Tulsa Vision 2025 Category

Back in 2003, as Tulsa was emerging from a recession, local leaders made some extravagant promises to a desperate populace. In the spirit of Rahm Emanuel's dictum -- "Never let a crisis go to waste" -- our Mayor and County Commissioners persuaded Tulsa County voters that these promises would come to fruition if only they'd raise their sales tax rate for the next 13 years.

I'm not just talking about the promises to build specific projects. Most of the projects were completed as promised, but not all. We never did get that Native American Cultural Center. A vacant lot at 11th and Riverside still awaits the promised Route 66 Museum. The First Street Lofts remain under construction. Nine years after the centennial, we're still waiting for Centennial Walk historical markers. Vision 2025 funding for the three promised dams was supposed to be supplemented by federal funds or, failing that, surplus revenue raised by the Vision 2025 tax. Instead, Tulsa hired a starchitect to build the arena and overspent the budget; between the arena and the compensation paid to the suburbs for the arena overage, the surplus was depleted. Not only are the dams not done, but we're still awaiting completion of feasibility studies and permits.

But I digress. Let me focus your attention on Vision 2025's broken promise of economic development. It's important because the same promise is being made for the dams and other projects in the Vision Tulsa package on next Tuesday's ballot.

The pitch went like this: "You may never attend a concert at the arena, you may not benefit directly from any of these projects, but if we vote yes on Vision 2025, the Tulsa region will attract so much convention and tourism business, we'll grow so many new jobs, that we'll have plenty of sales tax revenue to spend on fixing our streets, hiring more police officers, reopen the city pools, mow the medians, and turn the expressway lights back on."

Substitute "dams" for "arena" and "Vision Tulsa" for "Vision 2025," and you'll hear the same argument being made today.

You want an example? Here you go:


"Vision 2025: Plan envisions modernized center," Tulsa World, August 17, 2003 (emphasis added):

But officials across the nation say convention centers, mainly, and events arenas, partly, show a direct profit only rarely, otherwise more would be built by the private sector.

Instead, such facilities are built as spending magnets that draw hordes of people to a destination where they drop additional dollars into the economy, spurring development and increasing sales tax revenues.

LaFortune said it's that spending by people, whether they are headed to a trade show or rock concert, that helps pump life back into a community. The mayor stressed that when businesses are thriving, sales tax revenues grow and a city has more funds to fix streets and sewers, improve parks and programs, and pay salaries for police, fire and municipal employees.


"Tax idea floated," Tulsa World, July 1, 2014:

Councilor Blake Ewing, who hosted Monday's meeting for his district at the First Presbyterian Church, said he agreed with Bartlett but would go even further in pursuing city investments that would increase sales-tax receipts.

"When your revenue and inflation are not in line, you end up having to do more with less and less and less," Ewing said. "We need to increase the revenue."

In 2002 and 2003, city budgets were under pressure. The telecom bubble had burst, and Tulsa had lost thousands of high-tech jobs. 9/11 had hurt our city's biggest employer, American Airlines. The city had to close 18 of our 22 public pools, unless private donors could be found to keep them open. The city switched off the street lights on our expressways and let the medians and rights-of-way get overgrown. Then-Mayor Bill LaFortune declared that we had to do something.

We were promised in 2003 that if we passed Vision 2025, our economy would grow so much that we'd have enough additional revenue to pave streets and hire more police officers and re-open our closed city pools.

If Vision 2025 made our economy grow, why are we now being asked to increase our permanent operating sales tax rate by 17.25% (from 2% to 2.345%) to fund basic police and fire coverage and street maintenance? Why are we demolishing rec centers and pools? Vision 2025 built a lot of pretty things, but it didn't grow Tulsa's bottom line.

Was the promise fulfilled? Let's look at the numbers.

According to the February 2016 report, Vision 2025 has extracted $673,530,955.45 from the local economy. Nearly all of that has been spent on projects or on debt service on the money the Tulsa County Industrial Authority borrowed to build the projects sooner. The projected total when the tax expires at the end of the year is $732,340,192.06. A little bit of that was spent on streets and basic infrastructure, but most went to projects that were supposed to boost our economy, indirectly growing our sales tax revenues.

Based on that report, Tulsa County's taxable sales rose from $7.9 billion in FY2005 to $10.4 billion in FY 2015. That's an annualized rate of growth of 2.74%. But the cost of living rose an average of 1.89% per year over the same period. In inflation-adjusted dollars, Tulsa County's retail receipts grew at a rate of 0.84% per year. But over the same period, US GDP in inflation-adjusted dollars grew at a rate of 1.475% per year. So the US economy grew almost twice as much as the Tulsa County economy during the Vision 2025 period. (Historical CPI values came from Table 24-C of the February 2016 CPI Detailed Report.)

"Apples to oranges!" you say, comparing sales taxes to GDP. All right, then, let's look at state sales tax revenue over the same period, which increased from $35.0 billion in FY2005 to $54.0 billion in FY2015. Retail sales in Oklahoma minus Tulsa County grew at an annualized rate of 4.88%. Adjusted for inflation, retail sales in the rest of Oklahoma grew at a rate of 2.93% per year, over three times as fast as the Tulsa County Vision 2025 economy.

"No fair!" you object. "The BOK Center didn't open until August 2008!" So let's look at the change from FY2009 to FY2015. Tulsa County taxable sales rose by an average annual rate of 1.24% over that period, but Tulsa County taxable sales actually fell in inflation-adjusted dollars by an average of 0.30% per year. Meanwhile, taxable sales in the rest of the state rose by a raw average of 3.66% per year or 2.08% adjusted for inflation.


I'm probably more surprised at this result than you are, but there you have it. Perhaps the falloff after the opening of the BOK Center represents the bursting of the building bubble created by early funding and completion of Vision 2025 projects. The construction was done, and the construction jobs were gone. (Here's a spreadsheet with the data, if you want to check my work.)

Tulsa can't afford the kind of "growth" we've had since Vision 2025 passed and the BOK Center opened its doors. It's a fool's errand to try to generate revenue for basic infrastructure indirectly by by raising taxes to build amenities in hopes of generating economic growth. Expensive amenities don't stimulate the local economy any more than building a pool in your backyard stimulates your personal economy. The builders make their money, create a few temporary jobs, but when the construction is over, the jobs are gone. You've got a nice amenity, but also a new maintenance obligation that cuts further into your funds.

Let's not make the same mistake again. Vote no on the mislabeled Tulsa Proposition 3 for "Economic Development" next Tuesday, April 5, 2016.



Email citizensforabettervision@gmail.com to get an attractive "No More Dam Taxes" sign placed in your yard. A yard sign alerts your neighbors that there's an election and reminds them that $127 million for low-water dams (not including interest on bonds) is the biggest item in this package.

We also need people to fund last-minute social media and other voter contact efforts. Use that same email address to send money via PayPal. Any amount helps. (Larger amounts help more.)

Donate to Citizens for a Better Vision

Former Mayor Kathy Taylor should get a "pants on fire" rating for her campaign's ads claiming that she brought BOK Center in on time and within budget.

During my conversation this morning with Pat Campbell on 1170 KFAQ, Pat asked me about Kathy Taylor's claims that, as mayor, she completed the BOK Center on time and within budget. The question Tulsa voters should be asking is, "Which budget?" It's easy to come in within budget when you boost it by a third. Not only was the BOK Center over budget, the overage tied up close to $100 million that might have been used to complete the low-water dams promised in the Vision 2025 sales tax.

As for schedule, the arena was supposed to be complete by late 2007, according to the Tulsa County commissioners' October 2004 Vision 2025 newsletter. It actually opened in August 2008.

(Here's a direct link to the podcast of my segment on Pat's show.)

The original combined budget, as approved by voters in 2003, for the new arena and improvements to the convention center was $183 million. The final taxpayer-funded budget was $228.5 million, and the decision to go over the original budget was made by Kathy Taylor shortly after the beginning of her term in 2006.

Taylor's predecessor, Bill LaFortune, selected star-chitect Cesar Pelli to design the new arena, and Tulsa Vision Builders -- Manhattan Construction and Flintco -- were selected to do the work. In April 2006, Taylor's first month in office, bids for construction materials were opened and came in way over budget. $68.9 million had been budgeted, but the lowest bid was $101 million.

Kathy Taylor had a choice: She could go back to the architects and engineers and asked them to scale back the arena to fit the budget. Instead, Taylor asked the Tulsa County Vision Authority for more money. She got more money, but it came at a high price.

The Tulsa County Vision Authority was defined by the ballot resolutions for the Vision 2025 sales tax. The board consists of the three Tulsa County commissioners, three suburban mayors appointed by the county commissioners, and the Mayor of Tulsa. The authority has the power to "approve any deletion or addition of projects from those listed above and any major change in scope of any such project following a public hearing by such trust." The Authority wasn't called into existence until Kathy Taylor came looking for more Vision 2025 tax money.

A July 18, 2006, news story reported the combined budget need for the arena/convention center as $241.7 million, with about $15.4 million covered by naming rights and other private sponsorships. On July 18, 2006, the newly constituted Vision Authority met and approved allocating an additional $45.5 million (out of an anticipated $104 million surplus) for the arena and convention center.

The price for that money was a commitment that any other surplus Vision 2025 money would fund improvements in the suburban municipalities. This commitment was affirmed by County Commissioner Randi Miller a year later, in July 2007, and last year by John Smaligo on Pat Campbell's May 23, 2012, show, both times in the context of explaining why the Vision 2025 surplus couldn't be used to fund the low-water dams promised by Vision 2025.

While the commitment to use any remaining surplus for the wish lists of the suburbs was not formally adopted, the Vision Authority's structure effectively gives the suburban mayors veto power over any proposal to change the Vision 2025 budget.

This past week, Talk Radio 1170 KFAQ's Pat Campbell spoke to a Tulsa County commissioner, the Tulsa County assessor, the mayor, the chairman of the City Council, a former city councilor, and a Tulsa Metro Chamber official this last week about the proposed Tulsa County tax increase to fund airport improvements and to create a $75 million "Close the Deal" fund.

It was interesting to hear County Commissioner Fred Perry respond to County Assessor Ken Yazel's assertions about surplus county funds and Campbell's well-taken point that many of those funds are under the control of boards that have no direct accountability to the voters. Under firm questioning by Campbell, Perry ultimately acknowledged that these officials are mostly beyond the voters' reach.

The members of the Tulsa City-County Library Commission and the Tulsa City-County Board of Health are appointed by the Mayor of Tulsa (confirmed by the City Council) and the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners. The Tulsa Community College Board of Regents are appointed by the Governor of Oklahoma. The seven members of Tulsa Technology Center Board of Education are elected by the voters, but at the low-turnout February school elections, and with seven-year rotating terms, it would take four years to change a bare majority of the board.

Each of these four bodies has a dedicated millage -- a share of the property taxes you pay. The millage appears to be ample to meet each entity's operating needs and then some, even when sales-tax dependent city governments are hurting from economic downturns.

The good news is that each body is insulated from having their funds reallocated for other governmental purposes. When elected officials try to balance priorities across all the different ways government could be spending our tax dollars, the funds controlled by the libraries, the health department, the community college, and the vo-tech school are off limits.

The bad news is that each body is insulated from having their funds reallocated for other governmental purposes. So even if there's a crying need for more police detectives or funds to open the city swimming pools, the surplus for these entities can't be touched to help. Instead, the surplus might be used for facility expansion -- say, a new building.

When these entities run a perennial surplus, when they take in more than they can reasonably spend, it's worth asking the question: How would we go about adjusting the permanent millage for these entities, to make space in the total property tax burden for more pressing needs? Is the governing board (unelected in three of four cases) the only body that can put a millage rate reduction on the ballot? Can the County Commissioners do it? Can it be done by initiative petition?

Or maybe there's a way that these entities could donate surplus monies on a year-by-year basis into a rainy day fund available to level out the dips in revenue for sales-tax dependent cities and towns. Of course, that would likely just give the protected-millage entities the incentive to spend every mill to keep it from going into the fund.

Perry made an interesting point about the way the Vision 2025 ballot was split up, and that some of any Vision 2025 sales tax surplus might not be usable for the airport projects being discussed. But the ballot title categories for each of the three taxes that went into effect are broad enough that I imagine they can fit each proposed expenditure into one or another -- "TO FUND CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROMOTING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT", "TO FUND EDUCATIONAL, HEALTH CARE AND EVENTS FACILITIES FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROMOTING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT", "FOR THE PURPOSE OF CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS FOR COMMUNITY ENRICHMENT".

Perry used his last minute decrying a statement by Ken Yazel as "outrageous," "despicable," "irresponsible." According to Perry, Yazel "basically said that commissioners bring these kind of proposals forward -- first of all, we didn't bring this proposal forward, but -- commissioners have these bond issues and bond refinancing and put tax issues out there to benefit their friends, to benefit people that get the fees, that get the fees from the issuing." Perry said people ought to challenge Yazel to prove his allegation.

Here's what Yazel said the day before in a call to KFAQ:

What is driving this is how big can we make the bond issues so we get the bond fees generated so that people who really want to make money can make money, and it has nothing to do with the benefit of the taxpayers; it has more to do with generating these bonds. And by the way, follow the money, but follow the fees. If they go into an authority, they're one step removed from the taxpayers authority, and it's even worse once they do a contract for non-competitive bond fees. Do you know where they're going and who's benefitting? No. It can't be audited, and it's a shame, and they ought to get out of that business.These people, in my opinion, don't care about the project, they care about generating fees.

I raised similar concerns last week.

The Tulsa County Commissioners, as the board members of the Tulsa County Industrial Authority, could easily dispel the concerns Yazel expresses by publishing on the internet a full accounting of the money handled by TCIA, including the funds raised by the Vision 2025 and Four to Fix the County sales taxes, as well as conduit loans that aren't tied to tax revenue. Contracts between the TCIA and their vendors and advisers, etc., should also be disclosed online.

Every dollar has a destination. Some dollars went directly to program costs, for example, the annual payment to the Oklahoma Aquarium. Some dollars are repaying bondholders -- those can be further divided into principal, interest, and fees. The money received from the sale of bonds should likewise Some dollars may have been used to pay support contractors -- perhaps program managers, bond attorneys, bond advisers, bond underwriters. Some dollars may be sitting in an account in reserve -- those can be divided into reserves for specific projects or for future debt service. All of that should be spelled out, online, broken out by payee. And if a payee is an LLC, as taxpayers we deserve to have a list of owners of more than, say, a 5% share. Then let the taxpayers weigh that information for themselves.

MORE: I appreciate Pat Campbell's pursuit of this issue and his willingness to ask pointed questions of these elected officials. You can find all of Pat Campbell's interviews here; here are direct links to the specific interviews:

From the grooveyard of forgotten favorites, here's a song from the summer of 2003 and the run-up to the Vision 2025 sales tax vote, a parody of "All That Jazz," written and sung by then-KFAQ morning show sidekick Gwen Freeman, with patter from morning show host Michael DelGiorno. I came across it tonight while looking for something else, but it was a timely find; since an entirely new set of Tulsa County Commissioners is talking about increasing or extending the Vision 2025 sales tax, even though the original tax still has four more years to run. Click the picture to listen.


"Feasibility, schmeasibility! We don't need no stinkin' study!"

Just as they did in 2003, Tulsa "leaders" are preying on anxieties about job losses to justify siphoning more of your tax dollars through county government to favored businesses. Two possibilities are being discussed to raise $340 million: Either a county-wide sales tax increase of 0.4 percent or an extension of the Vision 2025 0.6 percent county sales tax beyond its December 31, 2016, expiration date. The proposal would include $260 million for airport infrastructure improvements and $80 million for a "close the deal fund" -- money we could throw at businesses to convince them to relocate to Tulsa. It all amounts to corporate welfare, with government picking winners and losers, rather than creating a favorable environment in which any business could flourish. (NOTE: More recent reports specify the number as $254 million for airport infrastructure improvements and $75 million for the slush fund, for a total of $329 million.)

The proposal is the wrong approach to economic development, the wrong method to finance it, and the wrong body to oversee it.

They're calling this idea "Vision for Jobs" but that's what Vision 2025 was supposed to be. In 2003, we were told that the Vision 2025 tax would fix our economy, in a slump after the tech and telecom crash of the early 2000s. Evidently, it didn't work, or they wouldn't be asking for more money now. Rather than allowing that $340 million to circulate freely in the local economy, rather than encouraging diversification of the economy, the civic leaders that brought us the Great Plains Airlines disaster want to put an even bigger bet on commercial aviation, a struggling sector of the national economy.

Our Republican County Commissioners ought to be pouring cold water on the idea. That they seem to be seriously entertaining it might lead a cynic to suspect this is a grab by Tulsa County officials to keep the money flowing through the Tulsa County Industrial Authority to its favored vendors -- bond attorneys, bond advisers, bond underwriters, program management firms, construction companies. Vision 2025 is coming to an end in 2016, and in order for the County Commissioners to continue to manage hundreds of millions of dollars, they urgently need to find another pretext for keeping the bucks flowing. American Airlines's Chapter 11 bankruptcy came along at a convenient time.

County Commission Chairman John Smaligo was on KFAQ's Pat Campbell Show Wednesday morning supporting the notion of a Vision 2025 sales tax extension.

Local government can't pull American Airlines out of bankruptcy. It's like trying to put out the sun with a squirt gun. The airline's problems are rooted in labor agreements made when times were fat and in a particular Clinton administration decision in 1993 that undermined AA's leverage to deal with excessive union demands. The airline's survival depends solely on its success in restructuring its costs with the cooperation of its creditors and its unions. Assuming it does survive, AA has a huge investment in buildings, equipment, and -- most importantly -- skilled personnel in Tulsa that it wouldn't be likely to abandon.

And if they decide to go, notwithstanding that investment, plus the state and local subsidies American Airlines has already received ($22.3 million from Vision 2025, plus state Quality Jobs Act tax credits, among others), no amount of additional subsidy will keep them here.

Wichita, Kansas, found that out earlier this year. The World Trade Organization identified $475.8 million dollars in subsidies from Wichita to Boeing, in addition to uncountable withholding tax exemptions, property tax exemptions, and sales tax exemptions. Kansas federal legislators expended a great deal of political capital to help Boeing land the contract to build the KC-46, the US Air Force's next generation aerial refueling tanker, with the expectation that Boeing would bring 7,500 new jobs to the state. For all that public assistance, Boeing announced in January that it was completely abandoning Wichita and Kansas, taking 2,100 jobs -- a net loss of nearly 10,000 jobs, not counting supplier jobs lost. (Here is the home page for the WTO case dealing with Boeing's subsidies.)

There's some question about how much of the proposed $340 million would even go to help American Airlines with its specific needs. News stories hint that some of the money would be used for Tulsa's World War II era Air Force Plant No. 3. And I haven't seen this mentioned in connection with the proposed tax, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of it is earmarked for the multimodal facility discussed earlier this year in connection with transferring city property around Gilcrease Museum to TU. And of course there's that $80 million in walking-around money.

That brings us to the matter of oversight. If past history is a guide, the revenues from a county sales tax would be run through the Tulsa County Industrial Authority, which would issue revenue bonds to finance projects. The TCIA is a trust created under state law whose board consists of the three County Commissioners. As a trust, the TCIA isn't bound by some of the legal strictures that apply to county government.

We ought to be very skeptical of giving more tax money to the TCIA to handle. Few local government bodies are less accountable to the public than the TCIA. They do not competitively bid their bond contracts. Vague agendas for the TCIA's meetings are posted online (here's the latest example), without detailed backup information; meeting minutes are not posted online. (Correction 2012/08/09: I am informed by Commissioner Fred Perry that meeting minutes are online. They're in a separate section of the website from the agendas. They are, however, as vague as the agendas.)

The TCIA lends tax-exempt bond money to private organizations -- over $679 million in outstanding conduit debt as of June 30, 2011 -- but you won't find a list of borrowers or repayment terms on the county's website. You will find, if you go to a bond rating site like moodys.com, that the TCIA has lent money to Saint Francis Health System (over $200 million), St John, Hillcrest, Holland Hall School, University of Tulsa, and a variety of private real estate development deals. The TCIA is able to lend money to private corporations on more favorable terms than the commercial market because the bonds they sell are tax-exempt.

(More links mentioning TCIA's lending to private entities: Summary of Standard and Poor's report on TCIA Saint Francis bonds and an EDGAR filing of an investment fund that has TCIA Saint Francis bonds in its portfolio.)

(Here is the Tulsa County 2011-2012 Budget Book and the Tulsa County Industrial Authority 2011 Audit. I couldn't find any specifics in these documents about the recipients of conduit loans, just the aggregate amount of conduit debt owed by TCIA.)

A couple of those real estate deals involved John Piercey, a close friend of then-County Commissioner Bob Dick, who also has served as the TCIA's bond adviser. The Tulsa World reported in 2002 that the TCIA lent Piercey's company $15 million to buy and rehabilitate several apartment complexes, then five years later lent an
out-of-state entity $30 million to buy and rehabilitate the same complexes from Piercey's company. Perhaps this sort of lending went away as that generation of county commissioners left office, but there's still not enough specific data online about the TCIA's operations to know. (CORRECTED: The time between the two transactions was five years, not 15 years.)

And speaking of transparency, it's a bad sign that, in his interview with Smaligo, Pat Campbell had to rely upon a leaked report provided by a source wishing to remain anonymous in order to know that a $40 million surplus was projected for the Vision 2025 sales tax. Shouldn't we be able to see projected revenues, outstanding debt and outstanding obligations at a glance on the official Tulsa County website?

In 2007, when I tried to find out the projected Vision 2025 surplus, and whether it might be sufficient to finance the Arkansas River dams promised as part of that package, I was shuffled from one county office to another only to find that no sworn county official had that information. Instead, the information was provided by the aforementioned Mr. Piercey, who was by then not under contract to the county, but described himself as an "unpaid monitor of the monthly sales tax receipts and the preparation of a semi annual update of the status of the financial condition of the program."

Campbell's interview with Smaligo contained another fascinating bit of information: When Tulsa was allocated, by the Tulsa County Vision Authority, $45.5 million extra to pay for the super-deluxe-iconic version of the arena, the other Tulsa County municipalities demanded and were promised the chance to split up any Vision 2025 surplus amongst themselves, since the arena was considered a project for the benefit only of the City of Tulsa. So effectively, the arena overrun cost Tulsa County taxpayers $85.5 million that could have been paid for the low-water dams promised as part of Vision 2025.

Tulsa International Airport is a city-owned facility. If it were appropriate to do anything with tax dollars to improve the airport, it should be done by the City of Tulsa and by its Tulsa Airport Improvements Trust, using revenues generated by airport tenants. Even then, such improvements ought to be of general benefit to current and future passengers, tenants, commercial and general aviation, and not specific to any business.

The proposed "Vision for Jobs" is the wrong tax under the wrong supervision to fund an outdated and discredited economic development strategy. I was heartened to read that polling showed the proposal likely to fail at the polls in November. Fiscal conservatives, opponents of crony capitalism, and opponents of regressive taxation should be able to join together to shut this down before it gets on a ballot.

The TEA Party folks say they're Taxed Enough Already, but several of them who might have run against a Democrat Tulsa County Commissioner (with plans to raise our county sales taxes once again) opted instead to run against Republican legislative incumbents who are working to reduce our state income tax burden. Oh, well.

The announcement waited until Commissioner Karen Keith was safely re-elected without opposition: The Tulsa Metro Chamber's "enVision Summit," to be held at Expo Square Central Park Hall, on April 27, 2012, 8:30 to noon, when normal people are at work.

power-grab.jpgThey say they have no preset agenda, but prominent mention of visits to Indianapolis and Louisville, the announcement of a former Nashville mayor as speaker, and a quote from one of the organizers saying "we are much stronger and can have greater impact if we operate as a region versus our independent cities and towns" suggests they plan to push for regional government and the end to the self-determination of those independent cities and towns.

Indianapolis, Louisville, and Nashville don't just have "cooperation" between local governments -- all three have merged city and county governments into a single entity.

And of course, they are already looking for a list of boondoggles they can use to justify a new Vision 2025 county sales tax, to keep the money flowing through the Tulsa County Industrial Authority (TCIA) and to its favored vendors.

Keith and Frank also said it is time to begin the discussion of life after Vision 2025, a county sales tax that ends in 2017 and has funded $530 million in area projects. What does an extension of a Vision initiative look like?

In 2003, they told us we had to "do something." Although the economy recovered long before the Vision 2025 projects were complete, we're to believe that Vision 2025 caused the recovery, which coincidentally happened everywhere else in the US at the same time. And of course, we're supposed to believe that the arena (voted for in 2003, opened in 2008) caused the Blue Dome District to start revitalizing in 2000.

We spent a half-billion dollars to "revitalize our region" and now they say we need to start planning to spend even more to "invigorate" our region. If you need to keep shocking a body back to life, at some point you have to acknowledge that it's actually dead, and "it wouldn't voom if you put 4000 volts through it."

In 2000 they told us they needed money to "fix" the county. In 2006 they needed even more money to "fix" the county. Either the county is fixed, and they don't need any more money, or they money we gave them didn't really fix anything, and the fix is in.

If city officials around the region really care about the good of the municipalities they're elected to represent, they need to show up on April 27 and tell the county to back off. Every penny the county takes for its pork barrel projects is a penny unavailable for each city and town to set its own priorities. This initiative is a threat to cities and towns having the means to fund basic services and infrastructure.

I would guess that Broken Arrow residents like spending their own sales tax dollars to fix their own streets and fund their own police department. I would further guess they'd be upset if Tulsa Money Belt types had the political means to redirect public funding from Broken Arrow's "parochial concerns" (driveable streets, low crime rate, pools open and parks mowed) to the Tulsa Money Belt's preferred projects.

If BA's council and other municipal officials ignore the real threat this initiative poses to local self-determination now, before it gets off the ground, they may find themselves in a year or two trying in vain to stop the idea once it gets buy-in from everyone who can make money or accrue power from consolidation. The only way to stop this foolishness is to follow Barney Fife's advice: Nip it in the bud.

Tulsa's city officials should take this seriously, too: City of Tulsa tax dollars are funding the Tulsa Metro Chamber, and the Chamber is turning around and spending money to promote a plan that would undermine the City of Tulsa's ability to fund local government and infrastructure. Money, don't forget, is fungible.

Maybe the TEA Partiers will stop searching the skies for black helicopters long enough to notice this local grab for taxes and power. I love what you say you stand for -- limited government, free enterprise, individual responsibility, local autonomy. The question is whether you'll stand up for those ideals when and where it really matters.

And wouldn't it be nice if Tulsa County Commissioners would content themselves to paving county roads, managing the finances of basic county government, and keeping their doggone hands out of our pockets?

(POWER GRAB parody image found here.)

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.)

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.

Some long-time friends, a couple of families from our church small group who left Tulsa for other cities some years ago, came back to town this weekend and suggested that we all go out to Discoveryland for their production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! and for the pre-show cattleman's ranch dinner.

I hadn't been in many years. (My wife and older two kids went a couple years ago; I had stayed home with the youngest that night.) I can remember going with my family shortly after it opened, and taking a high school classmate there on a date. When I was first dating my wife, in '86 or '87, we had dinner at Pennington's Drive-Inn (butterfly shrimp and blackbottom pie), then went out to Discoveryland, only to stand under the concourse during a heavy rainstorm that cancelled the performance.

Back to 2010: The dinner was good -- a ribeye steak sandwich, potato salad, baked beans, kernel corn, with tea or water. You pick up your plate at the cookhouse, then walk a ways to picnic tables in a big covered pavilion. We lingered over dinner, getting caught up with our friends, then headed toward the amphitheater to pick up a dessert from the concession stand and find our seats. (Desserts were simple but good -- ice cream with berries or with brownies and chocolate sauce, and snow-cones. They also have popcorn, bottled water and Coca-Cola products for sale. Prices were reasonable.)

We were just in time for the pre-show program, featuring singing, clogging, the two-step (cast members came out to the audience to teach the two-step to volunteers), and the can-can (which embarrassed our four-year-old a bit).

The cast carries a heavy load -- a 30-minute pre-show, followed by a three-hour long performance, with only a short 15-minute intermission. One of my favorite numbers, "It's a Scandal, It's an Outrage," was cut, probably because of the length of the show. I'm pretty sure the first time I saw it performed was at Discoveryland in the '70s, as it wasn't included in the Gordon MacRae / Shirley Jones movie version. The singing, dancing, and acting was all very well done. The leads have beautiful voices, as do the supporting cast members. The baritone who played Jud Fry not only had a rich voice but conveyed a menacing undertone that hasn't always been there in other productions. The older gentleman who played Judge Carnes (Ado Annie's father) stole every scene he was in.

One of the very best parts of the show came near the end as most of the lights were off, and you could look up and actually see the stars. There is something special about watching a performance under the stars, listening to the crickets and tree frogs singing in the blackjack oak trees that surround the stage.

I would love to single out cast members by name, but there were no programs available -- a problem with the print shop, my wife heard. Although the evening was thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable, the lack of programs was one of a number of logistical and maintenance problems that need to be addressed.

The seats are comfortable, but the ground beneath is dirt and grass. Granted that it's been raining, and my own yard could use some attention (thanks in large part to the nutgrass that appears to have been introduced in the fill dirt used after our curb and street were rebuilt -- any good suggestions for nutgrass control?), but I don't expect to see a huge dandelion and a big stalk of johnson grass under the seat in front of me. It was also difficult to find a flat-enough place to set down a bottle of pop or a box of popcorn where it wouldn't spill.

There were problems with the sound system: distracting feedback when certain cast members spoke or sang, and at times what should have been background crowd chatter drowned out the main dialogue.

According to my wife, the ladies' restrooms were fine. To Discoveryland's credit, they converted one of the original two men's rooms into an additional ladies' room, so there's a 3-to-1 female to male restroom ratio.

The men's room, however, had a hole in the drywall where the door handle hit it (no doorstop), a floor drain that appeared to be rusted-out, a jammed paper towel dispenser (had to pull non-perforated towels off a free-standing roll; tricky with wet hands), no toilet paper dispensers, and a bit of drywall cut away in one of the stalls. There were no low urinals (for people my four-year-old's height); the soap dispenser was far too high as well. Worst of all, the urinals were too close together, which slowed down the line as people hesitated or deferred rather than squeeze in shoulder-to-shoulder.

I note all this not to condemn the folks who run Discoveryland, who no doubt are doing the best they can to maintain a 35-year-old facility and put on a high-quality nightly performance during a tough economy.

I wonder, though, about Discoveryland's invisibility to Tulsa County's decision-makers. Here is an attraction that last year drew visitors from all 50 states and 57 foreign countries, an attraction that capitalizes on one of the most widespread and positive associations people around the world have with the state of Oklahoma. Hundreds of millions in Tulsa County taxpayer dollars have been spent on attractions that are supposed to bring in visitors to spend money, and yet no one thought to put a tiny fraction of that money toward maintaining and improving an attraction that already draws visitors from around the world.

We have a great aquarium and air and space museum and zoo, although there are better examples of each in other parts of the country. Other cities get the same acts that play the BOK Center, and other cities have minor league hockey, arena football, and basketball. But there's nowhere else you can see Oklahoma! in Oklahoma, under the stars, with a professional cast. Why not ensure that visitors from around the world get a proper "Oklahoma hello," with a facility that matches the quality of the performance on stage?

There's a chunk of Vision 2025 money -- $2 million -- that was supposed to go for infrastructure for an American Indian Cultural Center that would have been located on River Parks land on Turkey Mountain west of the river in Tulsa. Nearly seven years after the money was approved, it doesn't appear that any progress has been made toward making the AICC a reality.

A small fraction of the AICC funding could give Discoveryland a major facelift -- new sound system, new restrooms, seating area improvements. With a bit more you could add a year-round exhibit on the history of the musical, the play on which it was based, the historical and cultural setting (Indian Territory just before statehood), the careers of Lynn Riggs, Richard Rodgers, and Oscar Hammerstein, and the history of Discoveryland itself, thus truly fulfilling Discoveryland's designation as the "National Home of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!"

But, you object, Discoveryland is a for-profit business, and it would be improper to use tax dollars to subsidize a private businesses. We've already used Vision 2025 money to subsidize American Airlines and downtown housing development by three for-profit private developers, not to mention the ongoing and massive indirect subsidy to for-profit concert promoters and for-profit sports franchises known as the BOK Center.

Oklahoma's best hope for attracting visitors is to take the uniquely Oklahoman aspects of our history, culture, climate, and topography, and turn them into places that visitors can, well, visit.

I'll repeat something I submitted to Mayor Bill LaFortune's visit summit back in 2002, something I've been harping on since the Convention and Tourism Task Force in 1999:

Tulsa's unique qualities -- call them distinctives or idiosyncracies -- how can we raise awareness and pride locally and use this as an asset in our dealings with the rest of the world? I get the impression than some civic leaders are embarassed by our oil heritage, our Cowboy and Indian roots, and the strength of religious belief here -- so our tourist brochures trumpet the ballet and Philbrook and Utica Square, and downplay things like western swing music, the gun museum in Claremore, and ORU. When a German tourist comes to Oklahoma, he doesn't want to see the opera, he wants to see oil wells, tipis, old Route 66 motels, and tornadoes. Some adolescents go through a phase when their greatest longing is to be just like everyone else. If we're going to set ourselves apart, we have to stop trying to blend in as a modern city like every other, stop treating our quirky folkways as things to be suppressed and hidden, and celebrate them instead. It's nice to have the same cultural amenities as every other large city, but it's the unique qualities that will win the affections of our own people and capture the imaginations of the rest of the world.

We have this great gift -- a groundbreaking Broadway musical, packed with unforgettable tunes, choreography, and characters, and it's named after our state (although it nearly wasn't). Let's make the most of it.


Discoveryland website
Wikipedia entry for Oklahoma!
Musicals 101: A good summary of Oklahoma!'s "firsts"

UPDATE 2010/07/22:

Liz Beall Eubanks writes with some perspective:

The owner of Discoveryland, William Jeffers, uses the profits to fund his Christian camp that ministers to primarily Indian children. It's on DL's property, way back in there. He lives pretty meagerly and probably does not want to take anything away from his ministry to pour into DL. It's a hard call. I doubt the gov't would want any tax dollars to be used to further a Christian camp and I also doubt Mr. Jeffers wants any tax money with strings attached.

Once upon a time, conferences were straightforward. You had a group of universities within a bus ride of one another, and they played each other in football, baseball, basketball, and other sports. At the major university level, you had a dozen or so conferences, each with no more than 10 teams, and every team played every other team in football every year, and typically each pair of teams played home-and-home series in basketball and baseball. You had the Pac 8, Big 8, WAC, SWC, SEC, Big 10, ACC, Missouri Valley, and the Ivy League, plus a long list of independents like Notre Dame, Miami, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Florida State, and Tulane. There was a second tier of conferences like Southland, Big Sky, PCAA, Yankee, and MAC. Things were fairly stable for a long time.

Then in 1978 the two big Arizona schools split off to make the Pac 8 the Pac 10. Football independents formed basketball leagues to gain automatic berths in the ever-expanding March Madness tournament, and some of those basketball leagues added football later on. Title 9 encouraged schools to drop some of their men's teams -- e.g., Wichita State dropped football, Tulsa dropped baseball -- leading to a decline of conference cohesion. The SEC picked up South Carolina and Arkansas and split into two divisions, leading a few years later to the demise of the SWC, the creation of the Big 12, the expansion of the WAC to ridiculous extremes, and a period of great upheaval involving conferences with no strong traditions or geographic roots. I've lost track.

There's hand-wringing to our north: The Kansas City Star devoted its front-page Sunday headline story to the impact of the end of the Big 12 on their market area, accompanied by an image of tattered school flags for Mizzou, KU, and K-State in front of ominous storm clouds.

Well, we still have barbecue.

Our regional universities still boast impressive trophy cases. Memories of impressive tournament failures. Tickets so hot they spawn federal investigations. And researchers who can tell you the best way to mend a heart, grow some corn or plant a wind turbine.

Kansas City remains home to a pair of not-so-major-league sports franchises, affordable housing, a pared-down cell phone company, those oversize badminton thingies, a school district boldly lopped in half, a proud history of a musical genre few people listen to anymore and a funky, thriving arts district.

All is not lost.

But something is lost.

Last week's attack on the Big 12 could toss our loyalties and rivalries to the winds. At best it leaves the Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri campuses as well as Kansas City at the center of something lesser. Now the region is a hub of schools left behind by more sought-after universities tempted to hang with a cooler, better-heeled crowd.

There's at least one sensible voice in the story:

For some, in fact, college sports weren't worth building around in the first place.

"What's lost has already been corrupted," said Crosby Kemper III, director of the Kansas City Public Library and a member of this former cowtown's most prominent families. "We need to stop looking at the Big Eight, the Big Ten, the Big 12 and NCAA as things that bring prestige and make us a better community. They don't."

Maybe Kansas City could build a new downtown arena or an entertainment district to recover its municipal pride.... Oh, well.

The Sprint Center will be able to fill its dates with other entertainment, Schulte said, but they wouldn't offer the day-long and weekend-long events that entice crowds into KC Live in the Power & Light district.

"We need more people and more activity," he said.

Any dip in activity at the Power & Light district could further nick taxpayers. City Hall must pay for any fall off in the downtown entertainment district's performance.

Even before the Big 12 started to dissolve, the Power & Light district fell short of revenue projections. That meant the city has had to dip into its general fund to pay the debt on bonds sold to build the district. This year that subsidy might grow to $11.4 million.

"We've spent a lot of taxpayer money to build up a downtown area," said Stretch, an artist, restaurant owner and Tax Increment Financing Commission member. "Our taxes don't stop coming, and our bills keep coming."

A story in Saturday's edition focuses on the unseemly concern and impotence of Kansas and Missouri politicians about the situation.

As long as every conference is becoming unmoored from its historical roots, as long as TV revenues are driving realignment, why not toss everything and embrace a system that adds drama and dynamism to college sports: The English football system of relegation and promotion.

English football is organized like a pyramid topped by a tower. There are five nationwide leagues in five levels at the top. If you finish near the top of your league, you're promoted to the next highest level for the following season. Finish near the bottom, and you're relegated to the next league down. Below the fifth level, the leagues begin to divide geographically, with more locally-focused leagues at a given level the closer to the base you go. (Here's a graphic of the English football pyramid.)

In addition to league play, there's a 14-round, single-elimination tournament called the FA Cup that stretches out from mid-August to mid-May. Any team belonging to the Football Association can enter; members of higher-level leagues get byes to later rounds. Matches are assigned at random for each round, and rounds are spaced about two or three weeks apart. Theoretically, the humblest county league club has a shot at playing in Wembley in the Cup Final. Last year, 762 teams entered the competition. (Imagine an NCAA basketball tournament that included every member of the NCAA.) A smaller tournament, the Carling Cup, involves only the 92 teams in the top four levels of the pyramid.

In 2009-2010, Arsenal, which won the Premier League, played 38 Premier League matches (home and home against the other 19 teams), plus 17 matches in three tournaments: UEFA Champions League, Carling Cup, and FA Cup. That's 55 matches in about 40 weeks. Surely, American college football teams can play 30 games over the course of a school year, particularly if players are relieved of the requirement to attend class.

So here's my proposal. Put the top 16 football teams in the US in the 1st Division. The next 16 go into the 2nd Division, and so on down for the top 64 schools. The top four divisions would all be nationwide. Each team plays each other team in their division. The next level would involve four regional conferences of 14 teams each. That covers the 120 schools of the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-A). At the end of each season, the top and bottom four teams would be promoted or relegated. League games would happen every other Saturday. You could add the I-AA teams into the promotion/relegation system, too, playing in regional leagues organized in a couple of tiers.

Interwoven with league play, you'd have the American College Football Cup. For safety reasons, it should probably be limited to I-A and I-AA teams (about another 120 teams.) You could manage that with an eight-round tournament, but if you give byes to the higher level teams, it might take 11 rounds. So a lower-level team going all the way through the tourney could play a couple dozen games in a nine-month season. A higher level team could add as many as six games to its 15 regular season matches.

You could use the same structure for other sports, with no necessary connection between leagues in one sport with leagues in another. Kansas might be in the 1st Division in basketball and in one of the regional leagues in football.

At the top levels, the relationship between school and team would be one of licensing. The team would be entitled to use the school's colors, logo, mascots, and facilities, and the players would be entitled to take courses, should they wish, in exchange for massive fees from the team to the school. The teams would be expected to pay a salary to the players from their revenues.

In this system, no league gets stuck with a perennial laughingstock, mediocrity in one sport isn't a hindrance to excellence in another, no laughingstock is forever stuck in a league where they can't succeed, and, in true American spirit, there are no barriers to how high a team can rise. With teams moving up and down every year, there's more trivia to memorize and more opportunities for merchandising.

MORE: Tulsa World Sports Editor Mike Strain has been covering the realignment story extensively on his blog.

OTHER SPORTS: In a column from a couple of weeks ago, Bill Haisten wonders why the Tulsa Shock isn't playing at UMAC instead of the massively oversized BOK Center:

It doesn't make sense to air-condition, illuminate and staff a 17,839-seat BOK Center when the entire upper deck is unused (and shrouded by black curtains). But the WNBA insists on conducting its contests within super-sized arenas.

That column was linked by this blogger, Mister Women's Sports, who says the WNBA should look to another women's league as an example:

I have said in the past that the WNBA would be wise to CASE* Women's Professional Soccer (WPS). And while it would be wonderful to have all of the WPS teams playing in soccer-specific stadia (like Pizza Hut Park, hem hem), the league is aware that it has to grow into larger venues rather than book a barn and pay lots of overhead for wasted space. (* Copy and Steal Everything)

He goes on to explain why, given a choice between the San Antonio team and the Tulsa Shock, he'll go south to see a game:

If I spent say, $30 on a single ticket in San Antonio, I'd be very close to courtside under one of the baskets. If I spent that same amount in Tulsa, I'd have "goal line" seats if the BOK Center hosted indoor football. Which in so many words means that my concerns about the seating chart on paper were confirmed when I saw the interior of the BOK Center on national TV last night and saw how horrible the sight lines were in the $30-ish seats. No thanks. I want to see the stars of the WNBA, not the rear of the backboard all night.


Mad Okie comments:

So if it's all about the money, its time to stop the legal slavery, and pay the student athletes for the services they perform, for without the student athletes, there would be no revenues for these money hungry schools to be fighting over.

At this point Nebraska is poised to make 10 million more in their move... will the Nebraska taxpayers see a cut in their taxes going towards higher education?

On my recent business trips to Wichita, I've been staying at a hotel that provides a free copy of the local paper (75 cent newsstand price), which I've been reading over breakfast each morning. It's fascinating to see the parallels and differences between Tulsa and Wichita. Over the next few days I'll be going through my stack of clippings and sharing some items that you, too, may find interesting.

From the April 25, 2010, Wichita Eagle -- Wrestling takes loss on tourney at arena:

Intrust Bank Arena made a profit, but the Kansas State High School Activities Association took a loss on the state wrestling championship in February, officials say.

The association's leader said recently that the Class 6A and 5A tournaments would not return because the venue is too expensive. But Friday, he said talks with arena operator SMG remain open....

Arena general manager Chris Presson confirmed Friday that the arena made a profit on the tournament but would not say how much.

[KSHSAA executive director Gary] Musselman said arena rent and expenses cost the association $75,767. He said the association ended up with a net loss of $44,980....

Last year's event at the Kansas Coliseum brought in $23,852 for the association.

The tournament drew 6,693 people -- including premium seat holders whose tickets did not count toward the association's paid attendance, according to arena officials. Gross ticket sales were $50,500.

Paid attendance at the Coliseum last year was 6,348. Gross ticket sales were $56,985....

Records from SMG to the county show that two sporting events in February -- the wrestling tournament and a Gravity Slashers freestyle motorcross show -- brought in $142,890 in gross building income.

SMG did not make a breakdown available.

While it raised the money for the arena through a 30-month 1 percent sales tax, the county says it cannot share some financial details with the public. Its contract with SMG includes a confidentiality agreement.
SMG does share with the public such information as number of performances and event days; net direct event income for categories of events; net food, beverage and merchandise income; other net income and gross building income.

It does not share net profits or losses for individual events.

Assistant County Manager Ron Holt said he went to the arena to view SMG's full financial reports for January and February, the reports it sends to its home office. But because he was not allowed to take notes or make copies, he was not able to provide the figures.

A few things to note:

Premium seat licenses means more money for the arena owner and operator, but for the event promoter it means less revenue from the same number of spectators. At Tulsa's BOK Center, what events are included in the premium seat price?

A 17,500 seat capacity may be wonderful for the rare event that requires it, but it's a financial burden for an event likely to draw a smaller crowd, and for a city the size of Wichita or Tulsa, that's going to mean most events.

Despite the novelty of the facility (Intrust Bank Arena has only been open since the first of the year), the event drew about the same number of fans as last year.

SMG runs arenas in Wichita, Tulsa, and Oklahoma City. At what point do they start tweaking event bookings among the three cities to maximize their bottom line, without regard to the interests of the individual cities they serve? Should we expect to see a less impressive lineup in Tulsa just before their contract is up for renewal in Wichita?

SMG's contract with Wichita limits the amount of financial information available to decision makers and the public at large, information that was previously available for publicly owned, publicly operated facilities. Does Tulsa have the same deal?

