Tulsa Downtown: November 2008 Archives

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.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Downtown category from November 2008.

Tulsa Downtown: October 2008 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Downtown: December 2008 is the next archive.

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