding area and assure the vitality of the area for the next 30 years. My hat is off to the Mayor and donors.

Who will develop this property? Obviously, this will be determined by the Trust. Why should these decisions be limited to the Mayor, five donors committing at least $2M to the project and one IDL property owner? Why do the donors have 12 year terms? This has the appearance of a private business using the authority of a Public Trust to threaten and tax property owners. What is to prevent the donor controlled Trust from using Public money to purchase and enhance the value of the property surrounding the ballpark, then lease it back to them selves to develop projects to recover their donations (making the donations an investment not a gift)? This is an appropriate strategy for a private business not a Public Trust. If this is what the City and donors wish to accomplish then they should raise an additional $30M, assemble the property without the authority if City government and run this business as they wish. If the donors are truly making a gift to the City, then create a trust that is dominated by IDL property owners that are not donors nor at businesses dependent on members of the donors group. Please consider a Trust with 15 members (mayor, 7 donors and 7 IDL property owners that are not donors nor at businesses dependent on members of the donors group) with 3 year terms. This is very consistent with existing City Trusts, Commissions, Authorities, etc.

In the recent survey of Tulsa citizens conducted by Collective Strength as part of PLANiTULSA it was discovered that people in Tulsa are worried:

"That those with money have too much influence."

"That city leaders don't understand their needs."

and the key themes from in depth interviews were:

"Well intentioned 'oligarchy' is out of touch."

"Fatalism about lack of zoning and code enforcement and special favors for the wealthy".

The current Trust Indenture supports and perpetuates these concerns. Please reject this agreement and construct in its place one that fairly represents in word and spirit the intention of a PUBLIC Trust.

Thank you,

Bob Sober

Sober was appointed by Mayor Kathy Taylor to chair the PLANiTULSA Advisers and Partners, the steering and community outreach committees for the effort to create a new comprehensive plan for Tulsa. Public confidence in fairness and openness is crucial to the success of that effort. The manner of putting together the ballpark deal undermines that confidence.

Any stadium trust should be limited in the indenture to improvements to blocks 23, 24, and 45, and lots 4, 5, and 6 of block 46 of Tulsa's Original Townsite -- the area between I-244 and Archer, Elgin and the buildings on the west side of Greenwood which survived urban renewal.

It would be simpler just to put the downtown ballpark under the aegis of the existing Tulsa Public Facilities Authority, which manages the Maxwell Convention Center, build it with the assessment and lease funds, and let the donors do their own thing with their own money in the open real estate market.

From "Floyd," on TulsaNow's public forum, regarding the Trust Indenture for the Tulsa Stadium Trust:


If they had just decided to build a stadium and then created a set of special design codes for the stadium district, they could be moving dirt soon. But they can't help themselves from overreaching, can they. And it always ends badly.

I want to know who drafted this thing and why they thought it would fly. I wonder if this was even a unique document or if it came from some kind of template that wasn't tailored to this kind of purpose. 12 yr terms? For the donors? Really?

After Mayor Taylor's confused, tearful performance in front of the TDA, I'm convinced she's not the one actually orchestrating this whole deal. Can anyone tell us who, ostensibly even, is the public face of the ballpark master plan?

I had the impression that BOK President Stan Lybarger was heading this up, but he hasn't really been a public face on the issue. It is interesting that no one showed up at that TDA meeting to speak on behalf of the ballpark donors (other than Mayor Taylor, of course -- and the three board members who didn't recuse themselves but should have).

Another example of the overreach is the TDA's premature termination of their exclusive negotiating period with Will Wilkins and Novus Homes, to which Floyd alluded. Late last week, carltonplace had this to say on TulsaNow's public forum about the frustration many downtown boosters and ballpark backers feel about the Novus Homes situation (reformatted slightly for readability):

The ballpark is not a done deal, the Novus project could have been had the TDA not changed their mind and pulled the offer to Novus in favor of reserving that property for the ball park donors. This action by the TDA whose members are comprised of volunteers that work for companies on the donor list rubs people the wrong way for the following reasons:

1. Frustrated Development: We are begging for downtown development but there is a perception that building in downtown (and dealing with the TDA) is too difficult. That perception now is now reality in many people's minds.

2. Ethical Concerns: Choosing one's employer over this developer whether real or imagined feels wrong.

3. Transparency: Why can't the ballpark and the development work together? Why won't anyone give a valid reason why they can't. Feels like back room politics

4. Treatment:Why did they leave Novus hanging so long and let them continue to spend money and jump through hoops if this final action was what they've intended since the ballpark announcement?

5. History:This isn't the first time that the TDA has acted this way toward a potential buyer. Its no wonder they can't sell and develop a downtown property. What are they holding onto them for? Why did they start empire building? What happened to Jones Lang Lassalle?

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is an expansion upon my blog entry from last weekend about the efforts by "not-in-my-back-yard" downtown interests to relocate the homeless and indigent away from downtown.

Coincidentally, in this same issue there's Brian Ervin's profile of Steve Whitaker, head of John 3:16 Mission. Here's how he describes the work of John 3:16 Mission.

"The people that I take care of live by the law of the streets, and the law of the streets is very much Darwinian in that it is the strongest that survive," said Whitaker. "But, the John 3:16 Mission is part of God's peaceful kingdom. We're here to love those people back to wellness--to create a loving, caring, nurturing environment for people that are addicted or mentally ill or homeless just by bad luck, to get back on their feet and find their life again."

John 3:16 Mission has had its own encounter with the downtown NIMBYs (emphasis added):

A pervasive attitude of "Not In My Back Yard" is behind efforts to derail his planned expansion of the 56-year-old Mission, he told UTW.

The city's Board of Adjustment granted permission for the expansion in February, but a group of downtown businesses and residents have appealed the decision in the courts.

Their position is that the Mission and other services in the area are attracting the homeless and drug-addicted and threatening the safety and success of ongoing downtown revitalization efforts.

But, Whitaker said it's downtown itself that's attracting them, and that without the Mission and other services to the needy, they would have nowhere else to go, and would be a much more visible problem than they are now (See "No Rest for the Weary" in our Jan. 24-30, 2008, issue at www.urbantulsa.com for some of the early details).

"There is an assumption that this clustering of services in downtown Tulsa is harmful, but people have forgotten history. They've forgotten what happened almost 20 years ago when there was a move afoot to put John 3:16 and the Day Center and the Salvation Army and the jail all in the same area," he said. Whitaker said downtown urban settings, and not services for the homeless, are what attract homeless people: the alleys provide places to sleep and hide and dumpsters to dig through for food or other salvageable items.

"A walkthrough of every city's downtown in America will prove that they are homes for homeless, and if this city's not proactive about treating its homeless population, then all of our dreams for an entertainment district are going to be spoiled, and homelessness will be a true blight then," he said.

(The profile is well worth reading -- covering Whitaker's background in North Tulsa, his martial arts training, how he came to be involved at John 3:16, and his thoughts on homelessness in Tulsa, racism, and the north/south divide.)

In my op-ed, I call attention to a New York City organization called Common Ground which helped reduce the homeless population in Times Square by 87% in two years, not by shipping them out to suburban subdivisions in Queens or Bergen County, but by providing "supportive housing" for them in a renovated hotel in the heart of the Theater District, where they have access to jobs and transportation:

Acquired by Common Ground in 1991, the Times Square is the largest permanent supportive housing project in the nation. A once-stately neighborhood fixture that had fallen into serious disrepair, Common Ground carefully preserved the building's historic character while redeveloping it into housing for 652 low-income and formerly homeless individuals and persons living with HIV/AIDS.

The Times Square combines permanent affordable housing with a range of on-site social services provided by Common Ground's social service partner, the Center for Urban Community Services. Individualized support services are designed to help tenants maintain their housing, address health issues, and pursue education and employment. On-site assistance with physical and mental health issues and substance abuse is available to all tenants, six days a week. Property management services, including 24-hour security, are provided by Common Ground's affiliated not-for-profit property management company, Common Ground Community.

Common Ground's Tenant Services staff offers programs and activities to enhance a sense of community, e.g., a six-week financial literacy workshop, a community health fair, and workshops covering topics such as portrait drawing and cooking. Common areas include a garden roof deck (available for rent to the public); a computer laboratory; a library; an art studio; a medical clinic; 24-hour laundry facilities; a rehearsal space featuring floor-to-ceiling dance mirrors and a piano; and an exercise room.

Richard L. Jones has posted a lengthy comment on my article from his perspective as a pastor who works with the homeless downtown. It's worth reading in its entirety. It includes this funny, pointed analogy:

And to the "powers that be" in Tulsa, when are you going to follow the lead of successful cities that have centralized services for the homeless, and begin to provide real solutions to the problem instead of trying to shuffle them around the city like spreading the peas out on your plate that you didn't want to eat so it that looks like you did?...

Instead of kicking the homeless when they are down, let's all work together to help bring them some dignity and assistance in getting the help they need to break free from the cycle of despair. Basic human services and health care in a more centralized environment would be a good place to start.

Bill Kumpe was at the THA meeting today regarding the proposed facility at I-244 and Yale to replace the Downtown YMCA residence and has an eyewitness report. Here's an excerpt:

The class distinction between the people supporting the project and the people was striking. Almost all of the people supporting the project are professionals or wealthy donors. There are no such facilities located in THEIR neighborhoods. When was planned at 10th and Utica, the homeowners there killed it. On the other hand, most of the people opposing the project don't have a lot of options. Everything they have is tied up in their home and any reduction in its value will simply mean that they have to live with the consequences or let it be foreclosed since nobody in his right mind is going to buy a home near a homeless shelter. In effect, the people with money to live in a neighborhood without this type of facility are telling them that they will live with this problem and take the resulting financial hit as well.

The sheer arrogance of these people is stunning. They may actually succeed in getting the facility built. But, it will not be the wealthy donors running for election next time around. There was recall talk all over the room. Every city councilman who supported this project will hear about it again. There are about twenty thousand people in the affected neighborhoods and given the turnout at today's meeting, I would estimate that about ten thousand of them are hopping mad at Mayor Kathy Taylor, Ruth Kaiser Nelson, the City Council and anyone else remotely associated with this project. This is the type of political affront that does not go away and somebody, probably the elected officials and city employees who made it possible, will pay the price since they are the only people the voters can access.

The agenda for tomorrow's Tulsa City Council Urban and Economic Development committee includes a discussion of a draft of the Tulsa Stadium Trust indenture, the Title 60 Trust that will get to spend the money raised by the downtown assessment district the Council approved last month. The proposal creates a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees, five members of which will be major donors to the ballpark. Trustees will serve 12 year terms and can only be removed by court action for malfeasance. (Three years is a standard term for members of public trusts.)

The City Council should demand full public disclosure of the entire ballpark development deal -- pledged revenues, planned expenditures, who has been promised what piece of land -- prior to taking any action on the trust, and the trust indenture should require shorter terms, nomination of all trustees by the Mayor, and a provision to remove trustees by action of the City Council.

I'm beginning to think the better way to handle the ballpark is to make it fully private. Let the ballpark donors come to the TDA with a development proposal for the proposed ballpark site and put the proposal through the standard process. They wouldn't get the downtown assessment district money, but they don't really need it. They have enough donations lined up to pay for a quality 6000-seat ballpark. Then they can own it and run it as they see fit.

Shahadi must go

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When a mayoral appointee to a city authority, board, or commission behaves badly, it's rare that our elected officials have an immediate opportunity for corrective action.

Tulsa Development Authority (TDA) board member George Shahadi has been nominated by Mayor Kathy Taylor for another term. His renomination comes before the City Council Urban and Economic Development Committee tomorrow (August 12) at 10 a.m., in Room 201 of old City Hall. (Here is a link to Shahadi's resume.)

Last Thursday, Shahadi voted to prematurely terminate the TDA's exclusive negotiating period with Novus Homes LLC concerning the half-block west of Elgin Ave. between Archer and Brady Streets. The exclusive negotiating period was set to expire on September 4. Instead, when the TDA tract across the street began being discussed as a ballpark location, TDA and city officials began stonewalling Novus Homes' attempts to move their negotiations forward.

Shahadi should have recused himself as soon as the agenda item. He is the director of real estate for the Williams Companies, and his employer is in the group of donors seeking to gain control of the land surrounding the proposed location of a new Drillers Stadium. Shahadi stated at the meeting that he had no obligation to recuse, since his employer was seeking this control for the public good and not for its own profit.

Nevertheless, there's a clear conflict of interest because Shahadi's employer has an interest in the same property about which TDA had promised good-faith negotiations with Novus Homes. Under the circumstances, Shahadi can't be expected to be impartial in weighing the TDA's interests and the public interest in fair dealing versus his employer's interest. The fact that he can't perceive an obvious conflict is reason enough for the City Council to deny his reappoinment.

There are more conflicts coming, because the biggest piece of property in the ballpark puzzle is also owned by the TDA. Employees of Williams and Bank of Oklahoma shouldn't be sitting on the TDA when decisions are made as to the contract terms for the land.

The City Council has an excellent opportunity to take a stand for fairness and openness in government. They have an immediate chance to redress the injustice done to Will Wilkins and Novus Homes at last Thursday's TDA meeting. They need to thank Mr. Shahadi for his service to date and ask Mayor Taylor to send them a replacement nominee.

MORE: Retired architect Bob Sober sent this letter to the City Council:

City Councilors,

On Tuesday morning you will consider the re-appointment of George Shahadi to the Tulsa Development Authority (TDA), please consider the following:

During the TDA meeting last Thursday the 120 Lofts project was discussed extensively. Mr. Shahadi was asked to recuse himself from the discussions and vote, to which he refused. Mr. Shahadi is the Director of Corporate Real Estate for Williams Companies. Williams is one of the listed donors to the ballpark stadium and the eventual public Trust. As you know, the George Kaiser Foundation is attempting to purchase the properties surrounding the ballpark for the yet to be formed "ballpark" trust. The property planned for the 120 Lofts development was identified as one of those desired by the trust. Since Mr. Shahadi's employer has an interest in the disposition in this property, Mr. Shahadi had a clear conflict of interest. Voting members of the TDA should recuse themselves when presented with a real or perceived conflict of interest.

It would be a disservice to the citizens of Tulsa to re-appoint an individual unwilling to take seriously the trust of this council and refrain from influencing the decisions of the TDA when he can not possibly be objective. With direct ties to a donor that will have significant impact on one of the largest public investments in downtown Tulsa and the disposition of surrounding lands for future development Mr. Shahadi can not possibly serve the TDA without impacting his employer. Furthermore, any redevelopment in this area will have a direct impact on the value of the surrounding property. The Williams Companies, being one of the largest property owners in the vicinity to the proposed ballpark, could gain significantly by influencing the decisions of the TDA through their Director of Corporate Real Estate, Mr. Shahadi. Please, do not re-appoint Mr. Shahadi.