MORE: Here is Tulsa's contract with SMG for the BOK Center and the Tulsa Convention Center (3 MB PDF). That's a searchable and smaller version of this original scan on the Tulsa City Council website (12 MB PDF).

One of the many surprising results from Tuesday's election was the defeat of three out of four questions on the City of Jenks ballot. A bond issue for streets was approved, but a bond issue for city hall improvements and a 3/4-cent sales tax for fire trucks and water and sewer upgrades failed. (The sales tax involved two separate questions.) From the story on the KJRH website, city officials seemed to accept the result and that they needed to put together a less expensive package to win the voters' approval.

Two quick thoughts:

If a city is growing, as Jenks is, and adding retail, as Jenks is, it shouldn't need to increase the sales tax rate to meet the demand for additional city services. Retail sales and sales tax receipts should grow along with the city, without the need to boost the rate.

Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland has always been a big booster of the various county sales taxes -- Four to Fix the County Tax, Vision 2025 Tax, and the River Tax. While Jenks has reaped some benefit from the taxes that passed, that added county sales tax burden (0.25 cents for 4 to Fix the County plus 0.6 cents for Vision 2025) likely made Jenks voters less willing to accept any added city sales tax. Without those two county sales taxes (I'm excluding the 1/6-cent for jail operations), the 3/4-cent Jenks sales tax increase would have brought the overall sales tax rate to 8.417%, the current rate in Tulsa and a level that people are evidently willing to tolerate.

Jim Hewgley, the former Streets Commissioner and a fellow opponent of Vision 2025, called me a couple of days ago about the proposal to increase Tulsa's sales tax by a penny for public safety. Jim reminded me of what we were saying back in 2003: Instead of hiking tax rates for amenities, let's save some taxing capacity for when we might need it to pay for basic municipal services. Chris Medlock, as a candidate for mayor in 2006, made a similar argument, calling for rejection of the 4 to Fix the County renewal to leave room for the City of Tulsa to consider a sales tax increase to fund public safety.

Even if you believe that all the sales tax generated by the BOk Center represents new money -- and it's likely that most of it is simply being reallocated from other entertainment options in Tulsa, but for the sake of argument let's assume it's all new revenue -- most of us will be dead before it generates as much revenue for basic services as if we had directly devoted that money to basic services.

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 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 very nearly turned my column this week into a sociological study of the denizens of Tulsa's Money Belt and how their behavior is shaped by peer pressure and fear of ostracism. In connection with the Great Plains Airlines bailout, I was thinking about a friend who asked me if my life insurance was paid up and another friend who told me a qui tam taxpayers' demand would never succeed in a Tulsa County courtroom, because no judge would dare cross the powerful entities who were pushing for the City's taxpayers to pay $7.1 million that it did not owe.

I was also thinking of the many times someone would tell me how they opposed this or that initiative or would confirm some speculation of mine about skulduggery in local government. He would be happy to tell me all this privately, but wouldn't dare go on the record: "I have to make a living in this town."

It brought to mind a story by cartoonist Walt Kelly. In 1955, Kelly published the seventh collection of his strip Pogo and the third book which consisted of entirely new material. The Pogo Peek-A-Book included a story called "The Man from Suffern on the Steppes or 1984 and All That: A Russian Tale of Madisonav." In one comic story, Kelly managed to spoof suburban commuters, Madison Avenue, and the Soviet Union.

In the run-up to the Vision 2025 vote, I emailed a series of panels from the story to a fellow TulsaNow board member. I was frustrated by the reluctance of some TulsaNow board members to say publicly what they were saying privately about the flaws in the package that the County Commissioners were putting before the voters. About a draft statement from the board, I wrote, in a July 12, 2003, email:

I have a lengthy comment, in a separate message, about the second draft, but for now, I will let Pogo and Howland Owl speak on my behalf. This is from the Pogo Peek-a-Book (1955), from a story called "The Man from Suffern on the Steppes", about ad men in the USSR. The ad exec (Howland) is having a subversive conversation with the train stationmaster.

Translator's note -- "gummint" == "government"

Lately, a lot of things remind me of one Pogo comic strip or another.

Here is the excerpt:


The next day I sent the following email to the TulsaNow board:

NOTE: I wrote this last night, but network problems prevented sending it until now. Please forgive the length. Indirectly, it addresses some of what Jamie said in his recent message. This morning I had breakfast with someone I was meeting for the first time -- young, energetic, deeply engaged in the community, although a fairly recent arrival -- who, unprompted by me, made very similar observations.

I continue to prefer L___'s original draft, enhanced by specific enumeration of our principles. R___ and W___'s version reads too much like a "vote yes" pamphlet, even if that wasn't intended. Below (far below) is my attempt at a rewrite, which attempts to express the concerns that were voiced without taking sides. I think we ought to explicitly say that we are choosing not to endorse or oppose, rather than allowing people to read in what they like. I also think we should be explicit and honest about the problems we have with the process and its product.

To use the terms of the Pogo cartoon I sent earlier, let's speak our criticisms openly and plainly, not into a bag and disguised as praise. We don't live in the old USSR. We shouldn't be afraid to utter mild criticisms of Tulsa's politburo and nomenklatura. And yet fear is precisely what I detect beneath the surface: Fear of ostracism, fear of exclusion, fear of economic consequences.

This may be a bit impolite to say, but it's there beneath the surface and ought to be dealt with openly. Some of our group work for organizations which are funded by supporters of this package. Others aren't personally dependent, but are involved with organizations that need the funds that the package supporters can offer. Others need the goodwill of city government to conduct business and make a living. Some of us have even been paid to facilitate and promote the vision process and to work for the "vote yes" campaign. Beyond the financial considerations, many members of our group move within a narrow circle of social and organizational connections -- a virtual "small town" within the city, focused on the arts and other non-profit organizations, centered around Utica Square and chronicled by Tulsa People and Danna Sue Walker. As in any small town, some opinions are acceptable and some are not, and speaking your mind risks ostracism.

To those of you who fall in one of these categories (which is very nearly all of us): You have made a valuable contribution to TulsaNow and to the dialog thus far. I don't wish to discount your input regarding this statement, I don't doubt your sincerity, and I appreciate the desire to "make lemonade out of lemons," as J___ put it. But I know how this town works, and you may be feeling the pressure right now to make certain people happy. I ask you to consider that your situation may be leading you to swallow your disappointment and smile for the cameras, rather than speaking openly about both the pros and cons of this package.

The people pushing this package, particularly the sports arena, are bullies. They want what they want, and because they have money and power, they think they have a right to bulldoze anyone who stands in the way. (Why they don't use all that money to build an arena themselves, rather than taxing the food, medicine, and electricity of the working class for it, is an interesting question.) After the 1997 election, an opposition leader was fired from his job with a downtown company, solely because of his opposition. In 2000, the bullies used implicit and explicit threats to silence opposition to "Tulsa Time" and to shut off public debate. Although I am (I thank God) not dependent on local moguls for my income, as an opposition spokesman, I felt the effects as well -- They tried to sway me with a board appointment, there was an attempt to undermine the Midtown Coalition, and they got their revenge on Election Day 2002. (That wasn't just about "Tulsa Time"; it was also because of my support for a meaningful neighborhood role in planning and zoning, something else the bullies don't want. )

The bullying has already begun for 2003. The bullies threatened the Mayor that they would withhold "vote yes" campaign funds if the arena was excluded or made to stand alone on the ballot. They have sent subtly threatening letters to both the Democratic and Republican Party chairmen. Elected officials who opposed the package were afraid to vote their conscience, afraid to speak, afraid to stand alone. Elected officials, holding the power we have granted them, talked of their decision as if they were helpless victims. A university president told me he would have liked to split his project off from the arena, but he wasn't in a position to speak out. Citizens expressing legitimate concerns are labelled "grumps" and "whiners" by the monopoly daily newspaper. The bullies are sending signals that anyone who fails to endorse the package can have no role in deciding how the money will be spent, should it pass (even though it's public money). The image they wish to project is that no respectable person would say a word against this package, much less vote against it. It appears that they will again try to cut off debate -- the Mayor has already backed out of a scheduled joint appearance on OETA with me.

As important as walkable neighborhoods and lively urban centers are -- and I do believe they matter -- I don't believe our city can flourish until we are capable of having a mature public conversation about such an important issue, without threats and arm-twisting. As long as the bullies run the show, we will not have grassroots-based planning; we will not have land use policies that encourage walkable neighborhoods and enlightened development; we will not have a workable historic preservation system; we will not progress in any way, if it means that the bullies must yield control. As long as the bullies are in charge, every vision process will end the same way -- whatever the structure, whatever the process, they control the final decision.

How can we advance the dialog about our city's future, if we are afraid to speak freely?

How many visionary civic and business leaders, with bold ideas for Tulsa's future, have been beaten down and have given up? How many have been co-opted? How many have decided to take their energy and vision to a city where it will be nurtured and appreciated? Perhaps this is why Tulsa is in the doldrums and doesn't seem to be moving forward. These bullies won't lead, don't have any visionary ideas and don't want any, but they refuse to yield the levers of power. Perhaps the most important thing we can do for our city is to throw off this oppressive pall.

Giving a bully what he wants only encourages him. The only way to stop a bully is to stand up to him. Not violent confrontation, but a refusal to back down, to give in. It can be as simple as saying no: "No, I will not be mean to Susie just so I can be your friend." "No, I will not give you my lunch money." "No, I will not move to the back of the bus." "No, the emperor is not wearing a beautiful new suit of clothes." "No" is a powerful word, and it becomes more powerful as more people speak it together. It can stop a bully in his tracks.

Some of us have observed that Tulsa's power structure is teetering on the edge of collapse. The Chamber is falling apart. Once dominant companies have fallen on hard times. Perhaps a little resistance will be enough to demolish the whole rotten structure. I don't know that I care so much whether this tax wins or loses, but I want to see Tulsans stand up to the bullies and break their stranglehold on progress.

I'm not asking you to come out and oppose this package, unless you want to. I'm simply asking you to say publicly what you think about it, pro and con. If you think the process stunk to high heaven, but you still plan to vote for the package -- fine, but be willing to say both things. Don't spin it to appease the bullies. The city body politic isn't a draft horse, to be fitted with blinders and a bit, and steered to a destination. Tulsans should be treated like free men and women, grown-up enough to weigh pros and cons and come to a decision.

I'm also asking us, collectively, as TulsaNow, to call the bullies' bluff. Say what you think people need to hear. Insist on public, frequent, and fair debates. Expose underhanded pressure tactics. If you're told to shun people who take a different viewpoint, refuse. If you're threatened with ostracism, or worse, go public. Insist on treating everyone involved in the debate with respect. If we stick together and do this, it would represent a real step toward maturity as a region.

Michael Bates

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.

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly continues the effort to get our Tulsa County Commissioners to find out for themselves exactly how much Vision 2025 funds are on hand, how much is likely to be on hand in the next couple of years, and how much has been obligated. At the heart of the debate is informal county financial adviser (and frequent bond vendor to the county) John Piercey, to whom county officials defer all questions about Vision 2025 finances. Be sure to read Brian Ervin's news story on the topic from last week's edition, and my column from two weeks ago.

Also in this week's issue: Brian Ervin looks into Rev. Victor Orta's recent flight on Pre-Paid Legal's private jet down to company HQ in Ada. Some think it might have to do with his legal challenge to HB 1804, and U. S. Chamber of Commerce plans to go on the offensive against immigration enforcement efforts like HB 1804.

UPDATE: Fixed all the broken links. I think.

Tickets range from $49.50 to $167 for Celine Dion, the first big name act to be booked for the new BOk Center.

Don't be shocked. Bubbaworld told you so:

Honestly folks, when you voted for the Vision 2025 proposal to, among other things, construct Tulsa's new playground for the rich and faux-rich did you actually believe that you would be able to afford to attend the "big name events" that would be held there?

You mean you did not learn anything from the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, a venue for events often beyond the financial means of the vast majority of taxpayers whose dollars built it also?

John Benjamin, the former Tulsa City Councilor who left town for Bixby, the prototypical member of the Cockroach Caucus, on the wrong side of nearly every local issue (most recently pushing for the recall of Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock), has spoken out on the river tax. No surprise here; he's voting yes, evidently because all the money we spent on Vision 2025 didn't do the trick.

Fellow Tulsa County voters, greater Tulsa is drifting and needs a transformative event to trigger our resurgence. We need economic stimulus, infrastructure improvement and restoration of our sense of community and pride in our physical appearance.

I can't find where Benjamin made this argument four years ago, but plenty of other spokespeople did, and I don't recall Benjamin speaking up at the time to say that Vision 2025 wouldn't be sufficiently transformative.

Reminds me of something Randi Miller said at a Republican club meeting last month, as reported by Steve Roemerman:

One of the things I've heard her say on this and other occasions is "I wanted to do the river during Vision 2025, but we did not have a plan in place." She is admitting that she knew, in 2003, that development of the river is what was needed to spur Tulsa's growth. She knew that our real vision for Tulsa was the river, but she decided to support 2025 anyway. It was said that something had to be done, and that this was our opportunity to help Tulsa grow, and this was the tax package to do it. But now she is trying to sell us on the idea that 2025 was some how deficient and the river is the real opportunity for growth? I now hear the same rhetoric as before: something has to be done..this is our one opportunity and if we don't pass this tax Tulsa wont grow. Well excuse me if I don't buy it. If Randi knew this needed to be done in 2003, she should have shown real leadership and fought Vision 2025. I have to say it would be a much easier sell if we were not already over-burdened with the 2025 sales tax.

Benjamin gets a bit off-message in trying to minimize the cost to a typical household:

As voters we can make great strides in our river development by approving a limited seven year, 0.4 percent tax increase that each month amounts to about the price of a movie ticket for a family of four.

I think he meant to say that a family of four would sacrifice the price of a single movie ticket each month, but it comes across as, "You're going to have to cancel your monthly family movie night so you can pay for this tax." It's not as bad as that -- the family can still go, but dad will have to stay home.

I wasn't familiar with this idiom with which he starts a paragraph:

Least I mention Oklahoma City?

Anyone want to parse that for me?

As I mentioned in last week's Urban Tulsa Weekly, a few weeks ago I began my search for the source of the numbers being cited in defense of the need to raise taxes to build the two low-water dams and the Zink Lake modifications promised in Proposition No. 4 of the Vision 2025 sales tax.

The debate over this issue has two prongs:

(1) Did Tulsa County officials promise to build the dams during the Vision 2025 campaign? And did they promise that they'd have the money to build them even if Federal matching dollars weren't available? Despite word-parsing efforts by Commissioner Randi Miller and others, the clear answer to that question is yes, as I've demonstrated from the official ballot resolution, the official project map used during the campaign, and quotes from Commissioner Bob Dick and others during the campaign, and even after the campaign, when Federal funding was once again in doubt.

(2) Is there enough money in projected Vision 2025 revenues to cover the cost of the new dams and the Zink Lake modifications? County officials, citing numbers developed by John Piercey, the county's bond adviser, say that the answer is no. Based on revenue projections, remaining projects to be funded, and debt service, there isn't enough money, they say to fund the low water dams beyond the specific amounts listed in the resolution, much less fund any other project on this October's ballot.

That second point set me off on a search to find out for myself. I combed through the five big binders of monthly Vision 2025 reports in the fourth floor Government Documents department of the Central Library. (The most recent three binders are in the work room, so you need to ask at the reference desk if you want to see them.)

Having looked at the sales tax summaries and project summaries in the monthly reports, I had a simple mental model of how it all fit together. You had two pots of money: A pot of sales tax revenue and a pot of bond proceeds.

Sales tax receipts come into the sales tax revenue pot, and from that pot comes bond repayment (debt service: principal and interest) and cash expenditures (e.g., money to pay down the Oklahoma Aquarium debt, fees to PMg and attorneys).

The bond proceeds pot is fed by proceeds from revenue bond sales, and that money is spent on expenditures for most of the projects.

So what I wanted to know was this:

(1) How much money was in each pot as of, say, the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2007?

(2) How much money was likely to be added to the sales tax pot between now and the last sales tax check in February 2017? (There's about a month and a half delay between collection and the resulting check from the Oklahoma Tax Commission back to the cities and counties.)

(3) Of the money in the sales tax pot, how much is committed to debt service, and what is the repayment schedule?

(4) Of the money in the sales tax pot, how much is budgeted but yet to be spent for projects and for overall program expenses, and what is the schedule for spending that money, and for which projects?

(5) Of the money in the bond pot, how much is budgeted but yet to be spent for projects and program expenses, and what is the schedule for spending that money, and for which projects?

I figured that, with all the talk about how we wouldn't have enough money to build the promised dams, that somebody must have all this worked out, at least on a year by year basis. If you had the answers to those five questions, you could make decisions about borrowing against future revenues or the likelihood of additional money that could be spent on a pay-as-you-go basis or possibly even reprioritizing the sequence in which the remaining projects (including the dam and Zink Lake projects) would be funded.

I wrote about my quest a few weeks ago:

I asked Kirby Crowe by phone if he had a copy of this plan. I'm not sure if I made my meaning clear, but I came away from the conversation with the impression that he did not have a copy of Piercey's financial plan.

I called Jim Smith, the County's fiscal officer, and asked if he had a copy of the financial plan. I thought he might, since his name is on the monthly memo in the Vision 2025 report listing tax receipts, the monthly wire transfer from the sales tax fund to the trustee, and the interest earnings on the sales tax trust account.

Smith said he didn't have the financial plan, but suggested I call John Piercey. Mr. Smith could tell me what the payment to the trustee would be for the next six months, at which point it would be recalculated, but couldn't tell me anything more about future expenses.

I called Capital West, and they gave me John Piercey's number. I called John, and he was very gracious. He said he'd e-mail it to me that evening or the following morning. He said something about recalculating based on more recent tax receipts. I'd really be happy seeing the most recent version, whatever he's been using as the basis for his statements about Vision 2025 surpluses.

That was a week ago Monday, the 20th. I gave him a reminder call on the 28th -- got his voicemail and left a message. Haven't heard back yet. I'm sure he's quite busy.

Can anyone suggest somewhere else I could find this information?

That was on August 30. Eight days later, on September 7, I left another message for Mr. Piercey. I also, on a whim, called County Commissioner Fred Perry's office to see if they have a copy of this rumored financial plan. The administrative assistant didn't know, but she took my message, and about an hour later, Commissioner Perry called me. (Part of that conversation found its way into the update to this entry about the Republican Women's Club's exclusion of the opposition from a discussion of the county river tax.)

Perry told me he would ask Piercey to get me the information, and not long after I heard from Piercey. The following Tuesday afternoon, September 11, he dropped the three-page Excel printout, entitled "Vision 2025 Financial Summary" by UTW's offices. (Clicking that link will open a PDF file, about 300 KB.)

Off and on over the following week, I crunched through Piercey's numbers covering the next nine and a half years and tried to fit them together with the numbers in the Vision 2025 reports covering the past three and a half years, trying to meld them together into a consistent set of answers to my questions.

Finally, I sent Piercey an e-mail, attaching a snapshot of the financial spreadsheet from the June 2007 Vision 2025 report:


Thanks again for providing me with that spreadsheet printout last Tuesday. I'm still looking at it and trying to understand how your numbers line up with the ones I observed in the Vision 2025 monthly reports from PMg.

The most puzzling thing is the gap between previous years debt service numbers and the numbers in your projections. Attached is a photo of the Vision 2025 sales tax report from PMg's June 2007 Vision 2025 report, which includes all receipts and expenditures through the end of FY07. It shows the following amounts transferred to the bond trustee:

Transferred to Bond Trustee

I take those numbers to represent what has been paid to debt service to date. So it's puzzling that for FY 2008 that the debt service jumps up to $46,977,024 plus $396,500 for Series 2006 B. Did the debt service payments just jump up at the end of FY 2007, or is something else on that PMg spreadsheet that should be included in debt service to date?

Put another way, what are your numbers for debt service through FY 2007?

(I'm also surprised that the debt service number doesn't tail off in 2017, since there are only eight months of revenue from the tax in FY 2017.)

Another apparent difference between PMg's numbers and yours: PMg shows, after May 2007, $45,362,099.18 in the sales tax trust fund, and in June all of it is transferred to a new cash projects trust account, in addition to about $2 million transferred to this cash projects trust account back in February. You show $39,093,695 as sales tax revenues held by County. I don't understand how those two numbers line up.

Another question has to do with when various expenses and funds might be realized. You show a balance to be funded of $104.5 million and about $69.3 million of cashflow from bond fund reserves ($39.4 million), net earnings on bond funds ($13.7 million), and net earnings on cash flow ($16.2 million). Has anyone mapped out, to the fiscal year, when these expenses and earnings will be realized?

Thanks again for your assistance,

Michael D. Bates

Here is Piercey's reply in full, clarifying the nature of his report and his role with Vision 2025 and Tulsa County:

Capital West Securities, Inc. official involvement with raising additional funds for Vision 2025 ended in the third quarter of 2006 with the completion of the funding of $31 million in parity and subordinate bonds which partially funded the $45.5 million approved by the County for the Arena and Convention Center. The balance of the funds for the projects increased budget will come from cash flow through the end of calendar year 2008.

My current involvement is as an unpaid monitor of the monthly sales tax receipts and the preparation of a semi annual update of the status of the financial condition of the program. The day to day management of the Program is performed by PMG and the funds administration is performed by the Bond Trustee in cooperation with Jim Smith, the County's fiscal officer. The summary that was given to you is the most current semi annual Update that I have done and is not a "financial plan".

The monthly PMG report provided to the elected officials and the Sales Tax Overview committee will differ from my evaluation simply because they are looking primarily at projects implementation and monthly cash flows provided to them by the Trustee and PMG. They will also differ as a result of the time frame that I used and the in and out of money that occurs weekly.

As I pointed out to John Eagleton in a prior correspondence, the debt service payments that are shown in the PMG reports are what the Trustee requires from sales tax receipts on a monthly basis. The difference between the receipts and the payment goes into sales tax trust fund. The sales tax trust fund is being used to fund Vision projects not funded by bond proceeds. It builds up over time as a results of primarily the City of Tulsa budget process which requires all funds to be in place and appropriated before project contracts can be signed.

The Trustee's debt service requirements given to the County differ from the debt service requirements on the bonds are a results of interest earnings on the construction funds held by the Trustee as well as interest earnings on the Bond Fund Reserve account of $39.09 million. Given the amount of proceeds raised early in the program those earnings were substantial in the early years of the program and decline as projects are completed. This will also be the case with the County's sales tax trust fund as the Arena and Convention Center is completed between now and the end of fiscal year 2008.

As for specific answers to your questions:

1. Debt service has risen annually since 2003 as a results of additional bond issues being done as projects became ready for implementation. Debt service has also risen as the amount of investment earnings have declined as moneys are spent.

2. The PMG debt service numbers are net of investment earnings.

3. All the bond issues, except series 2006B, are rated AAA. In order to get a AAA rating, a cash reserve of $39 plus million was funded early in the program and is held by the Trustee. The purpose of the reserve is have sufficient funds on hand to pay debt service in the event that sales tax receipts at any one time or length of time is insufficient to pay the debt service. The Reserve is released in the final year (2017) to pay most of the final year's debt service. This final payment assumes that no short fall has occurred.

4. The Series 2006 B bonds of $10 million are subordinate bonds and are unrated. The reason being that the requirements to issue more bonds on a parity basis could not be met. The $14.5 million in cash flow for the Arena and Convention Center was also the results of not being able to issue more debt without increasing the costs of the debt and the risk that other projects would have to be postponed or possibly eliminated if sales tax receipts declined.

5. The Vision 2025 program included $575 million in specific projects with specific dollar allocations. Of that total 83% were funded by bond proceeds or in the case the Aquarium annual payments were contracted for. The balance of approximately $100 million (excluding the rebate) are being funded by sales taxes and investment earnings remaining after debt service is paid monthly. With the exception of the River Projects which were matching funds, cash flow schedules have been reviewed and PMG schedules those projects as they become ready and/or funds are available.

6. As I have noted in the past, I see no excess funds being available for new projects or increases for approved projects until after 2012-13. I hope that my forecast is too low. The bulk of any future surplus will occur in 2017 as the $39.1 million in bond fund reserve is released.

John Piercey

There's a lot to digest here. I'm putting it all here for anyone who cares to analyze it and comment on it.

One of the discoveries in all this is that there are actually four pots of money. In addition to the bond proceeds and the sales tax receipts, there is a bond repayment trust fund held by the bond trustee (the Bank of Oklahoma). When Jim Smith tried to explain to me how it worked, I compared it to an escrow account for paying taxes and insurance on a mortgaged house, which Smith thought was a good analogy. The bond trustee then repays the bondholders from this trust fund. Every six months, the bond trustee recalculates the payments they need from Tulsa County's sales tax receipts to enable them to pay the bondholders.

Here's my paraphrase of Piercey's explanation of the difference between the payments to the bond trustee (found in the Vision 2025 monthly reports) and his schedule for repayment to the bondholders: The county began paying money into the bond fund as soon as the tax began to be collected, but well before they had to begin to repay the bonds. Those early funds earned interest, which reduced the amount the county had to pay to the bond trustee in order to keep the bond trustee's fund at the required level.

Without the details of the ins and outs of the fund being managed by the bond trustee, there doesn't seem to be any way to correlate the sales tax payments to the bond trustee (in the Vision 2025 monthly reports) with the payments to the bondholders (in Piercey's financial summary). The Vision 2025 monthly reports don't cover the balances and transactions in the bond repayment trust account or in the bond proceeds pot of money. (It just now occurs to me that those two pots may actually be a single pot of money.) There are individual monthly project expenditures in the report, which you can infer are payments from the bond proceeds, but it isn't explicit, and transactions like interest earnings are either not reported or perhaps just not obvious to me. It would be good to have a spreadsheet for the bond proceeds fund that spells things out as clearly as the sales tax spreadsheet does for that fund -- the balance at the beginning of each month, all the income and the outgo, and the balance at the end.

I mentioned that there's a fourth pot of money. The June 2007 Vision 2025 monthly report shows that in February, $2,093,676.40 was transferred to the Cash Projects Trust Account, and in June, $45,961,778.85 -- pretty much the entire sales tax reserve being held in the county's accounts -- was transferred to the Cash Projects Trust Account. A memo included in one of the monthly reports says that this account is also being managed by BOk.

I still don't see a way to answer my five questions from the information available. If I were a County Commissioner or a member of the Vision 2025 Sales Tax Overview Committee, I would insist on putting that information together and updating it on a monthly basis to serve as Tulsa County's financial plan for the Vision 2025 program.

It looks to me that John Piercey, PMg, and BOk each possess different pieces of the puzzle, but that no one has actually put all of it together into a complete picture, a complete plan that would permit exploring different scenarios that would allow the use of Vision 2025 funds to complete the dams that were promised as a part of that package.

There's another aspect of this that needs to be explored, but it's late and I'm tired. I'll just point you in the general direction. On the front page of Piercey's summary are three columns: "Pre-Request," "Arena Increase," "Revised Totals." The difference between the first and third columns tell quite a story.

Over at the TulsaNow public forum, in a discussion about the river tax plan, Kirby Crowe, program manager for Vision 2025 had this to say about the availability of information about those projects (he uses the handle Vision 2025 on the forum):

Despite what some say, Tulsa County goes farther than any other governmental agency that I know of in providing transparency on sales tax projects. Vision 2025 has an independent Sales Tax Overview Committee who is provided timely detailed reports identifying all expenditures and the revenue received....

Projects for Vision are reported on the web and the detailed monthly reports are provided to all project sponsors and are on file at the Central Library and each year a newsletter style report is delivered by direct mail and multiple distribution points to the voters of Tulsa County.

I responded with a compliment and a question. I'm crossposting it here to see if someone here has the answer. So far no one has answered it over there:

The monthly Vision 2025 reports are quite thorough and fairly straightforward. Do you think they could be posted on the vision2025.info site?

Anyone looking for them at Central Library should be aware that there are now five binders containing the reports, but (as of a couple of weeks ago) only two are on the local government shelf. The most recent three are in the reference workroom, and you have to ask at the 4th Floor reference desk to see them.

One thing the reports don't contain is the financial plan to which John Piercey, financial contractor on Tulsa County bond issues, has referred in recent public statements.

This plan would include sales tax revenue projections and expected expenditures -- debt service, pay-as-you-go projects (e.g. Oklahoma Aquarium), projects that have yet to be funded (e.g. American Indian Cultural Center), and anticipated administrative fees (e.g., payments to PMg and attorneys).

In other words -- how much money you have on hand, what you expect to come in, and what you're already committed to spend it on, as well as when you expect the money to come in and when you expect to spend it.

Piercey's revenue projections from August 16, 2006, were included in a spreadsheet in the end-of-June Vision 2025 report that PMg prepared. Piercey's projections plus actual receipts through June 2006 come to a grand total of $750,274,016.33. What the Vision 2025 monthly report lacked, something Piercey's plan apparently has, are the details of bond repayment schedules and other anticipated expenses.

I asked Kirby Crowe by phone if he had a copy of this plan. I'm not sure if I made my meaning clear, but I came away from the conversation with the impression that he did not have a copy of Piercey's financial plan.

I called Jim Smith, the County's fiscal officer, and asked if he had a copy of the financial plan. I thought he might, since his name is on the monthly memo in the Vision 2025 report listing tax receipts, the monthly wire transfer from the sales tax fund to the trustee, and the interest earnings on the sales tax trust account.

Smith said he didn't have the financial plan, but suggested I call John Piercey. Mr. Smith could tell me what the payment to the trustee would be for the next six months, at which point it would be recalculated, but couldn't tell me anything more about future expenses.

I called Capital West, and they gave me John Piercey's number. I called John, and he was very gracious. He said he'd e-mail it to me that evening or the following morning. He said something about recalculating based on more recent tax receipts. I'd really be happy seeing the most recent version, whatever he's been using as the basis for his statements about Vision 2025 surpluses.

That was a week ago Monday, the 20th. I gave him a reminder call on the 28th -- got his voicemail and left a message. Haven't heard back yet. I'm sure he's quite busy.

Can anyone suggest somewhere else I could find this information?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Mike at Okiedoke has been closely following the latest news of the possible relocation of the Seattle SuperSonics pro basketball franchise to Oklahoma City. Here are a few thoughts on what he's gleaned.

So Oklahoma City voted for the MAPS sales tax in 1993. Construction on the Ford Center began in 1999. The Ford Center opened in June 2002. When New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, Oklahoma City cleared the calendar to allow the New Orleans Hornets to play their 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons at the Ford Center.

A group of investors from Oklahoma City bought the Seattle SuperSonics and plan to move the team to Oklahoma City. Because one of the owners didn't keep quiet about that intention, he's been fined $250,000 by the NBA. Seattle has been given an ultimatum -- give us a bigger, better place to play or we're gone.

But surely Oklahoma City, with its five-year-old arena which spent two seasons as host to an NBA team, won't need to build a new facility to be the worthy home of the NBA Oklahoma SuperSonic Bacon Cheeseburger Toasters, right? Right?

Wrong. Hypothetically speaking.

When asked by a SuperSonics employee why the ownership team would consider forsaking the bigger and more prosperous Seattle market for Oklahoma City, chairman Clay Bennett listed the incentives Oklahoma City had offered to the SuperSonics:

  • Any legal fees involving the team’s fight to break the KeyArena lease.
  • Whatever the settlement is to the Seattle Center to buy out the lease.
  • All relocation fees the NBA would force the team to pay other owners.
  • Costs of physically moving the team’s staff and offices.
  • Costs of upgrading the city’s current arena, the Ford Center, to make it NBA-ready.
  • Costs of building a new arena, and when it’s finished, keeping the old facility running.

The Ford Center's not even good enough as a temporary home without modifications, and evidently no upgrades will suffice to qualify it as a permanent home.

Bennett covered his tracks with the NBA by saying he was answering the question hypothetically.

So how is Oklahoma City going to pay for all this? With the extra revenue generated by all the economic growth that occurred because of the MAPS projects, they must have money to keep their streets in excellent repair and plenty left over for incentives to the SuperSonics, right?



This December Oklahoma City is going to be asking its voters to approve a $760 million bond issue for street repairs and basic capital infrastructure, nearly twice the rumored amount of a 2008 Tulsa street bond issue. Mayor Mick Cornett is even considering levying an impact fee to cover the additional cost to the city of serving new development. (That's not a bad idea, actually.)

At least Oklahoma City voters will be able to vote on necessities prior to having to make a choice about a tax for a new sports arena to replace its five-year old facility.

There's been an interesting discussion over at the TulsaNow forum, looking ahead to the river tax vote in October, and looking back to the Vision 2025 tax vote back in 2003. There were persistent rumors that certain major companies blasted e-mails to their employees, urging them to vote yes, and that one company in particular, the Bank of Oklahoma, pressured employees to allow the vote yes campaign to put signs in their yards. BOk was one of the largest donors to the vote yes campaign, and a subsidiary of BOk Financial Corp., Leo Oppenheim, got half of the Vision 2025 revenue bond business.

In the course of the discussion, a user identifying himself with the handle "bokworker" was denying that there had been any sort of pressure on BOk employees to support Vision 2025, but he finally acknowledged this much (emphasis added; "Oil Capital" and "FB" are other participants in the discussion):

Oil Capital, as I recall the "incident" in question, there was an article posted on the banks' internal intranet informing employess about the Vision 2025 initiative and that the bank, as an entity, supported the initiative. The article stated that those employees that also supported the intitiative could ( note, it said COULD not WOULD) have a sign placed in their front yard to indicate their support. Those that did not want a sign or were not in support of the issue could "opt-out" by clicking the attached link and it was done. There was no effort in opting out besides a finger click. I will agree that I am not good at reading the minds of thousands of BOk employees any more than FB is. I can relate however that the so called "implicite coersion" was not felt by me or any of my co-workers. Is it possible that one or more employees felt uncomfortable in opting out? I suppose, but I did not.

Could the bank have worded the intranet article in a manner that you had to "opt-in" to get a sign put in your yard? I suppose but since I didn't feel like the bank was doing something that put my future with the organization at risk by "opting-out" I didn't give it a second thought. My angst with FB was that the banks actions were some sort of a conspiracy on the part of management to force the actions of its' employees to follow the company line. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It's 2003, and Tulsa has lost over 25,000 high tech jobs in the last two years. You go to work, sit down at your desk, log into the network, and you see an article telling you the company supports the Vision 2025 tax increase, and if you don't support it or don't want a "vote yes" sign in your yard, you can click a link and opt out. Would you click that link, knowing that there will be a record made of your decision?

Or would you suddenly remember your friend at that oil company who opposed the Tulsa Project and was fired after the election? Would you decide that it's not worth it to rock the boat?

There may be an honorable situation for forcing employees or subscribers or customers to "opt out" instead of allowing them to "opt in" but I can't think of one. At the very least Mr. Opt Out is hoping you'll forget to uncheck the box. Or maybe he'll set it up so that opting out requires checking a box, with the hope that you won't read closely enough or will just overlook it.

What BOk did, if this employee's story is accurate, is far worse. If you disagreed with your company's position on the tax, you had to conspicuously identify yourself as an opponent. Making the signs opt-in would have allowed opponents of the tax to blend in with those who just didn't get around to requesting a sign.

While I haven't heard this kind of story yet in this campaign, I am already hearing about pressure being applied by supporters of the new tax to shut down opposition. I've already heard of a neighborhood leader is being pressured not to allow an opponent of the tax to share the stage with a representative from the county at their neighborhood meeting. This is a sign of insecurity on the part of the proponents. If they believe their spin won't stand up to cross-examination, they'll refuse to debate someone who is able to use facts and reason to rebut their claims.

You tax supporters: If this is such a good deal, let it stand on its own merits. You shouldn't need to use threats, either explicit or implicit, to win support.

An edited version of this piece was published in the July 25, 2007, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The edited, published version of the piece is online, but badly formatted. Posted on the web November 3, 2012.

Out of Whole Terry Cloth
Simonson says, but it ain't necessarily so

What would you think of a merchant who sold you something, then told you you'd have to pay for it again to get what you've already paid for?

When Tulsa County voters approved Proposition No. 4 of the Vision 2025 sales tax, they approved $9.5 million to pay for the following items, spelled out very specifically in the ballot resolution passed by the Tulsa County Commission:

Construct two low water dams on Arkansas River the locations of which will be determined in the Arkansas River Corridor Plan -- $5.6 million

Zink Lake Shoreline Beautification -- $1.8 million

Design and construct Zink Lake Upstream Catch Basin and silt removal -- $2.1 million

Now Terry Simonson, the chief deputy and mouthpiece for Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller, is trying to convince Tulsans that we need to raise our taxes again to get what we thought we had already paid for. County Commissioners are likely to vote August 2 to put a $282 million sales tax increase on an October special election ballot.

Last week in UTW, Simonson tried to persuade readers that the line items you see above (and which you can see for yourself by following the Proposition #4 link at http://www.vision2025.info/newsletters.php) weren't really there.

Simonson wrote, "Though some may believe that Vision 2025 included funding to build a series of low water dams on the Arkansas River, this is not the case."

Simonson went on to claim that the $5.6 million was spent on "the study and environmental analysis by the Corp [sic] of Engineers." He correctly notes the amounts for the two improvements to Zink Lake, and claims that, "All of these are completed or, substantially engaged."

Simonson repeated these assertions last Wednesday morning, July 18, on 1170 KFAQ. Morning co-host Chris Medlock, who was on the City Council when Vision 2025 was put to a vote, called Simonson on his erroneous information, pointing to the official ballot resolution and promotional articles published in the daily paper at the time.

For example, on August 24, 2003, the daily paper published a column by editorial writer Julie DelCour, intended to deflect criticism that Vision 2025 neglected the public's interest in Arkansas River development. Taking up most of the front page of the Sunday opinion section, DelCour's piece was accompanied by full color illustrations showing a river full of water and mixed-use development on its banks. The caption on one drawing read, "Passage of Proposition 4 would provide funds to 'prep' the river for future, expanded uses."

Official campaign literature and other stories at the time hammered home the idea that a "yes" vote on Vision 2025 would put water in the river and make it suitable for the riverfront development that Tulsans were demanding.

Kirby Crowe, the project manager whose job is to track Vision 2025 funds and to make sure they are spent as promised, called KFAQ during Simonson's interview and told listeners that of the $9.5 million designated for dams and lake improvements, only $275,000 has been spent. That's a far cry from Simonson's claim that the projects were "completed or substantially engaged."

According to Crowe, none of the money for shoreline beautification and silt removal has been spent, in part because the master plan came up with a better approach to silt removal involving modifications to the Zink Lake Dam.

Crowe said that Phase 1 and 2 of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan was funded by municipalities and private contributions, not by the Vision 2025 sales tax. The $275,000 was to fund the Phase 3 work on environmental paperwork for the low-water dams, a necessary prerequisite for construction.

The remaining $9,225,000 for those three line items, Crowe said, is "unspent and protected."

Simonson claims that Hurricane Katrina siphoned off the hoped-for federal matching funds that would have paid for the dams. But Katrina didn't hit until September 2005, almost two full years after the Vision 2025 vote.

The real reason we didn't get the matching funds was reported by KOTV before the Vision 2025 vote even took place. The cleanup of the environmental disaster at Tar Creek, in the Tri-State mining area north of Miami, Okla., was using all Corps of Engineers funds available for Oklahoma.

Had our congressmen put river improvements ahead of Tar Creek remediation, it would have been like buying yourself a boob job and a tummy tuck when your kid needs chemotherapy.

Matching funds or not, County officials made a commitment to complete the projects that were promised. In a July 23, 2003, story in the daily paper about the potential for revenues to exceed expected project costs, County Commissioner Bob Dick said that the Vision 2025 package was structured to be sure that no project would be left incomplete.
Commissioner Dick was quoted as saying, "I think the worst thing you could do is promise you are going to build something and then not have enough money to build it."

So any surplus was intended first to be used to finish the promised projects. Already, the Tulsa County Vision Authority, a seven-member body made up of the three County Commissioners, the Mayor of Tulsa, and three suburban mayors, has authorized $45.5 million in additional funds for the BOk Center and improvements to the Maxwell Convention Center.

Vision 2025 revenues are running well ahead of projections. If you were to take the roughly $54 million in actual revenue over the last 12 months, project it out over the remaining nine-and-a-half years, assuming a modest 2.5% annual growth rate, and add it to what has already been collected, the Vision 2025 tax would raise a total of $768 million, a surplus of $233 million.

Subtract out the extra money for the arena and convention center, and there is still a surplus of nearly $188 million, far more than we need to fund the two low water dams and the improvements to Zink Lake that were promised to Tulsa County residents if they approved the Vision 2025 tax.

While I'd like to see the Vision 2025 tax ended as soon as possible, the Tulsa County Commissioners have a moral obligation to complete promised projects. It would be far preferable to use an existing tax to complete those projects than to force voters to approve a new tax increase - one likely to be renewed ad infinitum - in order to get what they thought they had already paid for.

The rest of the projects in the proposed $282 million tax package, such as the downtown-to-river connection and the pedestrian bridges at 41st and 61st, are city-specific. Each city along the river could choose to fund those improvements - or not - based on their priorities. Tulsa's city leaders might decide that our appalling violent crime rate or the atrocious condition of our streets deserve more direct attention.

It's essential that the land acquisition for riverfront development be left to the cities. There is a real danger that City of Tulsa residents could vote for this package expecting that money to be spent toward riverside commercial development in Tulsa, only to have it designated instead for a suburban project.

Between the items already promised in Vision 2025 and the items that are specific to individual cities, there's nothing left that needs to be funded through the County. The only reason for the County Commissioners to put a tax on the ballot this fall is if they are intent on expanding their burgeoning empire.

I shouldn't be too hard on Terry. He's just saying what he's been paid to say. During his appearance on KFAQ he frequently reminded us that he wasn't around when the decisions regarding Vision 2025 were made, and he urged us to let go of the past and look to the future instead.

But Commissioner Randi Miller, whose water he is carrying, was around then, voted to send Vision 2025 to the voters, and campaigned for its passage. She of all people has a personal obligation to ensure that the projects that she and her colleagues promised, the projects that were approved by the voters, are delivered without burdening her constituents with higher taxes.

And Miller needs to make sure her spokesman has his facts straight before sending him out to flack for her tax hike.

First thought when I read this was, "This makes sense." Instead of demolishing the Maxwell Convention Center arena, they're going to keep it in place and instead expand the exhibit hall to the north into what is now a surface parking lot between 3rd and 4th, Houston and Guthrie.

As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure I suggested this four years ago -- but minus the building a new arena part. If the point was to improve our convention facilities to appeal to conventions, that could be done without a new 18,000 seat arena, which only might be useful to a handful of conventions that would actually want to meet in Tulsa. Tulsans could have been given two independent choices on the ballot in 2003 -- whether or not to build the arena, whether or not to improve the convention center.

Second thought was that this makes the BOk Center even more of a white elephant than it already was. This move is bound to increase the operating deficit on the combined center.

The reason for this proposal has nothing to do with the pointlessness of the BOk Center. The theory is that we'd have a better shot at the Big 12 Basketball Tournament if we had two arenas in close proximity, one for men's games, one for women's games.

It is possible that the old arena might host other events that would otherwise have to go to the Mabee Center, the Pavilion, the Reynolds Center, or the UMAC.

Even though the old arena is more appropriately sized for minor league sports, expect the convention center management to force the Talons and the Oilers to play in the BOk Center to reduce the number of open dates on the new arena's calendar.

Someone needs to keep a running tally of how many days the BOk Center has an event and how many days the old arena has an event, and what the attendance is at each. We can then use those stats to decide whether it might be more economical to mothball the BOk Center.

MSNBC.com has the story of the completion of Boeing's first 787. It worth looking back four years ago to when Tulsans were told that this event might happen here.

Back in 2003, as part of Vision 2025, Tulsa County voters approved $250 million in loans and $100 million in grants to Boeing to try to lure the final assembly plant for the 7E7 (as it was then known) to Tulsa. The local $350 million package was on top of a secret amount of state incentives. Although the Boeing corporate welfare tax was a standalone proposition, the urgency of Boeing's decision (which was ultimately announced in December 2003) was used as a pretext to put the "Vision" tax package on the ballot, including the twice rejected arena. The Boeing proposal lent a thin veneer of plausibility to the claim that Vision 2025 would fix our unemployment problem in the short-term, even though the jobs that had been lost -- over 20,000 high-tech telecom jobs -- wouldn't have been replaced if Boeing had brought 800 factory jobs to town.

Lacking a deep-water port, direct Pacific Ocean access for aircraft components being shipped from Japan, and a corps of tens of thousands of experienced Boeing assembly workers, Tulsa was never a likely site for a Boeing final assembly plant, but the slight possibility served the interests of those who wanted at long last to get their new downtown arena. Tulsa County residents were worried about the future of Tulsa's economy, and 60% were willing to "do something" -- anything -- in hopes it might help, so they voted for all the propositions without considering the long term effects of a large, mostly empty arena on already strained city budgets. The outrageously large subsidy per job and the unlikelihood of the subsidy winning Boeing's heart didn't make a difference to a majority of the electorate.

