Tulsa Downtown: May 2009 Archives

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."

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Downtown category from May 2009.

Tulsa Downtown: April 2009 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Downtown: June 2009 is the next archive.

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

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