Thank you,

Bob Sober

Ruth Kaiser Nelson was, for all practical purposes, my first Latin teacher. When I was an eighth-grader, our scheduled teacher, Bill Bippus, took a semester's leave of absence, and Mrs. Nelson taught us instead. Because the class occurred during the girls' PE period, it was an all-boy class, and Mrs. Nelson, the mother of three boys and a girl, did a fine job of keeping us in line, but also keeping us amused, and giving us a good start in the language.

I'm sure Mrs. Nelson is familiar with this sententia sapiens: Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi. Literally, it means, "What is permitted to Jupiter is not permitted to the ox." It is a justification for double standards for the wealthy and connected versus the hoi polloi. The standards which apply to the commoner should not bind the plutocrat.

At Thursday night's City Council meeting, homeowners from the neighborhoods near Admiral and Yale came to protest the location of a 76-unit home for the chronically homeless, some of whom are currently housed at the downtown YMCA, some of whom are mentally ill. The large apartment building is part of the Building Tulsa Building Lives (BTBL) initiative. The Ruth K. Nelson Revocable Trust is listed as one of the initiative's principal partners, along with the George Kaiser Family Foundation (Mr. Kaiser and Mrs. Nelson are siblings), and the Tulsa Housing Authority, a public trust of which Mrs. Nelson is the chairman.

According to the Tulsa World report, Mrs. Nelson characterized the concerns of neighboring homeowners as typical NIMBYism:

Neighbors typically have a "not in my backyard" response, she said.

"If we were to move all of these facilities to places where no one would protest, they would be in the middle of nowhere," she said.

"Isolated people would not have the opportunity to rebuild their lives and become productive members of society."

The site was selected because it is relatively close to downtown, where many social service agencies are located, is next to a bus route and has stores nearby that residents can walk to, Nelson said.

The concern for isolation is touching, but she is making these people more isolated than they already are. At the Y, they are downtown, "where many social service agencies are located." She's moving them four miles from those services on the west side of downtown.

At the Y, they live a block away from a bus station that gives them access to 20 bus lines which will take them directly to shopping, jobs, doctors, parks, and services without needing to transfer. Four of those lines provide night time service to hospitals and schools for shift work and night classes. She wants them to live where they'll have only a single bus line, and they'll have to wait around and transfer at the downtown bus station to get anywhere else in the city. They won't have any access to nighttime service.

At the Downtown Y, they have the library and the County Courthouse across the street and the State Office Building and a hospital just a few blocks further west. Riverparks is about a mile to the south. There are a half dozen churches downtown. Social service agencies are just a few blocks north. There aren't any groceries nearby, but there are a few convenience stores not too far away, there are many nearby places to eat, at least at breakfast and lunchtime, and the bus can take them to their choice of grocery stores. They won't even have to walk far to see the Eagles or Celine Dion at the BOK Center. walkscore.com gives the location a rating of 89 -- "very walkable."

At Yale and Admiral, there is a Sonic across the street, a nearby QuikTrip, and it's about three-quarters of a mile to the Piggly Wiggly. The nearest library is in Maxwell Park, about a mile away, and it's only a small branch in the middle of a neighborhood. There's a bar just two blocks away, right across the street from a plasma center. Dong's Gun Store is about six blocks away -- handy for those who are hearing voices in their heads.There are a few churches down Yale. 10 S. Yale has a walkscore.com rating of 45 -- "car dependent."

Moving residents of the Downtown Y to Admiral and Yale will make them more isolated than they are now, not less. So why are these mentally ill, semi-homeless people really being moved out of downtown? Because downtown property owners and the BOK Center management and Downtown Tulsa Unlimited are NIMBYs. They don't want these people in their backyard. They even say so on their "Building Tulsa, Building Lives" website:

The opening of the BOK Center and other Vision 2025 projects are important components in securing the economic future of downtown Tulsa. But before downtown can become the vibrant destination it has the potential to be, developers and investors must be assured of its inviting and family-friendly environment.

Eliminating homelessness will attract further development and investment to downtown.

But it's OK for George Kaiser and Jim Norton and Kathy Taylor and Twenty-First Properties and SMG to be NIMBYs. If your place cost $200 million, you're allowed to say, "There goes the neighborhood," even if that $200 million came mostly from the taxpayers. If you have a nice little 1,000 sq. ft., $60,000 house, that you paid for yourself you're not allowed to say that. You know: Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.

(What's funny is that the neighbors that seem to be a problem for the BOK Center were there before the site was selected for the BOK Center. A number of us pointed out that between the jail, the bail bondsmen, the homeless shelters, the Y, the Sheriff's Office, and the Courthouse wasn't the smartest location for the arena -- maybe they should put it closer to existing entertainment districts on the other side of downtown -- but someone with influence has land along Denver just north of the south leg of the IDL, so that's where the arena went. Is it fair to be a NIMBY about neighbors who were there before you moved in?

According to the World, "After listening to the protests, Councilor John Eagleton said people can try to push such a project out of their neighborhood out of fear, but that doesn't make it right." Shouldn't he have been saying that to the downtown interests who want to clear the homeless out of downtown?)

The residents who spoke at the meeting were treated with a great deal of condescension. They were told that their fears were unfounded, abhorrent even, a sign of moral inferiority. The residents of this new facility will not pose a threat to their safety or their property values, thanks to new programs and new methods for helping these people become productive citizens again.

But if these new programs and methods are so effective, wouldn't they work just as well in a remodeled facility downtown, with the added bonus of keeping these people in familiar surroundings and connected to job opportunities and services and transportation? The fact that Mrs. Nelson and her brother and DTU and Mayor Taylor and SMG are so anxious to get these people away from downtown suggests that they don't really believe in the efficacy of their methods.

And the argument about having to demolish the Y residence doesn't hold any water. I suspect they could add sprinklers and remodel the building to meet fire code for much less than the $17 million in private pledges and state grants that they're spending on the Admiral and Yale facility.

But BTBL backers don't have to be consistent or logical or reasonable to get their way with city government, and they can be NIMBYs if they want to: Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.

Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi works with exclusive negotiating periods, too.

If you're Kathy Taylor, of course you should expect Tulsa Drillers owner Chuck Lamson to honor his exclusive negotiating period with the city, and even to extend it if need be. I'm sure she'd be teary and outraged if Lamson had terminated the exclusive negotiations a month early to go flirt with Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland again. But how dare lowly entrepreneur Will Wilkins expect the Tulsa Development Authority to honor their commitment to an exclusive negotiating period! How dare he rally public support to try to prevent the TDA from breaking their word! Only wealthy and connected and powerful people have a right to expect such commitments to be honored.

(From the World: "Exclusive negotiations preclude the team from entertaining other offers...." Not if you're the TDA, they don't.)

Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.

But that's an ancient pagan thought. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob insists on a single standard for all:

You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.

MORE: David Schuttler says that Councilor Eric Gomez's comparison of the Treepoint Apartments in his neighborhood to the proposed I-244 and Yale facility is apples and oranges.

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:


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.

Note: I've received word that Thursday morning's Tulsa Development Authority meeting involving Will and Cecilia Wilkins and Novus Homes LLC's exclusive negotiating agreement has been moved to the 10th floor of One Technology Center (the new City Hall).

One of the questions raised in my column this week is about the downtown Drillers stadium assessment and exactly what all of that $60 million in assessments, donations, and stadium rent will be paying for. Let's start with this question: How much should a minor league ballpark cost?

A reader sends along a link to this study by Confluence Research,Minor League Baseball Stadium Construction: A Primer on the Key Issues and Considerations, commissioned by Ripken Management and Design, and completed in 2004. The study compared construction costs and capacities for stadiums completed between 1990 and 2004. As of 2004, 62% of National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues-affiliated minor league ballparks in Classes AAA, AA, High A, and Low A were built after 1990. Of those post-1990 parks, AA stadium construction averaged $1806 per seat in 1990 dollars. Applying their inflation rule, that would be $2,621 per seat in 2004. A 6,000 seat stadium at that rate would cost $15.7 million.

Of course, costs have gone up even in the last four years. According to this handy CPI calculator from the Minneapolis branch of the Fed, consumer prices have risen 14% over four years. That would put cost per seat at $2,987.94. Round it up to an even $3,000 per seat, and that gets you to $18 million for a 6,000 seat ballpark.

Five ballparks have been built in the Texas League in the last eight years: Round Rock, Tex., Frisco, Tex., Springfield, Mo., North Little Rock, Ark., and Springdale, Ark. Round Rock's 7,816-seat park was built in 2000 for $20 million. Frisco's park seats 10,600 and was finished in 2003 for $22 million. Hammons Field in Springfield seats 7,500 plus 2,000 general admission, and opened in 2004; it cost $32 million.

Dickey-Stephens Stadium, home of the Arkansas Travelers, seats 5,800, opened in 2007, and is the most expensive of the bunch at $40.4 million, but that appears to include the value of donations for riverfront land and other costs, something that isn't an issue for Tulsa. The original construction contract was for $27.6 million, and there was a $6 million cost overrun, which would put the construction cost at around $34 million.

Finally, let's look at the cost of building the most recent ballpark in our region: Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Arkansas, home of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. The park seats 6,500, slightly bigger than the size cited for a new Drillers ballpark. It was completed earlier this year and opened in April at the start of the new Texas League season. While the City of Springdale passed a $50 million bond issue for costs related to the park, about $18 million was for access roads, sewer line extensions, and other infrastructure improvements to enable access to the park. The contract for building the park itself was with Crossland Construction for $32.1 million.

From the (Northwest Arkansas Times, October 5, 2007):

The Naturals, the double-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, will play their first game in the new venue April 10 of next year. A tour of the construction site Thursday revealed the progress made since the city of Springdale awarded the $32.1-million contract to Crossland Construction of Kansas in June.

The initial estimate was 29.3 million; Crossland's low bid was 33.4 million.

More citations for the $32 million figure:

Northwest Arkansas Times, April 8, 2008:

From the $ 105 million bond program for road construction approved by Springdale voters in 2003 to Thursday night's premier of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals at Arvest Ballpark - a $ 32 million public facility approved by just 13 votes in July 2006 - voters in Springdale are taking extraordinary steps to move past the city's blue-collar image and full-steam ahead into the 21 st century.

Topeka Capitol Journal, April 20, 2008:

But Springdale, Ark., is betting its minor league baseball venture has all of the correct variables after building a $32 million stadium to lure the Royals' team out of Wichita.

Arvest Ballpark opened April 10 in Springdale with 7,820 fans to witness the Northwest Arkansas Naturals' debut against San Antonio.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 8, 2008:

The lights are bright and the grass is green at Arvest Ballpark.

Hailed as the premier venue in Springdale, the ballpark caters to the beer-and-burger crowd in the stands as well as the cocktail set in the luxury suites.

Elected officials and business leaders say the ballpark is proof that a new day is dawning in traditionally working-class Springdale.

But the question remains: Does the city have enough money to keep its $32 million diamond polished?

One lot at a time

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Steve Patterson of Urban Review STL suggests an alternative to the failure of downtown redevelopment projects to get off the ground:

Acres and acres sit idle on the edges of downtown awaiting promised new development. On the South edge we have Ballpark Village and just North of America's Center and the Edward Jones Dome we have the Bottleworks District. Both have made news over the past few years, lately for not going anywhere....

The surrounding blocks could have been developed without taking this one block from the owner. But assembling larger and larger tracts for larger and larger projects is what proponents say must be done to get development. Judging from the broken sidewalks and vacant blocks of land think perhaps it is high time we questioned this practice.

Granted creating the ideal urban building on a single narrow parcel surrounded by vacant blocks is going to be an island for a long time. Development does have to be large enough to build both excitement and a sustainable level of visitors.

An alternative to the single developer mega-project is to create a zoning overlay district that outlines the urban design qualities that future buildings must have. This allows different property owners to participate in the redevelopment. It also allows the business owner to build their own structure without being tied up in an increasingly complicated and difficult process of financing the mega-project.

This city was built one building at a time -- each fitting into the grid. I think we need to return to such a scale to finish filling in the gaps in our urban fabric.

Here in Tulsa, the "donors" for the proposed downtown ballpark want to monopolize the surrounding land, squeezing out a small, local development company that had already been working with the TDA on the half-block northwest of Archer and Elgin. With enforced design guidelines for new downtown development, you could have multiple developers and the result would be a diverse but harmonious whole, likely more interesting and enduring than any project a single developer would put together.

As Steve Patterson says, "This city was built one building at a time." A healthy downtown, self-sustaining over the long haul, will be rebuilt and restored the same way.

Attorney Frederic Dorwart sent an e-mail today to fellow downtown property owners defending the use of a downtown assessment district to fund a new downtown Driller stadium. (You may recognize Dorwart's name as he represented Tulsa Industrial Authority in its Great Plains Airlines-related lawsuit against the Tulsa Airport Improvements Trust. Dorwart is also the attorney for the Bank of Oklahoma.) I won't introduce him further because he does that himself in his opening paragraphs.

July 8, 2008
From: Fred Dorwart

As some of you know, I own Old City Hall located at 124 East Fourth Street. I have been providing legal services, without charge, to the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce and the Mayor's Office to effect the exciting opportunity which the proposed Downtown Stadium and associated amenities in the Brady and Greenwood Districts presents.

Mr. Morlan's email contains five errors. I felt it important for you to know the facts when you decide whether the proposed Business Improvement District is in the best interests of all of us committed to a vibrant Downtown Tulsa. The five facts are as follows.

First, owners who have homestead exemptions will not be assessed. The Mayor and her advisors engaged in a careful weighing of the equities in establishing the manner in which the assessments would be levied. Many argued that to the contrary, but the Mayor determined it was important to all downtown property owners to encourage homestead ownership; consequently, the proposed Improvement District will not assess homestead owners. If you are a homestead owner and received a notice, the notice was in error. The adoption of the Improvement District includes a provision by which any erroneous notice may be corrected. Some confusion may exist because the existing Improvement District (which terminates June 30, 2009) does not exempt downtown residential property with a homestead exemption.

Second, property owners who are not homesteaders will pay only their proportionate share of the land square footage; the balance will be allocated to the homesteaders and exempt. For those property owners who are not homesteaders, the annual assessments Mr. Morlan states below would mean a studio unit has 1400+ square feet, a one bedroom unit 1,700+ square feet, a two bedroom 2,000+ square feet, and a townhouse 2,500+ square feet. I guess that's possible; you would know.

Third, only the downtown services assessment ($0.022 per square foot annually or only 34% of the total) will increase with inflation and that increase is capped at 4%. If services are to continue, the services should not be eroded by inflation. The assessments for the stadium and related facilities (66% of the assessment) will not increase with inflation. In fact, it is possible that the construction portion of the assessments may be paid off prior to the thirty year authorized period, depending upon how downtown Tulsa develops over the next several decades.