This week's UTW column topic: The Mayor's proposed FY 2008 budget has been released, and it includes some unpleasant surprises. As the old arena is converted to ballroom space and the new arena isn't open yet, convention and arena revenues will vanish for the year, while start-up administrative costs appear with a vengeance. The net result: A $1.7 million hole in the General Fund, which the Mayor proposes to plug by shutting down 27 holes of golf and cutting a police academy, resulting in a net loss of officers. (The suggestion that golf savings will be funding northside pools is a smokescreen. The Mayor didn't actually say that that would happen, and in fact one fewer pool will be open this year than last.)

There was a typo -- my fault -- in the section of the column about the pools. Last year nine pools were open -- four funded by the city and five by private sponsorships, not four.

Also this week, a few thoughts on the result of Oklahoma's vote for a state quarter design. How did we miss out on an American Indian theme?

One of the images I suggest might have been a better choice is Willard Stone's sculpture "Exodus". Follow that link to see a picture of it.

Elsewhere in the current issue, Brian Ervin has a story on the problem of sinkholes caused not by geology but by aging underground sewer and stormwater pipes. (Take a look at the downtown stormwater management master plan -- it's in the government documents section at Central Library -- and note the section on "subsurface voids." That's where there's a gap between the relatively thin layer of concrete and asphalt and the solid ground beneath.)

The second installment to UTW's guide to summer events and activities is in this week's issue. Here's a link to the first installment.

Also, nominations are in order for Urban Tulsa Weekly's Absolute Best of Tulsa awards. Click the link to enter your choices online, or pull a ballot out of a paper copy and mail it in.


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I was happy to read that, for the first time in six years, AMR, parent of American Airlines, Tulsa's largest employer, turned a profit in 2006, $231 million on revenue of $5.39 billion.

It's funny to think, back in 2003, Tulsans were told that American Airlines needed our tax dollars in order to keep their maintenance facility in Tulsa. We voted to tax ourselves over 13 years to give AA $22.3 million.

Compare that number to AMR's annual revenues: It's only 0.4% -- four thousandths -- of AMR's 2006 revenue. That gift to AA was the equivalent to giving $200 to someone who makes $50,000 a year. It's not nothing, but it's a drop in the bucket, not even two days' revenue.

"Urban Husbandry" or island wizardry?


This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is about The Channels proposal to dam the Arkansas River and build three islands in the middle of it, at a cost to the taxpayers of $600 million. I suggest that the $100 million in private funds could be used more effectively using Roberta Brandes Gratz's "Urban Husbandry" strategy -- identifying positive signs of urban life and building on those, rather than trying to create something out of nothing with one big Project Plan.

And over on The Voice of Tulsa forum, I've posted another topic related to river development: When you say you want river development, what exactly are you after? You're invited to click the link and speak your mind.

Bing Thom iddle-eye-po?*

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Anyone else think it's curious that Bing Thom, the architect/urban design consultant consulted by Tulsa Stakeholders, Inc., in the development of "The Channels" plan, hasn't been heard from in connection with last week's unveiling or since?

For something like this, it's typical to parade the designer around town and make him available for interviews and a press conference. For example, Cesar Pelli came to Tulsa to promote his design for the new downtown arena. Why do you suppose that sort of thing hasn't happened for this project?

Has this become an Alan Smithee project?

* Sorry for the title, but I've been listening to The Goon Show rather a lot lately, and the architect's name fits nicely into a novelty song and catch phrase of theirs.

Just received, over the transom, a copy of the weekly report of Rodney Ray, City Manager for Owasso, to the Mayor and City Council of the City of Owasso, dated September 1, 2006. Here is an excerpt:


The long rumored Tulsa River Project, championed by the Warren Foundation, has been announced by a story in the Tulsa World. Mayor Cataudella and I recently met with the projects proponents for a discussion of the project (meetings were held with all Tulsa County Mayors and City Mangers). The project is ambitious and uses about $500 to $600 million dollars in public funding as a basis for construction of the necessary infrastructure (an additional $500 to $700 million dollars of private investment in office building, residential space, and retail is planned in addition to the initial investment). The proposed initial funding for the project consists of a private-public sector partnership of which $100 million dollars would come from private donors and approximately $500 million dollars from a proposed 4/10th of a penny sales tax that Tulsa County voters would be asked to approve.

As this proposal is more fully discussed, there are several issues that will become the focus of those discussions. Those issues are predicted to be: 1) Corps of Engineers participation and permitting (it appears that the Corps input to date is minimal, but a briefing with Corps officials is scheduled for next week), 2) Coordination of the three separate River Planning Projects currently underway (the study funded by a ten million dollar gift from George Kaiser, the Vision 2025 River Masterplan done by INCOG, and the Warren Foundation Planning Project), 3) River flow issues on the Arkansas River as they will affect navigations, 4) A substantial amount of the project funded through sales tax; and, 5) the economic impact of Tulsa and regional communities.

There will be numerous meetings, thousands of dollars paid to consultants, and tons of paperwork generated over the next few months; but, the final decision will be left to the voters. The projects proponents want the County Commission to call for a special election in December to decide the public funding question. However, others are counseling the County Commission against calling such an election before critical decisions can be made regarding fundamental development issues. It should be noted, that if the County Commission decides to call for a December sales tax election, that action would have to be taken in an October Commission meeting (only giving the Commission the month of September to have basic questions and concerns addressed).

As the discussion relating to this proposal develops, I will keep you informed.

The Channels


Over at The Voice of Tulsa forum, I've just posted a topic to gather reaction to the unveiling of The Channels, the $700 million plan to dam the Arkansas River. Head over there, read my brief take on the topic, and weigh in with your comments.

UPDATE: Chris Medlock was at the unveiling and reports that there's no point in trying to change "The Channels." The project is already in "educate" and "persuade" mode. He says that there were twice as many negative questions from the assembled multitude as positive.

In earlier entries, Chris correctly read the portents and omens of County Commissioner Randi "Ado Annie" Miller wading in the Arkansas River for a Tulsa Whirled photo and had some reliable inside info on the proposal ahead of the Whirled's "scoop".

David Schuttler asks "Are you willing to give up this view?" and he offers some video from the Mayoral campaign, reminding us of what Kathy Taylor and Randi Miller said about taxes and the river when they were seeking our votes.

Paul Romine asks if this is welfare for the wealthy:

Here's an idea, spend your own money! quit soaking the population for you little whims, you got your arena, and we are going to pay for it in more ways than one, the river is not for you to hijack, like you hijacked "the people's vision".

And finally, here's the official website for The Channels. Not much substance yet, but there is this from today's press release:

Estimated to require $600 million in some form of public financing, the group committed to raise $100 million as a gift from the private sector to the Tulsa region. Through the sale of energy created by the projects hydrodam and other renewable energies, an additional $88 million dollars can be financed, for a total of $788 million.

$600 million is about 20 years of a 0.4% county sales tax -- I'm assuming that they will go after the sales tax that was approved for Boeing's 7E7 plant, but which never went into effect.

Rather than have you wait for me to moderate your comments, you'll find an environment more conducive to give and take at The Voice of Tulsa -- post your comments there. Registration is free and easy.

AND MORE: Chris Medlock counts the skyscrapers in the Channels marketing video and wonders about the market viability of all that new space.

(Added retroactively on June 3, 2006, to complete the column archive.)

This week's Urban Tulsa Weekly column is about corporate welfare, connecting the dots between news that the Great Plains Airlines tax credits are being repaid with money that should be repairing roads and bridges, an effort to extend similar tax credits for the restoration of Shangri-La resort on Grand Lake, former Mayor Bill LaFortune's favorable concessions deals for the Tulsa Talons and Tulsa Oilers, and the biggest example of corporate welfare around -- the $200 million BOk Center.

Bids are in on the bulk of the cost for the new arena (BOk Center). Chris Medlock has details. Will there be any money left for the convention center?

National Review Online has a story today about eminent domain abuse in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. Centennial Baptist Church, located in the historically African-American neighborhood across US 412 (and years ago, across the Katy tracks) from downtown Sand Springs, is being condemned to make way for a "power center" -- a collection of big box stores like Home Depot and Bed, Bath, and Beyond. This is a classic condemnation for private benefit of the sort that was green-lighted by the U. S. Supreme Court in last year's Kelo v. New London case.

This condemnation is part of the Sand Springs Keystone Corridor Redevelopment project, Sand Springs' piece of the Vision 2025 pie. (That link has a couple of clickable aerial maps showing what's currently within the target area and what is planned to replace it. The target area is bounded by Highway 97 on the west, Main Street on the east, US 412 on the north, and Morrow Road on the south.)

Vision 2025, if you're not from around here, is a 13-year 6/10th of a cent county-wide sales tax, funding a downtown sports arena and a variety of projects across the county -- $535 million all told. In order to win the support of each of the smaller towns for the big sports arena in downtown Tulsa, each town got to pick a project for funding. Money to acquire the old African-American neighborhood for retail redevelopment was the City of Sand Springs' choice.

The NRO story makes the point that many property owners in the neighborhood are willing sellers and that a couple of the neighborhood's churches have moved to Tulsa. But Centennial Baptist wishes to stay and to continue its ministry. The entire target area isn't being cleared -- a fast-food restaurant and an auto parts store are being allowed to stay. Centennial is on Morrow, on the southern edge of the area. If Centennial were allowed to stay, there would still be plenty of room for new development.

An initiative petition is being circulated which would limit the use of eminent domain for private benefit, but it will come too late for Centennial Baptist Church. The only hope for the church is for the City of Sand Springs to relent. From the City's point of view, anything that replaces the church is better than the church because it will pay more property and sales tax than the church, which is exempt.

I've written a couple of entries about this neighborhood in the past -- the first was a call for someone to interview Harlem Globetrotter great Marques Haynes, who grew up there, as part of documenting the neighborhood's history, and the second was an e-mail from Ruth Ellen Henry of the Sand Springs Cultural and Historical Museum about the history of the neighborhood. One interesting fact in Ms. Henry's e-mail -- the area was donated by Charles Page, the philanthropist and industrialist who founded the town, as a refuge to blacks taking refuge from the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot.

There's an interesting discussion over in the TulsaNow forums about the new Office Depot at 15th and Lewis. It sits awkwardly in the middle of the lot, roughly where the previous structure, a Safeway / Homeland / Alps supermarket, sat, but facing north, with a small parking lot to the north and another separate lot on the south side. The old supermarket had its main entrance facing Lewis, very near the sidewalk. The Office Depot also comes up to the sidewalk, but presents passers-by with a blank wall.

The discussion led to some questions about the relatively new McDonald's at 15th and Peoria, namely, "How could they build that plain ol' McDonald's there, right on Cherry Street?" I've posted an explanation and elaborated on what Oklahoma City has done to encourage good urban infill. Specifically, I talk about OKC's urban design districts, which are overlay districts that add some restrictions while relaxing others in order that new development fits the character of historic commercial districts like 23rd Street (west of the State Capitol, home to many Asian businesses) and Capitol Hill (a neighborhood south of the river which is nowhere near the Capitol).

In researching my response, which contains links to a lot of info about Oklahoma City, I found a link to a browsable zoning map of Oklahoma City. It would be awfully nice if Tulsa had something like that available online.

Dean Dennis of Global Spectrum, an unsuccessful bidder for the right to manage Tulsa's new arena and old convention center, flew to Tulsa on Thursday to ask a question: "How could they have more points on the scoring sheet for compensation?" "They" is SMG, the successful bidder, and the question refers to the fact that Global Spectrum made a lower (better) bid for compensation -- their management fees -- than SMG, and yet the committee that evaluated the bids ranked SMG higher in that category. No one answered his question. Chris Medlock has more on the story, with audio of the unanswered question. In this kind of a bid process, each evaluator ranks the bidders in each of several categories, and the ranking is added up for a total score. It's sort of like scoring a boxing match. It increasingly appears that the committee members tweaked their numbers in individual categories to make sure that SMG came out on top, even if SMG wasn't objectively the best bid in a particular category.

If companies don't think they'll get a fair hearing, who will want to do business with the City of Tulsa? I'm glad that Global Spectrum and Professional Bull Riders are making some noise about the way they were treated by Mayor Bill LaFortune, his staff, and his handpicked committee. Nothing will change until people are willing to speak out.

That's no bull


If you still have confidence in Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune's choices when it comes to our new arena and arena management, you need to head over to MeeCiteeWurkor's place and read how LaFortune punted away a major-league Professional Bull Riders event by insisting on scheduling a competing minor league bullriding event immediately before the PBR's scheduled and publicized event. PBR suggested some compromises, including rescheduling the minor league event after the PBR event, but LaFortune wouldn't budge. So we lose an event that "generated the highest gross ticket sales in the 41-year history of the Tulsa Convention Center," -- and we lose it to Oklahoma City, of course.

Here's the press release with all the details.

It's strange that LaFortune was even involved in a decision about events at the convention center.

Notice that Bob Funk, president of Oklahoma City-based Express Personnel was trying to do something nice for Tulsa:

"I asked the PBR a year ago to take a chance on Tulsa," said Bob Funk, owner of Express Sports. "I wanted another stop in Oklahoma. I knew Tulsans would support major league bull riding. I am stunned to learn the city had opted to enter into an agreement with a minor league competitor."

So don't expect Mr. Funk's help in landing future sporting events for Tulsa. Why should he bother? He had teamed with Jeff Lund of the Tulsa Oilers to put this together. Lund has to be wondering about his continued use of the city's facilities, when he could just as well move his team to the Fairgrounds Pavilion, with better parking and a size closer to the usual Oilers crowd.

Thursday's Whirled reported that the losing team in the "competition" to run the new downtown Tulsa sports arena and the convention center feels cheated and wants to know how to file a formal protest. You'll recall that the decision to hire SMG was made a mere 24 hours after the competitors made their presentations. SMG was picked because their estimate of how much money the arena could make was higher than Global Spectrum's. Never mind that SMG's fees are higher than Global Spectrum's would have been.

Just think about that: They won the contract because they made up a wildly optimistic number. It didn't hurt that SMG had done consulting work for Tulsa Vision Builders and that Bart Boatright, the program manager for Tulsa Vision Builders, was responsible for recalculating the financial estimates from the bids for presentation to Mayor Bill LaFortune.

To Global Spectrum: No, there is no way to submit a formal protest. King Willie the Weak had final say, and it appears he already had his mind made up before you even had a chance to be heard. The only recourse would be the courts.

When Bill LaFortune was arguing that the City should pay Bank of Oklahoma $7.5 million that the City doesn't owe, he claimed that not paying the money would make Tulsa look unfriendly to business, and companies wouldn't want to come to Tulsa. But it's these questionable deals we're seeing at the City and the County that will deter companies from wanting to do business with local government, perhaps even from coming to Tulsa at all.

It costs a lot of money to put together a proposal for a government contract. Companies make the effort because they believe their proposals will be considered fairly. If the job always goes to the firm with the political connections, other companies won't bother bidding, and that means higher costs for the taxpayer. Worse than that, if Tulsa gets the reputation of being a city where you have to pay to play, like some sort of banana republic, then even companies that don't do government business will choose to locate elsewhere.

So says Steve Roemerman after visiting the one in Indianapolis, and he's right. He's right about this, too:

Instead of trying to convert into something else, Tulsa should hold fast to the things that are uniquely Tulsan. [Councilor Chris] Medlock believes that Tulsa should focus its strengths, and I believe he is right. I have always been impressed with Tulsa; how it uniquely combines family values, with art and culture. What better way to express those strengths, than with an excellent childrens museum?

There have been a couple of attempts -- Hands On, which was in FlightSafety's old building on 38th Street west of Memorial back in the early '90s, and the Harmon Science Center at 41st and Hudson. We never visited the Harmon Science Center -- they publicized the fact that the center was only open to school groups and since our only child at the time was younger than school age we never got to go. Within a few years the doors were shut.

There are some great children's museums and museums with kid-oriented exhibits within a short drive of Tulsa. There's the Omniplex in Oklahoma City, the Sam Noble museum on the OU campus, and the Jasmine Moran Museum in Seminole. Wichita's Exploration Place -- which is on and partly in the Arkansas River -- has a fantastic room devoted to aviation and another devoted to weather. Little Rock has a good kids museum covering science, history, art, and nature, next to their River Market.

The Tulsa Zoo, the Oklahoma Aquarium, and the Tulsa Air and Space Museum each provide some hands-on exhibits in their field of expertise and they try to present exhibits in a way that is accessible and interesting to children, but it would be nice to have a museum that brings different fields of learning together under one roof.

For all the focus on attracting and retaining young professionals -- and that is important -- Tulsa should build on its strengths, too. Many of my contemporaries spent their twenties and thirties on one of the coasts, but when it came time to raise a family, they swam upstream back to Tulsa.

Steve Roemerman has been blogging about plans of the convenience chain Kum and Go to put a new store on the west side of Riverside at 101st Street. What little private development we have on Tulsa's side of the river turns its back to the river, unlike Jenks Riverwalk Crossing which takes advantage of its location. The two restaurants just north of the Creek Turnpike were built as if the river didn't even exist -- cookie cutter designs with the front toward the street and the grease pit and the dumpster toward the back -- toward the river. Steve points out the riverfront is a limited resource, and it seems a waste to use it in this way.

Oklahoma City has land use regulations in place to protect areas of the city that are important to its appeal to tourists and locals. One special development district is called the Gateway area, and it covers the intersection of I-35 and I-44, around the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Remington Park, and the Omniplex, an area that acts as OKC's front door from the northeast. Other special districts include Bricktown and Stockyards City.

If we're going to get the most out of the piddly amount of Vision 2025 money designated for river improvements, Tulsa needs land use standards so that development along the river doesn't detract from the river's natural beauty, doesn't act as a wall between the riverbank and the rest of the city, but instead helps to link the two.

Now it's all $183 million?


Dave Schuttler caught this on the City of Tulsa's redesigned website:

The heart of Vision 2025 centers on our $183 million BOK center. Tulsans and visitors alike eagerly await the completion of the new center -- Cesar Pelli's newest masterpiece. Groundbreaking was August 2005.

$183 million was the amount designated in Proposition 3 of the Vision 2025 sales tax election for the new arena and the upgrade of Tulsa's city-owned convention center -- $125 million for the arena, $58 million for the convention center upgrade. It's already been noted that Mayor Bill LaFortune has shifted $16 million away from redoing a facility that brings in new dollars from visitors to building one that simply redistributes the discretionary spending of Tulsans. Is this a subtle way of telling us that he decided to use all $183 million for the arena?

And as for the heart of Vision 2025 centering on the arena, that wasn't the way they sold the package. If anything the "events center," as it was euphemized during the campaign, was downplayed in favor of the university funding in the same proposition and the promise of jobs from a new Boeing facility.

To no one's surprise, Mayor Bill LaFortune selected SMG to manage both the new downtown sports arena and the convention center.

SMG is a joint venture of the Hyatt Hotel Chain and ARAMARK Corporation. The company manages 156 facilities worldwide, including 63 arenas and 44 convention centers. One of the arenas they manage is the Ford Center in Oklahoma City. So when a major concert tour is going to make one stop in Oklahoma, you won't have a competition between the two cities to get the show -- instead SMG will decide, based on their bottom line.

By the way, Mayor LaFortune said at his re-election announcement that if our arena had been in place, Tulsa might have gotten the refugee New Orleans Hornets instead of Oklahoma City. Remember that Katrina hit less than two months before the first game of the NBA season. There were other venues that competed to be the Hornets temporary home, but Oklahoma City a key advantage -- very few events scheduled over the course of the six-month NBA season. The calendar was already mostly clear; a few minor-league hockey games had to be moved to accommodate the Hornets schedule, which has already been set to synchronize with the rest of the league. So if we want a management company who can keep the arena empty most of the time, ready for when Montréal's dormant volcano erupts and forces the Canadiens to find somewhere else to play hockey, we've got the right team.

Joe Kelley is a quick learner:

I have an interesting challenge on my radio show. My interview segments vary in time from 90-seconds to about 5 minutes. Therefore, I have the responsibility of pulling answers out of my guests as quickly and efficiently as possible, lest I run out of time. I avoid niceties and small talk and get right to the heart of my questions. Yet, some guests, particularly politicians, understand that with my show and other LIVE radio and TV shows (like Meet the Press, et al) if they talk with long enough rhetoric, they can avoid actually answering the question at hand. In essence, they filibuster me; or, in sports terminology, they run out the clock.

What inspired this epiphany? Joe interviewed Mayor Bill LaFortune about the movement of Vision 2025 funding from the convention center refurbishment to the construction of the arena. Joe is very diplomatic about it all, but he's not going to let anyone off the hook.

Now, I dont want to accuse the good Mayor of filibustering me, but I can tell you that he provided far more extraneous information and far less relevant information then I needed and my listeners deserved.

I will implement a new policy on my show henceforth: when the clock runs out without the requisite answers, I will kindly ask that the guest hold on and will record the rest of the interview with them during the commercial break for later playback. Lets just call it "overtime."

Joe goes on to mention the impact of the hurricanes on the cost of a minor construction job at his house and wonders about the impact on the cost of the arena.

It's no wonder the Mayor would try to run out the clock. He and he alone had the final say on the choice of the arena location (which affected the cost of land acquisition and utility relocation), the choice of architect (and by choosing a starchitect, he pretty much guaranteed a very expensive arena), and the allocation of the $183 million between the arena and the convention center. The county had no role in any of those decisions, and neither did the City Council.

Shouldn't we figure out how much this arena is going to cost and go back to Tulsa's voters and ask, "Do you still want an arena at this price?" before we sink any more money into this pit.

Nice of him to pitch in

| | Comments (2)

An exclusive, positively retouched photograph:

LaFortune hauls cash

Of course, this photo is utter fiction. If it were real, you'd see him hauling the cash in the other direction.

Ron W. at Route 66 News has posted the first in a series on the Vision 2025 Route 66 project. He points out that the $15 million in Vision 2025 for Route 66 dwarfs the federal $10 million fund.

He got a copy of the "Vision 2025 Route 66 Enhancements and Promotion Master Plan of Development," which included a marketing survey to find out what would make Route 66 in Tulsa County a draw for tourists:

One thing that stuck out in the survey results is that a generation chasm may hamper future interest in Route 66. Anyone born after the final baby-boom year of 1964 "sees this highway as an old, worn-out piece of technology," the report said. So Littlefield and Vision 2025 figured they had a tough job on their hands make Tulsas Mother Road appeal not only to more receptive folks like baby boomers and hardcore Route 66ers, but also spark interest to the more skeptical, young, tech-savvy travelers.

Most of the guidelines he quoted from the plan make sense, but this one worried me: "Make it hip in the era of iPods and blogs, Route 66 desperately needs a cool factor."

The impression I get is that the folks who prepared this report don't understand the idea of a niche attraction. Route 66 is never likely to be a mass appeal attraction. The way to approach it is to make it a high-quality, must-see attraction for enthusiasts, but make it accessible to interested outsiders. If you take the other approach -- dumb it down for people who don't know and don't care about 66 -- you won't create anything interesting enough to make it worth the enthusiasts' while to stay the night and spend money.

Here's another important point. We shouldn't trying to market Route 66 as a whole, but the unique roadside features of Tulsa County's stretch of road. Route 66 is over 2,000 miles long, with a lot of variety along the way. What can we do to highlight the unique landmarks on our stretch of road?

Ron W. promises more installments to come.

UPDATE: Part 2 is online.

I thought there was something funny about the numbers being bandied about for the cost of building the new downtown sports arena and upgrading the convention center. The ballot resolution for Proposition 3 of Vision 2025 (PDF) included this item:

Tulsa Regional Convention/Events Center, including Convention Center modernization, land, design, and Events Center construction -- $183,000,000.

It wasn't split out between the arena and the convention center in the ballot resolution, but contemporaneous news coverage consistently cites $125 million as the budget for the arena and $58 million for the convention center upgrade. For example, here's Julie DelCour in the August 3, 2003, Tulsa Whirled:

A 1-cent sales tax proposal before voters Sept. 9 includes construction of a $125 million, 18,000-seat events center and a $58 million modernization of the Tulsa Convention Center.

In June 2004 I cited the $125 million number for the arena to compare it to the costs of the arenas to be visited by the city's oversight committee.

Medlock quotes the same numbers -- $125 million for the arena, $58 million for the convention center -- from an August 17, 2003, news story in the Whirled.

The numbers are different now. From Friday's Whirled:

In 2003, voters approved $183 million to construct the arena and make improvements to the convention center. Cost estimates were $141 million for an 18,000-seat arena and $42 million to add at least 10,000 square feet of space and a ballroom to the convention center.

That's $16 million that had been allocated to the convention center toward modernization and a new ballroom. That's 27% of the original budget for the convention center, shifted to pay for our iconic arena. Who made the decision to shift that money? Who gave approval? Now Mayor Bill LaFortune is looking for another $3 million to pay for extra wind resistance for the arena's unnecessary big glass wall, and it looks like that will come out of the convention center as well.

For years we've been told that Tulsa needs to modernize and expand its convention facilities in order to be able to attract more lucrative events and bring outside dollars to Tulsa. Now it appears the Mayor's committee is going to shortchange the facility. A new grand entrance, designed to line up with 5th Street, is going to be put on the back burner. There's talk that the Mayor will try to sneak convention center improvements into the next Third Penny, rather than pay for them with Vision 2025 money as promised. And that means less money for critical capital improvement needs.

A longtime convention center observer told me that the worst-case scenario is that they don't have the money to convert the old arena into something else. Then the old arena -- which is the right size for most events that might be held in the new arena -- would take business from the new arena, but the city would still have pay to operate both. Think about it. Imagine that you run the arena football team, which averages about 5,500 fans a game. Would you rather pay less to hold the game in a smaller facility where the crowd fills more than three-fourths of the seats, or pay more to hold the game in a big facility where the crowd fills a third of the seats?

Is it too late to cut our losses with this arena design? Can we pay Pelli, send him away, and bring in someone who will give us a classy, art-deco-inspired facility, built with sturdier and less-expensive materials, a facility with some street-level retail, so there's some activity when there isn't an event underway? And will someone please tell us who shifted the $16 million?

The Tulsa Beacon has more (link good for one week only).

In this morning's Whirled we were treated to some numbers from John Scott, director of Tulsa's government-owned convention center, estimating the economic impact of the expansion of the convention center, to be funded by Vision 2025 money. The numbers were presented last month to the City Council. What his own numbers reveal, despite his efforts to spin to the contrary, is that the convention center is an extraordinarily bad investment.

The expanded convention center is expected to generate a $1,962,000 operating loss, on top of continued debt service of $1,752,000 a year for money borrowed to build the last convention center expansion in 1984. With rounding, that's an annual total loss of $3,714,000, and it has to be made up out of city tax dollars, dollars that could otherwise be going to pay police officers, keep swimming pools open, and keep potholes filled.

Scott told the councilors not to fixate on the bottom line:

"I know business people focus on the bottom line," Scott said. "And we share concerns on the operating losses . . . but we feel that is more than made up by the overall economic impact benefit the convention center brings to the community.

"Wouldn't any business want to spend $3.7 million to get $43 million?" he asked.

But that isn't exactly what is happening. The City of Tulsa is going to be shelling out $3.7 million to get about $2 million in revenues, if we're lucky.

Human bones have been found during excavation at the site of the downtown Tulsa sports arena. According to KOTV:

Authorities say it's no surprise the bones were found since authorities knew a cemetery dating to the 1800s had existed on the site.

Who are these authorities? And haven't they seen "Poltergeist"?

(Hat tip to MeeCiteeWurkor. A commenter on that entry notes that the Louisiana Superdome was also built on the site of an old cemetery.)

UPDATE 9/6/2005: Bobby has reorganized and purged Tulsa Topics, so with his permission, I've taken his audio of the speech, reduced the fidelity to radio quality to get the size down, and uploaded it here (4 MB MP3).

UPDATE 9/7/2005: Bobby has reposted the groundbreaking audio in both MP3 and streaming format here.

And don't miss the commentary on the groundbreaking and Tulsa's downtown revitalization strategy from Oklahoma City bloggers Charles G. Hill and The Downtown Guy.

If you thought that the proponents of Vision 2025 have come to a more balanced, nuanced view of the arena's role in Tulsa's future, you need to listen to the speeches from today's groundbreaking of the new downtown sports arena. To listen to John Erling (the MC) and Bill LaFortune speak, you'd have thought the New Jerusalem just descended from the heavens. (Emphasis added by me in the quotes below.)

Erling's opening:

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to a very historic day in the life of our city, Tulsa, and our county, Tulsa County. To paraphrase, this is the day the taxpayers have made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Today is the day that the result of two government entities, coming together for the common good of the region known as Vision 2025, and we are here, in ceremony, to honor the wishes of our citizens, that we break ground to build an events center that will not only be a gathering place, an entertainment venue, but also because of its design and renowned architect, a reason to make Tulsa a point of destination....

So there's no reason to come to Tulsa until the arena is finished?

Now Mayor Bill LaFortune worked tirelessly with the leadership team and County Commissioner Bob Dick to present the Vision 2025 project to the public, and the arena is the centerpiece of that project, which was approved September 9, 2003.... The vision has always been to create an icon for the community, a center that will be the signature piece of artwork recognized throughout the world.

Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune took the occasion to chastise those who voted against the arena. His tone was defensive and defiant, completely out of place for a celebratory event. It reminded me of some of Bill Clinton's more petulant performances. Here's one segment. Not only does he dismiss those who opposed Vision 2025 as "content with the status quo," but seems to be saying that Vision 2025 is all about grinding other medium-sized midwestern cities in the dust. And, yes, in another Clintonian touch, it's for the children....

John Erling certainly touched on this, but today would not be possible without the efforts of thousands, literally thousands of Tulsans. First and most important, the citizens who voted yes for Vision 2025. They recognized that we had to do something big and bold to move Tulsa forward. They recognized that Tulsa had to build, invest, invest in our infrastructure, to remain competitive with similar cities. They recognized, those citizens who voted yes, that Tulsa had to build to provide facilities that would serve as the foundation for Tulsa's future economic growth. Those citizens, with their foresight, recognized that Tulsa had to build facilities and amenities that would serve us for decades to come. For us, but most importantly as I said -- and we should never tire of this theme -- for our kids and our grandkids, those same citizens rejected the negativism of some, those same individuals who were content with the status quo, content to go by decade after decade with no major public facility improvement, all the while watching almost every other comparable city, including Oklahoma City, move past us, leaving us in their construction dust.

But today I say to you: No more! No more to Oklahoma City, no more to Des Moines, no more to Omaha! Tulsa is alive and well!

"Fie upon you, Des Moines and Omaha, and fie, fie upon you, Oklahoma City! Your vaunted convention centers will be brought low and shall be no more! Not one stone will remain standing upon another. Your downtowns will run with blood! We will loot your concert tour dates, kill your men, enslave your women and children, and sow your fields with salt. My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings! Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"

Look back over that quote. What a paltry vision: Remain competitive with similar cities by building an arena. Nothing about developing our workforce, encouraging risk-takers to start new businesses, accommodating the needs of the elderly and disabled, rethinking our approach to urban design. Nothing about becoming a great city, just making sure Cher has a place to perform when she brings her Frankensteinish carcass to town.

Notice too how LaFortune denigrates the billions of dollars Tulsans invested in streets, sewers, and public schools through the third-penny sales tax and city and school general obligation bond issues in the decade before Vision 2025. Because that money paid for lots of small improvements, and not a single major facility improvement (that always translates to "new arena"), that investment, supported by those of us who opposed Vision 2025, doesn't count.

And notice that this arena isn't just going to be a nice place to watch a ball game. According to Bill LaFortune, it's the foundation for Tulsa's future economic growth.

Later, LaFortune goes into full hyperbolic overdrive. Uniter, not divider, that he is, he takes another slap at people who disagree with him:

But what about one of the greatest coalitions ever built? We've heard from of our perennial negative voices that we claim to be coalition builders but we're not, and we're afraid they might have been asleep during the Vision 2025 process. And what has now been a coalition building effort recognized nationally by the US Conference of Mayors and the coalition for most livable communities, Vision 2025 was unprecedented anywhere, anytime in the United States of America. Where else -- you name it -- where else and when could you have an occasion which cities, mayors, city managers, city councils, the county government, chambers of commerce, neighborhood associations, and so on, all came together united behind a single vision, a single plan. I call that a coalition, a major coalition never before seen....

LaFortune went on to compare Tulsa's situation before Vision 2025 to Washington and the Continental Army at Valley Forge.

County Commissioner Bob Dick spoke next and delivered a speech that was more what I would have expected on such an occasion: focused on the positive, not an opportunity to take a swipe at one's rivals.

Matrix President Steve Alter was the next speaker. He congratulates the city on doing such a diligent job selecting the construction team. He knows the city was diligent because it selected his team. And he joins in on the hyperbole:

I'd like to say how proud we are to be part of this and what a diligent process the city and county went through, the leadership team, the design review committee, the oversight committee, in their selection of the team to do the most important and the largest project in the urban core ever....

Larger and more important that the Williams Center? That was six blocks, not four.

Later, Alter picked up on LaFortune's idea of the arena biz as a zero sum game.

The challenge was provide a catalyst that puts Tulsa back on the map for major events and stops them to going to all of the cities that Mayor LaFortune mentioned. We not only will have an events center. We will have the greatest architectural events center and a new paradigm in events centers and arenas in the nation.

We have to stop those events from going to all those nasty cities that dare not to be Tulsa. It's not enough that Phish comes to Tulsa. We have to stop Phish from going to Des Moines. Maybe if we design the arena like a Roach Motel -- artists check in, but they don't check out.

It was entirely appropriate to celebrate the groundbreaking, but it would have been better to celebrate and appreciate it for what it is -- a nice place to see a game or a concert -- rather than insist that it is a magic totem that will transform the city's economy. I'd prefer to believe that the Mayor and the others were being disingenuous in ascribing supernatural urban healing powers to the arena. I'd hate to think they really believe this building is the key to Tulsa's future.

Indy info

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Mad Okie was recently at a convention in Indianapolis, a city that Tulsa's arena pushers have cited as a model. He observed some factors that make the sports and convention facilities work in downtown Indianapolis, factors that aren't present in Tulsa.

So what is this fatal flaw? Location, Location, Location! Anyone who looks at the map of where the arena is going to be located will notice the complete lack of anywhere to grow anything, how is this supposed to grow downtown? Where is it supposed to grow?

While in Indy, the Colts had an exhibition game, people walked from the parking garage, over a block to grab a bite to eat, then over to the game... 5 blocks maximum worth of walking, there is nothing that will promote that form of behavior at the [Tulsa] arena's location.

He also notices some differences with parking in downtown Indianapolis. Read the whole thing.

Last Tuesday there was a discussion in the Tulsa City Council committee meeting about the lack of a firm cost estimate on construction of the new downtown sports arena and the lack of a business plan to account for annual operating revenues and costs.

Assistant Public Works Director Mike Buchert told the Whirled that the city is relying on the feasibility study done by Conventions, Sports, and Leisure prior to the Vision 2025 sales tax vote. That study is dated March 23, 2003.

Here's how the story in the Wednesday Whirled characterizes the study:

The study by Conventions, Sports & Leisure International determined that Tulsa's market can sustain an 18,000-seat arena, allowing it to operate in the black by up to $1.2 million.

This was based on the arena hosting about 138 events and drawing 570,000 spectators annually. Such a scenario would bring in up to $4.6 million in revenue to offset about $3.4 million in expenses.

Buchert said there are no plans for additional studies.

"Everything has been based on that in terms of planning the efficiencies of the arena."

The single biggest revenue line item is premium seating -- $1,667,000 per year. CSL assumes that the arena will be able to sell 20 luxury suites at $32,500 and 2,000 "club seats" at $1,100 each annually for 40 minor league hockey and arena football games. This represents a premium -- over and above normal ticket prices -- of $26,164 per luxury suite and $572 per club seats. The revenue estimate also includes $250,000 per year for naming rights.

Are these estimates reasonable? I have my doubts that so many companies and individuals will be willing to pay for premium seating for minor league sports. But even if the predictions are fulfilled, the assumption is that all premium seat revenues will go toward annual operating costs. If those revenues are instead pledged against the cost of construction, the arena will have an annual deficit of $481,000.

What about annual revenue for naming rights? Based on a survey of recent naming rights deals, we'd be doing well to get $500,000 a year in a multi-year deal -- 15 years seems typical. Once again, if we pledge the entire $7.5 million toward construction, none of it will be available for operations. That means the $250,000 CSL figured in toward annual operating revenue. Combined with the shortfall if premium seat revenues are diverted to construction, that would make the annual deficit $731,000.

There are a couple of other factors that CSL couldn't have known about that city officials should take into consideration.

In March 2003, a barrel of West Texas Intermediate went for $33.55. On Friday, August 19, 2005, the price was $65.35. CSL estimated annual utilities costing $600,000. If oil prices have nearly doubled in little more than two years, does that estimate still make sense? And what impact will a doubling of oil prices have on construction costs?

The other factor: Casinos. Although Indian gaming was a growing industry before the November 2004 election turned bingo halls into full-fledged casinos, it has exploded in the months since then. March 2003, the date of the feasibility study, was early enough in Brad Henry's term as governor that no one, not even CSL, could know if the expansion of Indian gaming had the legislative support to go forward, much less popular support for passing a referendum. There's anecdotal evidence that gaming is hurting the restaurant business, and if so, it's more likely to affect other leisure spending. A 10% drop in minor league sports attendance would mean a $320,000 drop in arena revenues, based on CSL's sensitivity analysis.

We don't necessarily need a new study done from scratch, but at the very least, city officials should examine the assumptions that went into the CSL bottom line and ask if those assumptions are still valid. If more accurate assumptions show a shortfall in the construction budget or the operating bottom line, it's time now to figure out how to close the gap.

Urban Tulsa Weekly writer G. K. Hizer has had it with hyper-optimistic predictions of what the new arena will do for downtown Tulsa:

Ground breaking is finally scheduled for later this month, and the spin doctors have been working overtime to remind everyone what a great thing weve got coming. Details of our urban savior center are finally being released, and Id have to say that Im thoroughly under-impressed.

Hizer points out that the arena might get one conference basketball tournament a year. The rest of the year the arena will host minor league hockey, minor league basketball, and minor league arena football, none of which have been packing people in.

But we'll be getting all the big concerts, right?

Now, as a music fan, I at least wanted to believe the arena would attract some major acts to town. When the details finally came out, what did we get? End-stage seating for 14,000. Not that there are very many acts actually touring arenas these days, but you do realize that those that do are looking for 18,000 seat capacity and up, right?

When Tulsa's arena does start hosting concerts, we'll be competing with Oklahoma City's Ford Center for tour dates. Hizer says the Ford Center has only hosted 15 concerts so far this year, and only four over the summer.

Hizer isn't happy about the selection of a starchitect either:

Instead of an arena designed to complement the classic architecture of downtown Tulsas more valuable skyline pieces like the Mayo and Atlas buildings, weve got to have something bold something artistic.

What we get is a sweeping piece of art that sticks out like a sore thumb. This arena would fit in better on the south side of town, to go with ORUs Jetsons-style futuristic look.

I have to agree with him, and at this point I have to eat a bit of crow. When the selection of Cesar Pelli was announced, I was pleased, because it was a break with the pattern of giving contracts to major donors to the "vote yes" campaign. Tulsa architect Gary Sparks was a $10,000 contributor, the highest-level of donor to be passed over for Vision 2025 work. His pay-in-hopes-of-play notwithstanding, based on his past efforts, I think Sparks would have produced a design more in keeping with Tulsa's architectural heritage.

I had hoped that starchitect Pelli would have been held in check by the some of the members of the oversight committee who understand New Urbanism and the importance of building in a pedestrian-friendly way. Did anyone tell Mr. Pelli, "We're sorry, sir, but that just isn't the sort of thing we were hoping for"? Did anyone ask him to make provision for retail space along the street frontage? Did anyone say we'd like the building to add to our downtown collection of art deco masterpieces? Perhaps the oversight committee was too awed by Pelli's starpower to dare suggest that he should subordinate his personal vision to the vision of Tulsa's citizens.

Back to G. K. Hizer: As a contrast to the grandiose plans that are supposed to turn our city around, he calls attention to the Living Arts of Tulsa Center, which is one of many groups working to make Tulsa a more interesting place. By itself, it may not have much of an impact, but entrepreneurs and small arts organizations can have a big cumulative impact.

He hints at the contrast articulated by Roberta Brandes Gratz in Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown: Project Planning vs. Urban Husbandry. Project Planning is popular with politicians. It's flashy, it's big, it's expensive, and a big project usually involves imitating something that seems successful in another city, without understanding the factors that made it successful there.

Urban Husbandry requires not so much money, but more patience and care, and there aren't as many ribbon-cutting opportunities. It involves identifying and nurturing small positive developments and slowly rebuilding the intricate connections between buildings and streets and people which create a vital, interesting urban place. You can read the intro to Gratz's book online, and you should, if you're interested in revitalizing downtown Tulsa.

(You can also read Gratz's speech to the Congress for New Urbanism, which is a kind of synopsis of her book, in PDF format.)

Arena naming rights survey


Found on a website called Revenues from Sports Venues, the naming rights for arenas and stadia around the country, what was paid for the rights, and the length of the agreement. (That's an Adobe Acrobat PDF file.)

The nearest comparable arenas are the Ford Center in Oklahoma City and Alltel Arena in Little Rock. Alltel bought its rights for $7 million for 15 years, while the Ford Center naming rights went for $8.1 million for 15 years. The best deal I could find for an arena without a major league team was the $14 million Qwest paid for 15 years' naming rights at Omaha's arena.

Counting the arena cost

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For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. -- Luke 14:28-30

The Whirled reported today that ground breaking for the arena will occur on August 31.

The budget for Tulsa's new downtown sports arena is $141 million. Land acquisition, which is now complete, cost $10.6 million, leaving $130 million for design, engineering, utility relocation, and construction. There's ample reason to believe that amount of money won't be enough, but exactly how much the arena will cost still isn't known. The arena's blueprints won't be ready until December, and only at that point will it be possible to say, with some degree of accuracy, what this thing will cost. And if the cost exceeds the Vision 2025 funds that have been allocated to the City of Tulsa for that purpose, where will the rest of the money come from? Shouldn't we have answers to these questions before we start construction?

Jim Hewgley III, the former street commissioner who oversaw the last expansion of the Tulsa Convention Center in the early '80s, has said that there are three things the city needs to have in hand before we proceed with construction: warranty deeds for all the land, blueprints, and a turnkey contract. That last item means we've got an agreement with the builder that says we'll pay you so much for a building that meets our specifications and is complete by a date certain -- we turn the key in the lock and it's ready for use.

The Mayor and others have said that any gap between $141 million and the actual cost of construction can be closed by selling naming rights and premium seating -- club seats and luxury boxes. But during the campaign to pass the sales tax to pay for the arena, we were told that premium seating revenues would go toward operation of the arena and possibly result in an operating surplus. According to the numbers in the feasibility study by CSL, if premium seating revenues are diverted away from operations and toward construction costs, the arena would have an annual operating deficit of $1.6 million, which would come straight out of our city budget for public safety and streets. Before we build this thing and start paying to keep it open, shouldn't we know where we'll get the money to cover the operating deficit?

In other arena news, Tulsa Front Page, a new weekly newspaper, has a couple of cover stories about the arena. (The stories aren't online.) One story features quotes from concert promoter Larry Shaeffer, who says the arena won't be enough to revitalize downtown on its own, but it will "probably help some people redevelop downtown." He goes on to say that it won't be enough to bring in a few big name acts a year; the arena management will "need to get things in there that nobody's thought of."

Another story has this gem from Mayor Bill LaFortune: "Cesar Pelli's masterpiece will serve as an irresistable attraction to our city.... People will come from all over to see this arena and its design." I'm hoping that's just garden-variety boosterism speaking, because an arena, even a starchitect-designed arena, won't be a compelling reason for anyone to visit our city.

The front page photo has this caption: "Cathy Boatright, along with her sons Davis and Bryant, examines a scale model of Cesar Pelli and Associates' design for the new downtown Tulsa arena. Boatright and her sons, who attend Metro Christian Academy, gave an enthusastic thumbs-up to the final design." Their approval shouldn't be too surprising -- Cathy is the wife of Bart Boatright, the project director for the arena.

Troubled bridge in hot water


There are all sorts of interesting rumors flying around about the proposed "private" toll bridge to Bixby. We are hearing that two of the County Commissioners (Wilbert Collins and Randi Miller) have been receiving threatening phone calls from bridge supporters, evidently because they're having second thoughts about the county's involvement in the scheme, which looks like a great deal for Infrastructure Ventures Inc., not such a great deal for Tulsa County or its taxpayers.

We are also hearing about potential action to abate the Comprehensive Plan for the planning district that includes far south Tulsa and the north end of the proposed bridge. It's odd to hear "abate" rather than "amend." An amendment would require approval by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) and the Tulsa City Council. An abatement suggests court action to invalidate or mandate a change in the plan, which calls for nearly all of the district to remain residential.

I put "private" in sneer quotes above, because it isn't an accurate description of the deal between Tulsa County and IVI. The county will actually own the bridge after IVI builds it, but IVI will have a long-term franchise agreement to collect the tolls, with a small percentage (after 10 years) going to the County. The County is set to use its power of eminent domain for the benefit of the private developers. It looks an awful lot like government is using its muscle to acquire the land, while a private entity will reap the reward. Some people are wondering if the deal is a golden parachute for IVI execs Bill Bacon, Bob Parmele, and Howard Kelsey -- maybe for their pal, County Commissioner Bob Dick, too.

