Tulsa Downtown: August 2007 Archives

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.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Downtown category from August 2007.

Tulsa Downtown: May 2007 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Downtown: October 2007 is the next archive.

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