Fourth, the experience of many cities across the country demonstrates that an investment in downtown recreational facilities will dramatically increase your property values. The Downtown Stadium will be the third leg of Downtown success, leading the way with the BOK Center and the refurbished Convention Center.

Fifth, the construction of the Tulsa Downtown Stadium is authorized by Section 39-103 of Title 11 of the Oklahoma Statutes. The Business Improvement District has been carefully thought out. The Mayor has done a terrific job of balancing the equities to let Tulsa take this next big step forward. The Mayor and her advisors have spent substantial amount of time visiting with downtown property owners impacted with the new assessment and at this time the Mayor has support from over 50% of the downtown property owners on the proposed assessment.

Each of us must decide. Please decide based on the facts. Personally, I strongly support this initiative.

As I wrote in Urban Tulsa last week, I like the idea of the Drillers downtown, and the proposed location is an excellent choice. It helps connect activity centers downtown that are currently detached from one another. I like the idea of financing it using an assessment on direct beneficiaries rather than a tax on the general populace. I just wonder about the equity of the assessment on very distant property owners.

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I wrote about a tour I was given a few weeks ago of Tulsa's BOk Center arena, scheduled to open this fall. Far from winning me over, the tour convinced me that by foregoing the "iconic" approach to architecture we could have had, for an amount closer to the original budget, an arena that would make a positive addition to downtown's urban fabric.

In the column, I mentioned another Cesar Pelli public facility with a curved, "iconic" glass wall. That's the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center in Dayton, Ohio. The Schuster Center opened in 2003; construction began in 2000. The Rike Building, a handsome seven-story Sullivanesque department store built in 1911, was demolished to make way for the Schuster Center. Before:

After, from about the same angle:


You can see the transformation from good urban form which works well at a distance and up-close at pedestrian scale to a building that is somewhat interesting at a distance but monotonous up close. You would have been able to peek in the display windows of Rike's; the reflective glass on the Schuster Center won't let you see inside.

If you want to take a virtual Google Street View stroll past the Schuster Center, as I suggest in my column, start here and head west on W 2nd St.

There's a nice story on KOTV.com about Michael Sager's 1st Street Lofts, scheduled to be ready for occupancy this fall. Michael gave me a tour during the Blue Dome Arts Festival, and I wrote about some of the interesting ways he is adapting this old building; KOTV's Steve Berg reports on many of the same features, which you can see by clicking the video link at that story.

Doug Loudenback has a post from a month or so ago featuring beautiful vintage postcards of Oklahoma City. Mixed into the pastel tinted images of Prairie Commercial, Sullivanesque, and Art Deco buildings was a fact that should make you gasp:

[The Kingkade Hotel] survived until the 1960s-1970s Urban Renewal era when 447 buildings were destroyed by the Urban Renewal Authority and another 75 more by private owners.

That may be hard to believe, but when you look at a satellite view of OKC, it makes sense. Four blocks cleared for the Myriad arena (Cox Business Center), another four for a massive parking deck, another four for Myriad Gardens, one for Stage Center. I would guess that the two blocks (maybe more) just north of the Cox Business Center were also urban renewal zones. Seven blocks were run through with I-40. I don't know if Doug's number includes Deep Deuce (OKC's version of Greenwood) the area cleared for I-235, or the research park just east of I-235.

Oklahoma City urban renewal was an insane master plan conceived, I'm ashamed to say, by an MIT alumnus, I. M. Pei.

Tulsa's leaders weren't any wiser than Oklahoma City's, just less ambitious, with much of the demolition being accomplished by private, rather than public interests. But Tulsa government did enough damage clearing away buildings that were nicer and more substantial than those you'll find in the Blue Dome District, demolishing nearly all of Greenwood, and blitzing the residential neighborhoods adjacent to the central business district.

Moving west across Cincinnati Ave. from our previous installment, Block 107, we come to Block 106 of Tulsa's original townsite, 2nd to 3rd Street, Boston to Cincinnati Avenue. This block isn't asphalt, but it is radically different than it was as recently as 1970. Part of the Williams Center superblock complex, Boston Avenue was closed north of 3rd Street. The Williams Center Green replaced the street between 2nd and 3rd, along with part of the adjacent blocks. The rest of Block 106 is now occupied by the Performing Arts Center, designed by Minoru Yamasaki, architect of the nearby Bank of Oklahoma Tower and the World Trade Center. While the PAC has an attractive frontage on 3rd, it presents a blank wall along Cincinnati, and a small stage door entrance on 2nd. (How much better it would have been to adapt one of our glorious movie palaces as a performing arts center and to have left this block as it once was.)

Here's how the block was laid out in the late '50s and early '60s. As before, the image is from Sheet 21 of the Sanborn fire insurance map, last updated in 1962, with my notations in red indicating businesses that were listed in the 1957 Polk City Directory for Tulsa. Click on the thumbnail to pop-up the full 1900 by 1900 image.

Block 106, Tulsa Original Townsite, 2nd to 3rd Streets, Boston to Cincinnati Avenues

The 3rd Street frontage is dominated by the 10-story R. T. Daniel Building and the 13-story Hotel Tulsa; in between was a three-story building that was the original home of Saied Music Co. Note that both skyscrapers had multiple storefronts at street level.

By 1957, we're already beginning to see the erosion of downtown's urban fabric for parking. Between 1939 and 1957, a quarter of the block, and more than two-thirds of the frontage on 2nd Street has been reduced from two or three story buildings to asphalt, leaving the two remaining buildings on 2nd rather forlorn.

The population in 1960 was 21 (Census Tract 25, Census Block 57).

Now for some photos -- I will add more as I find them. There are so many photos of the Hotel Tulsa that I will put them in a separate entry at a later time, but here is a good shot of the Hotel Tulsa that shows some of the rest of the block:

(Photos from the Beryl Ford Collection/Rotary Club of Tulsa, Tulsa City-County Library and Tulsa Historical Society.)

Hotel Tulsa, looking to the northwest from 3rd & Cincinnati

Here's the north side of 3rd between Boston and Cincinnati, showing the R.T. Daniel Building in the foreground, the Hotel Tulsa in the background, and the building where Saied's was located in between:

Tulsa, north side of 3rd between Boston and Cincinnati, R.T. Daniel Building, Hotel Tulsa, Saied Music

More photos after the jump.

I was in studio this morning with KFAQ's Pat Campbell to discuss the latest developments in the proposal to build a new ballpark for the Tulsa Drillers in downtown Tulsa, prompted by the announcement that the Drillers and the City of Tulsa are extending negotiations for 45 days. (Here's a link to the MP3 podcast.)

Here's a timeline of Tulsa baseball since the move from McNulty Park (where the downtown Home Depot is now) to the Fairgrounds.

1932: First Oilers season at the Fairgrounds.
1977: Before first Drillers season, part of grandstand at old Oiler Park collapses.
1979: County bond issue to build new park fails.
1981: Sutton Stadium opens to the east of the existing ballpark, later renamed Tulsa County Stadium.
1989: Renamed Driller Stadium.
1991: Tulsa one of five finalists for AAA expansion, passed over for Ottawa, Charlotte, and New Orleans.
1992: Camden Yards opens, heralding the neo-traditional era of ballpark construction.
1993: Oklahoma City approves MAPS, which includes a ballpark for Bricktown.
1993: Prescription Athletic Turf installed.
Mid-1990s: Discussed for possible inclusion in Tulsa Project; soccer stadium proposed instead. TP defeated in October 1997.
1998: Bricktown Ballpark opens in Oklahoma City.
1998: Tulsa not selected in AAA expansion; Memphis and Durham chosen.
2000: "It's Tulsa's Time" package for arena and convention center doesn't include ballpark.
2003: Ballpark included in feasibility study for downtown facilities, but ultimately left out of Vision 2025. Drillers uninterested in moving.
March 2006: Went Hubbard turns over majority ownership to Chuck Lamson.
August 2007: Drillers sign non-binding letter of intent with Jenks River District.
January 2008: Lamson says he wants to be in a new park by 2010.
January 23, 2008: Drillers enter into four-month negotiating period with City of Tulsa.
May 23, 2008: Drillers and City extend negotiations by 45 days.

Possible sites include the old Nordam site (4th to 6th, Frankfort to Lansing), the Hartford Building site (north of 2nd between Greenwood and Hartford); northeast of Archer and Elgin; and the Evans Electric site between OSU-Tulsa and US 75, although there are rumors that the site currently under discussion is none of the above.

Here's my UTW column about the Drillers' options for moving, along with some of their history from last August when the City of Tulsa began wooing the Drillers in earnest. And here's a more recent column, from February, about Jenks' demographic advantages over downtown Tulsa for providing a fan base for the Drillers. Also, in a February UTW op-ed County Commissioner Randi Miller discussed what might be done with the current stadium when the Drillers move.

Blue Dome blessings

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My column in the current issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly was about what I learned during a visit to last weekend's Blue Dome Arts Festival. As I made my way around 1st & Elgin, I had a peek at plans for Joe Momma's Pizza's downtown location, a guided tour of the under-construction 1st Street Lofts, a chat with Diversafest's Tom Green about the festival's non-profit arm, the Oklahoma Foundation for the Music Industry, and heard from Cain's Ballroom owners Jim and Alice Rodgers about their new venture on Brookside, Ida Red. It was exciting to hear about all these plans to make Tulsa a more exciting place to live, work, and play.

Something I neglected to point out in the column: Everyone of these cool new ventures is happening in old buildings. I devoted a column in April to the importance of old buildings to a lively city, and I quoted Jane Jacobs on the matter:

Chain stores, chain restaurants and banks go into new construction. But neighborhood bars, foreign restaurants and pawn shops go into older buildings. Supermarkets and shoe stores often go into new buildings; good bookstores and antique dealers seldom do....

As for really new ideas of any kind -- no matter how ultimately profitable or otherwise successful some of them might prove to be -- there is no leeway for such chancy trial, error and experimentation in the high-overhead economy of new construction. Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.

This is the first installment in what may be a regular series.

Have you ever looked at a parking lot downtown and wondered what used to be there? I'm going to try to use old fire insurance maps and street directories to piece together the past lives of parking lots and other parcels drastically transformed since downtown's mid-20th century heyday.

Up first is Block 107 of Tulsa's Original Townsite, between 2nd and 3rd Streets, Cincinnati and Detroit Avenues. Today this block is one 90,000 sq. ft. surface parking lot just east of the Performing Arts Center. The block slopes downhill from 3rd to 2nd. I estimate the drop at about 15 feet.

The map below uses the 1962 Sanborn fire insurance map as a base, with my notations in red indicating businesses that were listed in the 1957 Polk City Directory for Tulsa. (I used 1957, because that's what I had available, from my 1957 researches last year.) Click on the thumbnail to pop-up the full 1800 by 1800 image.


The block consisted of three-story buildings facing 2nd St. on the north and 3rd St. on the south. The upper two stories of these buildings were hotels or rooming houses: The New Oklahoma Hotel, the Oxford Hotel, the Annex Hotel, the New Miami Hotel, and the Grand Hotel. In the middle of the block on the west side was a parking lot and car rental; the mid-block lot on the east side was a Vandever's warehouse. (The 1939 Sanborn map shows two garages, capacities of 30 and 45 cars each, with steam heat, electric lights, a concrete floor, and steel truss roof.)

A note about blocks in downtown Tulsa. The Original Townsite was laid out as 300' by 300' blocks, with 80' wide right-of-way in between. (The right-of-way includes both sidewalks and streets.) Each block was bisected north to south by a 20' wide alley, and the halves thus created were split into three lots numbered, for a total of six lots, 100' wide along the avenues by 140' deep, numbered 1 through 6, clockwise from the northeast corner.

Those alleys were sacrosanct. As far as I can tell, only the train station, Central High School, and Holy Family Cathedral were allowed to build over the alleys until the urban renewal approach to redevelopment began to emerge in the '60s. The existence of the alleys limited buildings to a 42,000 sq. ft. footprint.

While the intention behind the Original Townsite plat seems to have been for frontage along the avenues, parallel to Main, many blocks, particularly closer to the railroad tracks, developed with frontage along the streets, parallel to the railroad.

That's the case for Block 107. The two mid-block lots were used for parking and a warehouse. The lots at the corners were divvied up into buildings mainly aligned to what should have been the side of the lot. Lot 3 (SE corner) was filled by two separate three-story buildings, each with rooms on the upper stories, and each subdivided on the 1st level into narrow storefronts. 42' appears to be the typical width.

Here are some photos from the Beryl Ford Collection showing this block. This photo, taken August 29, 1961, is looking south (up hill) on Cincinnati from just north of 2nd Street. (Click to see the full size.)

(Photos from the Beryl Ford Collection/Rotary Club of Tulsa, Tulsa City-County Library and Tulsa Historical Society.)

There's the Oklahoma Tire and Supply Store No. 1 in the foreground left, on the northwest corner of Block 107, southeast corner of 2nd and Cincinnati, with the Bell Hotel on the upper two stories. (Sanborn map calls this the New Oklahoma Hotel; there's no entry in the 1957 Polk Directory for a hotel at that address.) Further south is a sign for the Rent-A-Car agency, and behind that is the three-story building on the northeast corner of 3rd & Cincinnati that housed the New Miami Hotel, the Annex Hotel, Beneficial Finance, Filter Queen Vacuums sales and service, Acme Electric, Tulsa Elevator, several answering services, and a couple of print shops.

Further down Cincinnati on the left you can see two buildings that are still standing: the KC Auto Hotel and steeple of First Baptist Church. On the right (west) is the Hotel Tulsa, now the site of the Performing Arts Center.

Here's a much earlier photo of the Oklahoma Tire & Supply Co.

If you want to get a sense of the height and scale of the three-story hotel/retail buildings that lined the north nd south edges of this block, look at the Pierce Building on the NE corner of 3rd and Detroit. Now home to TV station CW 19, this building also had a hotel on the upper two stories. Imagine similar buildings lining 3rd and 2nd, the same kinds of buildings that house El Guapo and McNellie's. Imagine what might have been if those three-story buildings hadn't been razed for parking.

One fact I'd like to know, but don't: The population for this block in 1950 or 1960.

(UPDATE 2008/06/10: This was the most populous block in downtown Tulsa in 1960 -- population 199.)

If you have stories about Block 107, please post them in the comments or e-mail me at blog at batesline dot com.

MORE: Found a few more photos that show other parts of Block 107, after the jump. And commenter Mark compares the 1957 listings to his 1947 Polk directory and finds that much had changed in the course of a decade.