I heard something interesting about Howard Kelsey. He's a home builder, and he built the massive mansion owned by Robert E. Lorton, Jr., Chairman of World Publishing Corp. If the connection between Kelsey and the Lortons runs any deeper -- say, if the Lortons have a financial interest in the bridge through Kelsey -- they'd be wise to acknowledge it in the pages of their paper sooner rather than later, if they don't want to suffer another blow to the Whirled's tattered credibility. (I have to give the Whirled credit, however, for publishing a story about the independent analysis of the bridge's finances, which was very unfavorable to IVI's position.) (CORRECTION: I had written that Kelsey also built the house of Robert E. "Bobby" Lorton, III. A reader writes, "Kelsey was not involved with Bobby's house, instead it was Kleinco Construction Services. Kelsey did ultimately complete Jr's house but only after Roxanna [wife of Robert E. Lorton, Jr.] had run off several other builders.")

Finally, if IVI moves the north end of the bridge a bit to the east to avoid City of Tulsa-owned park land (and the resulting messy problem of the the county trying to condemn city-owned land), they will still have to deal with the City of Tulsa. The bridge builders would still have to acquire city-owned right-of-way for 121st Street or Yale or both in order to connect to the street grid.

A commenter on an earlier entry about eminent domain abuse and Kelo v. New London writes:

Hey, the same thing is fixin' to happen in Sand Springs courtesy of Vision 2025. And nobody is even complaining. Dozens of homes, 3 churches, 1 school and several businesses. Buldozed for a BIG BOX store.

That's the section on the south side of the Keystone Expressway (US 64, OK 51), opposite downtown Sand Springs. Once on the "other side of the tracks" when the MK&T railroad ran through town, the neighborhood was home to Sand Springs' black community. For its chunk of Vision 2025 money, Sand Springs wanted funds to acquire and clear the area for retail development, which will undoubtedly bring in more property and sales tax for the city than what is there currently. (That doesn't make it right, of course.)

I wrote about this way back in August 2003, in an entry about a Sand Springs history contest:

Here's a free idea; a good one, too, I think. I don't have time to pursue it -- perhaps someone else will. Contact Marques Haynes, the Basketball Hall of Famer and Harlem Globetrotter legend. He lives in Dallas, I think; he's in his 70s now. If he's willing, interview him about places he remembers from his childhood in Sand Springs -- his neighborhood, where he lived, went to school, went to church, the stores where his family traded, where he first played basketball, where he went to play with his friends. Ask him to relate memories of everyday life in his childhood -- good and bad alike. He went to segregated schools and grew up in a segregated neighborhood -- what was that like? Then work with the local historical society to determine the locations and find period photos of the places he remembers. Take pictures of those places as they are today. Then put it all together as a photo exhibit, designed to give 21st Century Sandites a sense of everyday life in Sand Springs before World War II, as seen through the eyes of a Sand Springs kid who went on to become world-famous. ...

I've been told that the Keystone Corridor redevelopment project in Proposition 4 of the sales tax vote includes demolition of Marques Haynes' old neighborhood, just across the Keystone Expressway (and across the old MK&T tracks) from downtown Sand Springs. If someone wants to pursue this idea, you'll need to hurry.

I haven't been by there in a while, but I suspect you'll need to hurry even faster if you want to document that neighborhood before it's gone forever. And if you do want to undertake that project, be sure to get in touch with the good folks at the Sand Springs Cultural and Historical Museum, in the art deco Charles Page Library in downtown Sand Springs.

The proponents of these clearance projects are usually very vague and euphemistic in the way they describe the area concerned, e.g., "Keystone Corridor" rather than specific streets or neighborhood names, so that when the people affected finally realize what's going to happen to their neighborhood, it's too late to do anything.

I've got a lot more to say on this topic, but I'll spread it out over the next few days.

G. W. Schulz has penned another excellent news feature story in the latest Urban Tulsa, this one about the Brookings Institute study about the doubtful economic benefits of publicly-owned convention centers. Schulz talks to the study's author, Heywood Sanders, and to Suzann Stewart of the Tulsa Convention and Visitors' Bureau, and John Scott, manager of the Tulsa Convention Center. Schulz creates a debate between the nation's leading expert on convention center economics and the local defenders of the convention industry.

Stewart insists Sanders doesnt recognize Tulsas uniqueness and indeed the uniqueness of all cities in the convention market that can specifically identify what they have to offer and tailor their marketing accordingly.

I think the thing thats interesting about our industry that (Sanders) doesnt really pick up on or has chosen not to is it really is different city to city, Stewart said. The profile of the business that each city gets is different, and the needs of each city are different.

What Tulsa has heard repeatedly, and what Stewart gladly reiterated, was that Tulsa had geographic specificity. In other words, Tulsa is at the center of the nation making it convenient for everyone to come here.

But therein lays another of Sanders complaints.

Everyone will say the same thing, he said. Everybody says theyve got this unique thing.

Tulsa is indeed at the center of the United States. But so are Fort Worth, Dallas, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and to a degree, St. Louis. And how about Wichita?

We learn that Tulsa's efforts at recruiting conventions are focusing on SMERF groups -- social, military, educational, religious, and fraternal -- groups that generate the least amount of spending per person, because conventioneers are traveling at their own expense. The feasibility study done for Vision 2025 said that SMERFs were the only groups that gave a plurality positive response to using an expanded, updated Tulsa Convention Center. Sanders says that this strategy puts us in competition with larger cities and larger facilities:

But Sanders said he was recently in St. Louis discussing with that city their pursuit of SMERFs. Sanders stated in his report that cities large and small have become so desperate for business that theyve all begun targeting SMERFs. An overall decline in the conventions market has led everyone toward these smaller events.

While small centers get bigger in order to accommodate bigger events, bigger centers are getting bigger in order to accommodate small and medium-sized events simultaneously, the report states.

Another well-researched, well-written, and interesting article -- be sure to read the whole thing.

Charles G. Hill, writing about naming rights for Tulsa's new arena:

Of course, had I a spare ten million or so the naming rights for Oklahoma City's Ford Center went for $8.1 million a few years back I might be inclined to hang Michael Bates' name over the door, just to see the reaction from various T-Town types.

I'm honored, of course, and I'd love to see the initial reaction, too. The name, short as it is, would be a headline writer's dream -- and that's the problem. My good name would become shorthand for the place and all its problems, and since those headlines would be appearing in the Tulsa Whirled, they might make a special effort to exploit the ambiguity between the arena and its namesake. "Feds Arrest Bates" could be used for a story about how the acquisition of Federal properties on the site is holding up construction. "Bates Just an Empty Shell" could be printed after the walls come up. "Bates Blows Hole in City Budget" would be reserved for when the annual operating deficits begin to live up to predictions.

Charles's headline suggestion, "House of Funk," has many more fun headline possibilities, and has the added advantage of not requiring Charles to come up with ten million bucks.

Cast your minds back a few months, when the Council's Reform Alliance majority was concerned to see that property owners got a fair shake from the City as the City acquired land for the new arena between Denver and Frisco, 1st and 3rd. Bob Poe, Chairman of the Tulsa Metro Chamber, claimed that the Council's refusal to proceed with condemnation was costing $10,000 a day by delaying the arena project. There were claims that the Council was part of a conspiracy to obstruct the completion and success of Vision 2025 -- presumably they were being paid by Oklahoma City or Wichita.

Now we know, as the Tulsa Beacon reported this week, that the City can't complete acquisition of the land without the consent of the Federal Government, which owns two parcels and is insisting that the City bear the entire cost of relocation as a condition for selling the land to the City. The City cannot condemn federal property.

The site has plenty of other problems. It isn't suited to encouraging nearby development, landlocked as it is by government facilities. An important entrance into downtown, the 2nd Street exit from the Inner Dispersal Loop, will dead-end into the arena, instead of feeding into a one-way street that runs through downtown, past the Williams Center and the Blue Dome District and connects back into the IDL.

Mike Buchert, Bob Poe, and many others owe the Reform Alliance councilors an apology for accusing them of stopping progress on the arena. That blame goes to whoever is responsible for not working things out with the Feds before the arena location was set in stone.

Arena unveiled behind a veil


Cesar Pelli's design concept for the new downtown sports arena was unveiled to the Downtown Rotary Club at noon. Seems funny to me that the unveiling of this publicly-funded project would take place at a meeting of a private club, but that seems to be the way this town operates.

It's (hardly) a conspiracy!


A goofy notion of recent vintage is that the Reform Alliance majority on the Tulsa City Council is part of a conspiracy to obstruct the implementation of Vision 2025, and that in particular the Council's unwillingness to proceed to condemn two properties on the arena site is all about obstruction -- thwarting the will of the people!

Over on the Tulsa Now Forums, Onslow Stevenson Wakeford III of Jenks (who uses the handle 'swake') presents his conspiracy theory:

The people who were against 2025 are working to make it less successful so that no more such projects are ever passed. Additionally they are attacking the entities who were behind 2025. They are using the city council, and radio to launch these attacks. Their targets are the Mayor(every chance), the Newspaper(Again, every chance, the media bias), The Chamber(economic development funds), INCOG(zoning fights) and the City Council that was sitting when 2025 was passed (now mostly gone and Roop was flipped). Watch, the next two targets are going to be the County Commission and DTU. Oh wait, BooWorld just mentioned that the county commission. So it begins and now everything makes sense. This was and is all about 2025. The anti tax groups lost the election and are going to grind the city to a halt as payback. They are going to make very sure that no tax like this ever passes again. That is why no real reasons can be given for all the votes by the council, its not about those votes so much as the larger mission. Reform is a code word for Anti-2025.

There are a lot of problems with this theory, the first being that the two Reform Alliance councilors who were on the Council last fall were outspoken supporters of Vision 2025. I debated against Sam Roop during the Vision 2025 campaign, and back in 2000, the night before the Tulsa Time vote. I also debated Chris Medlock on Vision 2025. Medlock did oppose Proposition 1 -- the $350 million corporate welfare check for Boeing, which is now moot -- but he supported the other three. Although Medlock had questions about oversight and governance of the Vision funds, he did not allow that to get in the way of his advocacy, and waited until after the vote to raise the issues. (I think that was foolish, as after the vote passed there was no longer any leverage to insist on proper safeguards.)

I made the point many times during the campaign that most of the projects were reasonable ideas that could have been funded as part of a renewal of the "4 to Fix the County" sales tax, the City of Tulsa's third-penny for capital improvements, or a capital improvements bond issue which would replace bonds that are being retired. Revenue bonds could be used if you could make a business case that a facility would make enough money to pay for itself. There was a way, if our civic leaders were willing to be creative, to fund important projects without increasing the tax burden during an economic downturn.

The central objection from the Vision 2025 opposition was to the tax increase, not to the projects themselves. Now that the tax increase is a fait accompli, and most of the future tax revenues are already committed to bondholders, those of us who were opposed are concerned to make sure that what was promised to the citizens of Tulsa County is delivered, that the process is handled in an open and fair fashion, and that the taxpayers get good value for money. That's why, although I opposed building the arena, I offered some suggestions for where the arena could be located to have a more positive impact on downtown.

With regard to the arena land acquisition, several specific points need to made.

(1) Tulsa's elected officials never held a public hearing or voted to approve a specific arena location. Although the fact that land acquisition has already begun renders this point moot, it needs to be raised. While the 1st-3rd, Denver-Frisco location has been discussed for years (since before the 1997 Tulsa Project), the location wasn't written into the ballot propositions, wasn't approved by the Dialog-Visioning Leadership Team, wasn't approved by the County Commissioners, and wasn't approved by the City Council. And I am pretty sure, although I can't pinpoint the date or time, that Mayor LaFortune expressed an openness before and after the vote to considering alternative locations, in response to concerns about the drawbacks of the proposed site.

(2) Bob Poe's ranting about losing $10,000 a day notwithstanding, the arena project is not being delayed by the Council's refusal to proceed with condemnation. The building hasn't even been designed, and owners of properties on the periphery of the site have been told that they won't have to vacate their buildings until early spring 2005. I don't know if they've even done the necessary geological study. There is time to handle this in a way that respects those who are being displaced. And even if there were a delay of a few weeks, demolition and clearance could proceed on the other properties. And it's not as though this is an essential public facility like a fire station. No one's going to die if it opens in February 2008 instead of January 2008.

(3) To the extent that there have been delays, it appears that they have been caused by an unwillingness by the Public Works Department to respond in a timely fashion to requests by the City Council for information -- the Council still does not have the actual appraisal reports, which were requested weeks ago.

(4) This is not an ordinary condemnation. Many condemnation proceedings involve strips of land for road widening -- condemnations which leave the improvements on the property and most of the parcel intact. When condemnation involves displacing homes and businesses, it's appropriate for the Council to give the matter careful scrutiny, to ensure that property owners are being treated fairly, and to try to save condemnation for a last resort.

Paul Uttinger, an architect, posted a great reply to the conspiracy theorists on the Tulsa Now Forums (scroll down and look for "booWorld", which is Paul's screen name). Here's an excerpt:

There may be a conspiracy among the 38% of those who voted against this particular Vision 2025 proposition last year, but I'm not part of it. And I don't remember the resolution including any specific design or location for the events center. I remember discussion of the 2nd & Elwood location as the probable site, but I saw nothing set in writing. That's one of the reasons I voted against the question. It was far too vague for me. I like to see good designs well done. Lately Tulsa does not have a good track record in such matters.

I think the reform council is good for the city because it's getting people interested and more involved in what's going on. Split decisions by the council don't bother me at all. In my opinion, they're as good or better than the rubber-stamping by previous councils. According to the mayor's speech yesterday, the arena project is on schedule. I don't think it is unreasonable for Mr Medlock to ask to see copies of property appraisals. He's not my councilor, but I think that he is a good representative for his district and he is looking into long term issues that will affect all Tulsans. Remember, Tulsans are paying for this arena whether they voted for it or not. Not only will we pay for the initial design and construction, but we'll pay for any revenue shortfall for decades into the future. That's why I want the project to be the very best it can be. ...

I'm not part of a conspiracy trying to attack the Tulsa World. I'm just an individual who is disheartened and sickened to read about their plans for "improving" the downtown by demolishing the Skelly Building for a private parking lot.

I'm not conspiring to attack INCOG concerning zoning matters. I'm just one individual who had his property rezoned against his wishes to less than 10% of its previously allowed density while boundaries were drawn 30 feet away in two directions for districts 10 times the density of mine. I'm just one individual who spent many hours of vacation time attending public hearings in which INCOG staff had the first and last word, in which INCOG staff gave planning commission members incorrect information regarding my property, and in which INCOG staff members lied to the city council about my property.

I'm not part of a conspiracy attacking the mayor, but I'm very disappointed that he chose to reappoint Joe Westervelt to the planning commission.

I'm not opposed to change. To the contrary -- I think it's about time for some fundamental changes in how public officials conduct "our" business.

Well spoken, Paul.

No condemnation now I dread


The City Council has again chosen not to proceed with condemnation against the owners of two properties within the land that someone designated as the site of the new arena. (As Councilor Medlock has rightly pointed out, the site was never the subject of a public hearing. Nevertheless, it's location is now fixed, for better or worse.) There are ongoing concerns about the fairness of the appraisals, and the Council very reasonably wants to see the actual appraisal reports on the properties in question, and who specifically did these appraisals.

Notwithstanding Councilor Susan Neal's concerns, construction of the arena is not being delayed by continuing negotiations with the remaining property owners. We don't even have a design concept for the arena yet, much less a complete site plan, engineering work, and design. We have time to do this right, in a way that makes these property owners whole for their displacement, and I'm glad the Council is following this course.

No vision for justice


At a time when Tulsa County has half a billion dollars for recreation and entertainment projects, the District Court is resorting to do-it-yourself expansion to relieve courtroom overcrowding:

It's been more than a year since former Presiding Judge David Peterson told commissioners that judges would be within their rights to ask the sheriff to build them additional court rooms and send commissioners the bill.

At that time, Peterson said the judges really didn't want to go to that extreme, but he did want to remind commissioners of their statutory duty to provide space.

Judges were promised new space several years ago once the district attorney vacated the fourth floor and moved to new offices on the eighth and ninth floors, once the old jail.

Though it's not exactly what they had in mind, there is a quick fix under way with construction of a temporary courtroom in space vacated by the district attorney more than a year ago. Commissioners are spending about $2,000 on materials and are using county carpenters to construct the temporary courtroom. Workers have already erected walls and will build a simple judge's bench and seating.

"It'll be pretty simple, but it'll work," said Court Administrator Ann Domin.

The temporary courtroom will help Special District Judge David Youll. Parties to his court often don't know where to go since he doesn't have his own court. Youll has to check with the other judges to see when their courtrooms are available. Sometimes they have to switch courtrooms in the middle of a trial.

"It's not a good position to be in for a judge," Domin said.

The lack of courtroom space means justice delayed, and could even mean that prosecutors don't pursue some criminal cases because they won't be able to give the defendant a speedy trial.

It's a familiar pattern: government spends money first on things that aren't necessary, so they can come back to us and demand a tax increase to pay for the essential, basic functions of government -- in this case, public safety and justice.

We're told that we will either have to vote for a new Central Library, in order to free up the current building for courthouse expansion, or else it might be included in the Four to Fix the County renewal in 2006.

Four to Fix the County? Yep. You just thought Vision 2025 gave the County all the money they were going to need for capital projects for the next 13 years, but now they plan to come back for a renewal of a 1/4-cent sales tax first passed in about 1994.

There are several unanswered questions and challenges ahead in deciding how the court's needs can be funded.

A new home for a family court system did not make the cut on the final list of Vision 2025 projects that voters approved last September. The family court plan hinges on voter approval of a bond issue to build a new Central Library at 11th Street and Denver Avenue.

The judges have their eyes on the existing Central Library and already have an architectural design for how it could be converted for court use. They also have an architectural and engineering plan for renovation of the fourth floor.

"I absolutely believe their needs are legitimate," Miller said. "We need to do something; but what that is, I don't know yet."

Miller said one possibility for funding renovations is an extension of the "Four to Fix the County" sales tax, which expires in 2006. County commissioners are already saying they will ask voters for an extension.

The Tulsa City Council is sponsoring a public meeting, Monday night, July 26, from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm, in the Expo Building at Expo Square. (Translation for old timers: in the IPE Building at the Fairgrounds. Use the main entrance behind the Golden Driller.)

The announcement says:

The City Council is seeking citizen comments relating to the three elements of the general development process:

(1) site development - infrastructure
(2) site development - zoning
(3) permitting

There will also be a report and discussion regarding the Mayor's task force on the Vision 2025 neighborhood fund.

All the items are important, and if you're concerned about zoning and neighborhoods, you need to be there and be heard.

That last item corresponds with the money that was included as a part of Proposition 4 last September. Here's the language from the ballot resolution, with the neighborhoods part emphasized:

Downtowns/Neighborhoods Fund: 90% allocated to local governments on a per capita basis to promote community beautification and economic vitality of our downtowns including streetscaping, pocket parks, fountains, and downtown housing and 10% allocated to local governments on a per capita basis to support neighborhood enhancements including signage, neighborhood entranceway/gateways and neighborhood assessments projects: $30,000,000

The City of Tulsa has about 70% of Tulsa County's population, so the City should have about $18.9 million for downtown projects (over and above the arena, Jazz Hall of Fame, and other projects that target downtown), and about $2.1 million for "support[ing] neighborhood enhancements".

The neighborhood assessment process is an idea I submitted to the Dialog / Visioning "leadership" committee, and I was a part of a team of people that made a presentation to the Dialog / Visioning "leadership" committee about Downtowns and Neighborhoods.

The idea is a shameless copy of a process that has been used successfully by Kansas City, Missouri. It is a grass-roots approach to understanding the state of a city and what it most needs to become a more livable and a better place. They divided the city into about 150 neighborhoods, and over the course of four years, the City held a Saturday morning workshop in each neighborhood. The purpose of each workshop was to assess the state of the neighborhood, its assets and challenges, and to develop a to-do list of most desired improvements.

Each workshop brought together homeowners, business owners, and representatives of other stakeholders in a neighborhood, such as schools and churches. A city planner would spend about six weeks in advance of the workshop gathering demographic information, preparing maps and other materials, and getting the word out to the neighborhood. The workshop involves six steps:

1. Defining the neighborhood -- coming up with a descriptive slogan; marking a map to identify landmarks, activity centers, paths, districts, barriers, and features.

2. "If I could fix one thing" -- brainstorming about the neighborhood's problems.

3. Neighborhood assets -- identifying places, people, skills, history -- any feature that adds value to the neighborhood.

4. Facts about the neighborhood -- a review of census data and other government statistics to help understand the nature of the neighborhood.

5. Describing the neighborhood -- classifying it as one of four basic types (developing, stabilization, conservation, redeveloping).

6. Making my neighborhood better -- brainstorming specific actions to address the challenges already identified, and then categorizing the actions as things the neighborhood can do for itself, things that can be accomplished with a partner -- like a business or non-profit organization -- and things that require the help of city government.

The result of the workshop is compiled into a report which the neighborhood gathers to review about six weeks later. This link will take you to the full list of reports. Here's a report on a suburban area built in the '70s. Here's one on a 1920s neighborhood with a neighborhood shopping street (like Cherry Street), residential areas, and a university. Here's a neighborhood with a mixture of well-maintained houses, but many neglected properties, a neighborhood that needs to redevelop.

Tulsa has done something similar but more detailed and in depth in a small number of neighborhoods. Sometimes called "small area plans" or "infill studies", they've been done for the Charles Page Boulevard corridor, Kendall-Whittier, the area near 11th & Yale, the 6th & Peoria area, Brady Village, Brookside, and Crutchfield, among others. These plans are well done, and are valuable, but they do require a lot of time and labor, and so only a small part of the city has been studied in this way. The Crutchfield plan (a 45 page PDF document) was just approved by the City Council, and it's a great example of residents, businesses, and various city agencies cooperating to address a neighborhood's problems while preserving what is good about the neighborhood. But it took a long time to put it all together.

That's where the Kansas City approach can complement what we've been doing in Tulsa. The detailed studies are valuable, but most of Tulsa's neighborhoods won't get any attention at the rate we're going. In about four years, with about $2 million in funding, Kansas City covered every part of the city, giving everyone a chance to evaluate the state of their neighborhood. Through this process, the city has a detailed list of what needs to be done. The reports are used by planning staff to prioritize capital improvements, evaluate applications for federal development grants, and review zoning changes. More detailed plans might be drawn up for a neighborhood if the neighborhood assessment identifies the need.

So this is what that ballot resolution is referring to with the term "neighborhood assessments". The idea was warmly received by the Dialog / Visioning leadership team, and Mayor LaFortune in particular said that we should do this. In presenting it to the Dialog / Visioning team, I made it clear that it could be funded, as in Kansas City, with existing revenues. Kansas City didn't treat this as an additional project but as a new way of doing business. It will be interesting to see Monday night if the City Council will ensure that the idea is implemented as promised.

Barry Friedman does some legwork in this week's Urban Tulsa, talking to the committee that toured arenas last month to get ideas for Tulsa's new downtown arena. If the name weren't already taken, we could write a book called See, I Told You So. It's a bit late for someone else to take up the points we made during last summer's sales tax campaign, but we're happy to see someone else asking skeptical questions.

By the way, I don't disagree with the trip to look at the arenas or with the number of people that went. If we're going to do this -- even if it won't work and we don't need it -- we need to do it right. We need to build something that we can be proud of, that will serve our needs for a long time into the future, something that could at least marginally help encourage new life in downtown.

Friedman also talks with a concert promoter, Johnny Buschardt, about Tulsa's need for a big arena:

I mean its a great idea, but does Tulsa need it? Not even remotely, he says. This is a waste of money.

For Buschardt, who brought in Sinbad to the Union High School Auditorium last October and produced the Jay Leno benefit at the Mabee Center in June, the issue isnt just one of perception, its one of numbers.

Oklahoma City already has a 20-thousand seat arena. And they dont have another 11-thousand seat place (The Mabee Center) down the street the way Tulsa will.

Further, if the point of the new arena is to attract big name talent, Buschardt believes it wont be as easy as it seems.

Only a handful of artists can fill 20-thousand seats, he says, and theyre not playing cities with 300-thousand people, like Tulsa, citing that Rod Stewart sold fewer than 10-thousand at the Ford Center.

Take an artist like Eric Clapton. Hes not going to play both cities, Buschardt continues, adding that in his opinion Clapton couldnt sell out both venues on successive nights even if he did.

As to the contention that once the Tulsa arena is built, it, and not OKC, will be the venue of choice in Oklahoma, Buschardt is less sanguine.

Obviously, you want a transition like that, but artists are not going to be swayed solely by the fact than you have a new venue. Oklahoma City has ties with Clear Channel Communications (the biggest tour promoter in the country), a bigger population than Tulsa, downtown development, and other things going for it, as well. ...

Saying that Tulsa is a 2nd-leg town (meaning that it would never get, for instance, Simon and Garfunkle on their initial tour), Buschardt believes that Tulsa would be better off working with the existing venues in town, most notably, the Mabee Center, which artists seem to love for a variety of reasons, most notably, its acoustics.

You want to build upwards of a 20,000-seat arena for an area that has 300-thousand people. That means you expect one out of every 15 Tulsans to come to your event? Not going to happen.

Buschardt really should use the metro population of 800,000 for a point of comparison -- that means one in 40 Tulsans, but that's still a huge proportion, and how many acts will be able to attract such a broad audience willing to pay the premium prices a big name can demand?

Friedman also raises the number of arenas already in Tulsa's inventory -- with the new one we will have 50,000 seats versus 77,500 in the Los Angeles metro area -- and the half-empty arenas that witness first- and second-round NCAA basketball tournament action.

Of course, the article veers from the facts it presents and concludes that the new arena is bound to have a positive impact on downtown. It quotes Cesar Pelli, the new arena's architect as saying, "I saw all of the empty parking lots and thought it was such a pity." The empty lots are a pity, but a new arena isn't going to prevent more of them from being created. In fact, unless Tulsa acts to protect the investment we've made to try to recreate a dynamic urban downtown, we may see more buildings come down to provide convenient parking for the arena, rather than visionary reuse of older buildings.

It was pointed out to me that a couple of City Councilors (both members of the Cockroach Caucus) who were given the heave-ho by the voters back in March are still listed as members of committees overseeing the City of Tulsa's Vision 2025 projects. Specifically, David Patrick is still listed as a member of the City of Tulsa Project Oversight Committee, which has overall responsibility for all of the City of Tulsa's projects, and Art Justis is still listed as a member of the Events Center Design Committee.

I don't know whether these former councilors are actively participating in these two very important committees. They are the only councilors serving on those two committees, so whether they are active or not, the current City Council has no representation. They should be replaced with currently-serving councilors, preferably from the Council's working majority. It is early enough in the process that a changeover would not be disruptive. The simplest thing would be to replace each with the man who defeated him at the polls. There's something undemocratic about a defeated councilor continuing to represent the Council in overseeing the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars.

UPDATE: I am reliably informed that the former councilors are no longer participating on these committees, but no current councilors have been appointed to replace them.

Downtown housing misstep?


If we want to see downtown become once again a place that bustles with life from early in the morning until late at night, a place with stores and restaurants, it won't happen until there are more people living in and near downtown. The occasional visits from people going to the arena or attending night classes won't be enough to sustain new businesses. Just as retail followed the rooftops out to the suburbs, retail won't return until the rooftops are there.

One of the more sensible steps the city has taken to revitalize downtown are the efforts to encourage new housing in downtown. You could argue about whether any tax dollars should be spent on this effort -- we'll take that up another time -- but developing homes where people spend a lot of time should be a more cost effective way to revitalize than building big facilities that are only rarely used. In the last several city bond issues and third-penny sales taxes, voters have approved money for encouraging downtown housing development. Here's the description for the $4 million included in the current third-penny sales tax plan.

This project will continue the highly successful 1996 Sales Tax program which has resulted in two public-private developments in the core area. The Uptown Renaissance Apartments at 11th and Denver and the historic rehabilitation of the Tulsa Tribune Building converting it to loft apartments at Archer and Main. This funding will be used to attract additional public-private redevelopment, including sites recommended in the AeCom study area.

But money isn't going to make a difference if it isn't spent strategically, and there's concern that the latest expenditure from this fund is not going to be efficacious. The Tulsa Development Authority has opened negotiations with the owners of the Philtower building for their use of $1 million to convert nine floors (12 through 20) to 12 "loft" apartments.

Arena quest

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Mayor Bill LaFortune and the committee overseeing the construction of Tulsa's new downtown sports arena are starting Monday on a seven-city tour to gather ideas for our new arena. (Whirled story here, jump page here.)

It's interesting that most of the arenas the committee will visit are smaller, and all of them are more expensive:

Basketball Capacity
Omaha, Neb.
Qwest Arena
$291 million*
Green Bay, Wisc.
Resch Center
$45 million
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Van Andel Arena
$75 million
Columbus, Ohio
Nationwide Arena
$150 million
Raleigh, N.C.
RBC Arena
$158 million
Charlotte, N.C.
Charlotte Arena
$200 million
Duluth, Ga.
Gwinnett Center
$90 million
* Omaha's numbers include new convention center.

So the three arenas that are closest in size to what Tulsans were promised cost far more than has been allocated for Tulsa's arena, and the most recent arena costs twice what we were told to expect to spend on ours. Remember that the $183 million has to be divided between arena construction and renovation and expansion of the convention center -- the money allocated for just building the arena is closer to $125million.

The project director for Tulsa Vision Builders, Bart Boatright, has a solution for making up the difference:

The budget could be significantly expanded by private funding through the sale of arena suites, advertising and naming rights, Boatright said.

The story goes on to say that OKC's Ford Center naming rights went for $8.1 million for a 15-year deal. That won't quite cover the gap.

The problem with using the sale of luxury suites to offset construction costs is that those dollars have already been assigned to cover operating costs. The feasibility study done before the vote (see my analysis here) assumed the annual rental of 20 luxury suites and 2000 club seats at annual fees of $32,500 and $1,100 per year, respectively, as a major source of operating revenue. If these very optimistic assumptions were met, the study projects an annual surplus. But if they only manage to sell five suites and 500 club seats, the arena will lose nearly $1 million a year. If premium seat fees are assigned to construction costs instead of operating costs, the facility is projected to lose $1.6 million a year.

Another interesting thing -- Mayor LaFortune is quoted as saying he hasn't spent much time in arenas: "I've only been in two arenas in my life, so I really want to be there to get a feel for everything." (Tulsa has five arenas -- downtown, the Pavilion, the Reynolds Center, the Mabee Center, and UMAC. Which three hasn't he been in yet?) What that tells you is that attending spectator sports and major concerts isn't part of his life, although he enjoys playing basketball and going to smaller performances at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. I wonder how many people promoted this arena and voted for this arena thinking, "I'm rarely or never going to go there, but lots of other people will use it"? What if it turns out that the vast majority of Tulsans aren't interested in arena events?

Arena size matters


The Whirled is upset because the downtown sports arena may not be 20,000 seats. They are worried that if the size is downscaled we may not get the big tournaments and concerts that were promised. I'm looking for any indication of what was promised, and I seem to recall that an arena size as small as 15,000 was mentioned.

Nailing it down is difficult: The day after the election, all the content from Vision 2025 campaign website (vote2025.org) was rendered inaccessible -- the hot links on the home page were disabled. The Internet Wayback Machine (archive.org) doesn't have any snapshots of the contents of the site -- webmasters can deliberately program a website so that archive websites. It looks like a calculated effort to defeat any attempt to hold the proponents of Vision 2025 for the promises made to the voters.

They forgot about Google, which had captured several internal pages. I found this:

Tulsa Regional Convention / Events Center / $183 Million

This includes a much needed modernization of the existing convention center and the construction of an 18,000 fixed seat events center that, in combination, will provide state-of-the-art facilities that will make Tulsa a more attractive entertainment venue for conventions, trade shows, concerts, religious, sports and other large events, creating hundreds of new jobs for Tulsans and expected to generate an estimated economic impact of $92 million annually and $5.86 million in state and local tax revenues.

So there's the promise: 18,000 fixed seats. So it could seat more for concerts, but only 18,000 for sports events. Presumably the proponents felt that would be enough for to serve the sports events they want to attract.

(By the way, a search of the Whirled's archives reveals that the phrase "events center" has not been used in its pages since September 14, 2003, less than a week after the vote. Since then, they've gone back to calling it what it is -- an arena.)

I'm not happy that they have our tax money for their arena, but it's important that it be done right. The feasibility study revealed doubts that Tulsans would fill anything bigger than the Mabee Center, so maybe it would be better to build smaller but high quality, so we can make the most of Cesar Pelli's creativity. On the other hand, if someone can produce a serious feasibility study showing that a 20,000 arena will lose less money than a 15,000 seat facility, that ought to be considered, too, although it's hard to imagine.

Interesting item in Friday's Whirled: The Oklahoma Municipal League and "others involved in Oklahoma's $1 billion-a-year municipal bond industry" are seeking to eliminate the requirement for local governments to report legal fees and other costs related to bond issues to the state's bond oversight council. The requirement has only been in effect for a year, but its detractors call it burdensome and intrusive. Seems to me that such information would serve as a resource for citizens to compare the bond issue arrangments made by different local governments to see which cities are making the most efficient arrangements. It could create pressure for more local governments to open the bidding on bond-issue services, as I urged last fall, rather than give sweetheart deals to politically-connected firms. I can't understand why the Oklahoma Municipal League would oppose that kind of reform.

The City Council last week voted to accept the donation of the huge neon Meadow Gold sign, which will be removed from its current location (to be torn down for yet another 11th Street car lot). The committee overseeing the $15 million in Vision 2025 funds allocated to Route 66 has recommended spending $30,000 toward the estimated $60,000 required to dismantle and restore the sign. Nearly $9,000 has been raised from individual contributions, and $15,000 in National Park Service grants, with more grant money being sought.

This is money well-spent.

Yes, you read that correctly. The voters approved money to make Tulsa's stretch of Route 66 more of a tourist draw. It certainly has that potential, as next week's International Route 66 Festival demonstrates. There is international interest in the old road. People make their way from Europe and Japan and drive the road from one end to the other, seeking out old diners, motels, tourist traps, and the scenery of the American west. A few years ago, a group of Norwegian motorcyclists spent the night in Tulsa during their run down Route 66. The oldest site on the web about Route 66 is based in Belgium. Here's one attempt at explaining the road's international appeal:

Chick Kirk, a volunteer with the California Route 66 Museum in Victorville, cited a fourth reason for the highways appeal, especially to foreigners:

It symbolizes the American Way of Life.

A nice young man from France told me that travel bureaus all over Europe have posters celebrating Route 66 as the authentic America the U.S. equivalent of cobbled stones as opposed to the autobahn.

Since the museum opened Oct. 25, 1995, visitors from 42 foreign countries have signed the guest book. Zimbabwe, Bulgaria, Pakistan, Zaire all are represented. But most foreign pilgrims come from Japan or Western Europe.

Three weeks ago, Kirk said, a Japanese man bought $500 worth of Route 66 mementos in our gift shop. When I asked him why, he said hes building a gas station/soda fountain in Tokyo. Its theme: the American Way of Life.

Museum volunteer Francy Williams recalled two men from the Netherlands who had biked all the way from Chicago to Victorville, without a flat tire.

According to Betty Halbe, a third volunteer, Germans bring their cars over here, drive Route 66 and then ship their cars back home.

For Route 66 cruisers, Tulsa could either be a brief pit stop or a place to spend a day or two exploring. The key is what we do with the historic assets that remain along the old highway. Buildings and businesses that might be considered hopelessly tacky in another context are exactly what Route 66 cruisers are hoping to find. Neon -- the bigger and gaudier the better -- is an important element of that. We need to take good care of what remains.

Back in 2000, I served on the research committee of the Convention and Tourism Task Force. The committee was stripped of most of its duties and reason to exist early on, when the Chamber Pots running the show realized the committee was full of arena skeptics. Toward the end of the task force's work, after another committee came up with a list of projects, our committee was given the job of figuring out how to pay for it. Bob Lemons, from the Mayor's office, warned us that we were not permitted to debate the merits of any of the projects. We were only allowed to decide which funding approach to recommend. The project description for a proposed Route 66 item (which was dropped from the final version) called for some of the funds to be used for "demolition and clearance," but no money at all to be spent on restoration and preservation. There was talk of turning Route 66 into a tree-lined boulevard, which would miss the whole point of Route 66. I'm pleased to see that the committee handling this Route 66 project is of a different mindset.

Broken Arrow's City Council meeting (tonight at 7 p.m., in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 200 S. First Street in BA) ought to be interesting.

Many people have marveled that Broken Arrow appeared to have landed a Bass Pro Shops' Outdoor World without ponying up the millions of tax dollars that Bass Pro has successfully extracted from other cities looking for a way to hook tourists. A couple of recent news stories reveals that not only are Broken Arrow citizens financing the deal in some way, the City of Tulsa may have been instrumental in helping Broken Arrow get Bass Pro.

On Thursday the Tulsa Beacon published an allegation that City of Tulsa officials did not actively seek to encourage Bass Pro Shops to locate within the city limits, instead allowing Broken Arrow to snag the big outdoor retailer.

The businessman who brought this story to the Beacon alleges further that this was a payback for Broken Arrow's support for Vision 2025.

There had been speculation in March 2003 Bass Pro locating on the east side of downtown Tulsa, as part of the proposed East Village development or near Mathis Brothers furniture, northwest of 71st & 169, and then we heard nothing else about Bass Pro coming to Tulsa.

Conversely, Broken Arrow made a lot of noise during the Dialog / Visioning process about getting a 20,000 seat arena either built in Broken Arrow or on the line between Broken Arrow and Tulsa. That issue went away, the arena was slated for downtown, and Broken Arrow leaders were fully on board with Vision 2025, despite the fact that Broken Arrow, like Owasso and other suburbs, would be a donor city -- each city collecting more for the Vision 2025 sales tax over 13 years than it would reap in projects.

An investigation by the Tulsa Beacon has uncovered what seems to be a back-door set of dealings that directly cost the city of Tulsa a $500 million development in exchange for support for last years Vision 2025 sales tax increase.

A local businessman said Tulsa gave the cold shoulder to Bass Pro so the giant sports retailer would locate in Broken Arrow instead of East Tulsa as part of a deal to win support for the Vision 2025 election.

The businessman, who fears repercussions if his name is revealed, said the dealings involve county officials, city officials in Broken Arrow and Tulsa, chamber officials in both cities, developers, commercial realtors and financial interests.

Heres how his scenario unfolds:

Tulsa special interests wanted an arena built downtown with county tax money. Broken Arrow officials wanted the arena built in Broken Arrow or between Broken Arrow and Tulsa.

In order to secure the Broken Arrow vote, Tulsa officials secretly agreed to not actively pursue Bass Pro. Broken Arrow officials wholeheartedly supported Vision 2025 and all four propositions passed in Broken Arrow.

Officials from the Tulsa Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce dismissed the importance of the location, claiming it is a regional organization, not just for the city of Tulsa.

Tulsa officials told Bass Pro they wanted the gigantic retail center in downtown Tulsa and that Bass Pro must build an adjoining four-story parking garage. Bass Pro requires a lake and financial concessions and quickly dismissed building in a downtown site.

Real estate interests failed to tell Bass Pro about an ideal site in East Tulsa, near 145th East Avenue, close to Interstate 44.

Bass Pro typically looks for $10 million to $30 million in local incentives including free land and subsidized rent. According to a Feb. 15 story in The Buffalo (New York) News, Oklahoma City leaders offered $17.2 million to attract its Bass Pro Outdoor World. Bossier City, La. paid $32 million for a parking garage, road and parking upgrades. Norfolk, Va. offered $10.8 million to land Bass Pro. Yeah, it seems everybody wants one in their back yard, but they dont come cheap, said Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch.

Broken Arrow officials initially said those incentives would be provided by private sources. A source told the Tulsa Beacon the May 11 bond issue in Broken Arrow had hidden money for Bass Pro. The $53-plus million bond issue has land acquisition under a large category that adds up to more than $5 million. The language on the ballot does not specify what land will be purchased or how much paid for the land or its location. The Tulsa Beacon source said the land in question is for the new convention center and is priced at double of its market value.

Broken Arrow officials have not announced that public money would be spent on Bass Pro. The May 11 $53 million bond vote was promoted with the slogan, Build a Better Broken Arrow Without Raising Your Taxes!, according to campaign literature from the Build a Better BA Committee, Russell Peterson, chairman. The passage of the bond proposals would not raise city property taxes, as other existing bonds are being retired. This is the first city bond election since the year 2000, when a $27 million package was approved by voters. If the issue failed, taxes in Broken Arrow would automatically go down.

Sunday morning, the Broken Arrow Daily Ledger added to the story, with its front page headline, "City involved in loan for Bass Pro." The City of Broken Arrow made a late Friday announcement -- that's when you release news you hope will be ignored. It was also conveniently released after Broken Arrow's bond issue election last Tuesday:

Details lacking in the initial announcement by the City of Broken Arrow that Bass Pro Shops would be locating here are now being made known.

The city announced late Friday, through a press release, that Bass Pro Shops' Outdoor World will be constructed on 19.15 acres donated to the City by developer Phil Roland. The store will be the anchor tenant for Roland's Stone Wood Hills, a combination residential/business development.

"While initially it was thought that the City would not be involved with any loan to Stone Wood Hills to construct the store, the City has since learned that construction can only proceed with the City's involvement because the City will own the 19.15 acres upon which the store will be built," Friday's press release states. City Council will review Stone Wood Hill's donation of land and the funding of this project at its Monday meeting.

A single paragraph in Friday's press release dealt with the city's financial involvement in bringing Bass Pro Shos to Broken Arrow. City officials said when they announced March 18 bass Pro Shops would be locating in Broken Arrow, that no incentives had been offered.

However, Friday's releae states, "... such incentives were part of the City's role in bringing the store to Broken Arrow."

Friday's release also states details of the city's involvement were not available at the time of the public announcement, but does not explain why they were not available.

The remaining eight paragraphs of Friday's release described the benefits the city, businesses and residents can expect from landing the popular retailer, already quoted in earlier articles.

The Daily Ledger doesn't exactly connect the dots, but the next story down on the front page says that BA's budget will be up 26% over last year for a total of $127,361,979 -- that's 1/4 of the City of Tulsa's annual budget. What's in the increase?

Acting City Manager Gary Blackford noted, "The primary reason for the increase is because this budget includes issues related to Bass Pro in the amount of $12,900,000, an increase in various capital project funds related to bond issues approved previously, an increase in the transfer to the general fund and the requirement to include group health and life insurance ($4.3 million) which has not been required in the past."

[Emphasis added.]

The article lists other items for the agenda:

Resolution No. 378 - authorizing issuance of the city's sales tax revenue note, series 2004 in the amount of $4 million -- will be discussed. The resolution would waive competitive bidding and authorize the note to be sold on a "negotiated basis."

Passage of a second resolution (No. 379) would clear the way for the city's acceptance of an assignment of lease (with options and contracts) between Stone Wood Hills Business Park and Bass Pro Outdoor World.

If the council approves Ordinance No. 2626 (corrected) the director of public works would have "certain powers" to purchase supplies, materials, equipment and contractual services for a period "not to exceed June 30, 2006 and to exempt such purchases from competitive bidding..."

Competitive bidding waivers are a great way for government officials to reward their friends, and may be a way, in this case, of hiding subsidies provided to Bass Pro.

The Tulsa Whirled reported on a March 15th City Council meeting (jump page here) authorizing the Mayor of BA to negotiate an economic development contract. The motion was passed following an executive session. The question is whether the Council misused executive session to hide from the public any obligations it was undertaking on behalf of the public to lure Bass Pro Shops.

There's a tangled web that's been woven. I appreciate the work the Tulsa Beacon and the BA Daily Ledger have done so far -- I hope they'll continue to pursue it.

Last Thursday's Whirled editorial, "Wise counsel", continues the editorial board's campaign against thought, diligence, and research by Tulsa's elected officials. As I noted during the Council campaign, a lobotomized monkey is the Tulsa Whirled editorial board's gold standard of quality for elected officials. To clarify, this hypothetical lobotomized monkey would have some sort of remote control implant, with the controls over in the Whirled's bunker on Main Street. (Take a look at the Main Street frontage of the Whirled's building, and tell me that it wasn't built to create a defensible position against an uprising by peasants with pitchforks.)

To the extent that a City Councilor or County Commissioner approaches that level of thoughtless obedience, the Whirled editorial board praises the official as "thoughtful", "intelligent", "wise", "a voice of common sense". And to the degree that an official displays independent judgment, asks questions, or requests further research, the official is labeled by the Whirled's spinners as "a naysayer", "anti-progress", "contentious", "difficult".

And so we have the Whirled's praise of County Commissioner Wilbert Collins, who spoke at a Council committee meeting Tuesday, calling the councilors "selfish" for not wanting to use Tulsa's sales tax dollars to facilitate the growth of a city which competes with Tulsa for those same sales tax dollars. As suburbs like Owasso grow, they not only capture retail dollars that their own residents used to spend in Tulsa, they snag shoppers coming from the surrounding region, who find they no longer need to drive all the way into Tulsa to shop at major retailers like Lowe's. While suburban sales tax receipts have begun to recover, the City of Tulsa's receipts are still down from previous years, the result of suburban competition. This will continue to create pressure to spend third penny dollars on operating expenses and potentially to increase taxes to pay for capital improvements.

