Tulsa Downtown: April 2010 Archives

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.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Downtown category from April 2010.

Tulsa Downtown: November 2009 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Downtown: May 2010 is the next archive.

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