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I reflect upon last Thursday's "What about Rail?" public forum, which featured panelists involved with the Denver and Austin public transit systems and the National Transit Authority, the Federal agency that manages grants for things like light rail systems. Jack Crowley, the Mayor's special adviser on revitalizing downtown, presented some details of his concept to use existing track to connect the Evans Electric / Fintube site east of OSU-Tulsa to the soon-to-be-vacated Public Works facility southeast of 23rd and Jackson on the west bank of the river. Crowley believes that building a light-rail line will attract transit-oriented development (TOD), which will in turn generate the density required to make public transit practical. (Here's Brian Ervin's detailed UTW news coverage of the forum.)

In the column, I compare Tulsa's ridership with ridership in Austin and Denver, and I make the argument that frequency of service (short headways) and hours of service will do more to build confidence and ridership for a transit system, regardless of the type of vehicle being used, than the presence of tracks and overhead wires. The A streetcar branch of Boston's Green Line, the Sand Springs Railway, and the Tulsa-Sapulpa Union Railway are all examples where the infrastructure remained in place long after the last passenger service was offered.

I was strongly denounced after my previous column about rail transit for Tulsa, with certain rail advocates all but calling me a rail-hating, car-hugging troglodyte. I expect this column will provoke the same sort of response.

When a regular contributor to TulsaNow's public forum, someone who uses the handle Chicken Little, pooh-poohed my post informing readers about the "What about Rail?" forum: "Oh, please. He's not encouraging anyone to go to the 'What about Rail?' event, he's simply using the notice as a springboard for yet another post that tells us we'd rather drive." This was my reply.

Chicken Little,

As I've said before, I like using rail. I didn't have a car in college, and I depended on the MBTA's network of streetcars, subways, and buses, our fraternity's informal jitney service between the house and campus two miles away, and my own two feet to get around.

I didn't have a car for the summer I spent in Manila, either. Although they had a single rail line connecting the airport to downtown, it didn't go near the house or the campus. Instead, I depended on a network of privately owned buses and jeepneys to get me around.

Back then, I was navigating the public transport network on my own. I could easily tolerate walking a mile in whatever kind of weather between the subway station or bus stop and where I needed to go. Walking the two or three miles between home and campus or work, at a 4 mph clip, was always an option if I had to wait too long for a streetcar or a bus.

Now, a quarter of a century later as a dad with three kids, I can't hit 4 mph walking speed very often, particularly if I have to lug a 30 lb. two-year-old whose legs are tired. If I were to try to manage getting a family around town without a car, it would be crucial that every place I needed to go were within at most a quarter-mile of public transport.

I don't see the advocates of rail in Tulsa, such as yourself, addressing the practical issues I encountered as a public transport user.

You and others seem to be saying that the presence of commuter rail will eventually result in nodes of high-density, pedestrian-friendly, transit-oriented development that will make it possible for people to live most of their lives without a car. In the scenario you seem to propose, everything will be within easy walking distance of the stations, and you won't have to cross massive parking lots on foot to get between the street and the front door of a store.

What I don't hear from you is any attempt to explain how people, particularly families with small children, get from home to work to school to shopping to the doctor's office via public transport between now and when your glorious future is realized.

I want to know how you propose to make it convenient enough for people, particularly families with small children, to use public transport of any form to get where they need to go, convenient enough to forgo using their own cars.

I'd especially like to know, Chicken Little, whether you have any personal experience living without a car for more than a year.

I do not want to see Tulsa spend tens or hundreds of millions on a rail line with three trains a day before we explore more modest and practical ways of providing public transport to far more people.

Chicken Little has yet to answer my question.

I neglected to mention that as a 7th and 8th grader at Holland Hall's Birmingham campus, I rode the city bus every Wednesday afternoon from 26th St and Birmingham to downtown. I'd spend a couple of hours at Central Library then meet my dad at his office. When I lived in Brookside, I even tried using the bus system to get to Burtek on 15th St. east of Sheridan, but the transfer delays meant it wasn't worth the hassle.

Here are some supplemental links to information I used in writing the article:

Tonight, Thursday, April 24, from 6 to 8, INCOG is presenting an open house on the topic of rail transportation. TulsaNow is providing snacks before hand; the presentation begins at 6, followed by questions at 7. Presenters will include:

Sonya Lopez - Principal Planner, Austin

Cal Marsella - General Manager of the Regional Transportation District, Denver

Andrew Howard - Kimley-Horn, consulting firm studying the integration of land-use and transit for the City of Tulsa Comprehensive Plan

Dwayne Weeks Federal Transit Administration, New Starts and Small Starts project review team).

The event will be held, appropriately enough, at our Art Deco Union Depot (officially the Jazz Hall of Fame at Union Station), and it's free and open to the public. Union Station is between Boston and Cincinnati, on the north side of 1st Street.

Although the rail talk has mostly been about commuter rail between downtown Tulsa and Broken Arrow, Brian Ervin has interview in this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly with urban planner Jack Crowley, who is studying the idea of a light rail line connecting two potential transit-oriented development sites: The city maintenance yards at 23rd and Jackson and the Evans Electric / Fintube site north of Archer east of US 75.

[Crowley] explained that the city owns about 50 acres at 23rd St. and Jackson Ave., which is south of downtown, and about 22 acres just north of downtown, at the Evans-Fintube site just north of Archer St. between Highway 75 and OSU-Tulsa.

Also, there's already a railroad track connecting the two sites, which runs through downtown, past the new BOK Arena.

There is currently a best-use study underway for the two sites, among other city-owned plots, but Crowley supposes that three or four-story walk-up apartments would be a wise use of the sites if the city invests in a light rail system along the existing tracks.

"If you had a train station there where you could walk out of wherever you live and get on the train and go to work in the morning, or go to the OSU campus to study, how much value could you get there at that site?" Crowley asked rhetorically.

Having a permanent public transportation route would also attract retail and restaurant developers wanting to capitalize on the availability of potential customers at the rail system's various stops.

If the city leased those two plots of land on each end of the tracks to developers, it could soon make back the $50-70 million he estimates it would cost to build the rail system, and passengers wouldn't need to pay a fare.

Crowley acknowledged an argument Bates made in his piece--that there isn't currently enough population density in downtown and the surrounding areas to justify a light rail system. However, he said, the light rail system would easily attract that density after a lag time of about five or six years after it's built.

He said there is typically a 10-15 year lag time for big cities after they adopt a transit-oriented design.

Also in this week's issue, Paul Tay makes some good points in a letter calling for privatization of public transit:

Tulsa Transit is a failure as a bus system. As long as the City owns and operates the system, there's every reason to expect Tulsa Transit will be a failure as a rail operator. Tulsa Transit and its brothers all over America have NO profit motive to meet the many needs, to include utilitarian and emotional, of the traveling public. If Tulsa Transit's employee parking lot is any indication, even Mr. Boatwright, the general manager, and his employees, the bus drivers, don't ride the bus for their basic transportation needs.

If Tulsa Transit can't even make transit work for its own employees, shouldn't we look for another business model for transit? Getting government out of the business of meeting the needs of the traveling public worked great for the airlines.

Jet Blue would not be possible without airline deregulation. Stylish, 5.4 MHz cordless telephones would not be possible without deregulation either. We would still be leasing black, rotary dial phones from the old AT&T, before its break-up. Divest Tulsa Transit to private operators. Auction the curb rights, similar to the FCC's frequency sales and TV and radio licensing. Deregulate transit.

Tay closes with a reference to a Brookings Institution study: Daniel B. Klein, Adrian T. Moore, Binyam Reja, Curb Rights: A Foundation for Free Enterprise in Urban Transit, Brookings Institution Press (1997). (That link leads to a paper summarizing the argument of the book; you can preview Curb Rights on Google Books.)

MORE: Los Angeles mayoral candidate Walter Moore questions the wisdom of spending $640 million for an 8.6 mile light rail extension in that city, enough to pay for "one bus every 100 yards along the 8.6 mile route, and have over $590 million left over."

A deferred dream is finally being realized. Blake Ewing set out about three years ago with an idea to open a great pizza restaurant downtown. It made better sense to take some baby steps first, so he took over an existing Simple Simon's Pizza place at 61st and US 169 and turned it into Joe Momma's Pizza.

Last fall he announced he was ready to pursue a downtown Joe Momma's, and the new place is nearing completion. It will be in the Blue Dome District downtown on Elgin, between El Guapo's, which is on 1st St., and Dirty's Tavern, which is on 2nd. On the mommaiscoming.com website, he says that the new place will serve brick-oven pizza and healthier choices, along with beer and wine. It will be open late "so the boozers can sober up before driving home." They'll have free wi-fi (the 61st St location already has it), "old-school arcade and pinball games," big screen TVs, and live music. The aim is to be open by D-Fest, in July.

Blake has found a niche that needs filling downtown. I'm looking forward to hanging out there.

Wal-Mart has notified the developers of a proposed east downtown mixed-use development that they won't be building a store in downtown Tulsa. The change in plans is part of a nationwide decision to slow down the construction of new Wal-Mart Supercenters.

Tulsa is one of many cities across the nation hit by Wal-Mart's move to reduce the number of new supercenters it constructs nationwide, said Angela Stoner, Wal-Mart's senior manager of public affairs.

"This is no reflection on the confidence Wal-Mart has in our friends in the development team of the East Village, the mayor, the City Council, neighbors or others involved in this project," Stoner said Thursday.

"This is the execution of a national growth strategy plan -- a corporate decision," she said.

The plan is specific only to new supercenters, she said, and none is planned for Tulsa.

Although Wal-Mart had announced its reduction plan in June, it had also approved the construction of the proposed supercenter for the East Village, which resulted in the developers announcing the project in August.

The proposed development would have been on property between Frankfort and U. S. 75, 4th and 6th, on land now owned by Nordam and Bill White. Here is a small PDF of the proposed East Village developmentshowing the site plan, a description of the development, and the expected increments in property value and sales tax revenues, for the purpose of evaluating the establishment of a Tax Increment Financing district to assist with the development.

More comments from me later. Feel free to post your two bits about what had been proposed and what ought to happen now.

Roscoe Turner, Tulsa's most believable city councilor, drills for the truth, in an open letter to bored Tulsa hipsters:

Those who believe the Tulsa metropolitan area has nothing to offer and must spend tax dollars developing the river to keep our young professionals entertained must be socially challenged. There are so many things to do in the Tulsa area that some have to plan and schedule weeks and months ahead of time to make sure they don't miss those activities in which they are most interested. But, for those nay-sayers who think there is nothing to do around here, I've pulled together the following list of great things to do in the Tulsa area:

1. Catch a TU football game at Chapman Stadium (formerly known as Skelly Stadium)

2. Check out a 66ers basketball game at the historic Fairgrounds Pavilion

3. The Tulsa Opera is going into its 60th year in Tulsa

4. The Tulsa Ballet has been declared one of the best in the world

5. The Old Lady On Brady is a great place to find a concert

6. Tulsa's floating amphitheatre usually has a movie night

7. Octoberfest

8. Mayfest

9. When was the last time you were at the Tulsa Zoo?

10. The Oklahoma Aquarium

11. Enjoy a play at Tulsa's Little Theatre

12. Don't forget Discoveryland

13. Eat fresh and buy local at the many community Farmer's Markets

14. Visit one of the area Herb Festivals

15. Shop the antique markets

16. Play a round of golf at one of the many area courses

17. Watch the Golden Hurricane play basketball at the Reynolds Center

18. Hike a trail at the Oxley Nature Center

19. Stay in shape walking or riding your bike on one of the many area trails

20. See what's happening at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame

21. Try your luck at Cherokee, Creek or Osage Casinos

22. Grab a concert at the Osage event center

23. Take a trip down Route 66

24. Walk through one of the many shows at the Quik Trip Center (formerly known as the Expo building)

25. Dine, shop, or see a movie at the Riverwalk

26. There's always something to see at the Bass Pro Shop

27. Tulsa Drillers

28. Tulsa Talons

29. Tulsa Oilers

30. Gilcrease Museum

31. Philbrook Museum

32. Tulsa Air & Space Museum

33. The American Theatre Company always puts on a great production

34. What's going on at the Tulsa Convention Center?

35. And soon, very soon-or so we're told, you can see SOMETHING at the new BOK Arena

Once you've made your way through this list you can start at the top and work your way back through it. This by no means is an exhaustive list of the wonderful things there are to do in the area, but it's a great start for those who have decided that they are bored and want the rest of us to foot the bill for their entertainment. There are many hard-working people who live paycheck to paycheck; many elderly who worked their whole lives to retire on a very limited income, these people cannot afford to pay more taxes for your entertainment - especially those who live in areas of Tulsa where the city has made promises and reneged on them time and time again.

So, get out and spend some of your young professional money and generate some tax revenue, and before long we will have the money to fix the streets, open swimming pools and recreation centers at our community parks, mow the grass in all areas of the city, fix broken water lines and provide public safety by hiring more police. Then maybe, just maybe, we can take a look at doing something with YOUR RIVER.

Roscoe H. Turner

I'll add three things to Councilor Turner's excellent list -- make a point to visit the following websites, on a regular basis, to learn about even more interesting things to do and places to go around Tulsa:

Steve Lackmeyer, writing for The Oklahoman, has been visiting Tulsa and asking questions of "downtown civic leaders" and doesn't think the answers he's getting make much sense:

Why, for example, was a site surrounded by large institutional properties like the U.S. Post Office, Tulsa Sheriff's Office and City Hall, chosen as the site for the city's new arena? Why not instead build an arena between two fledgling entertainment areas, the Brady and Blue Dome districts?

And why, in a city world-renown for its Art Deco architecture, would one not do everything possible to restore the one surviving grand hotel -- the Mayo -- back into a hotel instead of housing?

Experienced hands in downtown Oklahoma City share such questions. But their counterparts in Tulsa -- the ones I've visited with -- seem much more interested in promoting their current course than to stop and reconsider.

People in Tulsa have asked the same question regarding the arena site. An alternative site northeast of Archer and Elgin, now under discussion as a site for a baseball park, was already owned by the Tulsa Development Authority, would not have involved displacing any businesses or demolishing any significant buildings, would not have required closing any streets, and would have provided a link between Greenwood, OSU-Tulsa, Brady Arts District, and Blue Dome.

The Mayo Hotel, of course, will be both housing and a hotel. And it's Sullivanesque, not Art Deco. Around here, we're just grateful it's still standing, and that restoration is slowly under way.

As for his third point, you don't see much reconsideration around here. The arena location was identified as far back as 1995, and changing downtown patterns didn't inspire anyone with a seat at the table to take a second look. For the folks at the Chamber and DTU, reconsideration might lead them to acknowledge that some of the criticism of their decisions was valid -- can't have that.

You can read more commentary on Lackmeyer's column on this topic at the TulsaNow public forum.