The process of developing an Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan continues this week with three "workshops" -- tonight, Wednesday, and Thursday. Here are the details from the e-mail notice:

The next series of public workshops has been set for Tuesday through Thursday, May 4 - 6th. The location of these Public Workshops will be in Suite 110, 201 W. 5 th Street, Tulsa. These offices are located on the first floor of the 201 Executive Center, where the INCOG offices are located. Parking is available in the surface lot directly west of the building or at metered parking on the street. (meters are not enforced after 5:00 p.m.) The public is invited to attend these workshops from 5:00 - 7:30 p.m. at your convenience any or all of the three nights listed. The format will be informal, similar to the Open House format used in our March meetings. No survey will be used in this set of meetings. Since you attended one or more of the Open House meetings held in March, you are encouraged to attend these workshops to provide your additional input or to assist in reviewing the work provided by Carter - Burgess.

The previous workshops were based upon site inventory and analysis, looking at existing conditions that affect master plan issues. This set of workshops will begin to lay out the ideas and concepts that were received at the previous workshops. The Carter - Burgess design team will be working during the day, presenting their progress during the 5:00 pm to 7:30 pm timeframe, and then will start the next day with the input received the previous night.

The email lists Gaylon Pinc, Manager of Environmental and Engineering Services, as the point of contact for more information. His e-mail is gpinc@incog.org and his phone number is 918-584-7526.

The email included a summary of input from the previous meeting, which you can read below. People seem to want some small-scale retail development -- to get something to drink or a bite to eat, rent some rollerblades or a bike -- but nothing so large or obtrusive that it degrades the natural beauty of the river and its banks. The kind of boardwalks you find in old beach resort towns in New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland might provide a model for the sorts of businesses a Tulsa boardwalk could have, though not as large-scale, and obviously ours wouldn't be geared toward swimming and sunbathing. Many boardwalks back east include very small amusement parks, with rides geared toward 12 and under. Small galleries might be a good fit, too. The point is to have enough interesting things to draw a critical mass of people, which is really at the heart of what Tulsans are seeking when they talk about development along the river. They want a pleasant place to walk alongside a lot of other people. They want the sort of experience you get at Mayfest available all year long or at least from spring through fall.

In the book A Pattern Language, architect and urban planning theorist Christopher Alexander and his co-authors identified a development pattern they named "Promenade" and defined as a public place where you can go to see people and be seen. Shopping malls meet this need, but imperfectly as they aren't always open, they are closed off from the outdoors, they are isolated from the rest of the city, and they are only successful if visitors are spending more time buying in the stores than promenading along. (Follow those links to get to a summary of the book, including a description of each of the identified patterns, with related patterns hyperlinked to each other.)

There has been a lot of news recently relating to Tulsa's rapidly-growing suburbs, and it points out the importance of keeping an eye on suburban governments. Decisions made in Owasso City Hall and Broken Arrow City Hall will have a huge impact on our metro area's quality of life for years to come. And it's important that those officials are held accountable for how they're managing the Vision 2025 county sales tax dollars they receive.

As it is I have my hands full trying to keep up with goings on at Tulsa's City Hall, so I'd like some help in keeping up with the 'burbs. If you've got something the public needs to know, drop me a line at blog at batesline.com. I'll be happy to credit you by name or keep you anonymous -- I'll credit you by name unless you tell me to withhold it.

And if you'd like to start a blog of your own to cover your city's politics, e-mail me and I'll be glad to pass along some tips for getting started.

Broken Arrow bonds


Not even a year since the Vision 2025 tax increase was passed and Broken Arrow is already going back to their taxpayers for more. A week from Tuesday, Broken Arrow voters will vote on four general obligation bond issues -- that means they'll be repaid by an increase in property tax rates -- totalling $53 million. Projects include street widening (about half of the total), police and fire facilities, a $6.5 million convention center, and park improvements.

Actually, they're saying the property tax rate will not go up, because previous bonds are being retired, so the increase in rates for these new bonds will be offset by a decline in rates for bonds that have been paid off.

You can see the ordinance spelling it all out here. Note that, unlike the Vision 2025 ballot items, the language specifies "not to exceed" amounts. Also unlike Vision 2025, the money can only be spent on the specified projects -- overages and modifications aren't an issue.

I find this interesting because, after all the alarmist noise of the Vision 2025 campaign -- "if we don't act now, the sky will fall!" -- here is an election less than a year later involving the same types of projects funded under Vision 2025, but without a net increase in taxes.

I'd be interested in hearing from Broken Arrow readers with an opinion on this package.

Funnelling into Owasso


Another interesting controversy this week, complete with machinations by the city legal department, disagreement between the majority of the Councilors and the Mayor, and ties to Vision 2025. I'd like to try to sort it all out for you, but that's more than I've got time for at the moment. This sort of thing is right up my alley, but the day job and family life have been eating into blogging time -- that's why I haven't had anything to say about this so far.

I'm told that six councilors were ready to reconsider last week's vote to fund engineering work on the water line to Owasso -- Henderson, Medlock, Turner, Roop, Mautino, and Christiansen. I will save the technicalities of why that vote never happened for another time, in order to keep this entry focused.

One of the concerns expressed is that Tulsa's taxpayers would be subsidizing the growth of Owasso in a way that will ultimately hurt Tulsa's tax base. Not only would new retail development in Owasso allow residents to keep more of their spending local, it would capture dollars from shoppers who live north and east of the city. Instead of coming on into Tulsa to shop, they would be able to find everything they need in Owasso.

This is, in fact, Owasso's economic development strategy:

Owasso has a unique alignment of several area highway transportation systems. As a result, it is a collection point for over 312,000 consumers in a 4,309 square mile area. The area has an average household income that exceeds $52,000 per year. ...

The Owasso funnel area is comprised of Skiatook, Sperry, Nowata, Hominy and Pawhuska to the west; Coffeyville, Caney, Bartlesville, Oologah and Collinsville to the north; and Claremore, Catoosa, Pryor, Vinita and Chelsea to the east. ...

Consumers traveling from these geographies to reach Tulsa area attractions, such as shopping and the airport, funnel through Owasso.

Now, while some of this doesn't stand up to close scrutiny (Nowata is not to the west), the basic funnel theory is valid, and it will have an impact on Tulsa's city finances and economy. For years, Tulsa, as the metropolis, has collected a relatively high percentage of sales taxes from non-residents. In the '60s and '70s, the near suburbs had little in the way of retail. Owasso had a little grocery store, a Tastee Freeze (featured in the film The Outsiders), some filling stations, and maybe a few other cafes. It was a bedroom community for aerospace workers.

These small towns turned into suburbs as more and more Tulsans chose to live there and commute to jobs in Tulsa. They were joined by newcomers who had lived in suburban towns elsewhere. Eventually, retail sprang up to serve the residents, and over time some of these towns developed a critical mass sufficient to turn them into employment centers in their own right.

To some extent, the City of Tulsa has facilitated this process since the '70s by building infrastructure -- streets, water lines, sewer lines and treatment plants -- to make it easier to live in the suburbs. In the '30s and '40s, Tulsa used its access to plentiful water from Spavinaw to coerce surrounding areas into annexation -- out of city customers paid higher rates than customers in the city limits. That's why Dawson, Highland Park, Red Fork, and Carbondale are no longer separate cities, and why we don't have enclaves like The Village.

As this process has developed, Tulsa lost customers to the suburbs -- suburban residents could find more and more of what they needed close to home. But you still had to come to Tulsa for big stores and malls.

Regional retail centers -- power centers, malls, department stores -- are the next phase. Now these growing suburbs are strategically positioned along major routes into the city -- Sand Springs to the west, Jenks and Glenpool to the southwest, Bixby to the south, Broken Arrow to the southeast, and Owasso to the north. They are already capturing customers from the rest of northeastern Oklahoma with their new big box stores -- you don't have to come all the way into Tulsa to shop at a Wal-Mart Supercenter or a Lowe's anymore. Verily, verily, I say unto you, when you see a Best Buy in Owasso, or a Barnes and Noble in Broken Arrow, the end is near for the City of Tulsa's metropolitan sales tax advantage. (And there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth at City Hall.)

What does this mean for city finances? Already the third penny sales tax has ceased to be strictly for long-term capital improvements. About half of it now goes to fund operational expenses -- things like equipment purchases, which can be loosely classified as capital expenditure, but don't fit the intent for the tax when it was first enacted. That trend will continue and likely accelerate. When all three pennies go to short-term and operating expenses, where will the City get the funds for real long-term capital improvements? The passage of Vision 2025 closed off the possibility of raising sales taxes again in the short term.

One answer is for Tulsa to turn the funnel effect to its own benefit, making use of prime locations along the major approaches to the city which are in Tulsa city limits. Some officials developers believe the answer is to turn Midtown into a suburb, which would (for reasons to be spelled out another time) hurt Tulsa's economy and public finances by destroying one of the City's only competitive advantages.

Tulsa made a list of nine most livable large cities, a designation awarded by Partners for Livable Communities. The website for the "Most Livable" program is mostlivable.org.

Mayor LaFortune said yesterday, "There's no doubt Vision 2025 was the reason that Tulsa received this award."

We passed Vision 2025 seven months ago. The tax went into effect three and a half months ago. How has Vision 2025 tangibly affected the livability of Tulsa in that time? I'm not asking about the effects we were promised or the effects we hope for. I'm asking about real, tangible changes.

Here are the changes I know about: The tax rate is higher. Bank of Oklahoma and F&M Bank get to handle a lot of bond business. The Program Management Group has a big contract to provide overall management. That's about it. The rest is all talk until the facilities are complete and open to the public. That's when we can judge if our quality of life has been improved by this $535 million tax increase.

But as nutty as it sounds, the Mayor may be right about why Tulsa got this recognition. A quick glance at the criteria reveals a focus on process, rather than actual results. This award may not be so much for livability as it is for using certain strategies and processes which the organization believes may ultimately lead to livability. I guess it's harder to fit "One of the Cities Embracing Certain Processes and Strategies That We Believe May Ultimately Lead to Livability" on a trophy.

The full description of each city is embargoed until April 20, but here's the excerpt they've posted about Tulsa to tide us over 'til then:

The City of Tulsa through its Economic Development Commission has partnered with the Tulsa Metro Chamber since 1977 in marketing and advertising programs with economic development and convention and tourism strategies. The EDC oversees a portion of the 5% room tax collected by the city, and uses those monies to provide promotion and attraction, retention and recruitment through a contract with the TMC to provide economic development services and a convention and visitors bureau.

The Chamber raises additional funds for those areas through an annual resource campaign directing cash and trade to offset budget to programs, as well as membership dollars and other private business partnerships.

A future program of the Chamber includes developing a privately financed economic development opportunity fund to utilize in expanding current attraction and retention efforts.

How does the fact that the Chamber handles economic development contribute to the quality of life? Having good jobs would contribute to the quality of life. Having a certain approach to funding and managing economic development activities would only affect my quality of life if it results in good jobs.

If you're rating livability itself, you'd be looking at crime rate, climate, affordability, recreational opportunities, quality of education at all levels, and the friendliness of the people -- all factors which affect how pleasant it is to live some place. I wouldn't expect that list to change much from year to year.

The proof is in the pudding.

Leave it to the Whirled editorial writers to turn positive news into a chance to invent a City Council argument where none exists, so they can criticize "petty disputes". But then, you have to remember that the Whirled considers any debate of any issue -- no matter how calm and reasoned -- as unnecessary, because the Councilors should unanimously support anything the Whirled proposes. Anyone who dissents from the Whirled's views is unreasonable and contentious.

The proposal to build a 200 foot tall bronze of an Indian and an eagle is an exciting one. For people in the rest of the country and the rest of the world, the mention of Tulsa would no longer draw a blank. "Oh yeah, that's where the big Indian statue is!"

Where it goes is very important, both in terms of visual impact and impact on Tulsa's tourism possibilities. The Council ought to be having this discussion, and making their best cases for their preferred locations.

If the statue is too close to a major through highway, visitors will be satisfied to have a look as they zoom past. "Look, kids, there it is." "Wow, what a big Indian! Can we stop?" "No, we're making great time -- at this rate we'll be in Oklahoma City in time for dinner. " That lets out anything within a mile or so of I-44, I-244, or the Creek Turnpike.

There's also the question of visual impact. It needs to be at the top of a hill, and it shouldn't be too close to anything nearly as tall or taller. That lets out anywhere near downtown. It also would eliminate another proposed location near the KVOO transmitters on old Route 66 in east Tulsa. (And near downtown finding forty acres could be tricky, unless the city takes back land that is already promised to OSU Tulsa. Or else the City condemns a neighborhood.)

The more I think about it, the more sense the proposed Osage County site makes. It's not completely remote, but it requires getting off the main road. The statue would dominate its surroundings, as it should. The location could encourage development to the northwest. It would be visible from Gilcrease Museum, encouraging tourists to visit to that world-class facility. It would boost the botanical garden planned for nearby. It increases the odds that visitors to the statue will stay long enough to spend some money.

Arena selection: a good choice


I'm pleased to report that I was wrong. I predicted that Gary Sparks would be chosen as the architect for the Vision 2025 downtown sports arena. My basis for that prediction -- Sparks was a major contributor to the "Vote Yes" campaign. To be fair, he would not have been a bad choice, given experience with sports venues, but it was getting a little old watching all the top contributors get selected for lucrative contracts to be paid for with the sales tax they paid to promote. But instead of Sparks, a team led by architect Cesar Pelli was picked for the job.

The difference in this case is that the decision was not made by the Tulsa County Commissioners, but by an overview committee appointed by Mayor Bill LaFortune to oversee the new arena and convention center improvements.

Several of the committee members are leaders in TulsaNow, and they wanted to be sure that the new arena would not only serve its immediate function, but would be attractive and a landmark, as well as a catalyst for new development and pedestrian activity. Many arenas create dead zones, either because they're surrounded by acres of surface parking lots, or because the arena is designed to be disconnected from its surroundings with blank exterior walls and large foreboding plaza spaces. Our Civic Center Plaza is a good example of what we don't want around the new arena. Ideally there would be something at street level -- maybe some spaces for restaurants and shops -- that would be an attraction even when there's nothing happening at the arena, and something that could spur development nearby. (There is still the problem that the proposed site is surrounded by government buildings on three sides.)

The good news is that these same people will be involved all through the process, and the dialogue will continue as the architects and engineers bring forward concepts for the new facility.

Vision 2025 website online


PMG, the company providing project management services for Tulsa County for Vision 2025, has launched a website with ongoing information about the projects funded by the sales tax increase. The site is www.vision2025.info.

Included on the site is a list of overview committees and their members appointed by the Mayor to oversee and make recommendations concerning City of Tulsa related projects. So if you've got an idea of concern about one of the projects, you can find out whom you should contact.

Santa Dick?


At a City Council meeting I attended a week and a half ago, there was a presentation to honor public officials and others connected with a charitable program called "Angel Bear". Clint Walden, who runs the program, gave one of the awards to County Commissioner Bob Dick, referring to the commissioner as a kind of Santa Claus to all of Tulsa County because of Vision 2025.

Hmm. Imagine if Santa Claus operated like the Commissioner. A child climbs up on Santa's lap:

"Ho! Ho! Ho! What do you want for Christmas, little girl?"

"I want a dolly, and a Wiggles CD, and a wagon, and candy."

"Ho! Ho! I'll be happy to bring you a big-screen TV and a new car stereo! Maybe I'll give you a dolly, too! (But no CD, wagon, or candy -- I know better than you do what you need.) You just need to bring me part of your allowance every week for the next thirteen years. I'll borrow money against your allowance and pay interest to my dear friends. I'll buy the home entertainment center from some other dear friends -- it may cost more than other places, but what's a few more dollars to someone like yourself. What do you mean you don't want a home entertainment center, you little anklebiter? It will grow our economy, put cranes in the air, and It's For The Children."

Funny how Republicans used to complain that Democrats were establishing their "compassion" credentials by spending other people's money. Now it seems that at least some Republicans are gaining a reputation for generosity for being generous with our tax dollars.

Boeing made it official yesterday -- the final assembly facility for the 7E7 will be in Everett, Washington, where Boeing can take advantage of existing facilities and an existing workforce to build the new aircraft.

We never really had a shot, except in the minds of local boosters. No analysts from outside Tulsa listed us among the finalists, although Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce Kathy Taylor claims that we were one of three finalists.

Meanwhile, public officials here are in full spin mode, claiming that Tulsa's Vision 2025 vote is why Boeing plans to locate 500 jobs for a 7E7 leading-edge assembly plant. But as we heard when the 500 jobs were announced, Boeing is bringing those jobs because of our workforce, and the fact that Boeing's Tulsa facilities are already engaged in similar work on other Boeing aircraft, not because of any Vision 2025 money. Our public officials repeatedly promised that the tax would only go into effect if Boeing brought the final assembly plant here, so Boeing shouldn't get any Tulsa County funds.

Shouldn't but might, thanks to loopholes in the ballot title -- Boeing's facility doesn't have to be the final assembly plant; no minimum number of employees added. County Commissioners could use the leading edge assembly plant to trigger the 0.4% sales tax, and give themselves a revenue stream for all sorts of projects, without further voter approval. If the Commissioners intend to be true to their word -- no tax without a final assembly plant -- they will take the next opportunity to repeal the Boeing sales tax so that it can never be triggered.

State officials are still refusing to tell us what incentives they offered Boeing in our name and with our tax dollars. Even the total value of the package has been kept secret.

Who will design the arena?


A couple of weeks ago, Jack Blair posted a very helpful guide to the firms competing for the job of designing and engineering the new downtown sports arena, complete with photos of work done by these firms and his own thoughts on who would produce the kind of arena that will be an asset to downtown, not an eyesore. He obviously put a lot of effort into collecting the information -- go check it out.

And elsewhere, Jack suggests we look to our past -- the old Coliseum -- for inspiration.

I didn't want the darn thing, but at least we can build something nice.

Boeing to build 7E7 in Everett


The Seattle Times is reporting that Boeing will build the 7E7 in Everett, Washington, picking that city over three finalists, all southern cities near the ocean:

The Boeing insider, who has provided accurate information about key 7E7 decisions in recent months, said Everett was chosen over three other finalists, all in the Southeast: Kinston, N.C.; Charleston, S.C.; and Mobile, Ala. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The 7E7 team's analysis showed that the cost of operating in Everett, though higher than in the other cities, was competitive because of the $3 billion 7E7 tax incentive passed by Gov. Gary Locke and the state Legislature in June.

With that incentive package, the difference in cost between Everett and Kinston, the lowest-cost city, narrowed to about $300 million over 20 years, a number dwarfed by the estimated $7 billion to $10 billion cost of developing a new airplane.

The source goes on to cite non-economic reasons for the selection. Selecting a non-union site would hurt Boeing in negotiations with unions at its other facilities. And leaving Washington would alienate Boeing's allies in Washington's congressional delegation, who are especially important now because of the recent allegations of unethical behavior by Boeing officials, which are jeopardizing a plan to have Boeing build new tankers for the US Air Force.

Here's a link to the Seattle Times archive of stories about Boeing.

We should know for sure on December 15, when the Boeing board meets to discuss whether to move forward with the 7E7 and where the final assembly plant will be built.

If Tulsa doesn't get it, Tulsa County taxpayers should demand that the County Commissioners to act swiftly to repeal the tax authorized by Proposition No. 1 on the Vision 2025 ballot, so that the 0.4% cannot be activated under any circumstances, no matter how contrived.

The contract to build the most expensive item on the Vision 2025 ballot -- the new downtown sports arena and convention center expansion -- will go to a team of two local construction companies (jump page here) who were represented on the Dialog / Vision leadership team and were among the most generous contributors to the vote yes campaign. Manhattan Construction contributed $25,000 to the campaign, and Manhattan's chairman, Francis Rooney, was on the leadership team. Flintco contributed $21,500 to the campaign, and Flintco's president, Tom Maxwell, was on the leadership team.

Manhattan and Flintco, teamed up as "Tulsa Vision Builders", were selected over Tetra Tech, which has a Tulsa office, and Turner Construction, of Arlington, Virginia. Some will argue that this represents a promise kept -- to use local suppliers to the greatest extent possible. It should be remembered, however, that several other local companies were filtered out in the first round. No public reason was given for eliminating these other Tulsa companies -- there was some mention of a point system -- although it certainly set things up nicely that among local companies only this team of politically-connected firms made it through to the final round.

There is no question that Manhattan and Flintco have been involved in some significant arena and stadium projects over the years, and worked together to complete the dome on the State Capitol. There is no question that they have the expertise to carry out the project. The question is whether the best and most cost-effective team was selected, or whether favoritism played a role.

It all seems too cozy. These two major construction companies get a seat at the table, as part of the leadership team, with a voice and a vote as a "vision" is defined for the Tulsa metro area -- an opportunity denied to representatives of small businesses, neighborhoods, churches, colleges, and schools. Perhaps not coincidentally, the leadership team concludes that major construction projects are what Tulsa most needs for improving its quality of life. And then the companies that are most generous in helping persuade the public to part with their tax money are rewarded with the biggest piece of the pie. They will recoup their campaign contribution many times over.

The next big decision is to choose an architecture and engineering team. Looking again at the list of contributors, the biggest donor who has yet to receive a return on investment is architect Gary Sparks, whose firm gave $10,000 to the vote yes campaign. Sparks does have experience in the field -- he designed the expansion of Gallagher-Iba, coming up with a very creative solution which left the heart of the legendary fieldhouse intact while expanding up and out to double the number of seats, from 6,300 to about 13,000. (Perhaps that could be done here -- save the cost of acquiring additional land.)

I'm betting that Sparks will get the nod.

This news is from early last week, but in the interest of completeness, here it is. The Mayor has named two oversight committees, with more to come. The first committee is for oversight of all Vision 2025 projects that will be built and managed by the City of Tulsa. The second committee is specifically to oversee the design and construction of the new arena. You can follow the link, but here's the list for your convenience:

Vision 2025 Oversight Committee
Charles Hardt, Tulsa Public Works director

Steve Sewell, Tulsa deputy mayor

Mike Buchert, Tulsa Public Works assistant director

David Patrick, Tulsa City Council chairman

Mike Kier, Finance director

Willie George, pastor of Church on the Move

Karen Keith, Tulsa Mayor's Office

Charles Norman, Norman, Wohlgemuth, Chandler & Dowdell law firm

Rex Ball, retired Tulsa architect

Larry Silvey, retired, OU Tulsa

Bob Smith, Poe & Associates.

Events Center Design Committee

Karen Keith, Mayor's Office

Joan Seay, TulsaNow

Wayman Tisdale, Tisway Productions

Suzann Stewart, Tulsa Metro Chamber Convention and Visitor's Bureau

John Scott, Performing Arts Center & Maxwell Convention Center

Linda Frazier, Tulsa Arts Commission

Tulsa City Councilor Tom Baker.

Some positive elements: I'm very glad to see two TulsaNow leaders on each committee. Larry Silvey, Rex Ball, Linda Frazier, and Joan Seay will add some fresh thinking and will challenge conventional wisdom. (Last year, Joan led a group which researched best downtown revitalization practices in other cities. Linda Frazier was also a part of that group. You can read their report here.)

Much trumpeting about Boeing's announcement that, if Boeing decides to build the 7E7, their Tulsa facility will get work building leading edge parts for wings, creating about 500 jobs. (Here's the Whirled's front page, story continued here.)

It's good news, if it happens, although a key qualification lurks at the end of the story:

Asked if Boeing's commitment to Tulsa meant the 7E7 was a "go," [Boeing spokesman Lori] Gunter said such an assumption was "premature."

"These are the decisions that have been made," Gunter said. "The board will look at the market interest and the business case we have. There are still a lot of decisions to be made about the airplane. It's too early."

The story reports that elected officials are claiming that this is another positive result of the Vision 2025 tax, which goes into effect January 1. At the same time, they say that the $350 million incentive package that was on the Vision 2025 ballot is only for the final assembly facility, if we get it. Still, officials are quoted as saying that Tulsa's willingness to tax themselves is why Boeing is bringing the jobs here.

I'm assuming that Boeing makes rational business decisions based on maximizing shareholder value, not based on sentimental reasons. Steve Hendrickson, a local Boeing exec, gave these reasons for the work coming to Tulsa:

"We do comparable work here in Tulsa on the (Boeing) 737, 777 and 747," Hendrickson said. "We got this work because of our hard-working and talented employees, the quality of the work we do on existing programs and the affordability" of Tulsa-produced components, he said.

Good workers, relatively low wages, and experience in working on comparable components. Nothing about financial incentives.

The only way the Vision 2025 tax would have influenced Boeing's decision is if Boeing had some assurances that some of that money would come their way.
And in fact, it could.

Taxing de-light


We told you so, but the Whirled affirms it this morning (jump page is here). The increase in sales taxes to pay for "Vision 2025" will apply to gas and electric bills as well as retail sales. Municipal sales taxes have applied to gas and electric for some time, but state legislation this year clarified that county sales taxes apply too.

Oddly, the Whirled story suggests that the extra $32 million raised by the tax on utilities wouldn't have to go into the Vision 2025 pot, but instead could be applied to the operating deficit of the county jail.

This is the second extra tax increase tied to Vision 2025. Back in October, the County Commissioners approved a use tax increase to correspond to the sales tax increase approved by voters. The use tax increase applies to items purchased out of state and brought into Oklahoma, but it's only enforced against businesses.

Vision 2025 bonds to be issued


Saturday's Whirled has a story (starts here, continued here), about the Tulsa County Industrial Authority issuing about $240 million (possibly as high as $275 million) in revenue bonds, borrowing against the additional 13 year sales tax Tulsa County will begin collecting on January 1. According to the story, nearly every Vision 2025 project will receive partial funding. Receiving full funding: parks, community centers, trails, and infrastructure for the American Indian Cultural Center and the Owasso Medical Complex, higher ed projects (except Langston), Morton Health Center. Other projects, including the convention center and arena, will receive partial funding for engineering studies, architectural work, and site acquisition.

The Oklahoma Aquarium "project" is the one item that will be pay as you go, since that project is really just paying down that facilities debt.

Meanwhile, it appears that actual river development is still years away:

The Arkansas River projects are on hold until the results of a first-phase river study, overseen by the Indian Nations Council of Governments, is complete in May.

Jerry Lasker, executive director of INCOG, said the first phase will determine the location of the low-water dams and identify development areas.

The second phase of the river study is due in May 2005 and will provide more details on the course of riverfront development.

No strings attached to AA money?


A disturbing quote from County Commission chairman Wilbert Collins in Saturday's Whirled (continued here):

Tulsa County voters approved $22.3 million in incentives for American that will be used for capital improvements, tooling, equipment and inventory.

Prior to the Sept. 9 vote on the $885 million Vision 2025 package, County Commissioner Bob Dick had said he would not support giving the airline money only to have it leave Tulsa later. Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune said the funding would come with "big strings" attached, those being job retention and growth, [Carmine] Romano said. [Romano is AA's Tulsa vice president of base maintenance.]

"That's the whole intention of the 2025 vision, to provide employment here, and I'm dedicated to that," said Romano.

While American announced it will keep its maintenance facility in Tulsa and add new work, Collins said the county could not force it to follow through on those plans.

"We can't make any demands on American. We can talk about what we'd like to see, but we can't make any demands on that corporation," he said.

At the moment, the county is having an attorney (county fair board member Jim Orbison) work on an agreement between the County and American Airlines, prior to the airline receiving county tax funds. I hope the County will make demands of American before they hand over the $22.3 million.

Carmine Romano has said he'd be willing to sign an agreement. We should take him up on the offer. The time to insist on terms is before Tulsa County hands over the money. Otherwise we may find ourselves in the same position as Wetumka, Oklahoma, which raised money to bring a circus to town, only to have the promoter run off with the cash. Ever since the good people of Wetumka have commemorated their credulity with a "Sucker Day" celebration. Let's hope we don't follow in their footsteps.

An interesting discussion over on the TulsaNow forum about the silence in civic dialog since the passage of Vision 2025:

Is this not ultimately what this group was formed for, to influence the process, originally this influence may have been seen as necessary to get a revitalization plan passed by the groups founders, but during that time some people got involved that wanted to influence the process in such a way as to insure that the money was well and wisely spent and that the projects were well thought out and executed. The roar of the silence since the vote has been deafening.

The silence has not only come from this group but the whole community in general, we debated the pros and cons of the project and its elements, but now that it has passed we are sitting back waiting for all of the great things to happen....

I fear that to many in Tulsa view this is my mother does, after the first Tulsa project failed she stated that she may have voted no, but it didnt make any difference, they would just keep coming until we gave them their money this last time, she voted yes and could care less about the individual projects she is just glad it will quiet them down. It was stated in the post vote meeting, this is not the end, it is just the beginning, the really hard work lies ahead.

It is the beginning, and TulsaNow could be a great vehicle for doing that hard work, but people with good ideas and energy need to get involved, and those of us who have been involved in leadership need to facilitate the infusion of new energy. All the hoped-for results won't come true just because the promised projects were built. There are a lot of other things Tulsa has to get right if we want the kind of energy, excitement, and beauty Savannah has.

Reader Mark Keesling writes with a report from last week's Republican Assembly meeting, which was about Vision 2025 and what happens now. I couldn't be there, but I thought you'd appreciate reading his detailed report and commentary. The Republican Assembly is one of several clubs affiliated with the local GOP that meets monthly for dinner and a speaker, a chance to socialize and talk politics. (Not really relevant to this item, but Assembly members tend to come from the left-wing or center -- depending on your point of view -- of the Republican party, and includes many who were party volunteers before the influx of social conservatives during the Reagan years.)

Ive consistently opposed the Vision 2025 proposition since about a month before its passage, but since it has passed, have at least hoped that perhaps what I viewed as its shortcomings had more justification than appeared to be the case. However, my attendance at last nights Republican Assembly Meeting served only to dim such hopes. While much, if not all, of my observations will likely come as no surprise to you, I wanted to share them with you for whatever benefit you may derive from the information. The speaker was Paul Wilkening, Chief Deputy to the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners. His subject for the evening was "Vision 2025, After the Vote", which spurred not only discussion of what comes next, but inevitably, why things are as they are. Also in attendance, by the way, was Tulsa City Councilman, Chris Medlock.

My first disappointment was hearing Mr. Wilkening comment early in the meeting on how he had voted against Susan Savages proposition, "but the Republicans got it done". This, and other subsequent responses to questions posed to him after the meeting indicated that a, if not the, main factor behind his vote on these propositions was the party involved in proposing them, rather than the merits of the propositions. Perhaps this reveals a severe degree of naivet on my part, but I would think most people would be a bit surprised at the lack of integrity such an admission indicates. I would give Mr. Wilkening the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he really drew more significant distinctions between Savages plan and Vision 2025, but this would seem to indicate that he was merely tailoring his comments to what he judged to be an audience with low integrity.

Discussion quickly turned to possible ways of avoiding continued collection of taxes after the project-funding needs had been met. Several options were mentioned, but Mr. Wilkening indicated that there was no legal way of capping the taxing now, though some (Councilman Medlock, I believe) suggested that actions might be taken that would at least be politically persuasive to those in charge when that time comes. When asked if he was indicating that it wasnt legally possible to have written the proposition to cap tax collection at $885 million, Mr. Wilkening grasped for answers, eventually indicating that it would have been legally possible but that he wasnt sure about the exact reason that this hadnt been done. He went on to suggest that it was probably done that way since the ending cost of projects such as those involved can often vary depending upon circumstances, prompting the question "So the $885 million figure is actually an estimate then?" Mr. Wilkening quickly refuted that characterization, but, in my opinion, never clearly explained why, while it wasnt an estimated cost, the decision wasnt to cap the taxes collected.

When pressed to address why there had been no competitive bidding for the bonds to fund the projects, his answer was that a local preference for all aspects of the projects was desired. There was no answer to what the potential cost is of what is really a monopoly on the bidding instead of a preference. A "preference" would seem to imply at least some possibility of someone outside Tulsa getting the business, should they be able to save us a few $million in costs.

Toward the end of the meeting, Mr. Wilkening made a comment causing me to question my naivet for a second time that evening when, after a pause in the conversation, he stated that "Well, we had to do something". I found the statement lacking in its indication of any significant thought behind the propositions. Its been my experience that when the best justification for action is that it is not inaction, it is not very well justified. I only wish Mr. Wilkening had been in charge of the Vision 2025 posters. Had they only read, "Vision 2025, We have to do SOMETHING", I suspect the vote might have gone differently. Now, to be fair, I still realize that Mr. Wilkening may just not be the best spokesperson for the plan. However, having heard about half the debates on the proposition, and last nights talk, I find myself still searching for someone who is.

That concludes the guest opinion -- Bates here again with one comment. I thought "we have to do SOMETHING" was the official slogan of the Vision 2025 campaign. That seems to have been the reason most often cited by people who told me they were voting for it.

The Tulsa County Industrial Authority (TCIA) will hold a special meeting tomorrow, Thursday, October 9, 11 a.m., in Room 315 of the County Administration Building, 6th & Denver, to approve contracts with attorneys and investment bankers to handle the sale of revenue bonds for the new county sales taxes (aka "Vision 2025"). The agenda reveals that the TCIA board (the three County Commissioners) have already decided who will get the contracts, and they will not use competitive bidding to ensure that the taxpayers get the best deal.

From the agenda, it appears that things are a bit different this time around, but it's still a behind-the-scenes-deal for the benefit of politically connected local firms. Ordinarily, all the county bond business goes to Hilborne & Weidman (bond counsel) and John Piercey of Leo Oppenheim & Co. (bond underwriting).

They get a piece of the action this time, too, but some of the work is going to the law firm of Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbison, and Lewis and to Wells Nelson and Associates, the public finance affiliate of F&M Bank. Riggs Abney is the "retirement home" for a number of politicians: Mike Turpen (Attorney General), Gary Watts (City Councilor and 2002 mayoral nominee), David Riggs (State Senator). Riggs Abney partner Jim Orbison is very tightly connected to the county machine. He's been on the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority since 1983 and has done legal work for other County trusts.

When the County Commissioners meet as the TCIA they meet in a small room on the 3rd floor. They aren't used to having a big crowd for meetings, and they regularly cancel the scheduled regular meeting, then schedule a special meeting on short notice. Tulsa County taxpayers need to let the Commissioners know we are concerned about getting good value for the billion dollars we've given them to play with. That begins by getting the best deal on the issuance of revenue bonds, and that means putting it out for competitive bids and advertising the opportunity far and wide, for example with specialist media outlets like The Bond Buyer. (If you register, you can read Requests for Proposals that other cities, counties, and trusts have put out to attract competitive bids for financial services.) It might make sense to give sole source contracts on small bond jobs, but when you're borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars, even small differences in interest rates and commissions can mean millions of dollars to the bottom line. Let's show up tomorrow at 11 and politely ask our County Commissioners to do the right thing.

Another vote for the arena on Elgin


In a guest editorial in today's Whirled, Ed Sharrer calls for rethinking the location of the new downtown sports arena, and nominating a mostly vacant site between 1st & 2nd, Elgin & Greenwood, right in the heart of the Blue Dome entertainment district. Having advocated that idea along with another alternative (click then scroll down a ways), I'm excited to see that someone else sees the same possibilities.

Sharrer points out that the publicized proposed site doesn't offer locations for new development, then sets out the advantages of his proposed site:

Better economic development opportunities.

The Second Street and Elgin Avenue site offers development opportunities in all directions, with the right mix of (mostly vacant) buildings already in place. In fact, city leaders would like to develop an "East Village" concept of shops, lofts and restaurants in that area. What better way to jump-start the effort than to invest $183 million in the neighborhood?

Currently existing entertainment options.

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!

Better access.

Traffic would flow much easier around an east side arena location. Surface streets offer convenient access at Third, Sixth and 11th streets, and there are more expressway exits -- from I-244 at First Street and at Cincinnati/Detroit avenues, the Broken Arrow Expressway at Detroit Avenue, and U.S. 75 at Seventh Street -- than any other part of downtown.

Better fit.

The east side of downtown is simply a better fit for an entertainment venue. The arena's west side "neighbors" would be the post office, central library, city hall, the courthouse and the county jail -- government buildings all. Wouldn't the Blue Dome District, the Brady Arts District, the Performing Arts Center, Greenwood Avenue, OSU-Tulsa and the proposed East Village make more entertaining neighbors?

He acknowledges the idea of connecting the arena to the Convention Center, but lists many cities where there is no such connection. Then near the close, he's got the key quote:

If the arena is built at Third Street and Denver Avenue, we'll create yet another drive up/drive away venue isolated from other attractions. That would be a $125 million opportunity lost.

I didn't want the darned thing, I'm concerned it may be a drain on the city's treasury, but since we're going to do it, let's do it right. Let's do it in a way that makes it an asset to downtown revitalization, not an irrelevancy, as it would be over in the Government Ghetto west of Denver.

P.S. According to courthouse records, the land is owned by L J Realty LLC of Claremore. It is valued at about $750,000 -- the old Santa Fe freight depot at 1st & Elgin, built in 1915, represents about $270,000 of that amount. There ought to be a way to build around it. Leave that building and the land it sits on alone, and the value of the remainder would be about $400,000, less than half the value of just one of the four blocks of the proposed site north of the Federal Courthouse. (I know it isn't that simple, but buying 1.75 blocks of vacant land is bound to be a lot cheaper than four blocks, most of which is developed.)

The question remains -- is it a big enough footprint to build an arena of the proposed size? I suspect it would be, if you stack the two decks on top of each other, rather than having the seating spread out in a single tier. And if you needed a bit more space, you could always cantilever the upper level over the street a bit.

Bidding for bonds


Reliable sources say that there may be some friction between Tulsa County Commission Chairman Wilbert Collins and Commissioner Bob Dick over the issue of who will handle the revenue anticipation bonds for the new county sales taxes. Recall that Tulsa County will borrow against 13 years of future revenue from the new sales taxes so that projects can be built as soon as possible. All the county's bond business for nearly 20 years has gone to John Piercey, chairman of Leo Oppenheim & Co., a division of the Bank Of Oklahoma. Commissioner Dick describes Piercey as a "dear friend". Word has it that Commissioner Collins promised that F&M Bank would get half of the bond business, while Commissioner Dick insists that it all go to Piercey, arguing for Piercey's long history of success handling bond issues for the county. A Tulsa World story from November 23, 1996, on the issuance of bonds for building the new county jail, gives an indication of Oppenheim's customary fees:

Although the Oppenheim officials said their fees usually run somewhere below 1 percent of a bond issue, city of Tulsa officials said they hoped the fee could be negotiated for under $75,000 [for a $70 million bond issue].

There's no requirement for the Tulsa County Industrial Authority (which has the three county commissioners as trustees) to use competitive bidding for professional services like bond underwriting, but for the sake of fairness and the best interests of the taxpayer, it ought to be considered. Here's a link to a description of how things are done in Wisconsin. The result is an average cost of well below 1% of the value of the bonds.

And this story in the Saint Louis Business Journal points out the importance of advertising for bids in the right places. You don't get many interested bidders if you only advertise in obscure local publications.

The district advertised a request for proposals for the last two bond issues in only two publications: The St. Louis Argus, a local newspaper targeted to African-Americans; and the St. Louis Daily Record, a publication of court records and court news read primarily by attorneys. Byron said the 2000 bond issue was advertised in the same newspapers, per the district's purchasing department, and six teams responded.

Under state law, school districts are not required to advertise for bids for professional service contracts. However, district policy requires advertisements to be placed in a locally well-distributed newspaper, Hilgemann said.

Officials from several other local bond issuers Rockwood School District, Metropolitan Sewer District and Metro named other publications, primarily The Bond Buyer, a national newspaper published by Thomson Financial, as the typical venue for requests for proposals advertisements. These issuers said they received around 10 to 24 responses for underwriters after advertising in the Bond Buyer. None named the Argus or the St. Louis Daily Record.

Byron said the St. Louis School District started a mailing list of interested brokerage firms after an article on the $120 million issue appeared in a December issue of The Bond Buyer and the district began to get inquiries after the time for submitting proposals had passed.

In a Tulsa Whirled story from February 14, 1991, John Piercey, then with Stifel Nicolaus, complained about being disqualified from a bid for underwriting city bonds after having a lock on the process for several years.

For the first time, the city accepted bids for advance funding of some sales tax projects, but a local firm contends the new procedure unfairly excludes non-Wall Street brokerage firms.

Advance funding will allow the projects to begin sooner, at no added cost to taxpayers, officials say.

Critics have chastised city officials for allowing local firm Stifel Nicolaus and Co. Inc., to handle nearly every city funding package since 1982.

Now, in the first competitive bid for such work, that firm has been axed from a list of potential bond underwriting firms, said a Stifel executive.

City Auditor Phil Wood recommended two years ago that the city make such funding programs open to competitive bids.

A subcommittee of the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority, charged with overseeing the advance funding, accepted 13 proposals. Members examined qualifications and opened only the eight bids of those found best qualified, said subcommittee member and city Finance Director Ron Payne.

"We're looking for the best," said Payne. He wouldn't say which firms' bids were left sealed, saying authority members should be notified first.

Stifel's John Piercey said officials didn't open his firm's bid.

He contends Stifel, the smaller, local firm, is purposely being excluded from getting the chance to handle the bonds.

"We designed the first two advance funding programs that the city did and they were immensely successful," he said. "The company took the heat, if you will, for doing that.

"Now that they're well established, it's like `We don't want to consider the people that brought us the idea the first time around,' " he said.

Later in the story it mentions the concern that the bond underwriter would have the capital to purchase any bonds not purchased by investors. That was for $64.9 million in bonds, less than a tenth of what we will need to finance "Vision 2025 projects" if Boeing comes to Tulsa, a bit more than a tenth otherwise.

For the amount of bonds we're seeking, the best interest of the taxpayers demands a competitive process. Every tenth of a percent difference in fees would amount to a savings of over $800,000, enough to fund a few of the projects. And there may even be a firm out there that could get us a better interest rate for even greater savings. Instead of friction between commissioners over handing all or part of this big contract to one or two companies, perhaps all three commissioners could agree to an open, competitive, and fair process.

Who will build the arena?


There's been a flurry of discussion over on the Tulsa Now forums about the design and location of the downtown sports arena to be built with a new 4/10% county sales tax. A lot of good ideas have been put on the table, mostly aimed at ensuring that the arena fits into an urban street grid and enhances the urban fabric of downtown, instead of being designed in a suburban fashion disconnected from its surroundings. (The OSU-Tulsa campus is a classic example of an inappropriate use of suburban land use in an urban area.)

There's a desire to get these good ideas in front of the people who will make the decisions about the new facility, but no one is quite sure who that is. There is said to be an oral agreement between Mayor LaFortune and the County Commission that the County will give the money for the arena to the city, and the city will handle land acquisition and construction, as well as operation and maintenance. There's nothing in writing, however, and the County may well decide to retain control of the construction process, then stick the city with the bill for operation and maintenance. I hear that there is some unease within the Tulsa City Council about the lack of a written agreement giving the city full control.

As to who will actually construct the arena, a friend has a "word of knowledge" about that, surprising since this friend is a Presbyterian and not given to prophecy, but he prophesies that Manhattan Construction will build the facility and FlintCo will supply the steel. Perhaps his prophetic vision was influenced by the presence of the CEOs of Manhattan and FlintCo on the Dialog / Visioning leadership team. From another source, I'm told that although the Tulsa County Commission is subject to state laws governing purchasing and bidding, trusts like the Tulsa County Industrial Authority are not subject to the same rules and could give the business to whomever they wish.

Meanwhile, the good ideas keep flowing. I continue to believe that vacant, city-owned sites closer to Brady Village and the Blue Dome district would give more of a boost to those entertainment districts and encourage new development nearby, and would be less expensive than a site that requires land acquisition. If it must be near the Convention Center, here's another alternative. The State of Oklahoma's office complex, across Houston Avenue from the Convention Center, has a sprawling surface parking lot. If it's impractical to tear down the State's ugly buildings and have them relocate their offices (maybe to the Williams Borg Cube), we might be able to fit an arena where the parking lot is now. The site is very convenient to expressway access, and no businesses would be displaced. To compensate the State for the loss of parking, use the money saved on land acquisition to build the State a parking garage. Perhaps it could be located on the vacant block just north of the Convention Center exhibit hall.

Back during the campaign, I pointed out that the principal strategy for the vote yes forces was to make people believe that things were so bad that raising taxes by a billion dollars was the only hope for our city. Mayor Bill LaFortune himself said at a forum for arts groups that if the tax package didn't pass, he didn't know what hope we had for the future. The message of doom and gloom was plausible, given the job losses over the past two years, and the vote yes forces sold it relentlessly, claiming that Tulsa would dry up and blow away unless we voted to raise our taxes. TV Guide's plan to move jobs from Tulsa to Hollywood, and Citgo's possible move to Houston were well timed to make Tulsans feel more helpless and hopeless.

But there are indications that Tulsa's economy began to turn around during the summer, along with the national economy, and only now are we hearing some of this good news, now that the desperate electorate has given the County Commission $1 billion to play with. These are developments that cannot be credited to the sales tax increase, because they happened before the increase was even approved by voters, even before the increase was scheduled to be put before the voters. But you can bet that the politicians will try to claim that their tax made Tulsa come alive again.

On Tuesday, September 16, the Whirled reported the latest Manpower Employment Outlook Survey, which says that 37% of Tulsa employers surveyed planned to add workers during the fourth quarter, 17% plan to reduce staffing, and the remainder plan no changes at all.

"It looks pretty favorable," said Mike Arndt, Manpower's manager for the Tulsa area.

The slight increase in hiring comes after two years of major scaling back by area companies, he said.

"Now, they're at a place where they have to add jobs," Arndt said. "They have to increase their head count to keep up with the workload.

"This is a positive thing, because it shows a back-to-back quarter slight upswing in our hiring activity in Tulsa." ...

The Tulsa area's jobless rate during July -- the latest month for which statistics are available -- was 6.4 percent, down from 6.7 percent in June, according the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.

For Oklahoma City, the hiring outlook was less optimistic. Only 13 percent of those surveyed planned to increase their work forces, while 27 planned cutbacks. An additional 60 percent expected no change.

This is the second quarter of good news for Tulsa: Back on June 18, Manpower's survey for the third quarter of 2003 showed 33% of employers planning to hire, 13% and planning to reduce staff, the first time in a year that companies hiring outnumbered companies cutting back. Tulsa employers were more optimistic than those in the nation as a whole -- only 20% of employers in the national survey planned to add staff. And in the same survey, only 13% of Oklahoma City employers planned to add staff, while 27% planned cuts, the same numbers as the previous quarter.

To its credit, the Tulsa Whirled did publish good economic news in its business section, but its more widely-read news section reported the dire predictions of our political leaders. Our leaders could have given us the good and the bad, could have been honest about our situation, but they prefered instead to panic the public to accept a billion-dollar tax increase.

Meanwhile, Mickey Thompson, the head of economic development for the Tulsa Metro Chamber, gave a speech to small business owners announcing more good news:

[Thompson] discussed the city's economic outlook for 2004, focusing on employment, income and manufacturing output statistics compiled by chamber economist Bob Ball.

Despite Tulsa's unemployment woes, there is some uplifting news.

"There's a better than reasonable chance of six new companies coming in, and three more adding substantially to their employment," Thompson said.

And that's with or without the addition of a Boeing Co. jet assembly plant that may or may not be built here. ...

Unemployment in the Tulsa area during July was 6.4 percent.

The outlook is brighter for 2004, though, with the area unemployment rate predicted to be 6 percent.

Like the oil industry bust in the '80s, "everything happened at once," Thompson said of Tulsa's downturn since 9/11, with layoffs and restructuring at American Airlines, WorldCom Inc., Williams Cos. Inc., WilTel Communications Group Inc. and Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc.

"We've been hit as hard as if we were still the oil capitol of the world," he said.

But with the exception of Citgo Petroleum Co., which is considering relocating its headquarters to Houston, there's good news, with many local companies having regrouped and being poised for growth, he said.

Weekly manufacturing wages in Tulsa during July were 2.7 percent above the national average and 15 percent higher than wages statewide.

Thompson said the impact of a Boeing jet assembly plant here would be huge.

The chamber estimates that employment would rise 2.2 percent, personal income would would jump 3.8 percent and unemployment would drop to 5.9 percent in 2004 if Boeing began construction on the plant by the end of next year. ...

So while the city has seen hard times, things are definitely looking up.

"We've passed the bottom, and we're on our way back. In the next two to three years, you won't believe we've come this far," Thompson said. "We're going to have some bad news, but there will be some good news in Tulsa over the next few months."

Some things to notice in Thompson's talk: Jobs are going to come to Tulsa with or without Boeing. Unemployment is projected to be 6% next year, but if Boeing comes it will be 5.9% -- Boeing will have an impact of only one-tenth of one percent on the unemployment rate. And our job woes are not because we don't have a big arena, but because "everything happened at once" -- several major employers suffering major problems all at once.

If you hear of other good news that was postponed until after the vote, drop me a line at blog at batesline dot com.

Is Ken Neal the only sore winner?


Over on Tulsa Today, David Arnett has published an analysis and response to Ken Neal's "Blurred Vision" column in last Sunday's Whirled. Arnett takes the view that Neal is merely venting his own spleen. In this view, Neal's screed doesn't represent the views of a larger group of powerful Tulsans who, rather than being satisfied with their recent conquest of the taxpayer's wallet, are bent on revenge against those who opposed or were publicly neutral on the tax grab.

From the BBC to the New York Times major news organizations seem to be having trouble with honesty and spin, but no real journalism organization anywhere would have published Tulsa World Editorial Pages Editor Ken Neals Sunday September 14 piece titled, Blurred Vision. Like a skunk at a dinner party, it does not represent any Tulsa constituency, but the singular twisted view of an embittered dinosaur. ...

It is an enemies list that Neal produced Sunday. Why would he do such a thing? His beloved Vision 2025 propositions passed. Does he have no personal or professional sense of graciousness or tradition of good sportsmanship? His personal attacks on public figures are counter-productive to civic harmony and humiliating for Tulsa in the eyes of Americans who believe in honest public debate.

This writer and publisher supported Vision 2025 writing several major pieces and daily answering questions in the City Talk Forum. Never-the-less, opposition voices of diverse views are respected by Tulsa Today as they are by Mayor Bill LaFortune, the County Commission, and the majority population of Tulsa. ...

Does Ken Neal have a base? Would any Tulsan claim to be a Neal party loyalist or faithful follower of anything he may write? Likely no more than his "direct report" employees, but if anyone in the metropolitan area would like to express devotion to Neal, please use the Tulsa Today City Talk Forum. If he represents any number of humans, it would certainly be a cultural sub-set previously undiscovered. ...

The battle lines drawn from Neals imagination clearly demonstrate a preference for totalitarian government. It is an elitist versus the rest of us attitude that stinks of corruption, bigotry, and pure evil. Only an editorial writer who considers himself bulletproof could have been so openly small-minded and it speaks volumes of Tulsa World Publisher Robert E. Lorton, the ultimate responsible party and single constituent of Editor Ken Neals work.

Arnett addresses himself to Neal's specific attacks on north Tulsa voters (highlighting Neal's thinly-veiled racism), the political parties, and County Commissioner Randi Miller. But I want to call attention to the assertion that runs through Arnett's analysis: The idea that Ken Neal is alone in his biliousness, influencing no one, representing no one, and that the real victors of the September 9th vote -- the Mayor and the County Commissioners -- have respect and goodwill for those who opposed the tax. I hope he is right, and we will see soon enough whether these officials seek out the counsel and participation of the loyal opposition or continue to ignore them as they did during the final stages of the "vision process".

In the last paragraph, Arnett seems to contradict his own thesis. Ken Neal must have at least one loyal constituent, one powerful figure who shares his views -- namely his publisher, Robert Lorton -- otherwise the editorial would never have been published. Neal may not command masses who hang on his every word, but neither can I believe he is an original thinker. I suspect that his words are reflections of the prejudices and passions of the circles in which he travels, circles that include Tulsa's most powerful, the sort of people who pressured Tulsa legislators and political leaders into remaining silent on this issue.

The elected officials and business leaders who supported Vision 2025 should publicly and explicitly disown Ken Neal's venomous ranting, or we can only assume that they share his views.

Sore winners


One of the consolations of losing last week's "Vision 2025" vote was the thought that the winning side would bask in its victory and, satisfied with the result, would not seek retribution against those who opposed the tax or remained neutral.

Had the opposition won, I would have expected opposition leaders to be targeted, as they were following the 1997 and 2000 votes. Those defeats made some powerful people very angry, and retribution was used both to punish opposition leaders (as a means of deterring others from following in their footsteps) and also to prevent any opponents from having the power to hinder some future effort to raise taxes to build a new downtown sports arena. I was a bit worried about the repercussions to me and to my family had our side been victorious.

But now that the other side has their victory and will get their arena, why should they pay any attention to the powerless folks who were unable to stand in their way? Now that they've achieved their goal, why should they be concerned with us? So I thought.

Guess I was wrong.

Advertisers on 1170 KFAQ are being encouraged to stop sponsoring that station, as a way of getting Michael DelGiorno off the air. Michael and KFAQ were crucial to the opposition getting a hearing, and now that the county has their "billion dollar blank check", Michael intends to be sure they spend it as promised, and that they administer the funds in a fair and open manner. Perhaps some people consider that a threat. Through sources outside both stations, I have heard that the first major sponsor to pull out was KTUL Channel 8, which dropped its sponsorship of OU football broadcasts. (Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.) We've written about KTUL before.

Meanwhile, the Tulsa Whirled editorial Borg collective is ganging up on individuals and groups who remained publicly neutral. Here's Monday's editorial, with my comments interspersed:

Party poopers By World's Editorial Writers 9/15/2003

GOP, Demo leaders out of step

Tuesday's Vision 2025 election, a victory for proponents of progress in Tulsa County, demonstrated that the so-called leaders of the local Democratic and Republican parties are out of step with their members.

The four sales-tax initiatives on the ballot passed by landslide margins of more than 60 percent. That could not have happened without support from Republican and Democratic voters alike.

How does the Whirled define party membership? Simply registering to vote with one party or the other -- does that make you a member? Most of the people I know who are active in the Republican party were completely opposed to this tax increase, but many of those same people believed the party should not take an official stand in opposition or in favor, in part out of respect for Republican elected officials, donors, and activists who backed the tax.

Yet during the run-up to election day the county parties refused to take a position on an issue that was key to the area's economic future.

The party chairmen, Democrat Elaine Dodd and Republican Don Burdick, went so far as to issue a rare joint statement expressing their neutrality and declaring that the local party leadership's role was to urge members to educate themselves on the issues and to vote. The fact that neither party has ever before hesitated to weigh in on important issues before the electorate suggests that their explanation was so much twaddle.

The Whirled writer -- probably Ken Neal, who is given to make bald assertions without regard to facts -- makes an amazing assertion: He says it is a fact that "neither party has ever before hesitated to weigh in on important issues before the electorate". That is a falsifiable statement -- no wiggle room or Clinton clauses here -- and it is false. The fact is that the Tulsa County Republican Party also remained neutral with respect to the "It's Tulsa Time" tax. It's my understanding that the Democrats remained neutral in 1997, but issued a statement in support in 2000. Both parties remained neutral (as far as I can recall) on the cockfighting initiative. There are plenty of important issues before the electorate where the parties stay out -- usually because the issue divides their ranks or because the issue isn't central to the party's concerns.

By the way, the Whirled refused to publish the "rare joint statement", which was written by the two party leaders in response to an unprovoked editorial attack. The Whirled's excuse was that it was too long at 500 words to run as a letter, but they offered no reason for refusing to run it as a guest opinon or mentioning this unusual occurrence in its news pages.

More likely, the Republican "leaders" were afraid to utter aloud any word that included the letters T, A or X, for fear of provoking their members on the extreme, anti-tax right.

There was fear at work, but as usual the Whirled gets it wrong. Overwhelmingly, Republican elected officials and party leaders stated their opposition to this tax privately, but said nothing for fear of having their funds cut off by supporters of the tax. I recently received a fundraiser invitation -- the beneficiary of the fundraiser privately opposed the tax but made no public statements about it. I noticed that several of the listed "sponsors" (usually donors of $1,000 or more) were also signers of the June letter warning against political interference with the "vision" package.

The Democrats' reluctance to take a stand is harder to fathom. After all, theirs is supposedly the party of progress. Perhaps it was sour grapes after similar Tulsa capital improvements packages twice failed to pass under the former Democratic city administration.

It's apparent reading this that the author has not bothered to speak to the leaders he's trashing. He just assumes that anyone who isn't in full enthusiastic agreement with him must be acting from base motives.

I don't know the inner workings of the Democratic party, but I do know a lot of active Democrats who oppose on principle the idea of increasing a regressive tax to build entertainment facilities. Back in 1997 and 2000 some of them were reluctant to oppose their own Mayor publicly, some were silent for fear of retribution. There were some wealthy donors to Democrats pushing hard for this tax to pass, and there would have been repercussions had any Democratic elected officials come out publicly.

Whatever the reasons for it, the leadership vacuum in both parties is shameful. Leaders are supposed to lead. The Democratic and Republican "leaders" refused to lead on this issue, even in a direction their members clearly were willing to be led.

So what exactly is the problem? If the voters voted for it anyway, why was it important for the parties to support it officially? Why waste ink and paper attacking them for neutrality? The Tulsa Whirled should thank the party leaders for staying out of it. The Whirled should particularly thank the GOP leaders who kept the party from taking an official stance in opposition, despite strong grass-roots pressure. The GOP staying out of the fray probably boosted the yes side's margin by 5%.

What do you think is behind this attack, which is an echo of a longer blast from Ken Neal on Sunday? Is it just dyspepsia, or is it part of a longer term strategy?

"jdb" over on the TulsaNow forum gives us a brief survey of the history of the Denver Grill, 1st & Denver, and the kind family who built it and still runs it today. Here's an excerpt -- click the link above to read the whole thing.

A new coat of paint and a few sticks of neon would go a long way towards restoring the glamour of this unassuming place from passer-bys on the outside. On the inside it's a treasure trove of history and memories to an era of Tulsa's past, an on going philanthropic establishment for the less glamorous, and the sole livelihood for the oldest daughter of Louise Jones.

Who the heck is Louise? That would be Peggy's mother, Louise Jones, who started working there in 1958.

In 1933 Al Claybrook built the Denver Grill where it stands now and his wife, Mary, ran the joint.

In 1958 Louise dons an apron and one-by-one brings her 8 children into the working world as soon as they were tall enough to reach the washbasin. And thus the Jones family survived some hard times, made a living, and in the process became one of Tulsa's big little places.

Al, on the other hand, didn't fare so well after failing off the roof.

Mary finally hung her dishtowel up for the last time in 1983. She had worked long enough, and by some accounts, Peggy, was already running the place and poised to take the business over in "writing".

Have I mentioned that Peggy has twin daughters and two boys? And that they attended the children's Day Nursery around the corner? She does, and they did....

To close out this overview, I'll say that the Denver Grill is more then a local icon. It's more than a 70-40 year extended family run business. It's more than a historical plaque out front that Peggy never thought to make application for. It's more than a meal-on-loan for some who have taken a wrong turn in life or a few elderly at the Hewgley Apts. that on a fixed income, have to choose between rent, medicine and food. It's more than the place where couples met, married, and started families. The Denver Grill is all of the above -- at the same time.

I thoroughly encourage everyone to stop in and see for yourself, but it only seats 50 people, so you may have to wait in line. And beware the smoke, but moreover -- beware the bigness of this little place.

In all likelihood, the Denver Grill will be demolished to make way for the new Downtown Sports Arena, although it doesn't have to be so. They could situate the arena on the four-block site to leave both the Denver Grill and the Children's Day Nursery standing, which would be a blessing to the respective owners and their customers and clients. They could also, as I've written, use city-owned, vacant land elsewhere in downtown that would provide more synergy with existing entertainment districts.

Another topic on the TulsaNow forums points to the transformation of Gallagher-Iba Arena -- expanding the original facility by going up and out. Could the same technique be used for our existing arena? The "Maxwell House" doesn't have the history of Gallagher-Iba, but working within the existing Civic Center superblock would save the expense of land acquisition and allow the businesses of the proposed arena site to continue to serve downtown Tulsans. Here's one more out-of-the-box suggestion -- relocate the State offices elsewhere in downtown (maybe they can rent part of the Borg Cube), tear down the ugly SOB (State Office Building), and build the arena there -- the site would be closer to the Convention Center than the proposed site.

But a friend experienced in the politics of local government tells me he's amused by all the talk about where the arena should go and what it should look like. This friend reminds me that the money for the arena belongs to Bob Dick and Wilbert Collins, and they aren't likely to care what TulsaNow thinks about it. (The third commissioner, Randi Miller, won't get a say in the matter.) It was said before the vote that the City of Tulsa will ultimately own the arena, and will be responsible for the operating deficit, but this isn't in writing, as far as I know, and the County could just as easily decide to handle the construction themselves rather than giving the construction money to the city, then just stick the city with the ongoing operating and maintenance costs. So all this hopeful talk about urban design and walkability may be beside the point.

UPDATE: jdb edited his entry -- had a couple of biographical details wrong. I've put his new version in the excerpt above. He also reports the reaction to his initial article:

The Denver Grill is being swamped with phone calls.

Mostly older people telling their stories of the Grill and that they were "devastated" to discover the Diner was in the "proposed" footprint of the new arena.

They felt cheated that this bit of information was omitted in all the hype of the "clobbered up ballot".

"They just didn't realize." --Peggy

I asked if this was a bitter sweet note for her. As soon as I said it, I knew it was stupid and verging on the point of being insulting.

Instead of giving me a look I full well deserved, she replied, "Yes, it's good to hear from these people...." and then launches into yet another story of how the Grill was the start of something big in someones life.

Note: some people are bluntly asking her for a "piece-of-the-Grill" over the phone. I found this crass, while she found it touchingly sad.

I gotta ask, even if I am stepping out of bounds here, "Where's our manners?".

In the interest of accuracy, I must inform you that Oklahoma City's Ford Center and Cox Business Center has added one more event to their sparsely populated calendar. John Mayer, a singer-songwriter, is on the calendar at the Cox Business Center (the old Myriad) for November 14. I guess the reason they aren't using the Ford Center is that there's a minor league hockey game that night. Interesting that an event that will largely draw local fans and will not bring money into the community gets priority over a concert of the sort which, we are told, will bring fans and their money from far and wide.

UPDATE: An OKC participant in the Tulsa Now forums (uses the handle TStorm) thinks I am bashing Oklahoma City and the Ford Center with this post. I thought I was being fair by pointing out this new event on the calendar. TStorm offers an explanation for the dearth of exciting entertainment opportunites:

Ford Center is managed by SMG (Spectator Management Group), a national entity in charge of booking events at Ford Center. According to several reliable sources, not very many acts are touring at this time, and those that are have been booked mainly in cities along the coast. American Airlines Arena in Dallas has nothing through December but the Texas Stampede and Gaither Homecoming booked- other than Mavericks and Stars games. Does that make AA Arena a failure? No. Every venue will have its down time.

Here's the reply I posted there:

I like OKC, I have family in the city, and I wish the city all success. I think Bricktown was a fun place to visit before the Ford Center opened, and is still a fun place even when nothing is happening at the Ford Center.

My point in talking about the Ford Center calendar during the campaign was to try to wake Tulsans up from their reverie -- the idea that building the arena would bring big acts to Tulsa on a frequent basis, the notion that the arena would solve our city's perceived entertainment deficit, revitalize downtown, and make it easier to recruit young adults to work in Tulsa. The Ford Center was being held up to Tulsa as the reason behind OKC's success, and a model for us to follow, so it deserves close scrutiny. The people of Tulsa did not vote for this arena (to the extent they knew the arena was on the ballot) just to have a bigger venue for minor league hockey. For all we're paying for the new arena, I would hope the arena management would send the Oilers to play in the Pavilion if there were a chance of getting an act that might fill 18,000 seats.

In an earlier entry, I pointed out that both Tulsa and Oklahoma City have a lively music scene happening outside big arenas, at privately-owned places like Cain's Ballroom and the Green Door and public venues like OKC's Zoo Amphitheater.

As for accuracy and doing my homework, I don't see that I misstated or concealed any information. I appreciate TStorm bringing some additional information to public attention. It is interesting to read that touring acts aren't even coming to the region -- even to a place like Dallas. And that raises the key question for Tulsa -- will we get our money's worth out of this arena? If big acts are staying away from flyover country, the answer is "probably not."

And here's a wild thought, a possible, though farfetched, explanation for the sudden fall off in Ford Center acts. Did Tulsa business leaders subsidize the Ford Center's amazingly successful first year, as a way of increasing demand in Tulsa for a new arena? Did they provide additional financial incentives to get acts to stop at the Ford Center? And did they drop the subsidy once the election was around the corner?

A less farfetched thought -- perhaps OKC subsidized the first year to kickstart the new center and draw fans from outside the metro area, but ultimately decided that the approach wasn't sustainable in the long run.

When life hands you lemons

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There are some interesting conversations taking place over at the TulsaNow discussion forums about the design of the arena.

(Funny how the item that was downplayed the most before the vote has now become the center of attention, perhaps because it's the most expensive. It's tempting to suggest that this is one project it would be safe for the trust authority to cancel, because by design few people realized they were voting on it. They could use the freed-up money for education -- which had star billing on proposition 3 -- or just end that 4/10ths of a cent after 6 or 7 years.)

But if an arena is to be built downtown with taxpayer dollars, we can at least be sure that it is placed and built in a way that enhances the urban environment, to help recreate downtown as (to use Jim Kunstler's phrase) "a place worth caring about."

Over on tulsanow.org, Jack Blair has posted two topics, one with photos of recently built arenas and how they fail to enhance their environment, and the other showing arenas built before World War II and how they connect to the street and their surroundings. This has spawned a third topic, pointing out that the distinction is not so much the age or the style of the buildings, but whether they stand aloof or connect with their surroundings. Jack is proposing a design task force.

The mission of the task force should be to (1) monitor the convention center and arena design process from its earliest stages, (2) debate the elements that will mark successful designs, (3) research failures and successes in other cities, but not be bound by them, (4) provide quality information, ideas, and expertise to key decision makers throughout the design and construction process, and (5) report back to the citizens of Tulsa, through all available media, on the progress, successes, and/or failures of the design and construction process.

And Jack goes on to list some of his ideas:

Here are a few of my ideas, just to throw into the pot to get things rolling:

  • We should demand that the new facilities close as few streets as possible. We should further demand that the city consider opening up 3rd Street to two-way traffic (and taking down the awkward divider that redirects eastbound traffic around the Federal Building to 4th Street). Can we restore 4th Street between Frisco and Houston?

  • We should demand that the design address the streets and sidewalks, and that it work at street-level. Why cant the design incorporate street-front retail space?

  • We should demand the use of good materials, not yard after yard of bland concrete, with a huge, yawning glass maw in the front.

  • We should demand that the arena and convention center (and the attendant parking) be designed with an eye toward promoting private investment in nearby retail and residential development.

These facilities dont have to be exclusive of, and incompatible with downtown street-life. They must be a vital component of it.

And someone linked to this set of design guidelines for a new arena in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina as a good starting point for Tulsa.

I have written elsewhere (scroll down to the end) that I believe city-owned land at Archer and Elgin would be a better choice for an arena location, in terms of creating synergy with already existing entertainment districts. Another possibility is between 1st & 2nd, Elgin and Greenwood -- working around the only remaining building on that superblock. But I confess that I don't know what kind of footprint would be necessary for an arena of the proposed size, and if it would fit in either space.

From the feasibility study, it appears unlikely that we will host conventions large enough to require a 20,000 seat arena adjacent to our convention facilities, so I'm skeptical of the notion that the two must be linked. Perhaps by using urban renewal land, we can save enough on land acquisition costs to build the ballroom on the north end of the exhibit hall. Another thought -- I think you could fit the ballroom in half the space of the existing arena. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong.) So convert the south half into a ballroom and keep the north half in a theatre configuration that would seat about 4000 people for plenary sessions. (Have we ever hosted a larger convention?)

Here's a map if you would like to see the areas I'm talking about.

Still here


Please forgive me if it takes a day or two to clear away the remnants of the recent campaign from the site. I'll get 'round to it.

Batesline.com will still be here. I started this site to write about a variety of topics, not with the intent of creating a campaign site. With the campaign behind us, there will be more about other stuff -- cities and urban planning, history, politics, music, theology, family. Tulsa will continue to get a big share of my attention, and what I write about the other stuff will be tied to events here. (That's why I show Tulsa as a junction in the site logo.)

In the next day or two -- Deo volente -- I'll write an analysis of the election results, a look at what needs to happen next, and an appreciation of the people who gave time, money, and effort to help our grass-roots opposition.

The worst thing that can happen is for Tulsans on both sides of the issue to say, "We did something [as in, 'We gotta do something!] so now we can stop thinking about Tulsa's future." Too many important issues remain, having been ignored by the people running the "vision process".

Tonight there's an opportunity to get the "vision process" back on track. TulsaNow is sponsoring a post-election discussion at Harwelden, 22nd & Main, at 5:30 this evening. Come and contribute your perspective.

A friend relates his seven-year-old son's reaction to the election:

To help Kevin understand why we were voting no, I used a simple example. He's been counting his weeks (forty-some at last calculation) of allowance until he can afford this $100 lego set. I merely asked him how much he thought the sales tax would be on that purchase if the new taxes passed, and then we calculated it. So, now that we've seen the election results, here are two of his quotes: "That settles it. I'm going to order that Lego set from another state." and... "Daddy, can you lend me the money so I can buy that Lego set before the end of the year?"



Thanks to all the volunteers who were involved in the Tulsa County Coalition's effort against our new billion dollar county tax. Although we lost this battle, we fought valiantly and honorably. Thanks to my fellow co-chairmen, Jim Hewgley and Jack Gordon, for their leadership. Special thanks to Dan Hicks and Mike Reed for their tremendous grassroots efforts, to Joni Clark for handling phone calls, to Tom Quinn for using his gorilla and bus to raise awareness, and to a couple of other tireless volunteers who prefer to remain below the radar -- you know who you are. Honor and thanks to the two current elected officials who had the courage to speak out in opposition -- State Sen. Randy Brogdon and Glenpool Councilor Keith Robinson -- and also to former State Rep. Don Weese. Thanks to Michael DelGiorno, Gwen Freeman, and Elvis Polo of KFAQ for making the case every day on radio (and thanks to their management and sponsors for giving them the freedom to speak out). Extra special thanks to my family for giving up Daddy for most of the summer to the cause.

And many thanks to all of you who took the time to visit this site over the last few weeks. You read, some of you wrote back with great questions and great insights. Some wrote with encouragement, and a couple of you even dropped some money in the donation jar. Although I know that the tax issue was the big draw, I hope you'll keep coming back as we hold our public officials to their promises, as we consider important issues that the "visioning process" has yet to address, and as we write about interesting stuff beyond the Tulsa region.

Some thoughts as we prepare to go to the polls:

(1) If you're just finding this site, as you do some last minute learning about the issues on tomorrow's ballot, welcome! To help you find the information you need, there's a search box on the right side of the home page.

If you just want an overview of the issues, read "Why Vote No?" That article is brief, and I've provided links to related entries, grouped by topic. Don't overlook the links at the end of the article, which deal with overarching issues like real vision, governance, economic development, and downtown.

I don't have articles beyond August 30 indexed on the "Why Vote No?" page, so I've reconfigured the home page to go back two full weeks, for now. Scroll down to see all the recent stuff.

If you've got an honest-to-goodness question that you need answered before you vote, e-mail blog at batesline dot com, and I'll try to respond as quickly as my job and personal life allows.

When the campaign ends, you'll find more variety here, as I originally intended, but you can be sure I'll keep writing about our city, our region, and the future.

(2) Before you vote, read the ballot carefully. Ultimately that is the only binding contract between the citizens of Tulsa County and the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners for this tax increase.

The tax is collected at the rate specified on the ballot, for the duration specified on the ballot, and must be spent for the purpose specified on the ballot. Note that very broad purposes were chosen, which gives the Commissioners great latitude. The ballot resolutions reflect the Commissioners' current intent, but those can be amended with only 48 hours notice. Projects, procedures, restrictions -- and, of course, promises -- it only takes two commissioners of the three to sweep away anything that isn't on your ballot.

(3) As you vote, remember that your ballot is secret and sacred. No one can know how you vote.

I have spoken to and received e-mail from hundreds of Tulsa County residents who deliver the same basic message: "I'm against this tax, and I appreciate what the opposition is doing, but because of my job, I cannot come out publicly against it." People are afraid to display yard signs, to sign petitions. Employees, public and private, are afraid of losing their jobs. Politicians are afraid of angering donors and being targeted for defeat (with good reason). Businessmen are afraid of regulatory harassment from city or county agencies, afraid of losing business from the big companies backing this package, afraid of being turned down for loans. I heard that workers at one downtown company were told by an angry CEO that they'd lose their jobs if they opposed the package. American Airlines mechanics were taken off the line to assemble "YES" signs.

It could be that every YES sign in every yard is there because the occupant of the home is a wholehearted supporter of all four new taxes. But I wouldn't be surprised if some companies or government agencies planted signs on every employee's lawn. "No one will be forced to have a sign in their yard. If you object to having a sign, please notify HR and add your name to the no-sign list," also known as the early layoff list.

This is not wild paranoia. Companies and government agencies have been known to track employee behavior away from work and discipline any deviance. My family lived in Bartlesville in the late '60s, a Cities Service family in a Phillips town. Back then Phillips had a company basketball team, a frequent contender for the Amateur Athletic Union crown. Of course the players weren't paid for playing (they were amateurs after all); they worked for the company. Some of these players had jobs monitoring non-Phillips service stations and noticing if a Phillips employee bought gas, oil, or tires from other than Phillips, an act subject to disciplinary action.

Just a hunch, nothing more, but it wouldn't surprise me if some companies and agencies backing this plan are monitoring the yardsigns their employees are displaying.

I suspect similar fears are skewing the polls. When someone calls, verifies your name, and asks your opinion, how do you know it's a real pollster?

If you have been treated in this way, and you resent it, you can fight back at the polls. You may not be able to speak publicly, but no one can know what you do in the voting booth. A resounding defeat of these packages will be the first bold step toward restoring open, honest public discourse in this region.

(4) Even if you like bits of this, for the sake of honest and honorable government, turn it down and send it back to the County Commission with a resounding message.

As parents, my wife and I know our young children have not developed enough discernment and judgment to be trusted with unlimited choice. To protect them from danger, the choices we give them are limited. As they mature we expect to give them greater latitude to choose for themselves. It's responsible parenting to limit a young child's choices, but when politicians treat the voters in that manner, it's insulting.

The politicians unreasonably limited our choices, our ability to define our vision of the future, by not allowing us to choose projects for common and higher education without also choosing the downtown sports arena and Expo Square. Judge Wiseman ruled that what the Commissioners did with this ballot was not unconstitutional logrolling, but that still doesn't make it right. They demonstrated their contempt for the desires of the people of this county. How can we expect them to listen to us after we give them a billion dollars when they don't want to listen to us now?

If we turn this down, they can come back with another sales tax package in six months. They could come back with bond issues much sooner.

If we approve this mess, it will only encourage them.

(5) If this thing fails, it won't be because of marketing or packaging. Can we stipulate to this before the ballots are counted? The usual bunch had full control over how this package was put together and when it was put on the ballot. They had over half a million to spend (I'm sure the number has grown since the last ethics filing) -- a hundred times the opposition's resources. A healthy reaction to a defeat would be for prominent yea-sayers to admit that the projects and the process are bad in substance, not just perception.

Thanks for your attention.

[I'm "postdating" this message so that it will remain at the top of the blog through the time the polls close tomorrow.]

Watch party


There will be a gathering of the "Vote No" forces tonight at Bennigan's at 71st and Yale, beginning about 6 pm. It will be a chance for the far-flung grass-roots to enjoy some fellowship, regardless of the outcome. I am looking forward to meeting the many people who have been putting out signs, distributing flyers, calling and e-mailing friends. Refreshments will be "dutch treat" -- BYOM (bring your own money). Thanks to Bennigan's for letting us meet there. Some other restaurants refused to welcome the opposition.

This campaign has not been centrally controlled and scripted. We have a total payroll of $0. People who care about our region's future have just taken the initiative. As I was driving through the neighborhood on the way back from the polls today, I saw a handmade "VOTE NO" sign in one yard -- magic marker on cardboard.

If you can't come by, you could help us by swinging by your polling place about 7:10 or 7:15 to get your precinct's results, then call 946-1960 to report the numbers. Precinct results look like cash register receipts -- long and skinny -- and should be taped to the door of the polling place. Please make a note of the precinct number, which will be near the top of the tape. Direct results will let us know early on how things are going in different parts of the county, and will also help us ensure that results don't change between the polling place and the electio n board.

No events this month at Oklahoma City's Ford Center. None.

Next month, three minor league hockey games. Barney's got five performances across the street at the old Myriad (the Cox Business Center).

November -- seven minor league hockey games.

December -- seven minor league hockey games and a gospel music concert. (That's the Gaithers' Homecoming -- played at Mabee Center last year, returning to Mabee Center next year)

January 2004 -- five minor league hockey games, International Finals Rodeo, Harlem Globetrotters. (The Globetrotters will come here, too.)

February 2004 -- seven minor league hockey games.

March 2004 -- three minor league hockey games.

April through August 2004 -- absolutely nothing.

Anything here that will draw the "Creative Class" to OKC? If you're trying to recruit a young professional to work in OKC, would you point with pride to this calendar of events?

A month ago, when I called attention to this dearth of big name acts, I was told that concerts aren't scheduled very far in advance. But surely a big act would be announced a couple of months in advance, to allow time for ticket sales, particularly if you want to draw fans from out of town.

Someone on TulsaNow posted a link to TicketsPlus.com, which showed three performances of "42nd Street" and a performance of "The Producers", both Broadway musicals, at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, spread out over the next five months. It seemed strange that there would be these isolated performances instead of multiple-night performances and matinees. It also seemed strange to perform Broadway musicals in an arena, when Oklahoma City has a Civic Center Music Hall designed for stage performances.

On further investigation, these entries on TicketsPlus.com appear to be the result of a data entry error, as the same performances show up on ticketmaster.com at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in Chicago or the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in New York. Other than the one in Oklahoma City, there are at least three other Ford Centers in the country. (Besides New York and Chicago, there's one in Dearborn, Michigan, which would make sense.)

I don't have a good explanation for this sudden shift from feast to famine. Has the novelty worn off for the concert promoters?

Correction to KOTV debate entry


CORRECTION: An earlier entry reported a phone call from the Mayor to Paul Wilson that came to KOTV during the debate intermission, based on an eyewitness acccount. I misunderstood the circumstances and KOTV anchor Scott Thompson's response as they were reported to me. Mr. Thompson e-mailed me with a correction. "Here, then, is the truth. A desk assistant entered the studio just as the President was finishing his address and said the Mayor was on the phone, asking to speak to Paul Wilson. I told our desk assistant that Paul would be unable to take the call, as the President was finishing-up and we were about to return to the air. Paul Wilson then told our desk assistant to have the Mayor speak to someone else in his entourage, who was watching the program from another room here at KOTV." I regret the misunderstanding.

Kevin Adams (whose article The Tulsa Time Blues you should read or re-read before you go to the polls) calls our attention to a couple of articles that question the economic development "strategy" which is guiding tomorrow's billion-dollar sales tax vote.

Here are the lead paragraphs from a story in today's New York Times (free registration required):

City Is Told to Abandon Its 'Doomed' Tactics of Encouraging Growth


Arguing that the industries upon which New York City has depended for its economic well-being have been losing ground and are unlikely to generate many new jobs in future, a new study suggests that New York's longtime approach to economic development is obsolete and must be reconceived.

The study, financed by the Rockefeller Foundation and written by a nonprofit group called the Center for an Urban Future, says the city should abandon the "doomed strategy" of favoring a few industries like finance an approach the study says has left the city increasingly vulnerable to economic shifts.

City resources should go instead to improving the climate for small businesses and entrepreneurs, tapping the immigrant population as well as academic and research institutions, and improving basic services so the middle class will not leave the city, according to the study, to be released today.

"Start small," the report urges. Large firms are decentralizing operations and adding new jobs elsewhere, and New York's future growth will depend on "whether it can restore its entrepreneurial vitality and create a better environment for smaller firms to grow and prosper."

The recommendations run counter to the city's practice of using tax abatements and real estate development subsidies to keep big companies in New York. That tactic became common in the 1990's as competition among the city, its suburbs and other places intensified....

As large firms everywhere have decentralized, cities like Los Angeles have benefited by the rise of small, home-grown businesses, the study says. But New York "has become one of the worst environments for entrepreneurs and growing firms," the report says, citing rankings by groups like the National Commission on Entrepreneurship and declines in venture capital investments.

One big problem for growing businesses is high real estate costs, which the study traces in part to the city's practice of subsidizing the real estate costs of large employers. The report says the practice has distorted the "real estate market in ways that actually inhibit the development of new businesses and the retention of lower-margin industries." ...

The study recommends that the city work harder to help growing businesses thrive, in part by addressing "the fundamental issues hampering business growth in the city, such as permitting, business taxes and policies that spur exorbitant real estate speculation."

The city should also do more to encourage the growth of immigrant and minority-owned businesses, the study says, perhaps by following the example of cities like Los Angeles and Houston. According to the report, those two cities rebuilt their economies in recent decades in part by diversifying, reducing regulatory hurdles and helping immigrant-run businesses to develop.

In addition, the city should extend its economic development efforts beyond large-scale commercial projects in Manhattan to include neighborhoods in all five boroughs, the study recommends. It notes that the Bloomberg administration is already working to develop viable and more affordable business districts in Downtown Brooklyn, as well as Long Island City and Flushing, Queens.

Finally, the report suggests that the city support policies that will help retain middle-class residents. It should follow through with plans to increase the housing stock. And it should use scarce city resources to maintain and improve basic services like law enforcement, sanitation, public transit, education, parks and the infrastructure.

The report states, "This vision should begin with the premise that blindly following the post-1950's strategy of ever-intensifying real estate speculation, over-concentration on selected sectors and `Capital of the World' rhetoric will erode the city's overall competitiveness even further, strain the city's financial resources and widen the gap between rich and poor."

I don't know if we subsidize real estate costs for large employers, but we do have zoning laws which discourage home business, and I understand that there is a severe shortage of small retail space, which would boost costs and provide another entry barrier. I don't see many new small spaces being built; mainly big boxes are being put up these days.

Notice the keys -- take care of the basics, reduce red tape and regulatory barriers, tap into the entreprenurial energy of new arrivals to our country, and don't focus exclusively on "downtown".

And here's Joel Kotkin, who visited Tulsa back in May 2002, writing in the Washington Post. Tulsa gets a little mention....

.... There is a dramatic shift afoot in urban fortunes, weakening the clout of the biggest cities while spreading power and influence to scores of smaller centers, nowhere more markedly than here in the United States.

Blame 9/11, technology or geographic shifts in the national economy -- or a combination of all three -- but the nation's urban hierarchy is flattening out. A host of smaller players are chopping off chunks of what was once the big boys' exclusive domain. What used to take place almost entirely in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or San Francisco -- whether in high finance, advertising or marketing -- is now happening more and more in unlikely locales such as Omaha, Des Moines, Fargo, N.D., and Columbus, Ohio. "Technology now gives each town the same global footprint," says Rich Nespola, a native New Yorker and president of TMNG, a communications consulting firm headquartered in suburban Kansas City, Kan. "People can work where they are comfortable and where it's most profitable." ...

Extensive interviews with young professionals, corporate executives, human resource workers, post-graduate students and recent immigrants reveal that many are willing to exchange "the bright lights" of the global centers for affordable housing, a sense of community and economic opportunity. "It's gotten very easy to get workers to relocate here," notes Randy Schilling, founder and CEO of Quilogy, a St. Louis-area technology company. "You get a guy here from Chicago, New York and San Francisco, and even if he gets a pay cut, he and his family live better."

All these factors are stirring a renewal of cultural life in places in America's second-tier cities. Rather than in the mindless new stadiums and convention centers promoted in the past, this renaissance expresses itself at street level, in new restaurants, art galleries, loft developments. The hot real estate ticket in many of these cities is no longer the suburbs, but close-in, leafy urban areas near the historic core. Kansas City's Country Club Plaza, St. Louis's Central West End or Des Moines' Court Avenue may not be Soho. The denizens of the brew pubs and bars in these places appear to be older, less edgy, straighter and more family-oriented than lower Manhattanites or San Franciscans. But they are rekindling urban life where, for a long time, it seemed to be in irreversible decline. You can now hear decent music, or enjoy a good Italian meal, in Fargo and drink a more than passable cappuccino in virtually every second-tier city.

All this could augur a new future for American urbanism, one that recalls the dynamic era of the earliest 20th century, when second-tier cities enjoyed their own periods of vibrancy. This was the era of "Meet Me in St. Louis," when the city hosted the 1904 World's Fair, Kansas City was a jazz capital, and upstart oilmen turned downtown Tulsa into an art deco showcase. Today a resurgence in these places could bring a much-needed new diversity to our cultural life, now dominated by New York and Los Angeles.

There may also be some good news in these developments for the global cities. The current restructuring and declustering of urban activities offers a clear opportunity for Gotham and global-city wannabes to rethink their economic and political priorities. Perhaps the first thing would be to chuck the "capital of the world" pretensions and start focusing on the mundane things -- fostering family-oriented neighborhoods, middle-class jobs and efficient city services -- that made these cities great in the first place. A stronger commitment to the things that matter to ordinary people may be the best way for cities like New York to retain their importance, and carry their greatness deep into the new century.

Hitting the nail on the head


Someone writing under the name "Citizen" posted this message over on the City Talk Forum. "Citizen" has hit the nail on the head, and you need to read this.

(I've added emphasis to my favorite quotes.)

The promoters have spent an enormous amount of energy and column inches lately trying to demoralize those opposed to Vision2025 by speaking of "do nothings" who don't care about our city and have no concerns other than themselves.

This couldn't be more wrong.

I'd suggest those most vocally opposed have even greater concern than whoever sees this package as a magic pill benefit to our city.

It most certainly is not a magic pill. But, it does have a time-release factor which not only does not require another dose later, it eliminates that possibility altogether. That's if the patient lives.

People, to me, don't seem to understand the terms of this deal well.

Personally, I'm opposed to every proposition on the ballot. This has nothing at all to do with the project lists or even the huge amount of money involved, rather, it's the open-ended, long term, short-sighted implications which I find abhorrant.

If our leaders were as concerned with our opinions and vision of what our city is to become, they would have never packaged it in this manner. It gives us little choice, by design.

The good part is that this one can be defeated, and should be, because it's not the end of the world (the one you live in, but perhaps will be for the paper).

In as little as a few days, and certainly within a few months, a new issue can be prepared which does allow us choice. A couple of months is nothing when compared to the THIRTEEN YEARS the current package entails.

It's not just a lot of money, IT'S A HUGE AMOUNT OF MONEY. And, the structure of this ballot gives almost total freedom to our County Commissioners (all three of them) to do anything they desire with that money.

Sure, they passed a resolution with a project list. It's also subject to revision with just the same ease.

One minor point -- two Commissioners teaming up could do anything they desire with that money. Commissioner Randi Miller is frequently at the short end of 2-1 votes, and I fully expect to see many more votes like that if the Commissioners have a billion dollars to play with. And they can repeal or modify any of those resolutions on 48 hours notice. The only thing set in stone is the purpose, amount, and duration of the text set out in the ballot title.

I'll be the first to admit that many of the projects are appealing. Some are not. One in particular is wrapped up in a way to best assure it's passage even though we've already twice rejected it. I resent it even being on the ballot now, much less that it's not its' own item.

I'm not voting against Tulsa, I voting against this form of "representation". Just how many times, in how many ways, do we have to tell them what we want?

It ain't their city, it's ours.

And, there is no magic pill, especially one that fixes all the things our servants have not done in years past.

Hear, hear! Well spoken! How many times, indeed, do we have to tell them no?

Some yea-sayers suggest that it's "three strikes and you're out", but the 1997 and 2000 pitches were low and inside and Tulsans wisely declined to swing at them. This one is in the dirt, and I trust that Tulsa County residents will have the same good sense on Tuesday. When we're given a good pitch -- 3rd penny for capital improvements, school bond issues -- we knock the ball out of the park.

City or County, Savage or LaFortune, behind it all we've been stuck with the same worn out pitcher -- the powers that have run this city for so long. Out of ideas, out of energy, but unwilling to yield the ball to a reliever. Time to send to send them to the showers. A resounding defeat Tuesday is the first step.

Channel 6 debate, maybe


KOTV channel 6 has a debate scheduled for 7 pm tonight, with Jack Gordon representing the forces of light. No idea who will speak for the other side. The start time may be delayed because of CBS coverage of the US Open Tennis Tournament, and the debate may be interrupted halfway through by the President's speech. KOTV has committed to go ahead with the broadcast even if the other side doesn't show. Should be interesting.

UPDATE: The Mayor originally agreed to do half the debate (because of a prior commitment), with Bob Dick handling the other half. Then the Mayor was going to do the whole thing. Then Friday morning, he backed out, with no word on who would be coming in his place. Tonight we found out, when 21st Properties President Paul Wilson showed up. You'll recall that Wilson filled in when OU-Tulsa president Ken Levit was pulled at the last minute from the KRMG debate.

UPDATE & CORRECTION: This entry reported a phone call from the Mayor to Paul Wilson that came to KOTV during the debate intermission, based on an eyewitness acccount. I misunderstood the circumstances and KOTV anchor Scott Thompson's response as they were reported to me. Mr. Thompson e-mailed me with a correction. "Here, then, is the truth. A desk assistant entered the studio just as the President was finishing his address and said the Mayor was on the phone, asking to speak to Paul Wilson. I told our desk assistant that Paul would be unable to take the call, as the President was finishing-up and we were about to return to the air. Paul Wilson then told our desk assistant to have the Mayor speak to someone else in his entourage, who was watching the program from another room here at KOTV." I regret the misunderstanding.

A reader writes with an observation about a major demographic trend that will start to manifest itself about halfway through this thirteen-year sales tax.

One thing I've not seen in the debate is a consideration of what is possibly the most important economic of event since the Industrial Revolution: The retiring of the Baby Boomers. That is just about to happen and as the Dodge commercial says: This changes everything.