Last Tuesday I covered the Tulsa Press Club luncheon for Urban Tulsa Weekly, while UTW reporter Brian Ervin was busy covering Commissioner Randi Miller's appearance at the City Council Urban Development Committee meeting. You should see both stories in this week's issue.

The speaker at TPC was Downtown Tulsa Unlimited president Jim "not the Toyota dealer" Norton. He covered a dozen or more downtown development projects, both public and private, including the possibility that the Tulsa Drillers minor league baseball team would relocate from the Fairgrounds to downtown. Norton said he was "80% certain it" would happen and that some possible locations had been identified.

Now the Whirled has a breaking story that the Drillers have signed a letter of intent to locate at a new development in Jenks.

A spokesman for the Drillers said the team has signed a non-binding letter of intent to move into a new stadium planned for the development, which would be just south of the Oklahoma Aquarium.

The facility would include a 7000-seat ballpark, developers say.

Ken Neal's comments in the Whirled's Sunday about all the street work going on downtown set me off, particularly this bit (emphasis added):

The story of Tulsa's downtown is a story of decline, but the downtown neighborhood is still one of the most valuable in the city. Although commerce has largely fled to more lucrative locations in suburbia, magnificent old skyscrapers remain and downtown is the seat of banking, government, courts and the legal and financial community.

The city government sadly has neglected downtown for decades. Much of the work under way now would not be necessary if infrastructure had been replaced as needed through the years.

Neglected? If only! If anything, downtown has been doctored to death.

For the last 50 years, city government has gone from one scheme to another to improve downtown: Urban renewal, the Inner Dispersal Loop, the Civic Center, the pedestrianized Main Mall, the Williams Center, and now the arena. Each city government-driven project has closed streets, driven out residents, brought down buildings, and generated new surface parking lots. As I've explored old news clippings, I've found that Ken Neal was a fervent advocate of most of those destructive ideas.

The parts of downtown that are the healthiest and liveliest are the parts that the planners of decades past thought unworthy of their attention, like the Blue Dome District and the Brady Arts District. In those few enclaves the buildings survived and provided affordable space for someone with a dream of starting a new business. Benign neglect would have given the rest of downtown a chance to survive, to be rediscovered, and to be restored.

Now, if Neal had only been referring to streets and water lines and sewers, he'd have a point. That's real infrastructure that needs to be kept in good condition, and it makes sense to replace the subterranean stuff while the streets are torn up.

But you can't mark downtown's problems down to a lack of public attention.

...says Jeff Shaw, who relates some of the downtown adventures that his wife and son are having this summer, riding the bus to meet Dad for lunch and visit the Central Library:

After one particular visit, I wrote in my little Moleskine: "Emily and Philip came downtown for lunch today. We held hands and walked down 5th Street. I felt like I was in a fairly tale." And it did feel like that.

So to say I have enjoyed having my family downtown for lunch, is an understatement. Yesterday we went to the Atlas Grill which is in the Atlas Life Building. It is across the great hall from the Tulsa Press Club.

My son said it looked kind of like Grand Central Station, in New York City. I think maybe he meant it had the "feel" of Grand Central Station, and I think it does too. Since he was interested, and after we ate a great hamburger and a pile of fries, I decided to take my family through the rest of the great buildings on that block of Boston between 4th and 5th streets. (Btw, sorry to the two gentlemen sitting next to us: we always have fun blowing the paper off the straws; didn't mean for them to land in your plate - and thanks for being good sports about it.)

There are a number of projects underway to develop more housing downtown. Most of it seems to target upper-income adults -- empty nesters, singles. In response to those who say downtown isn't suited as a place to live for children or families, Jeff writes:

If Downtown Tulsa isn't for kids, then its redevelopment is dead in the water, and any endearment the children may have to Tulsa as they grow into adults will be limited to areas of town like 71st and Memorial, and... and.. and I guess that is it really, 71st and Memorial. I mean what else is there, in most peoples mind?

When I was a kid, I lived about a mile and a half northeast of downtown. We came downtown all the time to play, to go to the library, to eat at the Coney Islander when it was on the South side of 4th street. We ate at the counter at Kress's. We shopped at J.C. Penney, at Froug's department store, and the like. We would look at the behemoth Central High School and wonder what it would be like to go to school in such a large, majestic building.

I'm in favor of re-creating a downtown that is vibrant and livable for everyone, including the children.

I remember taking my own bus rides downtown every Wednesday afternoon, when I was 11, 12, and 13 years old. School let out at 2:20, and my mother couldn't pick me up until 4, so I went downtown to meet Dad. The 41st Street route went down 26th St. between Harvard and Lewis, turned north on Lewis, then came into downtown on 6th Street, turning north on Boston. I'd get off at 5th and walk toward the Central Library. (It was faster and more interesting than riding the bus around to the library.) I'd stop at a sandwich shop in the Court Arcade Building (between 5th and 6th on Boulder) and buy a 7-UP fountain drink and a fig bar, then head to the library and pore over books and maps until about 5, when I'd walk to the Cities Service Building (110 W. 7th) to meet my dad for the ride home. While a lot of the interesting old buildings were gone by 1975, there was still plenty to see and plenty of people out on the streets downtown, even at 3 in the afternoon.

An urban environment can be just as exciting and enriching a place to grow up as a rural environment. Both seem to be superior to the dull sameness of block after block of suburban houses.

The Whirled is reporting that KOTV is looking for a new location in the Brady Arts District, having outgrown the studio at 3rd & Frankfort that has been home to the station since it went on the air in 1949.

The land they're eyeing is south of I-244 between Detroit and Elgin. It is owned by the Oklahoma Historical Society. OHS bought it from the Tulsa Development Authority as a location for a proposed memorial to the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. The official name of the proposed museum is the "John Hope Franklin Greenwood Reconciliation Memorial and Museum." The site is at the western boundary of the old Greenwood District, the area into which African-Americans were segregated.

I hope KOTV stays within the IDL, and my gripe is not with them at all. I just wonder if anyone has considered where this memorial is supposed to go now.

UPDATE: KOTV says the Whirled got it wrong. The memorial location is not the site they're exploring:

The News On 6 has begun a negotiation on a small piece of land in downtown, but has not made an agreement to buy it and negotiations continue on five larger pieces of land big enough for a new television station.

The Tulsa Development Authority and Griffin Communications, the parent company of The News On 6, are in negotiations to buy a piece of land that could be used for a parking lot. A newspaper report that a larger lot across the street would be used for the television station is, according to Griffin Communications, an incorrect report.

In fact, the piece of land mentioned in the newspaper story was purchased by the state as the site for the John Hope Franklin Oklahoma Race Riot Memorial. The News On 6 does plan to replace its current broadcasting building and will announce the new location by the first of October.

Griffin Communications owner David Griffin has said the new building will be in downtown Tulsa, inside the Inner Dispersal Loop.

The latest entry at Tasha Does Tulsa is all about places to eat downtown and what keeps her going back to Felini's Cookies and Teri's Coney Island. Sure, the food is good:

So good. So. Freaking. Good. If I had been at home, I would have needed a cigarette and a nap afterward.

but that's not the reason she loves going back to these places more than other downtown restaurants with food just as good:

Sincere human contact is available at downtown Tulsa restaurants like Felini’s and Teri’s. Even when you get the hankering for a mushroom charburger from Billy’s on the Square, popcorn chicken from Arby’s, or a teriyaki chicken sandwich from Subway, going to those places won’t fulfill your need to get around some people other than the ones you’re in the office with all day long.

Natasha concludes with an account of the delights on sale at the Pearl District Farmers' Market every Thursday evening, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., just southwest of 6th and Peoria in Centennial (Central) Park. Read the whole thing.

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly wonders whatever happened to a couple of big plans for downtown: Global Development Partners' "East End" concept and Maurice Kanbar's plans to turn 20 downtown buildings into Soho on the Arkansas. (Hats off to the copy editor for the pithy headline.)

Also, on page 17 (you'll have to get the dead-tree edition or download the PDF from the website for this), UTW account exec Shannon O'Connell reveals -- among other things -- her pick for the best Arkansas River development ever.

Now, UTW is not just good for trenchant commentary and the annual swimsuit issue. I was looking for blog references to the paper, and I found this very nice testimonial to UTW's event listings, in which the blogger describes how they helped her break out of a routine and discover what Tulsa has to offer. I'm going to quote it at length, because it's so very good. There's even a plug for one of my favorite coffeehouses:

I have been scouring the internets for cheap or free things to do outside the house.

Actually, "scouring the internets" is not difficult, thanks to Urban Tulsa Weekly. Without this handy little publication, I would have no idea how much cool stuff I have been missing.

For instance. Thursday evenings, admission is free at the Philbrook Museum of Art. Tuesdays, I found TWO different places to play Scrabble. One is free, the other costs a whole dollar. This coming Sunday, Gilcrease Museum will be showing The Grapes of Wrath as part of their Centennial Film Series. Price? Free. How awesome is that?

The Tulsa Zoo is having Polar Bear Days, during which admission is halved on days when the forecasted temperature is below freezing. It is their way of boosting ticket sales while promoting their indoor (heated) exhibits.

I can learn to dance the tango at the Elks club. Waltzing and swing are taught at a local community center. Belly dancing is something I have been meaning to get back into for (cringe) years, and there are a couple of different options for that.

Dude, you can even take clogging lessons.

There is a silent film, The Black Pirate, being shown at the Tulsa Technology Center this Friday. Free.

There are at least SIX plays begging to be attended for less than ten bucks a pop.

Tulsa Spotlight Theatre has been running The Drunkard every Saturday night since 1953 or some such ridiculous thing. And I have never seen it! This needs to change.

Twice a month, the VFW hosts ballroom dancing.

I want to dance the tango with old men who can tell me war stories!

I want to play Scrabble with strangers! I do!

I want to go to museums and take beadwork classes and maybe learn a little conversational German.

I accept the fact that I am a nerdy, nerdy girl.

Aside: for Valentine's Day dessert, I picked up a slice of flourless torte yesterday at the Coffee House on Cherry Street. Less than three bucks for rich, chocolaty goodness. It went well with the Greek pizza we grabbed at the Pie Hole and washed down with a bottle of Rioja.

Right this minute, Tulsa is my favorite city ever. I just need to get out and explore it more.

So go check out those events listings and find something cheap, fun, and new to do this weekend!

I received an e-mail from the Tulsa Police Department with street closings and information for Saturday and Sunday's Oklahoma Centennial kickoff events in Tulsa. Here's the gist of it:

Downtown: Main Street (between 4th & 7th), and 5th Street (between Boulder and Boston) will be closed from noon Saturday to 4 p.m. Sunday for the Route 66 marathon pre-staging area. Starting at 10 p.m. Saturday, 4th, 6th & 7th (between Boulder and Boston), and Main (from 3rd to 4th) will also be closed until 4 p.m. Sunday.

On Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. the Route 66 marathon race course will be closed. This will affect Main Street from 6th to 11th, 11th Street from Main west to (and including) the 11th Street Bridge, the 23rd Street bridge, Riverside from 21st to 96th, Peoria from 18th to 41st, 36th from Riverside to Peoria, and 18th from Peoria to Main. The only places to cross the course will be at 9th & Main, 15th & Main, 21st & Peoria, and 31st & Peoria.

Here's a 700 KB PDF with a map of the course and the full advisory.

Also, for the laser show Saturday, the TPD issues this advisory:

Saturday, November 18, the “The Great State of Oklahoma Centennial Extravaganza” takes place in Downtown Tulsa. Crowds in excess of 40,000 are anticipated to attend this Oklahoma Centennial Laser Light Show and Pyrotechnics Choreographed Celebration, which begins at 7:00 PM. 8th Street, 9th Street, and 10th Street between Boulder Avenue and Cincinnati Avenue and Main Street and Boston Avenue between 7th Street and 11th Street will be closed from Noon to 10:00 PM for the Pedestrian Viewing Area. Vehicles parked within this area including designated parking lots will be towed.

Public parking will be available along parking lots adjacent to Detroit Avenue, Cincinnati
Avenue, Boulder Avenue, Cheyenne Avenue, and Denver Avenue south of 10th Street
including other parking lots within the Downtown area.

Drivers who are not coming to watch or participate in this event should avoid this area.
1st Street between Cincinnati Avenue and Cheyenne Avenue and Boulder Avenue and
Main Street between Archer Street and 2nd Street will be closed from 2:00 PM to 10:00 PM
for the Fireworks Launch Site. These areas are closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
Vehicles parked within this area including designated parking lots will be towed. In
addition, pedestrians are prohibited within this area per the Fire Marshall.

Motorists and pedestrians should avoid this area. Thank you for your cooperation.

It might have been easier to say what streets will still be open. Best I can figure (no guarantees, now) on Saturday, these streets will be open to traffic for coming and going to the big event downtown.

2nd Street, 3rd Street, 11th Street (but not where it turns into 10th), and streets further south. Cincinnati, Detroit, Elgin Avenues and avenues further east, Boulder, Cheyenne, and Denver Avenues and avenues further west. It appears that Brady Village and the Blue Dome District will be unscathed.

It's a shame that the pedestrian viewing area is at the south end of downtown, but I guess that's where all the big parking lots are. It would have been nice for people to see that they could go into McNellie's or Mexicali Border Cafe or one of the other fine downtown establishments for a bite to eat or a drink after the big show, but everyone will be on the wrong side of downtown. Anyone who comes to the show and doesn't know downtown will probably note how dead it all looks from the vantage point of 9th & Main.

If you're wondering what's happening with all the proposals for downtown Tulsa housing, I've come across a couple of websites that you should keep an eye on:

Mayo 420, the Mayo Building (not the hotel) on the northwest corner of 5th and Main, built in 1910 as a five-story office building, then expanded to ten stories in 1917. Occupancy expected in mid- to late 2007.

Mayo Lofts, in the Mayo Hotel, whose first floor is already in use as a special events space and retail and office space. Occupancy expected in summer 2007. This website has floorplans and computer-generated concept "photos." The units will range from a 700-square-foot studio to a 3,000-square-foot three bedroom unit with a staircase linking two levels.

Then there's the Philtower, where the top nine floors are being converted to apartments. According to the website, it's fully leased.

I can't find a website for Michael Sager's First Street Lofts, but here's a Journal Record story from earlier in the year, which also mentions his project on Brady Street, and a sidebar about Michael Newman's Fairview Lofts, just north of the IDL across the street from the Tulsa County Election Board.

If you know of any websites about similar projects around downtown or surrounding neighborhoods, please post a comment.

There was a nice story in the business section of Saturday's Whirled about Micha Alexander and what he and others have been doing to renovate the area around 3rd Street and Kenosha Avenue on the eastern edge of downtown Tulsa.