Current labor projections are that with just 3% annual economic growth, by 2010 there will be the most sever labor shortages ever, especially skilled labor; and that is taking into consideration the jobs lost to India, China, etc. I think this makes even more doubtful the wisdom of buying jobs at the extremely expensive rate requested by Boeing.

There will be ever increasing demand on public facilities related an aging population; and there will be an increasing demand for facilities related to retirement. It appears that Tulsa's response will be to offer the retired tourist the joy of our four-foot deep muddy river -- i.e. lovely Zink Lake.

Maybe somebody would like to expand on this; somebody needs to. Something like: How do you think Oklahoma's world-famous nursing homes will do with the aging population after Oklahoma's two big population centers have shot their financial wad on some pie in the sky?

Question: What state is the only state to add TWO congressional seats in the last census?

Glen Hiemstra, the futurist who spoke at the Mayor's Vision Summit, also raised the coming boom in the ranks of senior citizens as a trend we need to deal with as we develop a vision for the future. In the end, despite some proposals that dealt with this issue, the "leadership" team ignored it, since it wasn't about their beloved Downtown Sports Arena.

More about this later.

AA mechanics don't support Prop 2


The other afternoon I had an interesting phone call with Grizz Lee, an officer in the Transport Workers' Union (TWU) local at the American Airlines maintenance base. Grizz told me that he and several other union officials oppose all four sales tax increases, including Proposition 2, which would give money to American Airlines. A lot of the rank and file workers feel the same way.

Here's the main reason: AA workers have taken pay cuts ranging from 10% to 30%. Workers feel they've sacrificed enough. They don't want to pay higher sales taxes on top of the concessions they've already made. And American Airlines has made no promises about what it will do if it gets this $22.3 million. AA hasn't promised to stay, hasn't promised to halt layoffs, hasn't promised to call back laid-off workers, and hasn't promised to restore the pay and benefits the workers gave up. AA also hasn't threatened to leave if we don't give it to them. The rank and file at AA figure that AA management has plenty of money to mismanage already -- why raise our taxes to give management more money to waste? (Waste on things like arena naming rights in Dallas and Miami -- over $200 million.)

I've heard from many AA employees -- both management and rank and file -- that there is no chance AA will leave Tulsa. AA has a huge capital investment here, and some facilities that would be prohibitively expensive or impossible to reproduce elsewhere. One is their turbine facility -- it would cost $1 billion to rebuild it somewhere else. Another is an injection well for waste disposal. It saves AA a lot of money to be able to send waste down to a pocket deep in the earth, rather than through a more expensive method. This well is grandfathered in by the EPA -- AA couldn't build a new one in another location.

One AA flight attendant notes that AA can't even put an engine on a plane for the $22.3 million we'll pay them.

And we also hear that some mechanics resent being pulled off the production line to assemble "vote yes" signs on company time.

Tulsa has already done a lot to help American Airlines. Thursday night, the City Council approved the last of $8 million in incentives -- including lower water rates and a new sewer line. And if American does bring new jobs to Tulsa from another maintenance base, they would qualify for the Quality Jobs program incentives, worth up to five percent of their expanded payroll.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me to make a point-by-point reply to Julie DelCour's opinion piece about the downtown sports arena and convention center in the Sunday Whirled. He thought it seemed a bit one-sided.

[I started it back then, but to be honest, it wore me out, and I went on to other things. Sometimes I think they're throwing as much nonsense as possible in a deliberate attempt to wear the opposition down trying to refute it all. With the vote rapidly approaching, I thought I better buckle down and finish. I've actually addressed most of the points in separate entries.]

In Internet parlance, this approach to commentary is called "fisking", an eponym in honor of Robert Fisk, columnist for "The Independent", a British newspaper. Fisk is noted for bitter anti-American, anti-Israeli reporting, loaded with factual errors. Bloggers deconstruct his columns paragraph by paragraph, commenting as they go.

So here goes:

Visions of Billy or Barney? By JULIE DELCOUR World Editorial Writer 8/3/2003

Issue isn't only about new Tulsa arena

This spring the Ford Center in Oklahoma City attracted Billy Graham, the world-renown evangelist. Shortly before, the Tulsa Convention Center welcomed Barney, the world-renown purple dinosaur.

This is a nitpick, but the term is "world-renowned," the state of being renowned ("widely acclaimed and highly honored") throughout the whole world (if not throughout the whole Whirled).

The Ford Center didn't attract Billy Graham. Billy Graham was invited by Oklahoma City churches to come and preach. As with all his missions, Rev. Graham accepted the invitation after much prayer and consultation, believing that God was calling him to preach at this place, at this time. (A page on Graham's website explains how a mission to a city is initiated.) A city mission is organized by local churches, and this local organization handles all the arrangements, including the venue.

Clearly Graham enjoyed appearing at the new, 18,000-seat venue that accommodated 100,000 of his admirers over several days. Barney must have felt equally at home here because the 40-year-old, 9,000-seat Tulsa Convention Center is a dinosaur.

Ms. DelCour doesn't seem to understand the point of a Billy Graham mission. It isn't a performance in front of "admirers". It's about Billy Graham preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to his fellow sinners. And how is it clear that the new arena was a source of enjoyment to Graham?

The Tulsa Convention Center is not a 40-year-old, 9,000 seat facility. The Convention Center Arena has 9,000 seats, and was opened in 1964. The Convention Center includes the 100,000 square foot exhibition hall and gallery, which was completed in 1984. Is it too much to expect precise expression from editorial writers?

In 2002-2003, 27 acts appeared or will visit the Ford Center, including the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Fleetwood Mac and Tim McGraw. In the same period the Tulsa Convention Center will have hosted eight such events, including the band, Def Leppard, and World Wrestling Entertainment -- twice.

As I noted in an earlier entry, the Ford Center lists only one pop or rock event for the next 12 months. ("American Idol Live!") Other than that, the only events on the calendar are rodeo, minor league hockey, a religious meeting, a southern gospel music concert, and a kids' show.

They keep trying to tell us that there's no hope for new jobs unless we pass this billion-dollar tax increase. But the Whirled business section yesterday had a story (starts here, continued here) that illustrates some key principles of economic growth, and shows us that Tulsa can grow quality jobs. Let's read through the story together:

Two Tulsa companies are expected to hire more than 400 people in the next few years as they expand operations as part of the Oklahoma Quality Jobs Program, state and company officials said Thursday.

That's about half the number of jobs Boeing would bring (800 to 1200) for our $350,000,000 investment, had they selected us. (As previously reported, Tulsa did not make the short list -- only cities with deep water ports are still in the running.)

Aircraft Fueling Systems, a 9-year old Tulsa company that employs 100 people, will triple employment during the next 10 years under the program, said Parker Strickland, chief financial officer.

"Well add 25 to 50 jobs over the next 12 months," Strickland said. "Were among three companies that have received a $47 million one-year contract with the U.S. Navy to update and maintain fuel control systems for automated fuel handling equipment around the world.

"We have additional bids in place for military contracts, and we also are expanding the commercial side of the business."

The keys to Aircraft Fueling Systems growth from fewer than 30 employees three years ago to its current count of 100 is the versatility, efficiency and speed the company brings to a project, company executives said. ...

Among the companys recently completed projects are the engineering and construction of a $20 million, 24-gate fuel line at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the engineering, design and operator training for a $35 million fuel facility for Southwest Airlines at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

Note several things. Aircraft Fueling Systems didn't exist 10 years ago. Few of us have heard of it. Someone had an idea and started a small business. Three years ago, they had fewer than 30 employees. But this small business wasn't dependent on local customers, or on a local big business to be their main customer. They have customers all over the country: both commercial airports and the Defense Department. They are bringing new money directly into our economy. We didn't have to raise our taxes to make this possible.

Ameristar Fence Products, a 20-year-old Tulsa company started by one man with a little fence-building background and a lot of vision, is steadily adding jobs to keep up with high production demands.

Ameristar employs more than 450 people and sells $100 million in products every year, company officials said. By the end of the year, the company will have already reached the employment level it projected when it entered the Oklahoma Quality Jobs Program. The 10-year contract with the program says that by the end of the contract Ameristar should have created 475 jobs, a number the company has nearly realized, said Ameristar spokesman Bruce Scott. The bulk of the jobs are manufacturing and sales positions, he said.

In the next three years, Ameristar expects to expand its facilities in northeast Tulsa and steadily add workers for an estimated total employment of about 700 people. Company officials also predict Ameristar sales will double to $200 million in five years.

Ameristar specializes in steel and aluminum ornamental fences that are used around golf courses, schools, parks, housing developments, stores and other facilities. The fences are installed around new projects but are just as often used to replace old fences, company officials said. The companys newest and fastest-selling product is a fence so strong that it can stop a 15,000-pound vehicle traveling 40 mph, which is the federal requirement outlined in an antiram certification drawn up by the State Department.

Heightened security since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has increased the need for such fences around government and military operations where a vehicular bomb could be used, company officials said.

Ameristar has already sold the fence for use around two Air Force bases in California, one in Missouri and another near Washington, D.C., he said. The Pentagon also is considering one, the company said.

This latest security fence adds to a long line of ornamental fences, fence hardware and fence coatings that Ameristar has been designing and building since Oklahoma native Eddy Gibbs founded the company.

In the early days, Gibbs was known to load up a truck with fence products and start driving. He wouldnt come back until he had sold everything and the truck was empty. After the companys fence hardware went over well, Gibbs started cultivating the niche of ornamental fencing, said Mark Meek, national marketing and sales manager.

Here's another company that started as a one-man operation -- can't be any smaller than that -- and has grown to be the largest manufacturer of ornamental fencing in the world, according to its website. Mr. Gibbs found a niche and exploited it, selling his product all over the country. This company brings in new dollars to our economy.

The yea-sayers say that paying hundreds of millions to bring one big businesses into town is the only way to grow our economy, and to help small businesses grow. That just shows how they misunderstand what small business is all about.

All over Tulsa are small and medium-sized businesses with a great idea and a vision for being the best in the country or the best in the world at what they do. They aren't waiting for work from local customers, but they're searching out and getting clients and income from all over the world. Oklahoma has the Quality Jobs program to help these businesses get off the ground and add new jobs to the economy. Any company that brings jobs benefits from it. If we vote no next Tuesday, Boeing and American would still qualify for the Quality Jobs program, just like any other company. That's the fair and sensible way to provide incentives to companies, not raising regressive sales taxes and directing the money to just a couple of favored companies.

The cynical gang who put together this package tied a wee bit of money for the public schools to the $183 million for the downtown sports arena, so they could tell you, "It's all about the children."

A Tulsa Whirled story this morning confirms a lot of suspicions. It is interesting that they turn to someone from the Tulsa Metro Chamber to answer questions, instead of asking someone from a public school district.

If Proposition 3 passes, public school districts will get $55 per pupil for only two years. That's equal to the annual textbook allocation from the state. They have to use that money for instructional materials. The Chamber flack says that schools would be able to use their $55 state textbook allocation for something else instead, like hiring teachers. But the extra money will only be there for two years, at which point any new teachers would need to be laid off.

I'm sure the local districts would be grateful for any bit of help right now, but if Prop 3 passes, the children (and their parents) will be stuck with an enormous bill. The County will borrow money to buy these textbooks in years 1 and 2, and we will spend the next 11 years paying back the loans, with interest. By the time the loans are paid off, the textbooks will be obsolete and this year's kindergarten students will be graduating seniors.

On top of that, because of the dishonest way the County Commission structured this ballot, in order to get the pittance for schools, we have to approve $183 million for the Downtown Sports Arena and Convention Center, plus another $40 million for Expo Square. That's like going to the store to buy a gallon of milk, and being told to get the milk you have to pay full price for a big screen TV -- we'll throw in the milk for free. That's no bargain, and neither is this. Essentially we'll be paying over $3,400 per pupil to get $110 worth of books. Proposition 3 is a bad deal for kids, for teachers, and for taxpayers.

More debate notes


The mention of former Mayor Terry Young reminded me: About three weeks ago, Terry Young was a last-minute substitution at the Tulsa County Democratic Party forum on the proposed new county sales taxes. I learned a couple of days ago that OU-Tulsa President Ken Levit had been scheduled to speak for the "vote yes" side, but was a no show. So Democratic Chairman Elaine Dodd went to Terry Young, who had only come to listen, verified that he was a supporter, then asked him to speak for the vote yes side in the forum, which also involved former County Assessor Jack Gordon, speaking for the opposition, and Sally Frazier, representing the undecided point of view.

This last Tuesday was the KRMG - Downtown Kiwanis Club debate, scheduled for 12:30. Here again, it was supposed to be Jack Gordon vs. Ken Levit, but at 10:45, a vote yes apparatchik informed KRMG that Twenty-First Properties President Paul Wilson would be speaking instead of Ken Levit. KRMG newsman John Durkee, the moderator, made a point of mentioning the sudden change during his introductions, with a hint of irritation creeping through his professional tone. The next morning, I called KRMG to talk about Channel 8's furtive decision not to air a promised debate, and at the end of the call, John Erling mentioned the sudden shift on their debate, and that he later learned that Levit had been told 10 days earlier by the vote yes PR flacks [my term, not Erling's] that he would not be doing the KRMG debate. The flacks just didn't bother to tell KRMG until the last minute.

Ken Levit is a good, honest man, and it looks to me like he hasn't been treated with due respect by the yea-sayer strategists. I suspect in the case of the Democratic Party event, as with KRMG, the PR flacks told him not to show up, but they failed to notify the people running the event.

As I write this, there may be a debate on KOTV Channel 6 Sunday night. The Mayor was originally willing to participate, but as of this morning the willingness went away. The change in attitude followed (but was not necessarily caused by) the Fox 23 debate the night before. We will see what comes to pass. The debate will follow "60 Minutes" at around 7 p.m., although the programs may be delayed by U. S. Open Tennis coverage.

And I'll close with these actual debate notes, found after a debate some days ago.

The yea-sayers continue to believe that the vote no victories in 1997 and 2000 were just a matter of packaging and marketing, and if they can just be more careful about image management, they will win this time. But the previous elections were about the merits of the proposals (or lack thereof), and I'm confident that the same will be true this time.

Gorilla campaigning


Tom Quinn owns a large (25-foot) inflatable gorilla
. Tom is a man unafraid to take aim at the powerful if he thinks a wrong is being committed. In 1986, as a political unknown he beat incumbent Mayor Terry Young in the Democratic primary. He's targeted ONG with billboards and a website. And this week he lent his gorilla to the vote no cause. A bit of fun, a chance to gain some attention, and to let the silent majority out there know that they aren't alone in thinking this tax plan is a bad idea.

The gorilla was up at 68th & Riverside Wednesday, and at 71st and Memorial on Thursday. The campaign had permission from the property owner to set up the gorilla, but there was still a bit of trouble. Here's an eyewitness account:

This morning's two-man rally at 71st and Memorial turned tense when Vision 2025 Supporters called out Tulsa's Men-in-Blue to intimidate Vote No Supporter Tom Quinn, his loyal sidekick Georgy Porgy, and even the 25 Foot Blue Gorilla looked a bit deflated after the police presence.

Tom Quinn got his Blue Simian friend inflated about 6:00 a.m. this morning, hoping to catch the attention of morning rush hour commuters at the 10th Most Dangerous Intersection in America. Dan Hicks showed up shortly thereafter to coordinate with the news media. Channel 6 showed up around 7'ish to shoot a few shots after Dan had headed to work. Georgy Porgy handed out signs (about 20 I think), and walk the sidewalks waving Vote No signs at traffic.

Unfortunately, 2 & 8 didn't show up until after the plug had been pulled on the blue gorilla around 8:45 a.m. Likely Story-Lie for 5:00 P.M. broadcast: Vote NO Rally Deflates!

Around 8:15 a.m. or so, an SUV showed up with two ladies. When they got out of the car wearing Vision 2025 T-Shirts, I deduced they weren't there to make a Vote NO campaign contribution!

They said they worked for the leasing agent (Leinbach and Associates). They said we didn't have permission to be on their property and had to leave. They also said it was "Just a Coincidence" that they were wearing VISION 2025 T-Shirts to work this morning. Right. I took some photos of the event.

I kept walking the sidewalk waving a Vote NO sign in each hand while Tom engaged them in conversation.

I was pretty much out of earshot, but I did eventually hear Tom on the cell phone talking with the new property owner about our presence.

At about 8:40a, two Tulsa Police Dept. cruisers showed up; they didn't get out of their cars except to double up in one car and shoot the breeze.... Other than a show of force, they had no interaction with me, and I presume none with Tom. I was mostly walking around picking up our signs and helping shut down the site by that point. Got some neat photos of Tulsa's finest.

As we were deflating the Gorilla, the two remaining TV stations showed up and shot some footage as described above.

Interesting that the vote yes campaign seems to have enforcement squads ready to shut down any show of support for the opposition. Today I noticed a white car pulled over onto the grass (well onto the grass) left of the westbound Broken Arrow Expressway on-ramp at Sheridan. The car had a "Vision 2025" sticker on the back window, and a blonde woman was standing next to the driver's side door with a 35mm camera, taking a photo of the new message on the billboard:


What a strange thing for a yea-sayer to take a picture of, I thought.

Plenty of people have complained to me of their VOTE NO signs disappearing from their own yards. I have heard reliable eyewitness reports of organized teams scouring neighborhoods and removing VOTE NO signs, sometimes within hours of their placement.

On the Channel 47 debate the other night, we were asked about negativity in the campaign. From what I can see, most of the negativity seems to be coming from "vote yes" minions who can't stand the idea of dissent and feel the need to eradicate it. At least, I hope it's the minions and not their bosses that are behind sign disappearances and other forms of harassment and pressure. The so-called naysayers seem to be keeping cool and having fun while trying to communicate a serious message.

Forum and debate notes


I am rarely in the mood or condition after a debate to blog about it, but these are some of the most interesting and fun parts of the campaign. They are both mentally energizing and physically exhausting.

Last Friday was the Channel 47 debate. I had just flown home from Montreal earlier in the afternoon. (Thank heavens for all the empty seats on AA -- I was able to standby for an earlier flight than one that would have landed less than two hours before air time.) Following the debate, I was cornered by two vote yes supporters. One young fellow berated me, asked me questions then wouldn't let me answer, and when I decided I'd rather have a conversation than the shouting match he was pushing for, he yelled at me for walking away. The other supporter, an older fellow, was calmer in tone and demeanor, but just as accusatory. He said he wanted to ask me one question: "What will you say to your children and my grandchildren five years from now when they ask you why you set out to kill this great city?" I respectfully disagreed with the premise of his question and set out to address his premise, but he kept interrupting me: "Answer the question!" Then he offered to buy me lunch.

These people were not rubes or bumpkins. The vote yes campaign has succeeded in riling up intelligent middle class people, convincing them that Tulsa will dry up and blow away unless we pass this billion-dollar tax. It doesn't help to have the Mayor going around town saying things like, "If this doesn't pass then I don't know what hope we have for the future." It ain't that bad, folks!

Wednesday morning, I spoke to about 70 CITGO employees. I have deep CITGO roots -- Dad worked for them for 20 years, starting in Bartlesville, then moving with HQ to Tulsa in 1969. We rented a company-owned house in downtown B'ville for a while. I could identify service station logos and recite commercial slogans before I was three. ("Cities Service is CITGO... now!") A Cities Service National Merit Scholarship paid part of my MIT tuition bill. Of course, Dad was laid off in 1985, after Occidental Petroleum bought the company.

Most of the questions seemed to come from an opposition perspective -- these folks understand that this sales tax isn't going to help them keep their jobs in Tulsa. Got some good questions from a younger woman, who seemed to be leaning in favor, maybe buying into the idea that this will magically give us the momentum to help keep her job in Tulsa. It was a unique event for me -- I had the floor for 45 minutes, spent about 15 minutes setting out my key points, then taking questions. Other than questions, there was no one to rebut or challenge me. "How nice," I thought. "The Mayor gets this kind of setup every place he goes."

Last night I was at the Lewis Crest neighborhood association, perhaps the most surreal event of the campaign, held in the Fellowship Hall of Christ Presbyterian Church -- my home church -- before about 30 neighbors. Karen Keith was scheduled to appear, but was also scheduled to do the Fox 23 debate, so in her place, not one person but two -- Michael Sager of the Blue Dome District and Michael Buchert of the City of Tulsa Public Works Department. Instead of showing the schmaltzy video, the two did a standup routine of sorts, covering the ballot items and tossing the conversational ball back and forth while moving back and forth in the front of the room. It reminded me of some sort of minimalist improvisational drama. Before their presentation was over, Michael Hughes, formerly working with the Mayor on the vision process, now with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, showed up.

I had a Powerpoint presentation on my laptop, prepared to help me compete with their video. I didn't wander quite as much, as I had to advance the slide show, but I was able to hit my objections / concerns with each ballot item.

Then came questions. Now all three Michaels were front and center -- with me between Mr. Buchert and Mr. Sager. There were no time limits, so the yes side answered, and usually wandered on to other questions, then I rebutted, then they both rebutted my rebuttal, and so on.

Then Councilor Susan Neal showed up and asked to make a few remarks, which turned into a lengthy and impassioned appeal. Then I got to rebut her, then Susan and Michael and the other Michael got to rebut my rebuttal. Then more questions, more wide-ranging answers, more rebuttals and re-rebuttals.

There was a lot of energy and passion expended in that room -- all to win the hearts and minds of about 30 voters. The event should have been taped and televised -- it had a lot more spark than a traditional TV forum with limited reply and rebuttal time. None of the homeowners got up to leave or complained about the time. I guess it was spellbinding.

The blogosphere tunes in


Starting to see some comments on far-flung weblogs about our billion-dollar sales election next Tuesday. Lynn of Reflections in d minor, who lives somewhere out in rural northeastern Oklahoma, has this to say:

Since I don't live in Tulsa and rarely even go there anymore I haven't bothered to familiarize myself with the details of the Vision 2025 plan but there is one proposal that has been getting a lot of attention that makes me want to beat the planners over the head with the Sunday edition of the Tulsa World and say "What. The. Hell. Are. You. People. Thinking?" That is the proposal to build a 20,000 seat stadium in the downtown area.

1. It has already been rejected twice. There is obviously something wrong with the whole idea. Figure out what it is before you try to force feed the same plan to the voters for the third time.

2. A stadium downtown? Are these people out of their minds? Has anyone thought of the traffic problems this will cause? Even assuming that nobody drives to an event alone, there will be somewhere between 5,000 to 10,000 cars trying to get out of the downtown area after every event. Consider building a stadium somewhere else.

3. Would a 20,000 seat stadium be large enough? The population of Tulsa is almost 400,000 and that's not even counting the surrounding area. Obviously, a stadium does not need to be large enough to hold every person in the city at once but a stadium that would not even seat one tenth of Tulsa's current population doesn't seem very forward looking.

As for the rest of the plan... I just don't know. It seems like a bad idea to bribe corporations to locate here but there's a lot of competition for jobs. What are other cities doing? If this is the game that everyone else is playing Tulsa might not have a choice.

It seems to me that the best idea, in the long run, would be to spend money on things that will make Tulsa a better place to live and to visit. I'm not knocking the quality of life in Tulsa but it's not the kind of place that decision makers are likely to look at and say, "Yes, this is a good place to live." Such people expect adequate facilities and infrastructure, but they also look at the city's cultural attractions and the overall attractiveness of the city.

The very things that make the average voter howl about the unfairness of "taking from the poor to support things only the wealthy are interested in," are exactly the the things that any city needs in order to attract corporations. A healthy arts community - fine arts museums, the local orchestra, etc. - improve a city's image and make it more attractive to corporate decision makers. And putting the Tulsa Philharmonic back on its feet would cost a lot less than building a stadium.

However, the first priorties - before a stadium, before the arts, even before public parks - should be the basic necessities: roads and bridges, water and sewer, and revitalizing the vast eyesore that is north Tulsa. Most of all, the city's planners need to listen to the people. Find out what they really want instead of offerring up a corporate wish-list and trying to convince everyone to vote in favor of it because "we have to do something."

And Byzantium's Shores offers Tulsa some advice drawn from Buffalo's experience with a downtown stadium and an arena:

Of course, it's one of the never-dying lies in America that sports venues spur economic development. "Restaurateurs will be champing at the bit to open near the park," we are told. "Think of the building that will go on around the new arena," we constantly hear. Of course, this is all nonsense. The area surrounding Pilot Field is no more hopping than it was in the early 1990s, when Buffalo's population was something like 30,000 people greater than it is now. Ditto HSBC Arena, the venue built for the Sabres in the mid-1990s. And it's like this everywhere: just read through the current tour of all thirty Major League ballparks on ESPN.com, and note how few of those articles describe a hotbed of activity beyond the ballpark walls. Sports arenas don't generate economic activity by themselves. They can help attract tourist attention if they're used for lots of other uses, but even those types of tourist-attraction events tend to attract insular fans who don't exactly spend lots of time touring the cities themselves. ...

[A thought related to this: My first visit to beautiful Montreal was to see the Saint Louis Cardinals play a double-header against the Expos in 1985. Six hours drive from Boston to Montreal (past beautiful Vermont foliage which we didn't have time to appreciate), six hours inside the hideous Stade Olympique, six hours home in the dark. We spent $0 and no time at all outside of the stadium. We bought cokes and hot dogs inside the park. Having just returned from my second business trip to that city, I can't believe we spent all that time in the stadium and no time exploring the city, but our beloved Cards were headed to the World Series. Back to Buffalo....]

Nowadays, though, Dunn Tire Park Pilot Field is looking a bit worn at the edges. The stands are never packed anymore, though the place does do pretty good business during the summer.... It's still a nice place to catch a game in summer, and the drum-and-bugle-corps shows they have there are a lot of fun, but the ballpark is no longer the place to be in downtown Buffalo, as it once was.

As for HSBC Arena, there's another sore spot. Built for the Sabres at a time when Adelphia Cable was on the rise and Buffalo was eagerly hitching its fortunes to Adelphia's star, the Arena is a beautiful venue indeed. But all the usual arguments were trotted out: without the added revenue of luxury boxes, the Sabres would lose money and then leave town. It would spur development in Buffalo's Cobblestone District. (Nope.) It would be used for all manner of special conventions and out-of-town events. (Not really. Part of the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament was held here a few years back, but that was that. This is a constant point of annoyance with me. Why can't Buffalo host a Final Four? or the Nationals or World Figure Skating Championships? No reason that I can see, except we never seem to try to get those events. As Toby Ziegler once said on The West Wing: "It's not the ones we lose that bother me, it's the ones we don't suit up for.")

And of course, Adelphia's fortunes dried up spectacularly in yet another of those "Big company cooking the books" scandals. The Sabres were sold, and for a time it appeared that they might be sold to someone willing to move them elsewhere. I was prepared to simply say, "Fine, let 'em go," until I learned that the Arena's operations are so expensive to the City and the County that without the revenue the Sabres bring into the place, the Arena would likely be shut down entirely. Talk about putting the horse in front of the cart, eh?

I don't know how this all reflects on Tulsa, a town with which I am totally unfamiliar. I know that Tulsa's population is bigger than Buffalo's, but I don't know if that reflects the metro area or if Tulsa is one of those towns that thwarted suburban outflight by annexing the suburbs, which Buffalo can't do. I also don't know if Tulsa has any major league dreams of its own (the Tulsa Sabres, perhaps?). I'm always of mixed-mind on these kinds of things. I do think that big-league sports events can enhance a city's image, but only if they're done right. And it's not even always necessary. New Orleans has plenty of cache, despite the fact that the Saints always stink. Austin, Texas seems to be doing just fine these days.

So, on the basis of Buffalo's experience, I would say to Tulsa: Be careful. If you do it, do it right, and for the right reasons. Don't delude yourselves into thinking that downtown will become like Times Square by virtue of a big arena or ballpark. And if the choice is having an arena or having schools and arts, choose schools and arts. Please oh please.

Comparing metro areas, Buffalo is bigger (1,200,000 vs. 800,000) and nearly five times denser -- more people packed in a smaller space.

And then this, from Archipelapogo, a former Tulsan who comments on the plan and our downtown's development. (Forgive me, but I've bowdlerized a few words for the family audience.)

I'm always intrinsically skeptical about using taxpayers money to lure investment by private business (be it manufacturaing, a sports franchise, etc.). Tulsans have been sweating p**s for the past two years with American Airlines financial woes and layoffs. Tulsa's been hit hard by layoffs, some 27,000 in this recent economic downturn. That's what happens when you have a very few companies (AA, Williams Corporation and its subsidiaries, BOK and its partners, etc.) employing a significant part of the population. When the s**t hits the investment fan and companies, whether they're HQ'd in Tulsa or not, pull back resources and lay people off, it has a major impact on the city. When Williams Communications and AA had rough fiscal years, lots of Tulsans were laid off.

That's what scares me about the Boeing plant. We seemingly have little guarantee that they'll stay past the extent of their loan. We have little guarantee that the 7E7 is going to be a successful plane for a significant period of time. And what happens when the manufacturing of the 7E7 ceases? Again, thousands laid off.

The flipside of the proposals are numbers 3 and 4, which seem to actually seek to give Tulsa some much needed investment in the city itself. ... That said, I still have doubts about Tulsans and their desire for stuff like this. I've seen the (larger) semi-pro hockey team play in front of a half-empty crowd. The Arena Football Team won't be there five years from now (call me on it if I'm wrong, but I doubt it). And most of the major music acts will instead play Dallas, Kansas City, or Oklahoma City instead of Tulsa, all of which are larger cities and are for the most part accessible to those in Tulsa.

There has been a big push by the powers that be in Tulsa to redo the downtown area, attempting, as many other cities are doing with varying success, to lure young urbanites down there to replace the low-income residents that moved in during the great flight to the suburbs. They've done a fairly good job, attracting several bars and music venues that appeal to those in the target demographic and giving the young folks in Tulsa some desperately needed places to hang out.

There has been the erection of many new lofts and apartments downtown, replacing dilpidated and unused old housing that had no value. All of this is good, but there are still problems. ...

If Mayor LaFortune wants to make Tulsa a better place, both more desirable for tourists and residents, he'd do well to look at what cities like Ft. Worth have doen with their downtown, creating an area where there's free parking, lots to do, safety, and cleanliness. It's family friendly without being overly cheesy. It's not necessarily someplace that I would like to hang out all the time, but it's good for the masses and good for Ft. Worth.

Fortunately I don't have to make a decision about whether I would support all or any of Vision 2025. Although I'll likely never live there again, I do hope the best for the city and I hope that any or all of the four sections that pass come to full fruition. I would, however, encourage the voters to be careful and not be blinded by idealism. Make sure it's practical, doable, and enforceable.

Boeing: Tulsa doesn't make the cut


Seattle's KOMO-TV is reporting that there is a short list (although Boeing denies this) and Oklahoma's not on it.

The states still in the running all have direct access to the ocean and deep water ports.

Governor Gary Locke told KOMO 4 News Wednesday that Boeing has narrowed its list to a handful of states in the competition for the 7E7, and Washington is one of them.

The list of finalists has been cut from about three dozen proposals to about six, and sources tell us the main competition is coming from the south -- especially the southeast.

"We're among a handful of states that are still in contention," Locke said. "I'm confident that we have the people the infrastructure and the incentives."

It's the prize revenue-hungry states are after: The new manufacturing plant for the next Boeing plane, the 7E7. And as Gov. Locke told Seattle Rotary, it's not just jobs on the 7E7 that hang in the balance.

"If the 7E7 is built in another state, then we know that succeeding aircraft will be built in that other state," Locke said.

The governor won't say much about the other competition, but sources tell KOMO 4 News that in addition to Washington, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina are still in the hunt. One state that reportedly is out of the running is California, in part because of the political instability there.

Come to the Fox 23 debate


Fox 23 debate tonight -- open to a limited number of members the public. Click on the link at the end of the entry for the full details.

Given the location, shouldn't this be sponsored by Oertle's?

The Channel 47 debate is supposed to be reaired on Cable 7 / UHF 47 at the same time.

The League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Tulsa (LWVMT) has agreed to assist Fox23 in presenting a LIVE, one full hour, telecast regarding the Vision2025 propositions beginning at 8 p.m on Thursday, September 4. The purpose of this email is to encourage you and your friends to attend so that we are assured of a large, interested and involved, but orderly, audience which will submit questions for a panel.

The forum will be held at the Fox23 studio at 2625 S. Memorial. Interested participants are encouraged to arrive by 730 to ensure orderly seating and to receive various materials and instruction. Questions may be submitted to the panel BEFORE the broadcast via cards which will be provided. There will be live questions submitted by the audience during the broadcast.

Got the first mendacious mailing from the yea-sayers. "Vision 2025 puts education first!"

I believe Tulsa County voters are not stupid. I believe they will see right through this kind of manipulation. Vision 2025 puts the arena first by spending more money on it than anything else on the ballot (after the Boeing bribe) and by tying the arena, like a boat anchor, to education.

Prop 3 includes $11.3 million for "instructional materials". This money will be spent in the first two years. It will be enough to buy three or four textbooks for each pupil in Tulsa County's public schools. Then the money will go away, and taxpayers will spend the next 11 years paying back the money we borrowed to buy those textbooks. By the time the tax expires, the textbooks will be long out of date.

This is just a bit more sugarcoating for the poison pill of the arena and convention center, which will bleed at least $1 million a year out of the city treasury, money that should go to pay policemen and firemen, fix the streets, and fill the city swimming pools.

Another great post from jdb over at tulsanow.org.

He makes a couple of references that may need explaining. Desco is the company that's been given the contract to redevelop the 115-acre "East Village" area. Desco is a St. Louis developer that has mostly done big-box stores. When the Tulsa Development Authority began the process of East Village development, the idea was to use existing buildings and build new ones to create a dense urban fabric, mixing residential, commercial, entertainment, and office uses -- the way downtowns used to be before we bulldozed them using urban renewal and eminent domain. The concern is that Desco will decide they need the loft buildings that jdb and his neighbors inhabit in order to build some huge edifice, and TDA will acquire them for Desco, using eminent domain if necessary. Under that kind of threat, it's hard to think about investing in renovations and improvements to your property.

What I would propose.....in place of 2025...?

...has been asked of me countless times.

In a nut shell:

Downtown is a small precious area.

The "talk" was for a "walkable" downtown with green space. Vibrant, diverse, sense of community.....

But everything I've seen presented is at odds with this concept: arena's, convention centers, the Desco plan, box stores....all on a bigger is better scale with matching price tags.

Instead, these big places should be out in the city where they have room to grow, more potential for attendance, out where they belong - amoung the Tulsa masses.

Rooftops inside the IDL will never exceed that of the smallest, poorest planned, outer laying areas - there is simply not room enough to do this - even with going up. It should be obvious to anyone who takes the time to think about it.

Downtown should be stuffed with small places that fit inside of the availiable spaces, with green space sprinkled every where inbetween: with what constitutes our skyline as the Hub. Not just three little "special" areas among acres of parking.

The word "space" is important.

A simple bike trail that threads through on it's own painted road lanes.

Vision is something like a light rail above the MKO line that runs down the middle of 51, with a BA car park for a fast ride into downtown and "transportation" once you get here (but maybe something different then what you drive out south)

You don't have to cut a billion dollar check to build a few bikes lanes.

There is only one downtown. It should be vastly different from the rest of the other areas in the city.

Pack this place with roof tops, and small biz. using infill not bull dozers. God knows there are already enough Albertsons and wal-marts to go around. Remove the "target zones" so people feel secure with building something.

And build smart.

Little tiny places everywhere you looked: where one could walk half the day and still not see everything because they have stopped and talked to the local people, they have made a friend, maybe they are excited to come back, maybe they learn something personal like, "Hey I dont have to work for a large company and toil my life away when what I really want to do is make enough money to stay alive while learning yoga, next week they may be learning Bio chemistry (I saw this happen)

Ask yourself, "Where do you feel more special, more valued or important on a human level: at the wal-mart, or at a mom and pop shop that the owners man the till and know your name and ask where the kids are?"

This is not visionary but it sure gets closer to quaility life issues then the mantra of "JOBS JOBS JOBS!"

"Jobs" are important, but this falls into the category of "daily business". And that someone has been remiss in addressing this issue doesn't merit the haste of 2025.

Few people live like we do here in the IDL.

We have keys to each other's homes, step out the back doors and gather in our common area for grilled food stuffs, look after each other's pets and pipes. We work at home, from home, and walk to work when it's elsewhere (can't do that out south, can you?).

We shelter old buildings against the elements of time. (when's the last time someone stopped and asked if they could see the inside of your old home?)
That's all of us not just a few neighbors we select out of a multitude.

Note: Ray's son, Dylan has lived here, inside the IDL all his life. They were among the first wave of "loft hunters" 25 years ago. And that was real "lofts" not apartments built inside an old place to look like lofts.

The city's willy nilly placement of roaming target zones, for the last decade have been keeping people - not bringing them in.

Just one giant reason it's losing ground. The usage of Eminent domain here is another: among many.

Recall what Hudnut said about E.D.? Or did that fall on the deaf ears of the eager at the Summit?

There is already a convention center in Tulsa that is actually bigger then the city was told it should have. And it's where it should be.

How about we keep the small one and book smaller things there - and maybe think about local stuff?

All this finger pointing at other places is juvenile as we are not them and they are not us. Vision would be defining Tulsa - not aping OKC (bless there man-made little ditch)

But anymore I don't know what to believe, except stamping out downtown with the same cookie cutter that's been stamping out everything else around here is wrong. It's the result of a one track mind set: which is not conducive to diversity, sense of community, or is even walkable.

Ok maybe in a BIG nut shell, jdb

It's hard to state one's definition of a "quality life", in just a few words while having to defend them at the same time.

Here's a bit from the October 27, 1995, Tulsa Whirled. We're being told we can trust the County Commissioners to handle $1 billion the right way, because of the way they handled the Whirlpool tax, and because there's an oversight committee. Here's how the county treated the Whirlpool oversight committee:

[County Commissioner] Selph was present at Wednesday's meeting of the Whirlpool panel to try to smooth ruffled feelings among members who believed they were kept in the dark over how $1.7 million in excess Whirlpool sales tax revenues were spent. Committee members said they were especially concerned over commitments made by the Tulsa County Industrial Authority, which is made up of Selph and fellow Commissioners Bob Dick and Lew Harris.

On Sept. 18, the authority gave approval to spend $341,073 to build a portion of Whirlpool's wastewater treatment plant, $449,266 for a series of water and sewer lines and the balance of excess tax revenues for various road projects at or near the Whirlpool site.

The problem was that no one from the 10-member oversight panel was
present at the meeting, nor did the members believe they had been adequately briefed on the process of deciding on the projects and the allocation of funds.
All the panel received was a copy of the authority's resolution approving the projects.

"Call this an apology," Selph said. "I think there was a misunderstanding, or the result of a lack of communication, but you should have never received just a copy of the resolution."

Several members noted that a proper briefing was not the only thing the panel lacked. Apparently after more than a year in their watchdog role the oversight committee has yet to see a map of the Whirlpool facility. That lack of familiarization was a stumbling block to Wednesday's discussion as Selph, authority counsel John Weidman and county fiscal officer Wayne Carr attempted to explain to the panel why the wastewater, sewer and road projects were selected. ...

[County fiscal officer Wayne] Carr tried to ease concerns that Whirlpool sales tax money was being "comingled" with county general revenue funds. An additional concern was how Whirlpool revenues would be kept separate from Criminal Justice Authority sales tax funds, which are expected to begin flowing to the county in mid-December.

Carr explained that each fund has always been kept separate, as required by law, and was subject to strict accounting and auditing procedures.

[Watchdog committee chairman John] Gray, however, said neither he nor the public at large was impressed by audits.

Lest anyone say, "That was a long time ago": One of the current county commissioners, Bob Dick, was on the commission in 1995, and both he and Commissioner Wilbert Collins have shown contempt for openness and public input in their handling of more recent county matters, such as their handling of contracts at the fairgrounds.

One more thing: The Whirlpool tax was authorized by the voters with a narrow purpose and under a narrowly drawn statute which was in effect when the tax was passed. The Commissioners could only spend the money on qualified projects related to manufacturing facilities. The tax before us next Tuesday would empower the Commissioners to spend the money on anything relating to broad purposes like economic development and infrastructure. They can spend any excess as they wish, and the county trust authority can add, delete, or change projects at will. The oversight committee will only learn about it after the fact and will have no power to reverse the decision of the trust. This truly is a billion dollar blank check.

KTUL Channel 8 was supposed to be re-airing the Vision 2025 debate which we taped last Friday at Channel 47. Channel 8 anchor Carole Lambert was one of the panelists. I just received word that they're showing a Cheers episode instead. Were the "vote yes" PR people unhappy with their side's performance? Wanted to be sure it didn't get prime time coverage on a major network station? Did they threaten to pull ads if the show wasn't pulled? Or is there a more innocuous explanation? If you're curious, call the station and find out -- 445-8888.

UPDATE (21:56) -- Several friends called the KTUL newsroom to ask for an explanation. Whoever answered the phone claimed that the production quality of the tape from KWHB was not up to their broadcast standards. When one friend asked if the problem was with the tape itself or with the production quality, the person on the other end hung up.

KTUL was given the tape immediately after the taping Friday night. Their own crew and truck were present, and Carole Lambert taped an on-the-spot report in front of the KWHB studios at 88th & Memorial. If there had been a problem with the tape, they had three and a half days to get a better tape from KWHB. KWHB felt it was high enough quality to re-air on their own station Monday night. Several friends saw KWHB's rebroadcast, and no one reported that anything was inaudible or that there were distracting technical problems. Perhaps there were a couple of occasions where the camera was on the wrong person -- not uncommon in a live event, especially one with 10 participants but only three cameras -- but the content is what matters to the voters of Tulsa County.

There was no warning. No one called me or Jack Gordon to say that the debate would not be airing. Many people had sent out e-mail alerts advising Tulsans that the debate would be on again tonight. The TV Guide channel showed the debate, as did Sunday's TV World, and the debate still shows up on KTUL's own website schedule, as of 9:56 pm, September 2, 2003.

Then there's this item, posted Friday night on KTUL's website (emphasis added):

Debate Held Over Vision 2025 Proposal

Friday August 29, 2003 11:11pm Reporter: Carole Lambert Posted By: Kevin King

Tulsa - A televised debate over the Vision 2025 proposal was held Friday night. No matter which side you're on, it's becoming a harsh battle over Tulsa's future.

Both sides were pretty outspoken. The debate, which aired live on KWHB Channel 47. It was a one hour debate with Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune and Karen Keith telling Tulsans why they should vote for Vision 2025 and Republican Michael Bates and former County Assessor Jack Gordon telling Tulsans why they should vote no.

NewsChannel 8's Carole Lambert was on the panel and asked whether offering Boeing 350-million dollars in incentives is setting a dangerous precedent.

"There is a precedent in Tulsa for this with Whirlpool and others," LaFortune said. "There have been incentives provided to bring jobs to Tulsa and agreements made that when you receive funds, those jobs come, well you don't receive funds. As a matter of fact, if that commitment's not made, the tax is not levied."

"We need to be fair, we need to set an environment that's good for all companies," Bates said. "The state incentives, the Quality Jobs program, is available to any company that brings good jobs to our community. That's there even if we vote against this. Boeing would qualify for the Quality Jobs program if they come to Oklahoma."

If you missed Friday night's debate, you can catch it again. Through our partnership with Channel 47, we will re-air the debate Tuesday, September 2nd at 7:00 on NewsChannel 8.

Copyright 2003 KTUL, Inc.

If a scheduled program is preempted for any reason -- breaking news, technical difficulties -- standard practice is to run a crawl advising viewers of the change. If nothing else, it prevents hundreds of viewers from calling and asking what's going on. In this case KTUL simply ran "Cheers" with no explanation. It must have been a last minute decision, or they would have reverted to ABC network programming, instead of a 20 year old sitcom episode.

KWHB deserves great praise for once again (as they did in 2000) producing and broadcasting a debate on this important issue -- a 13 year tax that will take over $1 billion from Tulsa taxpayers.

KTUL must answer for its decision to break their commitment to show the debate on their station. Did they bow to pressure from the "vote yes" campaign? Was there a threat to pull ads? What would be enough to get KTUL to tarnish their journalistic credibility, to withhold a polite dialogue on an important topic from the public?

MORE (22:45): Just spoke to Carole Lambert as she left the studio following the 10 o'clock news. Carole suggested I contact KTUL General Manager Pat Baldwin (445-9302). She was surprised at the 2 o'clock production meeting to see no reference to the debate in the rundowns for the 5 and 6 o'clock broadcasts. That was when she was told that the debate would not air -- no explanation given. It was only when she was on the phone with me that her producer gave her the official explanation. She did mention that her husband, watching the debate when it aired previously, noticed occasions when the beginnings of questions were cut off because the sound wasn't brought up quickly enough for a given microphone. So you run a crawl disclaiming the production values -- the point is the information being presented, not how slick it looks. Right?

UPDATE (9/3/2003, 13:30) -- Just got off the phone with KTUL General Manager Pat Baldwin. The conversation started with him on the offensive, claiming KTUL had no obligation to air the debate, had made no commitment, had no obligation to notify anyone of the change in plans, and he didn't owe anyone an apology.