Though he just turned 26, he has purchased four buildings and renovated a fifth in his quest to transform a stretch of Third Street between Kenosha and Lansing avenues -- just outside the East End borders -- into a laid-back, artistic mixed-use district.

Alexander said that seeing his dream become reality meant taking matters into his own hands, from purchasing the buildings to doing much of his own design and construction work.

"People have been wanting redevelopment, but it seems everyone backs out," he said. ...

All seven of his finished loft apartments are occupied, and his retail space includes tenants such as Fringe, a knitting cafe; Elements, a hair salon; The Ritz Barklton, a dog day-care center; and Alexander's own businesses -- martini lounge 818 and Maverick Machine.

What I love about this story is Alexander's initiative. Instead of waiting for someone older or wealthier to make this happen, he saw an opportunity and took it, finding ways around obstacles. When the owner of 815 E. 3rd wasn't interested in selling, Alexander convinced the owner to lease it to him.

As the story points out, Alexander isn't the only one who has been making changes in the area. In fact, the rediscovery of this little corner of downtown is not a new story.

I had noticed the interesting cluster of buildings at this corner a long time ago. They stand out because of the bend in the street where Tulsa's original townsite (where the grid runs parallel to the Frisco tracks) meets the due east-west line of 3rd Street in Hodge's Addition. But it wasn't until I saw this letter in the August 28, 1997, Whirled, that I knew that people were working to turn these buildings into a neighborhood:

Your comparison of downtown Tulsa to downtown Denver ("Mile High City Fills Tall Order," Aug. 24) would be laughable if its potential consequences were not so serious. The story led readers to believe that all Tulsa needs are a few well-placed sports facilities to instigate the metamorphosis of downtown.

Downtown Denver has a number of population-sustaining entities, not the least of which is the state capital. Denver residents support professional athletics at a level that verges on the fanatical. It is no surprise that Coors Field is a hot attraction.

Denver has maintained a healthy presence of low-rise brick buildings in which restaurants, shops and loft dwellers can flourish. Such areas are virtually extinct in downtown Tulsa where the landscape is punctuated by parking lots.

The Tulsa Project threatens to diminish further the quantity of viable low-rise structures. The proposed track and field stadium would displace a stable neighborhood of loft apartments and small businesses (including my own).

It is important to give the voters of Tulsa an opportunity to make an informed decision about what they will gain and lose if the Tulsa Project is approved.

Allison Geary

I subsequently learned that Allison's husband, Patrick Geary, had his set design business, Stage One Scenic, on the first floor of their building on Kenosha Ave., and they lived on the second floor, and that other folks had been renovating nearby buildings for lofts and studio space. The Tulsa Project was the 1997 attempt to pass a sales tax to build an arena, a track/soccer stadium, a natatorium, and a parking garage, all as part of an amateur athletic complex. If the Tulsa Project had been approved, this budding arts district would have been replaced with parking for the stadium. When I called into a radio talk show to ask Jim Norton, president of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited Unlamented, about this, and his response was one of amused indifference to the loss of more downtown buildings and the destruction of the hard work of these urban pioneers. Here was this proposal that was intended to revitalize downtown, but it would penalize those who were actually trying to bring downtown back with their own money and sweat equity.

More recently the area has been under a different shadow, as the Tulsa Development Authority included the neighborhood in the 115-acre "East Village" redevelopment area. Building owners couldn't know for certain whether the TDA would use the threat of eminent domain to claim their land in order to assemble the amount of property the TDA's contracted developer, Desco, might want for their project. They could only hope that the TDA would respect their efforts and exclude their neighborhood from redevelopment. (I wrote about this situation in an Urban Tulsa Weekly column last October.)

During the Vision 2025 debate I got to know another area owner and resident, Dave Berray, who was renovating the buildings on the southeast corner of 3rd and Kenosha. He organized a neighborhood association and worked with neighbors to get the area rezoned from Industrial Medium to CBD -- a mixed-use zone designed for downtown which allows residential as well as office, retail, and industrial uses. Dave pushed for naming the neighborhood Hodge's Bend, after the kink in 3rd Street and Hodge's Addition -- a more distinctive local name than "East Village." In addition to the concern about eminent domain, Dave told me about other inconveniences for area residents: Did you know you can't get residential trash service inside the IDL?

I'm encouraged to see the efforts of these hearty urban pioneers get some recognition, and I'm pleased to see that the proposed East End redevelopment will leave this area alone.

If you get a chance, drive down 3rd Street and see for yourself the progress that has been made.

MORE: Here's another story about a young downtown entrepreneur, Elliot Nelson, proprietor of McNellie's, who has reopened The Colony pub on Harvard, plans to open a Mexican restaurant across from McNellie's, and to open a McNellie's in Oklahoma City, on the north edge of downtown -- someone else with big dreams who is making them happen.

Back in August, in an Urban Tulsa Weekly column, I wrote about the reaction to a set of five modest proposals (the CORE proposals) to address historic preservation in downtown Tulsa.

TulsaNow has put together a compelling seven-minute video in support of downtown historic preservation. Click the play button below to watch:

The video's narrator (I think it's TulsaNow board member Sarah Kobos) mentions that Tulsa is second in the country for the percentage of its downtown devoted to surface parking lots. (Who's number one? And if we try hard, can we catch up? ;) ) Take a look at the map below (click to enlarge), and you won't doubt it for a minute:

The video spotlights some of the dramatic architecture seen on and inside historic downtown Tulsa buildings, but it also rightly points out the importance of modest older buildings to downtown's revitalization. Of the 30 restaurants and nightclubs open on evenings and weekends in downtown (not including the ones in the hotels), 28 of them are in older buildings. Older buildings provide an affordable incubator for new businesses.

The only point that I might have added to the video is one I made in my column on the topic: that the large amount of public investment in downtown, specifically for the purpose of downtown revitalization, makes it reasonable for the public to protect its investment by putting in place these moderate historic preservation measures.

Please, Tulsans, do not click on this link. You might come away with the impression that there are already cool and fun things to do in Tulsa for trendy young adults. And then you might not believe that we are desperately in need of spending another $600 million in tax money to make Tulsa cool enough to attract young adults.

Avital Binshtock and Jen Haft have obviously led a sheltered existence living in Los Angeles and driving around the western U. S., because they were too easily impressed by Tulsa's Blue Dome District:

We didn't know a thing about Tulsa, except that it existed. What we found was a town clearly on the rise; industrial-chic brick buildings encased galleries, shops and restaurants worthy of any major arts-concerned metropolis. But the vibe here, hipness and good taste notwithstanding, is unmistakably small-town. Tulsans could easily qualify as our nation's friendliest people.

Come back in six years when we have islands -- islands, do you hear me?!? -- in the middle of the Arkansas River. Then you'll have something a young hipster could write home about. A busy pub with a long list of imported beers and live music, a chic new home furnishings shop, and a Cuban art exhibit at a gallery housed in an old bordello -- every podunk town has that sort of thing.


An edited version of this piece was published in the August 23, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The edited, published version of the piece is online in the Internet Archive. Posted on the web September 17, 2013.

Property owners owe Tulsans downtown preservation

By Michael D. Bates

A memo from the not-too-distant future

Dear Delegate,

Welcome to Tulsa and the 2008 National Preservation Conference! We want to do everything we can to make your stay a pleasant and memorable one.

Tulsa is a young city, but one with a rich history. As you walk the streets of downtown, we invite you to imagine the bygone days of wildcatters and oil barons and to imagine the bygone buildings where they did their deals, dined, shopped, and were entertained.
For those of you staying at the Westin Adam's Mark Crowne Plaza whatever the heck it's called now, you're sure to enjoy the history of the walk between the Convention Center and your hotel.

Fourth Street was once Tulsa's Great White Way, home to vaudeville and cinematic spectaculars. Close your eyes and you can imagine the Ritz (southeast corner of 4th and Boulder, now a parking garage), the Majestic (southwest corner of 4th and Main, part of the same parking garage), and the Orpheum (east of Main, south of 4th, now part of one of downtown Tulsa's foremost attractions, the Heap Big Hole in the Ground).
Don't miss the site of the Skelly Building on the northeast corner of 4th and Boulder, designed by famed architect Bruce Goff, now an exclusive deluxe gated parking community owned by the Tulsa World.

As you head north on Main Street, you'll be awed by the Totalitarian-Moderne Tulsa World building, a design inspired by the pillbox gun emplacements built by longtime Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha.

Main Street dead-ends at 3rd, cut off by your hotel's conference rooms, symbolically celebrating the irreparable division between north and south Tulsa.

We hope you'll take time to get some kicks on old Route 66. 11th Street, also known as the Mother Road, is today a lovely tree-lined boulevard, no longer cluttered with unsightly old motels and diners, which were cleared out to provide an attractive approach to the gateway to the portal to the grand entrance to the University of Tulsa.

We've got an "explosive" event planned for the final night of the conference - or should we say implosive! This town will rock! Promptly at sunset, every downtown building at least 50 years old will be simultaneously demolished in a symphony of light, sound, and debris. "Clean Slate 2008" is made possible through the generous sponsorship of Twenty-First Properties, the Tulsa World, Ark Wrecking, the Tulsa Parking Authority, and Downtown Tulsa Unlamented.

Enjoy your visit!

Tulsa Convention and Visitors Bureau

A bit farfetched? Perhaps, but the National Preservation Conference is coming to Tulsa in October 2008, and you have to wonder how many historic downtown buildings Tulsa will have left to show the visiting delegates.

The conference is put on each year by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, bringing preservation and urban planning professionals and lay people from all over the world for five days to exchange ideas and to tour local preservation success stories. I have no idea why they agreed to come to Tulsa, except perhaps to learn what not to do.

In the last two years we've seen the demolition of the Skelly Building and the 3rd and Main Froug's, two small retail buildings on the east side of Main just south of the Heap Big Hole in the Ground, and the Tulsa Auto Hotel, a parking garage that was demolished for - naturally - a surface parking lot. An aerial view of downtown reveals the effects of fifty years of heedless demolition.

The NTHP's local affiliate, Preservation Oklahoma, has named downtown Tulsa one of Oklahoma's most endangered historic places. While many Tulsans are rightly embarrassed by this and are working on a practical plan for action, the big downtown property owners are whining about the prospect any effective downtown preservation initiative.

Last week, a group called CORE Tulsa issued a set of five modest recommendations to the Tulsa Preservation Commission:

  1. Review all downtown buildings.
  2. Be proactive in meeting parking demand with structured parking, and discourage surface parking.
  3. Make downtown preservation a key component of Tulsa's new comprehensive plan.
  4. Create and promote incentives for redevelopment.
  5. Create a demolition review panel, to be designated by the Preservation Commission, that could halt demolition of a significant building for up to four months.

These measures have been a long time coming. Most cities took similar steps many years ago. Even many of Oklahoma's small cities have been more proactive than Tulsa in protecting their historic business districts.

I would have hoped that downtown property owners would get behind this effort, but instead their loud complaints have pushed these recommendations back to the drawing board, where they will no doubt be watered down.

I would have hoped that Mayor Kathy Taylor, who during the mayoral campaign praised the "Main Street" preservation efforts that she observed as Secretary of Commerce, would show some leadership and bring these recommendations forward. Instead, she seems to be heeding the advice of her aide Susan Neal, a former vice president of Downtown Tulsa Unlamented, who applauded the decision to withhold the recommendations.

(I know - it's really "Unlimited" not "Unlamented" - but the organization deserves the name change for their longstanding lack of resistance to the paving of downtown.)

In her Sunday Tulsa World column, Janet Pearson writes that "developers and building owners saw [the CORE recommendations] as potential project-killers." I'd be more impressed by that concern if it looked like the complaining property owners were actually doing anything with the land they've been sitting on. Other than the slow-but-steady renovation of the Mayo Hotel, there's not much happening in the downtown core.

What was most ironic and outrageous about the response of the development industry was the assertion that these preservation measures trampled on property rights and the free market.

Donovan D. Rypkema, a self-described "crass, unrepentant, real estate capitalist Republican type," gave a speech called "Property Rights and Public Values," in which he makes the case, from the basis of free markets and limited government, for land use regulation.

(You can find Rypkema's speech on the web at http://www.law.georgetown.edu/gelpi/takings/rypkema.htm)

These sentences from the speech are particularly relevant to the topic at hand:
"Most of the value of an individual parcel of real estate comes from beyond the property lines from the investments others - usually taxpayers - have made. And land use controls are an appropriate recompense for having publicly created that value."

Think about public investment in downtown Tulsa. Tulsa County taxpayers are investing over a quarter-billion dollars in downtown through Vision 2025. City of Tulsa taxpayers have invested tens or maybe hundreds of millions through bond issues and the third-penny -- building Main Mall, removing it, providing incentives to downtown residential development, acquiring land for the Williams Center through eminent domain, streetscaping, changing streets from one-way to two-way, etc. Then there's the federal and state investment in the highway network that provides rapid access to downtown from every part of the metropolitan area.

We didn't pay all that money to accelerate the conversion of downtown to an enormous surface parking lot.

The express purpose of much of that public investment is the revitalization of downtown. Many Tulsans want a downtown where historic buildings are protected, a downtown that is an attractive and interesting place to walk around, not a downtown that looks like the Woodland Hills Mall parking lot.

Every time a property owner knocks a building down for surface parking, it devalues that public investment. It is legitimate and reasonable for local government to protect that investment with modest regulations.

Oklahoma City has an Urban Design Commission with the power to block demolition.
That's how they saved the Gold Dome building at 23rd and Classen, now a multicultural center anchoring the city's Asian District.

In 2002, during a bus tour of Oklahoma City's downtown and Bricktown, I asked then-Mayor Kirk Humphreys how they convinced developers to go along with restrictions on what they could do with their property. Humphreys said that the City pointed out how many millions of dollars the City had invested in that area (the canal, the ballpark, the Ford Center, and more), and that it was reasonable for the City to take steps to protect its investment.

It's high time that our elected officials, the stewards of Tulsa's public investment in downtown, made that same case to our downtown property owners.


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The response of the downtown building owners and their lobbyists to proposals for downtown historic preservation is ironic, with their talk of capital and free markets. I didn't hear any of them suggest that it was a violation of capitalism to tax groceries to pay for a venue for privately-owned, for-profit sports teams and musical acts, or to spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars to boost their property values.

Up in my linkblog, I linked to a speech by Donovan D. Rypkema, who describes himself as a "crass, unrepentant, real estate capitalist Republican type." The speech is about the rationale and legitimacy of land-use regulation. In particular, he addresses the assertion that land use regulation constitutes a taking for which a property owner should be compensated.

One paragraph in the speech seemed especially relevant to the debate over downtown historic preservation:

Most of the value of an individual parcel of real estate comes from beyond the property lines from the investments others � usually taxpayers � have made. And land use controls are an appropriate recompense for having publicly created that value.

Think about public investment in downtown Tulsa. Tulsa County taxpayers are investing over a quarter-billion dollars in downtown through Vision 2025. City of Tulsa taxpayers have invested tens or maybe hundreds of millions through bond issues and the third-penny -- building Main Mall, removing it, providing incentives to downtown residential development, acquiring land for the Williams Center through eminent domain, streetscaping, changing streets from one-way to two-way, etc. Then there's the federal and state investment in the highway network that connects downtown with the rest of the metro area.

The express purpose of much of that public investment is the revitalization of downtown. Many Tulsans want a downtown where historic buildings are protected, a downtown that is an attractive and interesting place to walk around, not a downtown that looks like the Woodland Hills Mall parking lot.

Every time a property owner knocks a building down for surface parking, it devalues that public investment. It is legitimate and reasonable for local government to protect that investment with modest regulations.

In my column in last week's issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly, I wrote about the many ways that Oklahoma City uses land-use regulation to protect strategic and historical parts of the city, such as the Northeast Gateway and Bricktown. Special districts have been established, with rules and processes specific to each. Bricktown and other older commercial districts, such as NW 23rd St., are under urban design review, which affects major exterior renovation, new construction, and demolition, to ensure consistency with the character of the neighborhood, protecting public investment and the investment of neighboring building owners.

A few years ago, the Urban Design Commission denied three applications to demolish the Gold Dome at 23rd and Classen, a geodesic dome originally built as a bank. The building is now being used for offices and a multicultural center to anchor the city's Asian District.

In 2002, I went on a Tulsa Now bus tour of Oklahoma City, and for part of the ride then-Mayor Kirk Humphreys was our tour guide. I asked him how they convinced developers to go along with restrictions on what they could do with their property. He said that the City pointed out how many millions of dollars the City had invested in that area (the canal, the ballpark, the Ford Center, and more), and that it was reasonable for the City to take steps to protect its investment.

Paul Wilson, one of the property owners who was quoted as complaining about the preservation recommendations in the Whirled's story, was a member of the Dialog/Visioning Leadership Team, the group that put together the Vision 2025 sales tax package. He and his business associates had been pushing for a new taxpayer-funded sports arena since the mid '90s. The last time I checked land records downtown, firms connected to Wilson owned a significant amount of land along Denver Avenue between Highway 51 and the arena site.

No one is proposing to take his land away from him, but now that the City has given him so much of what he asked for, and has significantly improved the value of his investments, it is reasonable for the city to insist that he act in a way that upholds the value of the taxpayers' investment.

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

CORE Tulsa, a group of Tulsa Preservation Commission staffers and volunteers, did a study on how to keep more of downtown from turning into surface parking lots. According to the Tulsa Whirled, these were the report's recommendations:

  • For the city to conduct a comprehensive review of all downtown buildings with analysis of the impact of demolition and identification of buildings that should be redeveloped and those at risk for loss.
  • For the city and the Tulsa Parking Authority to put new policies into action to move ahead of demand for structured parking and to discourage surface parking by all means possible.
  • For the city and other entities to make downtown preservation an integral component of Tulsa's comprehensive plan, which is being updated.
  • For the city to step up the creation and promotion of incentives for redeveloping existing properties and new development, along with downtown residents.
  • For the city to create a demolition review panel, to be designated by the Preservation Commission, that could trigger a stay of 120 days to consider alternate uses for targeted structures.

This study has been a long time in coming. (I called for a City Hall-led summit on downtown parking and preservation when I first ran for Council in 1998.) Most major cities have some form of the recommendations in place.

You would hope that the development industry, especially those who have pushed the arena as a tool for downtown revitalization, would welcome this study. After all, Preservation Oklahoma named downtown Tulsa one of Oklahoma's most endangered historic places. And the National Preservation Conference is coming to town in just two years.

But no. The very idea of a delaying the demolition of a building for surface parking is enough to have these developers threatening to leave for the suburbs.

So these very mild and moderate recommendations are being held back for "further study." Mayor Taylor could show some leadership on this issue, but her aide Susan Neal is applauding the prospect of watering down the recommendations.

And I'll ask again, where are the civic leaders, the philanthropists, who will take the lead in preserving Tulsa's history?

Media bias note: The Whirled story mentions that the preservation study was inspired by the recent demolition of the Skelly Building, Froug's Department Store, and the Tulsa Auto Hotel. The story neglects to mention that the first two of those three were demolished by the Tulsa Whirled.

An edited version of this piece was published in the June 7, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The edited, published version of the piece is online in the Internet Archive. Posted on the web September 17, 2013.

Remembering Jane Jacobs
By Michael D. Bates

"This book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding. It is also, and mostly, an attempt to introduce new principles of city planning and rebuilding, different and even opposite from those now taught in everything from schools of architecture and planning to the Sunday supplements and women's magazines.... It is an attack... on the principles and aims that have shaped modern, orthodox city planning and rebuilding."

She was labeled a naysayer and an obstructionist, anti-growth and anti-progress. She had no training in city planning or architecture, but she challenged the professionals and the experts. In the mid-'50s, when her neighborhood was threatened with demolition by New York's orgy of expressway construction, she and her neighbors fought back and won. Their victory opened the door for the economic resurgence of the neighborhoods of lower Manhattan.

She transcended political boundaries. In the late '60s, she and her family left the United States for Toronto to keep her son out of the Vietnam War draft, and yet two of her books were listed among the hundred best non-fiction works of the 20th century by the conservative fortnightly National Review.

What Jane Jacobs had was a keen eye for detail, a gift for description, and a stubborn determination to see streets, neighborhoods, and cities as they really are, not distorted through the lens of academic theory. It is that quality that makes her landmark book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, still fresh and relevant nearly half a century after its publication.

Her death on April 25, at the age of 89, brought to an end Jane Jacobs' long and productive life. She deserves to be remembered, and so do her observations about what makes a city a safe and pleasant place to live and work and, just as important, an incubator for new businesses and new ideas.

Here are just three of the lessons she taught, lessons that many of Tulsa's leaders have yet to learn:

1. Believe your eyes, not your theories:

Jacobs' ideas about cities ran counter to the accepted wisdom of city planning, which she considered a dangerous kind of quackery, as apt to kill the patient as heal it: "As in the pseudoscience of bloodletting, just so in the pseudoscience of city rebuilding and planning, years of learning and a plethora of subtle and complicated dogma have arisen on a foundation of nonsense."

Planners clung to their dogma, regardless of its real-world effects: "The pseudoscience of planning seems almost neurotic in its determination to imitate empiric failure and ignore empiric success."

Jacobs wrote of a friend who was a city planner in Boston, who told her that the North End, the old Italian district with its chaotic tangle of narrow streets and untidy mixture of homes and businesses, was a dreadful, crowded, unhealthy slum that needed to be cleared. And although he concurred with her observation that the neighborhood was a lively, pleasant, and safe place, an observation backed up by low crime and mortality rates, he chose to believe the negative view of the neighborhood dictated by accepted planning theory.

Here in Tulsa there seems to be a reluctance to catalog and acknowledge the planning failures of the last fifty years. Perhaps it is because many of the responsible decision makers of the '60s, '70s, and '80s are still living and still influential. But until we are willing to admit that following the fads of the past - urban renewal, superblocks, pedestrian malls, urban expressway loops - caused more damage than good, we will remain susceptible to ignoring reality and uncritically embracing the next fashionable concept.

2. The safety of a city is a function of its design:

Jacobs saw, in the traditional urban neighborhoods that had escaped dismemberment by urban renewal and expressway construction, a complex organic system that planners tamper with at their peril.

The mixture of residences, jobs, and shopping gives people a reason to be on the sidewalks, coming into or through the neighborhood from early in the morning until late at night. That, combined with buildings that overlook those sidewalks, creates a kind of natural surveillance - a phenomenon she called "eyes on the street." She wrote, "No amount of police can enforce civilization where the normal, casual enforcement of it has broken down."

Contrast that with a typical 1970s Tulsa subdivision. The neighborhood has sidewalks, but they don't lead anywhere you would need to go. The houses turn a blind eye to the street; living rooms look out on the back yard, with no windows facing the street. It doesn't matter how many street lights you put up; if no one needs to be walking down the street, and no one can easily look out to observe the street, you have only managed to create a well-lit workplace for vandals and car thieves.

3. Old buildings matter:

"Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them. By old buildings I mean not museum-piece old buildings... but also a good lot of plain, ordinary, low-value old buildings, including some rundown old buildings."

Think about the most lively and interesting places in Tulsa, the kind of places you'd take a visitor for a night on the town: Brookside, the Blue Dome District, Brady Village, Cherry Street, 18th and Boston. Each of those districts had an abundance of old buildings, buildings that are for the most part unremarkable. But those buildings provided an inexpensive place for someone with a dream to start a new business.

You might have seen the same kind of vitality develop in the south part of downtown, with business springing up to serve the tens of thousands who attend classes at TCC's Metro Campus or participate in activities at the downtown churches, but so many of the buildings have been taken for parking by the churches and by TCC that a prospective business owner would be hard-pressed to find a location.

"As for really new ideas of any kind - no matter how ultimately profitable or otherwise successful some of them might prove to be - there is no leeway for such chancy trial, error and experimentation in the high-overhead economy of new construction. Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings."

Time and space allow us only to scratch the surface of Jacobs' wisdom here. You will have to read The Death and Life of Great American Cities for yourselves to see what she had to say about why some parks are lively and safe and others are dull and dangerous, why certain areas become magnets for used car lots and other unattractive uses, how to accommodate cars without killing an urban neighborhood, and how to keep a successful district from self-destructing.

The principles Jacobs drew from her observations are timeless because they are grounded in unchanging human nature, although the application of those principles will vary from one place to another. Would that every City Councilor and every planning commissioner would read and ponder Jacobs' works.

As Tulsa revisits its Comprehensive Plan for the first time in 30 years, as we consider moving from use-based to form-based planning, we have the opportunity to align our practices with those timeless principles, so that once again our urban core can become a lively and dynamic engine for the culture and prosperity of our city and our region.
Jane Jacobs showed us the way. Perhaps, a half-century later, Tulsa is ready to follow her path.

When I filed this week's column Monday morning, I had no way of knowing the final result, but I felt certain that whoever won the Republican nomination for Mayor would win without a majority of the vote. I thought that was the optimum time to write about the advantages of instant runoff voting without drawing complaints that it was an exercise in sour grapes.

For what it's worth, I've proposed instant runoff voting at least twice during the City Council's charter review process held every two years.

You'll find more information about instant runoff voting at FairVote, which reports that Burlington, Vermont, used IRV to elect their mayor this last Tuesday.

And here's the Burlington Votes website, with a helpful and thorough set of answers to frequently-asked questions, the results of the two rounds of the mayoral election, a sample ballot, and, for election nerds, a text representation of each ballot and the open-source software used to count the ballots.

Also, this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly has a story by Ginger Shepherd about Maurice Kanbar and Henry Kaufman's plans for downtown Tulsa. And Gretchen Collins talks to the two Portland-based investors who hope to convert the Towerview Apartments into lofts.

That latter story is very encouraging, but the most discouraging note is that city officials and the head of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited tried to talk them out of doing anything with the building. It's a shame our local yokels don't seem to understand that good, urban downtowns are built, renovated, and redeveloped one lot, one building at a time. When you start talking about whole blocks or superblocks or (heaven forbid) acres devoted to a single use, you're not talking about an urban streetscape any more, but transplanted suburbia.

The Towerview is the building that city officials have targeted for condemnation to make way for a hotel across the street from the arena. There's no reason that a hotel can't coexist with a restored Towerview and other new buildings besides. The Crowne Plaza takes up about a half-block, the Mayo a quarter-block, the old Holiday Inn/Ramada about a third of a block. Even the Doubletree, able to sprawl a bit because it's built on urban renewal land, would fit in less than a full block.

Here are a couple TulsaNow forum topics about the Towerview:

Towerview photos

Discussion of LaFortune's plan to condemn the Towerview

I stopped by the "Realtor Reality Check" rally for Chris Medlock, held across the street from the Southern Hills Marriott, where the Tulsa Real Estate Coalition was holding its candidate forum, from which TREC excluded Medlock. I had to leave at 5:30, but I'm told the crowd grew as more people had time to arrive after work. Mad Okie has photos and a description of the event. That's Councilor Jim Mautino's wife Bonnie holding a sign that says, "Bixby has a mayor, Jenks has a mayor, Owasso has a mayor. Tulsa needs a mayor, too!" Mad Okie's got a bunch more worth reading, plus some funny stuff.

I was downtown right about sunset and drove down Main Street, where two of the last remaining small commercial buildings are fenced and awaiting demolition -- 417 and 419 S. Main. The buildings belong to one of the partnerships formed by Maurice Kanbar and Henry Kaufman to acquire buildings in downtown Tulsa. Remember my half-joking worry: What if these guys buying all these old downtown buildings were really demolition enthusiasts? Well, it looked as if the first visible work to be done on the historic downtown properties they had acquired would be to tear down two buildings for parking. Some preservation-minded folks got their concerns back to Kaufman, who issued a two-week stay of execution. (Maybe this was some sort of hazing ritual, forced on Kaufman and Kanbar by the local good ol' boy network. "Y'all have to prove you're real Tulsans by tearing down historic buildings for parking.")

Here's the start of a TulsaNow forum topic about the buildings; the topic goes on for four pages. The southernmost of the two buildings has special memories for me: I did my month-long high school internship there when it was Channel 41, a news-talk TV station that had just gone on the air. (You'll find my memories of KGCT on Tulsa TV Memories.)

I met another blogger this evening, while waiting in line at the drugstore. A friend from church came up to say hello, and mentioned that she and her husband enjoy reading my blog. The fellow in front of me overheard and asked what blog, and when I told him, he said he'd just come back to Tulsa from NYC, and he'd heard of BatesLine from a fellow blogger back there -- Scott Sala, of Slant Point and Urban Elephants. (I mentioned Scott in this week's Urban Tulsa cover story about local news bloggers.) What a small world!

The blogger I met is Earnest Pettie, who blogs as The Idea Man. His latest idea: issue tax refunds as debit cards, tied to an account that accrues interest on the remaining balance of the refund.

Who are these two men who have bought over a quarter of downtown Tulsa's office space? How did these two Blue Staters come to have an interest in this city in the reddest of Red States? David Lloyd Jones, formerly the Tulsa Tribune's Rambler, spoke to Paulette Millichap, a founder of Council Oak Books and a long-time friend of Maurice Kanbar and Henry Kaufman, and to Ray Feldman, a Tulsa attorney and friend of Kaufman. Jones's story, in the current Greater Tulsa Reporter, is the most complete explanation I've seen of the personal connections and ideas that brought these paradigm-shifting building buys to fruition. (Hat tip to MichaelC from the TulsaNow forums for spotting this article.)

Missing the Brady boat


Michael Sanditen has an interesting comment on a previous entry about how Tulsa's leaders missed the opportunity to spur on development of the Brady Village arts district, capitalizing on our unique heritage. What he's advocating is a good example of "urban husbandry", a term coined by Roberta Brandes Gratz to describe the antithesis of the big project approach to revitalization. Urban husbandry looks for places where there is already investment, interest, and activity, and makes small, strategic public expenditures to help remove obstacles and encourage what the private sector is already doing. I encourage you to read Michael's comment -- click here -- and to reply with a comment on that entry, if you're so inclined.

No time to comment at length, but I want to call your attention to Joe Kelley's latest entry: "Downtown Takes Another Hit." In light of layoffs at two major downtown Tulsa employers, he questions all the effort and money put into downtown revitalization.

I think we do need a downtown and strong neighborhoods surrounding it, because we need at least one truly urban section of the city -- a place with a mixture of uses, a place where car-free living is possible.

The focus on downtown as office park -- build huge office towers, then tear everything else down to provide enough parking for the tenants of the office towers -- is one of the things that has killed downtown. Perhaps the recent discouraging developments will change the way we look at downtown revitalization for the better.

Tulsa roundup

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Roemerman on Record will be quiet for a while, as Steve Roemerman is off to Gretna, Louisiana, just across the Mississippi from New Orleans, with a group from his church to help Convoy of Hope. We'll keep Steve in our prayers and look forward to his report when he returns.

Our Tulsa World has added more video clips from Mayor Bill LaFortune's September 6 third-penny meeting at the Zarrow Library. This is a great service that Mr. Schuttler is doing by filming, converting, and posting these video clips. Too often the claims and promises made in this sort of meeting are lost to history. His summary of the meeting puts the clips in context. In another entry he has the response from Mayor LaFortune and Fire Chief Allen LaCroix to the question, "Are we prepared if Keystone Dam breaks?"

MeeCiteeWurkor has a special comments thread just for registering your opinion of the Tulsa Whirled. He's asking for submissions in a contest -- things you can do with a Tulsa Whirled. And he's about to add a new contributor to the blog.

City Councilor Chris Medlock has a recent entry on his proposal regarding the sales tax money currently going to Tulsa County for "4 to Fix the County." He says that the county is fixed now, and between the Vision 2025 sales tax and rising property taxes, the county is well fixed for funds. By denying a renewal of the 2/12ths cent "4 to Fix" sales tax, City of Tulsa voters could opt to pass the same size sales tax at the city level and earmark it for public safety.

Another noteworthy item on MedBlogged cites two Tulsa Whirled City Hall stories, one from 2002, one from last week. The March 2002 story has Mayor-elect Bill LaFortune saying he plans to have a direct, face-to-face relationship with the City Council, which lines up with my recollection of my first meeting with LaFortune as he started his run for office. The September 2005 story has councilors, including recently-elected Bill Martinson, complaining that LaFortune won't deal directly with the Council on issues like the new third-penny proposal.

Tulsa Downtown reports that new clubs are opening in the Blue Dome district.

Tulsa newcomer Joe Kelley has been trying the immersion approach to understanding his new hometown, and he's posted a list of some of the people he's met with so far, and would like suggestions for others he ought to talk to. About a week and a half ago, I introduced him to the tawook at La Roma Pizza (a Lebanese restaurant disguised as a pizzeria), and we had a very enjoyable conversation. He seems to be a very astute observer and a quick study.

Tulsa Topics has an audio tribute to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, including their radio theme song, "Okie Boogie," "Cadillac in my Model A," and tributes by The Tractors and Asleep at the Wheel. One thing I love about Bob Wills songs -- you don't need liner notes, because Bob tells you who's playing as the song proceeds.

As always, you'll find the latest and greatest entries from blogs about Tulsa news on the Tulsa Bloggers aggregation page.

Sunday's Whirled had a front-page article about the city's plans for downtown east of Detroit and south of the Frisco tracks. (I know, I know -- it's been Burlington Northern for a long time now, but doggone it, the Saint Louis and San Francisco Railroad laid those tracks in 1882 and determined the cockeyed orientation of downtown Tulsa. I'll still call them the Frisco tracks, so as to differentiate them from the Katy tracks and the Tulsa Street Railway tracks.)

This 115-acre area, prospectively titled the East Village, was the subject of a redevelopment contract between the Tulsa Development Authority and DESCO, a St. Louis-based big box retail developer. The deal quietly expired without any progress. Now Mayor Bill LaFortune is in discussions with some private groups about redevelopment plans, which may involve a soccer or baseball stadium. The Whirled quotes the Mayor as saying, "The primary thrust of the redevelopment projects we're in discussion with will have the end result of the new urbanism concept for this city that we don't have now."

To be fair, the Mayor acknowledges that a stadium shouldn't be the focal point of the redevelopment:

LaFortune said any sports facility that is part of the redevelopment discussion "is more of a secondary theme to the primary theme of multi-use development. A stadium, whether it be soccer or minor league baseball, would be woven into the fabric of that project."

LaFortune said everyone has seen the success that downtown stadiums can bring to revitalization.

"We've seen it in city after city after city," he said. "The major difference of any discussions now regarding any professional sports is that it is not the No. 1 focus as it has been in the past."

City after city? Where, exactly, have downtown sports facilities sparked downtown revitalization? Not the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Not any of the sports facilities in downtown St. Louis. Where there has been revitalization around a sports facility, there are other attractions in place. I think the canal has had more to do with the liveliness of Oklahoma City's Bricktown than the Bricktown Ballpark or the Ford Center. If an attraction is going to make a difference, it has to be something that you can enjoy at any time, not just on certain scheduled occasions. The canal provides a promenade -- a place to stroll along, to see and be seen. The sports facilities bring people into the area to see Bricktown for the first time, but that only makes a difference because first-time visitors can see that there are lots of people who are enjoying themselves outside of the sports facilities.

A couple of things bother me about this news item. One is the hope placed in a sports facility, or any one big thing, to revive downtown. Another is the focus on finding one big developer to fix up the whole area.

It has taken fifty years to reduce downtown Tulsa from its glory days to its present state. This process has been helped along by expressway construction, urban renewal, skyscraper construction (and the increased demand for parking), and plenty of well-meaning revitalization attempts.

We won't erase half a century of mistakes overnight. The best examples of revitalization in Tulsa are along 15th Street and along Peoria, and in each case it has been a process of more than 20 years, beginning with some pioneers who saw potential in the old commercial buildings of Cherry Street and Brookside. The best city government can do is provide encouragement and remove obstacles.

  1. Treat the conversion of downtown into a parking lot as the shame that it is. Call a summit of office building owners, downtown pastors, city and county officials, and the leaders of OSU Tulsa and TCC, and work out a way to meet parking needs and expansion needs without ever more demolition.
  2. Improve connections within downtown. At long last, fix and reopen the Boulder Avenue overpass. Make the Denver Avenue viaduct and all the overpasses more comfortable and less forboding for pedestrians. Create a direct route connecting 3rd and Main in the downtown core with Archer and Main in Brady Village -- even if it means tearing down some ugly modern buildings.
  3. Keep the street grid open. Don't close any more streets, and open some to complete the grid, like Frankfort between 1st and 2nd, Greenwood between 3rd and 5th, and 5th between Frankfort and Kenosha.
  4. Insist that OSU-Tulsa build out its campus in an urban fashion. OSU-Tulsa has their land because the City of Tulsa condemned it for them. The City should strongly encourage OSU-Tulsa to remediate, and not repeat, the isolated suburban mall design of its current campus.
  5. Improve connections between inside and outside the Inner Dispersal Loop for drivers and pedestrians.
  6. Remember that retail follows residential. Encourage the urban pioneers who are already creating living spaces downtown and find out what obstacles are standing in the way of others following in their footsteps.

You'll find a very intelligent discussion of downtown revitalization happening at the TulsaNow forums.

Via OKC's Downtown Guy, I learn of a blog devoted to downtown Tulsa. Not too many entries so far, but it looks like the blogger (who chooses to remain anonymous) has begun posting in earnest again since mid-July. Perhaps some traffic and positive comments will encourage him or her to post more frequently. I've added the blog to my list of Tulsa news links.

Also, Downtown Guy has an article by urban critic Joel Kotkin, who has his doubts that loft living will ever be as popular as some anticipate, but writes, "the right policy and reasonable expectations could transform parts of downtown [Los Angeles] into an exciting, slightly offbeat alternative community amid L.A.'s vast suburban archipelago."

Just before that sentence is an interesting observation: "Even so, don't count on downtown L.A. becoming another Soho. It may never fully compete with the Miracle Mile, West Hollywood, Pasadena or the beach as an urban lure. These areas have fewer dead spots created by freeway ramps, parking lots and government buildings. They offer more attractive pedestrian streetscapes and more places to go." Think how that applies to Tulsa. Tulsa's leaders ringed downtown with freeways (I heard someone today liken the Inner Dispersal Loop to a noose), leveled buildings for entire blocks of surface parking, and replaced market-driven diversity with superblocks of government-imposed sameness. The interesting streetscapes are in areas that government largely neglected -- places like Cherry Street and Brookside.

San Francisco investor Maurice Kanbar has bought six historic buildings in downtown Tulsa, including some art deco gems, like the Adams Hotel. KOTV has the story. I'll see what I can learn about Mr. Kanbar and report back later.

Life continues to intrude on blogging time. I hope to have time and energy to post more tonight. In the meantime, check out the links on the right-hand side.

UPDATE: Kanbar invented the D-Fuzz-It sweater comb among many other things. I found one connection Kanbar has with Tulsa. His memoir, Secrets from an Inventor's Notebook, was published by Tulsa's Council Oak Books.

A reader who lived in SF until a few years ago writes: "Mr. Kanbar is a friend of Michael Savage's. I remember Savage interviewing him years ago in SF, before Savage's show was syndicated. I also remember reading articles about him in the SF Chronicle. He is a good guy and a very interesting story."

OKC's Downtown Guy has two entries (here and here) with details from the KOTV and Whirled coverage of the sale. DG asks, "Could Maurice Kanbar be the first outsider to truly recognize the potential in Vision 2025 and Tulsa's attempt to revive its downtown?" Maurice Kanbar will be the first anyone, insider or outsider, to make a major investment in downtown since the Vision 2025 vote. We didn't see the same immediate outpouring of private investment that OKC did after MAPS was passed. I think the difference comes down to two things -- the economy was much better in the early '90s in OKC than in 2003 in Tulsa, and MAPS had far more for downtown than just an arena. Given the buildings he bought, I suspect Kanbar is an art deco lover, and that may have as much as Vision 2025 to do with his purchase decision.

Charles G. Hill writes: "Preservationists have had a tough time of it in Tulsa lately; with Kanbar apparently on their side, the balance of power could well tip in their favor. And about time, say I." And in comments on that entry, McGehee wonders if the Whirled has anything to do with this. Apparently nothing at all; if they did, demolition would be involved. You can see the kind of architecture the Whirled prefers here. (The center building is the Whirled's. The one to the right was demolished for an HVAC plant.)

I mentioned a while back that the three families who are contributing $1 million to the construction of "The American", 176-foot bronze statue of an Indian proposed for Osage County, are also major landholders in the Brady Village area of downtown Tulsa.

Brady Village, bounded by the Frisco tracks, I-244, and Denver Avenue has the potential to become Tulsa's Bricktown. Like Bricktown, it's across the tracks from the downtown office district. For years it was allowed to moulder unnoticed, home to rescue missions, warehouses, and light-industrial facilities. But the area was also home to two significant and venerable entertainment venues -- the old Municipal Auditorium, now known as the Brady Theatre, and Cain's Ballroom. For the most part, the area had been ignored by urban renewal programs, so apartment buildings and commerical buildings were still standing, available for occupation by businesses needing a cheap place near downtown to get started. Some pioneering Tulsans were attracted by the potential of the area and moved in with art studios, lofts, nightspots, and offices.

Still, Brady Village seems somewhat stuck, unable to move to the next level. For example, despite a number of plans for the vacant land northeast of Archer and Elgin, nothing has happened. Some proposed loft projects have failed to get off the ground.

I've been told that the Oliphant, Mayo, and Sharp family trusts own most of the land in Brady Village, and that because the ownership is scattered across the country, in some cases, it's difficult to get all the owners in agreement to sell or lease property, and thus a lot of property sits idle. Thus my comment earlier that it would be better for Tulsa if the aforementioned families were to invest their million dollars in developing Brady Village.

A reader contacted me to let me know there was another obstacle to development. The trust-owned land is on the books at a value much higher than its market value. If it were sold at market value, even a very good market value, the trust would experience a loss on paper. Many trusts have provisions requiring fiscal prudence on the part of the beneficiaries, so such a sale would either be prohibited under the terms of the trust, or, if the sale were carried out, would trigger a forfeit, and the trust would be taken from the beneficiaries and given to charity. The land is unlikely to change hands until market values rise enough to approach the book value, which would require a downtown land boom like we haven't seen since the '70s.

It's likely that the same trust provisions prevent the families from doing anything too daring or innovative with their land, beyond collecting rent on existing structures. If this is true, then I can understand why these trusts seem to be sitting on their land. I can also understand why there would be such interest in any public improvements -- like a new arena -- that has the potential to bring up property values sufficiently to allow the trusts to sell off their holdings. Under this theory, they're not looking to make a killing, they're just looking to get out.

In the lead-up to the Vision 2025 sales tax vote, I wrote:

Many observers have noticed that Tulsa doesn't have many risk-takers these days. We have the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of risk-takers and wildcatters, but they keep their trust fund money in safe investments.

That may have been unfair, if it's the case that these "trust fund babies" are forbidden from making risky investments. That may explain why so much money is poured into ever-bigger homes, rather than, say, venture capital for high-tech firms trying to get started here.

Please indulge me in some thinking out loud.

Wouldn't it be ironic if the risk-takers who built this city nearly 100 years ago are suffocating its continued growth and development? In their admirable desire to provide for their descendants, to protect their progeny from financial predators and their own carelessness and stupidity, have they inadvertently squelched any spirit of adventure that might have been passed on through their genes?

I'd like to hear from readers who are beneficiaries of trust funds, particularly old Tulsa money trust funds. Am I painting an accurate picture? What kinds of restrictions apply to your trust fund? Feel free to post a comment, or e-mail me if you'd prefer to remain anonymous.

If trust fund restrictions are holding Tulsa back, we need to get a handle on the problem and see if there is a creative way to unlock the potential for the benefit of the beneficiaries and the city of Tulsa.

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This page is a archive of recent entries in the Tulsa Downtown category.

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