He repeated the claim that there was a production values problem, although he had not personally seen the tape or the debate. He said they normally use five cameras, 47 only used three, and they didn't have the material to repackage the debate the way they would like. The problem was not with the tape itself. He claimed there was another reason for cancelling the debate -- the possibility that Todd Huston's lawsuit challenging two of the four ballot items might prevail. He said that because the original KTUL debate had to be cancelled (because the vote yes people claimed a schedule conflict), and the KWHB debate was moved (from the 21st to the 29th, again because the vote yes people had a schedule conflict), and the production quality (not slick enough), and the possibility that the lawsuit would affect two of the ballot items -- he just decided that he'd had enough and to forget about the whole thing.

In the course of the conversation he mentioned that he is on the board of the Tulsa Metro Chamber. But he assured me that no one pressured him into cancelling the debate.

He said he would consider airing the debate at another time. Perhaps some encouragement would help.

UPDATE (9/4/03, 11:30): Pat Baldwin called again. He says I mischaracterized what he said about his relationship with vote yes marketeer David Littlefield -- they are not "good friends", but they did go to lunch and have spoken at various events as they're in related businesses. I'm sorry for misunderstanding, and I've made the correction above.

He also gave me more detail about the problems with the KWHB tape. On previous joint efforts, Channel 8 asked 47 for two things: a "clean feed" and a wide shot stationary camera. The "clean feed" (without captions and graphics) allows Channel 8 to superimpose its own graphics. The wide stationary shot allows them to cover up mistakes in direction. If the tight camera is on the wrong speaker, they can replace the shot with a wide shot. The KWHB wide camera didn't remain stationary, he said. Baldwin said Channel 47 had provided these in past joint efforts, but not this time, for whatever reason. I will try to confirm this with Channel 47 GM Bill Paddock.

I still consider these technical nitpicks. It can't be that hard to say, "We know this broadcast isn't up to our usual standards, but we feel these issues are important enough that we are going to bring this to you anyway." Substance over style.

Is the upgrade to the downtown convention center about making Tulsa competitive with other cities, or is it about making downtown Tulsa competitive with southeast Tulsa?

The existence of John Q. Hammons' Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center, at the heart of Tulsa's main commercial corridor at 71st Street & US 169, is an inconvenient fact for promoters of Proposition 3, the proposed new sales tax that includes money for a new downtown sports arena and renovations to the downtown convention center. The Renaissance's very existence contradicts several assertions made by the yea-sayers. Perhaps that's why it wasn't taken into consideration in CSL's study of the feasibility of expanding the downtown convention center.

The proponents say that Tulsa needs a facility with a ballroom at least 25,000 sq ft in size. The Renaissance Tulsa has a 28,800 sq ft ballroom.

When confronted with the $1.7 million operating deficit projected for a renovated and expanded downtown convention center, the yea-sayers say that convention centers are "loss-leaders", expected to lose money so that visitors will come and spend money around the city. But John Q. Hammons built his Convention Center with the expectation of making a profit. Motivated by profit, and guided by years of experience developing hotels, Hammons chose a location and a design and amenities that would make the Renaissance ulsa attractive to convention and meeting planners. That's the free market at work.

When plans for the hotel were first announced, Hammons was pressured by city leaders to call his facilty a "conference center", so as not to give the voters of Tulsa the impression that expansion of the downtown convention center was unnecessary, in the lead up to the "It's Tulsa's Time" vote in November 2000.

A Tulsa Whirled business article dated April 4, 2002, drew this comparison:

Conversely, about 15 miles to the southeast of downtown, a multistory atrium-style hotel with 300 guest rooms and suites plus an 80,000-square-foot convention center is scheduled for completion early next year, said Mike Craddock, vice president of Hotel Broker One.

"We're going to see the biggest hotel in Tulsa history," Craddock said of the building on 71st Street just east of U.S. 169, the Mingo Valley Expressway.

It is owned and being developed by John Q. Hammons Hotels Inc. of Springfield, Mo.

"It will compete directly with the convention center downtown," Craddock said. "New properties always do better."

The possible rivalry could reduce crowds and subsequently the amount of money spent in the downtown area, which already is suffering from layoffs at companies that have downtown operations, Brandt said.

Mike Craddock's statement about direct competition fits the results of the CSL feasibility study, which shows that the overwhelming majority of national association and business conventions and tradeshows would still be uninterested in Tulsa, even if we expand and renovate the downtown convention center. Only SMERF groups had even a plurality expressing an interest, and that appears to be the target market of the Renaissance Tulsa as well. If private companies can cater to this market and bring these groups and their money to town, does it matter if they're going downtown or to the southeast? It matters to those with an interest in downtown real estate, but it doesn't affect the bottom line for the community's economy -- jobs, spending, and tax revenues.

Stephen Goldsmith, former Mayor of Indianapolis used a "Yellow Pages" rule when considering whether government ought to perform a certain function, or leave it to the private sector. "Look at the citys Yellow Pages. If the phone book lists three companies that provide a certain service, the city probably should not be in that business, at least not exclusively."

Even if the downtown center were fully revamped, it would still be at a disadvantage to the Renaissance Tulsa. The Renaissance is walking distance to restaurants, movie theatres, a large discount and grocery store, and clothing, electronics, and office supply stores. The downtown convention center is in the middle of a big government complex, with little private enterprise for blocks. To get from the convention center to our nightclub and restaurant districts, you've got to walk at least half a mile past the jail, the homeless shelter, and the bail-bond offices (to the Brady District) or past empty parking lots and empty office buildings (to the Blue Dome District).

Perhaps the best thing to do with the convention center is privatize it -- sell it off to private investors who will make it competitive with the Renaissance. Or perhaps downtown property and hotel owners could purchase it and run it as a loss-leader to draw people downtown. But government has no business losing money (reducing the money available for basic city services) in an effort to draw business away from a private company.

Why vote no?

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NOTE: I originally published this as a special page on this site, rather than as a blog entry. To make it easier to find, on July 11, 2007, I've added it as an entry on the blog.

Why Vote No?
Against the proposed Tulsa County Sales Taxes
September 9, 2003
(alias Vision 2025)

Proposition 1: Boeing
Proposition 2: American Airlines
Proposition 3: Arena, higher ed, etc.
Proposition 4: Parks, tourist attractions, etc.
Links to other batesline.com entries

On September 9, Tulsa County residents will vote on four new sales taxes, totaling 1% for 13 years. We believe this is the wrong tax, at the wrong time, for the wrong projects.

Adding these new taxes at this time will hurt an already-suffering local economy. These new taxes increase the cost of basic necessities (food, clothing, electricity, natural gas, over-the-counter medicines), a cruel additional burden to impose on the thousands of Tulsans who are unemployed and underemployed. Tulsa's sales tax rate will become the 4th highest of the 50 largest cities in America. The tax rate in other Tulsa County cities will approach 10%. At a time when federal officials are cutting taxes to stimulate the economy, raising local taxes will undo their efforts locally.

Even if times were good, none of these projects are urgent enough to justify a tax increase. Many of these projects shouldn't be funded by sales tax at all, because they aren't sound public investments. Some of the projects are worthwhile, but they can be funded when we renew existing revenue sources like Tulsa's "third penny" sales tax. Government should live within its means instead of asking us to tighten our belts.

The proposed projects do not address our region's most urgent needs. None of the money will be used to fix the city's budget problems. None of the money will address the heart of our unemployment problem -- the loss of thousands of high-tech jobs. Laid-off computer engineers from WorldCom and other companies won't qualify for jobs as Boeing factory workers.

This package is not visionary, and it does not lay a foundation for future economic vitality or improved quality of life. It consists of corporate welfare, a twice-rejected downtown arena, and a piece of the pie for each of the suburbs. The Dialog/Visioning leadership team, a body dominated by the Chamber of Commerce and construction, hotel, and real-estate interests, did not address crucial questions about transportation, growth, demographic trends, and economic diversification.

There are also serious concerns about how the tax receipts will be managed and overseen. The tax will continue for 13 years, with no limit on the money it could raise -- a conservative estimate is $1.2 billion, over $2,000 for every Tulsa County resident. County government in Oklahoma lacks checks and balances. The county public trust can add and delete projects and spend excess funds without a vote of the people. That's why we refer to this as a billion-dollar blank check. The funding plan involves borrowing nearly all the money up front and paying it back over 13 years -- an approach that could cost taxpayers $200 million in interest.

No plan is perfect. And we have to do something, don't we?

Tulsa has lost a lot of jobs -- 27,000 over a two-year period. All the more reason that we shouldn't just do something. We need to do something effective. When I'm sick, I don't just want a doctor to do something, and I don't just want him to deal with symptoms. I want him to apply his diagnostic skills to identify and address the root problem. This package doesn't fix Tulsa's "symptoms" -- our current recession -- nor does it lay a foundation for sustainable economic development and future prosperity.

Tulsa County residents have invested well over a billion dollars for capital improvements over the last 10 years -- money for education and quality of life, as well as basic infrastructure -- public schools, higher education, downtown improvements, museums, convention and performing arts facilities, parks. We should be proud of what we've accomplished, and we should expect our government leaders to make better use of the tax dollars they already get from us.

Where can I learn more?

On the web, go to www.batesline.com for extended commentary on this sales tax proposal and the vision process. If you have further questions, e-mail Michael Bates at blog at batesline dot com.

A sample ballot and the official ballot resolutions are online at www.tulsacounty.org

Why vote NO on Proposition 1 (0.4% for Boeing)?

This proposition invests your tax dollars in a troubled company in a troubled industry. It puts all our eggs in one basket. Tulsa's economy is already too dependent on commercial aviation, which is in a slump from which it will not soon emerge. It does nothing to address the need for high-tech jobs, which make up the bulk of the jobs we've lost over the last two years. It is a shortsighted approach to economic development: We can't afford to buy all the jobs we need at the rate of $350,000 per job. Instead we need to make Tulsa a better environment to start and grow businesses. And because of a loophole in the ballot, the full amount of the tax could be imposed (over $400 million) even if just a handful of 7E7-related jobs are located here. Oklahoma already offers incentives to companies that create new jobs in our state.

Relevant articles on batesline.com

All our eggs in the aerospace basket

Boeing to cut 4000 airplane jobs
High-tech underemployment
Dilbert on corporate welfare
Is Tulsa's port deep enough?
Nordam adds jobs -- cost to taxpayers = $0
Regain technology jobs? "I have no idea"
North Carolina built it -- and no one came
Boeing puts squeeze on states in search of corporate welfare
Business Reform looks at Tulsa's corporate welfare bid

External sites
Seattle Times -- 7E7 story archive

Why vote NO on Proposition 2
(0.025% for American Airlines)?

American Airlines' long-time and significant presence in Tulsa is worthy of our appreciation, and the City of Tulsa has already demonstrated appreciation by approving $8 million in assistance earlier this summer, in the form of capital improvements and rate cuts that will help other industries as well. American Airlines is already eligible for millions in state incentives if they add jobs here. AA hasn't threatened to leave if we don't vote to pay them this extra $22.3 million, nor have they promised to add jobs or rollback concessions if we do.

Simply giving money to a specific company is unfair to the many other companies who stay here and create new jobs here. Many AA employees feel they've already paid enough for the mistakes of management, through drastic wage and benefit concessions. AA workers look at wasteful corporate spending on executive bonuses and sports arena naming rights (over $200 million for arenas in Miami and Dallas) and ask why they should pay higher taxes to give their bosses more money to throw away.

Relevant articles on batesline.com

A hopeful sign
Kansas City's risky offer to AA
What we've already done for American Airlines

Why vote NO on Proposition 3
(0.4% for arenas / convention center / education / Morton Healthcare center)?

Most of this money ($183 million) will be spent on a new 20,000-seat downtown sports arena and downtown convention center expansion, facilities that have already been rejected twice by the voters. Feasibility studies show that these facilities will not attract many big-name concerts or major conventions, and instead will cost the city millions of dollars each year to operate and maintain. That reduces the amount of money the City has for funding police and fire protection, street maintenance, and other necessities. The facilities would put government in competition with local private businesses for entertainment and convention dollars.

The education projects were added to this package in a cynical attempt to get the twice-rejected arena passed. In order to get $8 million for a new TCC facility, you have to vote for over $400 million in new taxes -- that's like having to pay for a big-screen TV just to buy a gallon of milk. Tulsa County voters should say no to this package and tell the County Commissioners to try it again, the right way: Give us a chance to vote for higher education facilities alone.

In the meantime, Tulsa's leaders should push state government to give Tulsa County our fair share of money for higher education facilities. Stillwater and Norman don't have to raise their own taxes for facilities at OSU and OU. Tulsa County residents have already paid millions for campuses and facilities -- we shouldn't have to pay more.

The amount of common education money in this package amounts to $8 per pupil per year -- not enough to buy a ticket to a hockey game at the downtown arena.

Relevant articles on batesline.com

Private enterprise and major entertainment venues

Bricktown's Magic
A millstone by any other name would sink as fast
A collection of Convention Center criticism
Has the secret agenda been revealed?
Tired old thinking is hard to shake
How to improve the convention center without building a new arena
Whirled-class whiners
Convention cutbacks
Not partisanship but principle

Stealth sports arena
Is a new sports arena a need or a desire?
Public hearing intentionally omitted?
Vote yes strategem #1: Tell them something bad about Tulsa
That exciting Oklahoma City arena
No exciting concerts and no big conventions in OKC
If we fix up our convention center, they still won't come
The cargo cult approach to economic development

Why vote NO on Proposition 4
(0.175% for roads, community centers, parks, tourist attractions)?

This proposition includes many worthwhile projects, but none of them are urgent enough to justify a tax increase. On September 9th, we won't be voting on whether we like these projects. We'll be voting on whether we want to raise taxes now because we need them right now. These are the same sort of projects we've funded in the past through temporary sales taxes and bond issues. These projects should be considered as part of the long-term capital improvements process, and included as appropriate in the City of Tulsa's bond issue next year, or in the renewal of sales taxes like "4 to Fix the County" and the City of Tulsa "third penny" in 2006. If any of these projects are truly urgent, our city and county leaders should rearrange current spending priorities to accommodate them.

Relevant articles on batesline.com
The station you used to listen to for news
No federal money for river

Route 66 -- what's in the plan?

Links to other batesline.com articles

About real vision:

My "no" vote is pro-Tulsa
What Tulsa should be doing: Developing venture capital

Will Tulsa's next big idea come from a committee?
Most important considerations in planning Tulsa's future
Opportunity Cost: The Danger of Doing Something Rather Than Nothing
A billion dollars but nothing to fix I-44
Terry Simonson on the economic recovery and the sales tax
Kevin Adams: The Tulsa Time Blues
Wanted: Visionaries -- not a vision
"Vision 2025" isn't forward thinking
TulsaNow speaks on the sales tax election

About economic development:

CITGO going, gone?
Buy local: Hire Tulsa's top talent
MAPS no vaccine against slump
Tulsans have invested billions
Small business drives our economy
What would Joel do?

About taxes and governance:

The Stacked Deck
Vote yes myth: County commissioners cancelled Whirlpool tax early
Jim Hewgley discusses the fiscal case: Why Vision 2025 is myopic
The low-income apartment mess: A reason not to trust Tulsa County government
The impact of high sales taxes -- a local case study
Mayor, Chamber of Commerce to lead sales tax opposition

About downtown:

Wi-Fi as a tool for downtown redevelopment
The view from a seven-year downtown resident
Comments about Atlanta's downtown failures and Tulsa's proposed arena
How NOT to revitalize downtown -- learning from Atlanta
Envisioning Elgin as the new Main Street
Where's the music in downtown?
Whirled needs correction about Solow's views on the mall

About the ballot's constitutionality:

Is the ballot constitutional?
Lawsuit details

About the campaign, debates:

A straw man is easy to knock down
Truth in Whirled headlines
Young Republicans debate; Whirled gets it wrong (again)

Tulsa Now forum
Debate dodging
Whom do you trust?
Whirled in overdrive
$877 million "Vision" plan unveiled
Will the vision process be derailed?

Vision blurry?
"Vision 2025" broadcast debates

Tuesday, September 2, 12:30 pm,
KRMG (AM 740)

Thursday, September 4, 8 pm,
KOKI (Cable 5, UHF 23)

Replays of the August 29th KWHB debate:

Monday, September 1, 7 pm,
KWHB (Cable 7, UHF 47)

Tuesday, September 2, 7 pm,
KTUL (Channel 8)

Thursday, September 4, 8 pm,
KWHB (Cable 7, UHF 47)

Monday, September 8, 7:30 pm,
KWHB (Cable 7, UHF 47)

Oppose the
billion-dollar blank check!
No new taxes!

To stop the sales tax increases, your help is vital!
To donate, mail a check to:
Tulsa County Coalition / Jim Hewgley
3130 S Quaker Rd
Tulsa OK 74105
For a sign or to volunteer, e-mail voteno2025@usa.com

or call 836-0142

Another visionary proposal, ignored


The politicians keep saying that this September 9th tax vote is the culmination of a grass-roots driven "visioning" process. But a comprehensive, strategic plan -- promised as an outcome of the visioning process -- was never completed. The only ideas given a hearing before the "leadership team" were those that required taxpayer funding -- specifically items that could be lumped into a sales tax vote. Reforms, private initiatives, and public-private partnerships were ignored if they weren't expensive.

A reader writes with an example of an idea that is inexpensive, was submitted by a credible organization, addresses a strategic need, would improve the quality of life for many Tulsans, and would even make the politicians look good -- and it was completely ignored.

[Habitat for Humanity] submitted to INCOG one of... those ideas for what Tulsa could do between now and 2025 to be a better place...

Basically, here's what I proposed on behalf of Habitat for Humanity:

- Eliminate poverty housing and provide a safe, decent, and affordable home
for every Tulsan.

- Requiring no new government funding.

- Requiring virtually no new government resources.

- Funded through existing entities (both privately and government funded)
such as Habitat, Tulsa CAP, HUD, etc.

- The main emphasis would be on taking an existing program hosted through
the Mayors office (HOT - Home Ownership Tulsa) and use it to coordinate the
efforts of these existing entities with their existing funding mechanisms to
wipe out the blight of homelessness, sub-standard housing, and slum lordism
from our city.

- The multi-faceted benefits of home ownership are well documented. Families with a safe and affordable home do better in their jobs, their children do better in school, and they are better citizens.

- Home ownership isn't the right answer for everyone (e.g. the elderly and
infirm), so the plan also included safe, decent, and affordable housing
alternatives for these segments.

We tried to hand the local politicians a gift on a silver platter. Slightly redirect a current effort (focused on "home ownership" - now focus it on providing a safe, decent, and affordable home for every Tulsan), don't need to raise any additional taxes, but be able to claim an incredible victory for our city that few others have been able to match.

I never even heard a response to my proposal. I read in the Whirled (before
I cancelled my subscription) that there were meetings where people were presenting their proposals to the Vision 2025 folks - I was never invited...

Oh well...

One of the defects of the convention center feasibility study done by Conventions, Sports, and Leisure, International, for the City of Tulsa, is that their data for convention industry trends stopped in mid-2001, before September 11, and the related upheaval to the travel industry and the economy at large. Here's some information to fill in that gap. Convene's annual Meeting Market Survey for 2003 is on the web, and it paints a bleak picture for meeting planners. Budgets for organizing expositions and conventions are down, as are budgets for attending such events.

Corporations, though, did not cooperate, as they cut back on exhibits, attending personnel, and sponsorships. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and resulting travel limitations by corporations softened exhibition attendance considerably in the fourth quarter of 2001. That continued in 2002, as 57 percent of planners recorded a decrease or no change in their largest conventions attendance. And the average number of individual exhibitors reserving space in the largest 2002 expositions was 194, down nearly 10 percent from 215.2 in last years survey. The size of an associations largest exposition took a particularly hard hit. Net square footage dropped 18 percent, from 98,750 in 2001 to 80,750 in 2002. Drilling down into the numbers uncovers some important differences among associations.

Note that both those square footage numbers are smaller than the 100,000 sq ft exhibit space (not counting meeting rooms, etc.) at Tulsa's downtown Convention Center.

The article goes on to say that attendance is falling in most categories (medical continuing education being an exception -- and those meetings are almost always in resort locations). SMERF meetings (social, military, educational, religious, and fraternal organizations) saw their attendance drop by 5%. SMERF is the only category of national meeting for which a plurality of planners expressed any interest in meeting in an updated and expanded downtown Tulsa Convention Center.

It's interesting to see how dependent some of these organizations are on meeting and convention income -- 37% in the case of trade associations. It's vital to these organizations to generate a big turnout. The most sure way to get a good turnout is to have a large group of potential attendees living near the convention site or else to have a convention site that attendees really want to visit -- major tourist destinations and resorts. Facilities aren't enough to make a meeting a success.

Here's another interesting report, which says that U.S. meeting planners will only hold 7% of their events at convention centers, but 75% will be held at city, resort, and airport hotels.

A reader writes:

Give me 2 things the City should do instead of Vision 2025 (if it should do anything), and explain how those 2 things would be funded.

Here are a few of my ideas:

(1) A Tulsa venture capital fund, something I am told we lack, and it's hurting our ability to create new jobs. This would be funded and managed privately, set up with the purpose of helping innovative ideas get off the ground here in Tulsa. I would hope our elected officials would use their "bully pulpits" to promote the idea, and encourage Tulsans who invest around the country and around the world, to invest in Tulsa as well. I could even imagine small investors participating. Cost to taxpayers -- zero -- unless the legislature would provide some tax benefit for investing in funds of this type, which might be a good idea.

(2) Coupled with that -- put some energy into and bring attention to "Tulsa's Top Talent" -- the effort to keep laid off high-tech workers in Tulsa by helping match their skills to business needs. A start's been made, but there are very few participants thus far.

(3) Begin now to prepare for the upcoming legislative session, work with OKC Mayor Humphreys and the mayors of our larger cities, and build support in the legislature for reforms to make Oklahoma a more attractive place to start and grow a business. No extra cost here -- the Mayor just needs to redirect his attention away from convincing us to raise our own taxes, and focus his energy and political capital on our state leaders.

(4) Fund some of the "community enrichment" projects as part of the next city bond issue (2004), third-penny sales tax (2006), or "4 to fix the county" (also 2006), when we'll be voting to renew existing taxes, not raising them. Again, no extra money from the taxpayers.

(5) Implement the recommendations of the Mayor's Performance Review, and continue the process to cover the entirety of city government. There may be some up-front costs, but the result will be long term savings and greater customer satisfaction. The process has been privately funded, and if the Mayor actually implements the recommendations, donors may be willing to continue the process.

(6) Fire the Chamber of Commerce. We've been paying them to do economic development and convention and tourism promotion -- over $60 million in hotel/motel tax dollars since 1987. They haven't done much for us. Their head of economic development says he has no idea how to grow high-tech jobs in Tulsa. This money was earmarked originally for construction, upkeep, and improvements to the convention center, but the Chamber convinced then-Mayor Dick Crawford to give them half of it. In contrast, Omaha allocates hotel/motel funds to pay directly for improvements to local tourist attractions.

How's that for a start?

An observant reader sent along an insightful opinion column from the Whirled archives. The writer of the column cites experts and studies showing that big corporate bribes, like the proposed cash payment and zero-interest loan to Boeing, don't pay off for cities.

This writer believes that over $100,000 per job is "out of hand". I wonder what he would think of $350,000 per job that we're offering to Boeing.

He doesn't pussyfoot around -- he calls these payments "bribes". And he quotes various studies that show that these bribes don't have any positive economic impact, but instead hurts the cities and states that play this game.

The writer rightly praises Oklahoma's Quality Jobs Program, which evenhandedly rewards companies for actual job creation. And he is correct to say that building a sound economy is a long process, not an event, a process that flows out of the health of the community. Our community was attractive enough to attract Whirlpool -- and since Whirlpool came, Tulsa County residents have invested well over $1 billion dollars in capital improvements, including improvements to our schools, higher education facilities, and civic amenities like libraries, the Performing Arts Center, the Zoo, Gilcrease, parks, trails, and the Convention Center.

This is a rich mine of quotes -- I've highlighted my favorites in boldface. Note that Micron was playing the field in 1995 the way Boeing is today. The decision was already made, but the competition allowed Micron to wring more cash and concessions from their pre-selected location.

I wonder what this Ken Neal fellow is doing these days. Is it the same fellow who writes in today's paper that raising our sales taxes will lower our property taxes? Can't be!

The Highest Bidder // When Will States, Cities Stop Bribing Companies?
Ken Neal

Oklahoma lost Micron Technologies to Utah. Well, that's not quite right. Despite the fact that Oklahoma City was one of the three "finalists" for a 3,500-employee computer-related plant, it appears in retrospect that Micron was probably headed for Utah all along.

Like a pretty girl after her man, Micron appears to have used Oklahoma and Nebraska to make Utah jealous. At least jealous enough to match the incentives offered by the two Plains states.

Gov. Frank Keating said the Micron folks were "yuppies" who liked their mountains. With the original operation in Boise, Idaho, Utah was a likely shift. And, other Oklahomans close to the negotiations believe that the Mormon roots of Micron executives naturally tilted them toward the Salt Lake City-Provo area, world headquarters of Mormonism.

Whatever the real reasons, the Micron case brings into question the competition between the states (and cities) for new industry.

The competition has gotten out of hand. That opinion is shared by many, usually professional economists and public policy analysts. And public officials, particularly governors, are fed up with trying to bribe business and industries and watching the size of the bribes go higher and higher. Incentives per job landed were in the range of $11,000 a decade ago; now Alabama has bid about $253 million, more than $100,000 a job, for a Mercedes auto plant.

Dr. Bernard L. Weinstein, director of the Center for Economic Development and Resources at the University of North Texas in Denton, challenges the smokestack chase in an article written for Southern Growth, a publication of the Southern Growth Policies Board.

"More than three decades of research and case studies have shown that the impact of state and local fiscal incentives on industrial location decisions is minimal at best, and a number of public policy groups have roundly condemned the practice."

Dr. Weinstein cited a 1967 conclusion by the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations that "the practice of making special tax concessions to new industry can have baneful effects by setting in motion a self-defeating cycle of competitive tax undercutting and irrational discrimination among business firms." In 1989, the Council of State Governments found no statistical evidence that business incentives actually create jobs or that fiscal inducements are a primary factor in business location decision-making. In 1993, the National Governors' Association approved a resolution stating that "the public and private sectors should undertake cooperative efforts that result in improvements to the general economic climate rather than focus on subsidies for individual projects or companies."

Says Dr. Weinstein: "The fiction abounds that those locales most inclined to give away tax base, or otherwise financially subsidize new industry, will somehow be viewed as offering the best climates."

The nation's governors urge that "competition among states should be judged on factors such as improvements in education, transportation and telecommunications, stable fiscal conditions, equitable tax policies, business regulations and the provision of quality public services."

Tulsa -- and Oklahoma -- have not gone overboard in the smokestack race. In general, the approach has been to follow the advice of the nation's governors to make the city and the state desirable places to live and so attract business and industry. More important, the courtship of newcomers has not detracted from the need to treat existing industries -- some of them old corporate citizens -- as the valuable assets they are. One analyst has likened the industry chase to a homeowner who steals his neighbor's green grass. It's far better to water and fertilize and grow one's own lawn than to steal someone else's.

Oklahoma's Quality Jobs program is recognized as the nation's pacesetter. It pays companies to bring or expand payrolls, but only as the jobs are brought into being. There is no gamble on the part of the state, and native companies are entitled to participate. Other tax incentives give Oklahoma as good an incentive plan -- short of outright cash -- as any state.

In the sole instance in which Tulsa taxpayers are paying for an industry -- the Whirlpool plant -- the city appears to have grabbed a winner. The Whirlpool plant was the biggest manufacturing plum in the nation last year and Tulsa got it. Already, several smaller companies are planning to relocate to Tulsa to supply parts and services for Whirlpool.

Yet, Whirlpool probably will be a rarity for Tulsans. Local officials would not have asked voters to levy a half-cent sales tax to raise $26 million for the Whirlpool plant here if that firm had not been a blue-chip company.

On the other hand, Whirlpool executives make no bones about it. If Tulsa had not had the labor force, a central location, the educational facilities and great natural resources, the cash incentive would not have been enough to bring the company here.

The Micron episode is instructive for Oklahomans. The state and Oklahoma City laid out the range of incentives available to the company. The state's strong points were noted. Officials made the best offer the state could. They did not foolishly promise too much. That's not a bad pattern for the future. What more can be done?

Incentives are really a small part of the total economic development picture. Firm after firm, survey after survey show the same things. Companies want and need the same things that individual citizens desire: Good schools. Good technical education opportunities. A topflight higher education system.
Good roads and transportation. Recreational facilities. Social and cultural amenities. All these cost money and as well as a commitment by citizens and their leaders. Solid economic development grows out of a solid community. It is not an event, but a process.

And there's this consolation: Citizens use and enjoy the same necessities and amenities that attract and develop the economy. The tax dollars are not simply buying a payroll, but building a city.

In this week's Whirled's Satellite section, Sara Jeffries explains why this "vision" is a blurry one at best. Sara is a home-schooled junior and a hard-hitting writer. First she takes on the Mayor:

Vision 2025 is Mayor Bill LaFortune and his cronies' idea of a sales tax to boost the economy.

Un-LaFortunately, any economist worth his weight will tell you that you can't tax your way to prosperity.

The brunt of this tax burden will lie heavily on the backs of the impoverished people of Tulsa County. Why should these citizens have to pay for an arena when they probably couldn't even afford the tickets to an event there?

Why take a penny from the penniless just so the wealthy can have a fancier playground?

Mayor LaFortune, what can we as tax-paying citizens do to get you to climb down off the backs of the hardworking, low-income people of Tulsa County?

Then Sara takes on the arena:

According to a Convention, Sports and Leisure International feasibility study, Tulsa does not draw from a sufficient population to support a large arena.

"Promoters were skeptical of a new arena's ability to draw incremental events to the marketplace. A few promoters thought that the Mabee Center (11,575 seats) is as large a facility as the Tulsa marketplace can support," stated the CSL feasibility study.

"Promoters believed that to differentiate itself, a new arena facility would have to be larger than any of the existing facilities, but they thought major concerts would still skip the Tulsa market since the market probably is not large enough to support that size of facility."

If this arena is going to be such a success, then why haven't private investors built one? Investors are always looking for a good, sound, money-making project.

She goes on to tackle the river, the American Airlines and Boeing deals, and the "higher ed free-for-all", and closes with this:

More, more, more! Why, why, why? What does it all mean?

I'll tell you what it means. It means that the mayor and a handful of chamber members are digging deep into our pockets for their quixotic projects. Not only that, but they're trying to lay a guilt trip on citizens who are carefully questioning this prolonged money grab.

I urge all citizens of Tulsa County to stand up and fight against this fiscal fallacy, a.k.a. Vision 2025.

Wow. Go read it all.

Debates today and tonight


Tulsa County Republican Men's Club is hosting a debate at the Fountains Restaurant today at 11:45 am. (Lunch buffet is $8.) Jim Hewgley will be speaking in favor of sound economic policy and common sense; Mayor LaFortune will be speaking in opposition.

Tonight at 8 pm on KWHB (cable channel 7, UHF channel 47 for those with rabbit ears), there will be a debate between myself and former County Assessor Jack Gordon (again speaking on behalf of sound policy and common sense), and Mayor LaFortune and his aide Karen Keith speaking in opposition. Bob Losure will moderate, and the panelists will be William Tisdale, Bill Paddock (KWHB general manager), Henry Primeaux (owner of Crown Bristow), and Carole Lambert of KTUL. Charles Biggs of the Tulsa Beacon, and former Councilor Todd Huston, who hosts a radio show on KCFO, were originally scheduled to be on the panel, but they were dropped. (UPDATE: Charlie Biggs was added back in -- see below.)

William Tisdale is an interesting choice. He's a fine person -- I met him when he was working for Carlton Pearson's mayoral campaign -- and he is clearly on the vote yes side. In fact, William is in a video for the vote yes campaign, which you can find on their website. (Here's a direct link to the QuickTime version of the video.)

I don't know for certain about the positions of the other three panelists, although Henry Primeaux was an enthusiastic supporter of the Tulsa Project and Tulsa Time, and I would guess that he backs the Billion-Dollar Blank Check, too. (If you know for certain that he or the other panelists have taken a public stand, please e-mail me with the information -- blog at batesline dot com.) Interesting that two people who have asked tough questions about the tax package have been dropped from the panel.

Tune in tonight, and we'll see if this panel serves up softballs to the Mayor and his assistant, or if they ask tough questions of both sides, to the edification of the public.

UPDATE: In the end, Charlie Biggs was added back to the panel, and all the panelists asked good questions that gave us jumping off points for discussing the issues. The format -- response from one side, response from the other, rebuttal from the first side -- allowed for some give and take, and made it a real debate. My thanks to Bill Paddock and KWHB for making this event come to pass. Thanks to Bob Losure and the panelists. Thanks to my debate partner, Jack Gordon, who did a great job. And thanks also to Bill LaFortune and Karen Keith for making a debate possible by showing up.

One more item: Henry Primeaux mentioned that he's got a lot of concerns about this proposal and is still undecided.

If you missed it, here's the replay schedule:

Monday, September 1, 7 pm, KWHB (UHF channel 47, Cox cable channel 7)

Tuesday, September 2, 7 pm, KTUL (Channel 8)

Thursday, September 4, 8 pm, KWHB (UHF channel 47, Cox cable channel 7)

Monday, September 8, 7:30 pm, KWHB (UHF channel 47, Cox cable channel 7)

Lawsuit details


Updated 2015/10/27 to fix special characters that were substituted for quotation marks and other symbols and to add a note that an address embedded in the text of the brief is no longer current.

Todd Huston was kind enough to send me the brief that was filed in support of his lawsuit regarding the September 9 sales tax election. You can follow the link at the end of this entry to read the whole thing. Todd cautions that it's substantially, but not exactly what was filed -- a couple of words changed here and there.

Contrary to the Whirled's hysterical editorial this morning, the lawsuit does not insist on breaking up the ballot project-by-project, but rather subject-by-subject, as required by the State Constitution, Article 5, Section 57. The brief examines the list of projects in propositions 3 and 4, using section 8 of each ballot resolution.

Proposition 3 has 9 projects listed; the brief sees those as five subjects: Expo Square improvements, the Convention Center and Arena, facilities for higher education, instructional materials for public schools, and construction of a new Morton Healthcare Center.

Proposition 4 has 26 projects listed. The brief sees these as falling into 12 subjects: community centers & pools, Mohawk Park/Air and Space Center, trails, Arkansas River improvements, road and bridge improvements, paying off some of the Aquarium's debt, building a Jazz Hall of Fame, downtowns & neighborhoods fund, flood prevention, infrastructure for Owasso medical complex, Sand Springs urban renewal, infrastructure for Indian Cultural Center.

One more thing to notice, under item D -- the summary of the 1995 Weinberg case:

A previous attempt to "logroll" the voting citizens of Tulsa County was thwarted in Weinberg vs. Board of County Commissioners, Tulsa County District Court Case No. CJ 95-2761. In Weinberg, the Tulsa County voters were faced with a ballot that sought to pass, in a single proposition, the funding to not only construct a county jail, but to also fund "early intervention and delinquency prevention programs." The ballot was invalidated under the Single Subject Rule and the ballot had to be redrafted because it was "very conceivable that many voters would favor the jail portion of the proposal but oppose the expenditure of funds for intervention and delinquency prevention programs; it is also conceivable that voters would favor the "social programs" portion but be unwilling to support the jail proposition." (See Order dated June 29, 1995, Weinberg vs. Board of County Commissioners, attached hereto as Exhibit "D"). The broad theme of "criminal justice" did not pass the "common, closely akin theme or purpose" test in Weinberg.

And here's the summary of the case against Propositions 3 and 4:

Propositions 3 and 4 on the subject ballot are defining examples of logrolling. Each Proposition represents a grouping of multiple projects aimed at each of the various voting groups/communities in the county. The intent is clear and obvious: throw enough money at each of the voting blocks to ensure passage of a group of unrelated projects that may not pass if each individual project were considered separately. The lack of a common, closely akin theme or purpose is clear when you compare a new convention center to school books or a new public health center to Expo Square or building facilities for state colleges. Similarly, Route 66 improvements are not germane to a water line in Owasso. The Jazz Hall of Fame has nothing to do with the Zink Lake shore beautification. As was the case in Weinberg, it is clearly conceivable that there are voters who will want to vote in favor of some of the projects listed in Proposition No. 3 but to oppose other projects listed in the same Proposition. The same is true of Proposition No. 4. The Plaintiff and all Tulsa County voters deserve to be able to make the kind of choices that were intended by the drafters of Oklahoma Constitution Article 5, Section 57.

There's a conference set for Tuesday to determine how the case will proceed.

Is the ballot constitutional?


Just now getting a minute to write about this, this being the lawsuit filed by former City Councilor Todd Huston challenging the constitutionality of the September 9th county sales tax ballot. I saw the story in the Whirled this morning, and I called Todd around midday, and he gave me a few more details. He said the intent of the suit was not to stop the election but to have it move forward with a ballot that is constitutional. The suit targets propositions 3 and 4.

The issue at stake is the anti-logrolling provision of the Oklahoma state constitution. Logrolling is the practice of combining unpopular items with unrelated popular items in an attempt to get the unpopular items approved. That definition accurately spells out the rationale for including higher and common education in a package that includes the twice-rejected downtown sports arena. Originally the same ballot item would have included money for American Airlines, but there was an effort (supported by several city councilors) to make the AA item and higher ed separate from the arena. Some of the Chamber Pots on the leadership team claimed that AA's executives wanted to be tied to the arena, but a phone call to AA soon exposed that fib.

In the end, AA was split off, but higher ed remained attached. I was told at the time that a number of business leaders threatened to withhold funds for the vote yes campaign if the arena was made to stand on its own.

There was a lawsuit in 1995 regarding an election for a 1/2 cent sales tax to build the new Tulsa County Jail and fund crime prevention programs. The judge ruled for the plaintiff, effectively cancelling the election and forcing the County Commission to schedule a new election, this time with the issues separated. In the rescheduled election, the crime prevention program funding failed, while the jail tax passed, which is why our sales tax rate is 7 and 11/12ths percent, rather than a full 8. The issues in that case were closely related to each other, especially compared with a ballot item that links an arena and a health care center. The judge in that case, Jane Wiseman, has been assigned this case as well.

In 2000, the County Commission was very careful to group "4 to Fix the County" by subject in four separate ballot items: Parks, Flood Prevention, Roads, and Expo Square. I recall Commissioner Wilbert Collins saying at the time that they'd have preferred a single ballot item, but the law required the split.

Here's what I think happened this time: After the leadership team got done with their horsetrading, the County Commissioners took the four-item proposal, gave it to the lawyers, and told them that the groupings are set in stone -- make it work. The lawyers must have worked hard, because they didn't have the ballot resolutions ready for the Commissioners to review until an hour before their meeting on July 7. The lawyers took the approach of using vague headings to cover all the items in propositions 3 and 4 -- "economic development" and "infrastructure".

As someone who worked hard publically and behind the scenes for a logical ballot that gives voters meaningful choices, I'm happy to see that voters may actually be given the ballot they deserve. Not only is it the right thing to do, it appears that it's the law.

P.S. Thanks to the 300-plus visitors to my site today. Sorry I didn't have anything new for you to read until now!

Friday afternoon, I taped an interview for "Studio Tulsa", an interview program on KWGS, FM 89.5, the local NPR affiliate. It runs daily from 11:30 to noon. My interview is scheduled to run Monday or Tuesday. The show website should be updated tomorrow morning with the list of this week's shows. If you can't pick up 89.5 over the airwaves, you can listen via the web.

Rich Fisher is the host of "Studio Tulsa", and he does a great job of setting his subject at ease. Like Brian Lamb on C-SPAN, Rich doesn't put himself front and center. He proceeds on the assumption that his guest has something interesting to say. He doesn't try to debate the guest but asks the questions an intelligent listener would want to ask, then gives the guest time to answer.

My half-hour behind the mike was relaxed and enjoyable, and I hope it comes across as well as it seemed to be going while the tape was rolling. Thanks to Rich Fisher and KWGS for the opportunity.

Harry Seay III has a guest editorial in today's Whirled in which he conducts a mock debate with imaginary opponents to Myopia 2025. The piece is beautifully written, but it's apparent that he hasn't had any contact with actual opponents.

He divides opponents into hardcode "aginners", whom he dismisses out of hand, purists, defeatists, tax protesters, and refined defeatists. For the remaining four cases, he puts words in the mouths of the opposition and proceeds to refute them. Here's an example:

Defeatists say Tulsa is on the skids and efforts to prepare for tomorrow are futile. Go back to sleep; the tooth fairy may bring us a shiny new industry.

But industry doesn't fall to earth like the dew or come here for the climate. It looks for communities with civic integrity and ambition, qualities that have defined Tulsa and are with us today unless counsels of helplessness, which in our own lives we shun, extinguish the flame.

The only counsels of helplessness I hear are coming from the proponents of this package. "The free market doesn't work! We must give a billion dollars to the County Commissioners! They will save us!" Likewise, belief in the jobs fairy is at the heart of this sales tax plan. The proponents can't tell us how this package will recover the thousands of high-tech jobs lost in the failures of WorldCom and Williams and other tech companies, but they are certain that wonderful things will magically happen if we just do something.

Tulsa is certainly not helpless, and the opponents to this tax package have been making constructive recommendations for improving Tulsa's economy. State government reforms are needed to make Oklahoma a good state for starting and growing a business. A CPA friend has advised Oklahoma to look to Delaware -- cut tax rates, streamline government procedures and businesses will come flocking. Locally, city government needs to implement the recommendations of the Mayor's performance review, and the review process needs to be continued to cover all areas of local government (including the county and suburban municipalities).

A couple of ideas need public leadership and private money: First, we need a local pool of venture capital to help local entrepreneurs get their creative ideas off the ground. Second, Tulsa has a pool of highly talented knowledge workers in the ranks of the unemployed and we need to provide assistance to keep them here -- private donations and assistance with job networking can help keep them from moving to Texas.

Industry doesn't fall from the sky. It starts with the seed of an idea and some seed money. We can pay big bucks to transplant industry from somewhere else, and hope the transplant works, or we can water and feed the tender seedlings that are already growing here, and grow a diversity of businesses, adapted to local conditions, able to withstand times of drought.

Mr. Seay goes on to deny that Tulsans are over-taxed. Mr. Seay may not feel overtaxed, and this tax may be pocket change for him, but for most Tulsa families, $8,000 is a lot of money, especially when budgets are already tight.

As an attorney, Mr. Seay knows that it would be easy to win a court case if the counsel for the other side was just an expensive pinstriped suit stuffed with hay and straw. A real trial involves skilled advocates on both sides, each presenting evidence and testimony, each cross-examining the evidence of the other. The public deserves such a full debate, not just setting up a straw man and knocking him down.

[Seay is pronounced "see", and I was very tempted to headline this entry "Seay III, PO-ed". But that would have been silly.]

Another note: The Republican and Democratic County Chairmen submitted a precedent-setting joint letter rebutting the Tulsa Whirled editorial attack on the parties' neutral stance. The Whirled has refused to run it, citing length as an objection. The Whirled could have run their letter as a "Readers' Forum" piece, like this column, but they chose not to do so.

Truth in Whirled headlines


It was refreshing to see the Whirled publish (on Tuesday, August 19) an editorial with a headline warning the reader that the text beneath was misleading and full of distortions. There it was, bold as brass at the beginning of the editorial column: "Not so." And indeed, most of what followed was not so.

Perhaps truth in headlining will become standard practice at the Whirled: "Has-been humorist" would appear next to Jay Cronley's photo.

The Whirled was accusing former County Assessor Jack Gordon of making "claims that should not go unchallenged." But the Whirled doesn't challenge his facts at all. They make counterclaims without providing any substantiation, and in one case they affirm what he said, but do so in a way that looks like contradiction.

Here's their first challenge:

For example, he criticized the size of the $885 million package, claiming it will "cost us $200 million in interest alone." In fact, officials estimate that a likely interest cost for advance-funding projects is about 5 percent -- or something in the neighborhood of $50 million. What's more, there's a good chance of earning investment income in that same neighborhood, which means debt service and in terest earnings might be a wash.

The Whirled offers no substantiation beyond "officials estimate". Jack Gordon's estimate is based on a 3.75% interest rate and the fact that the bulk of the projects will be funded within the first year -- Boeing, American, the arena, the higher ed projects, and several projects in prop 4. So we'll be borrowing over $700 million right away and paying it back over the next 13 years. We'll borrow the remaining $175 million within the first three years -- they won't make the suburbs wait for their shares, will they?

I tried this myself with these assumptions -- $700 million initial principal, another $100 million after year one, another $50 million after year two, and the remaining $35 million after year three. Payments starting at $38.5 million semi-annually (based on current tax revenues, and growing at a 3% annual rate -- yielding $1.2 billion in revenues over 13 years), with 3.75% annual interest assessed semi-annually. And of course, I take into account Boeing's annual $12.5 million repayment beginning at the end of year 11. I come up with $217 million in interest. And I'm assuming the trust will only spend the $885 million on their list -- if they spend more, the interest will be more. If others have different estimates, let's see their assumptions.

And how does the Whirled propose we earn investment income when we're going into debt right off the bat and won't get the debt repaid until year 12?

Item two:

Gordon also claimed that "it's already been shown that there will be at least $150 million left over" for a public trust to spend. In fact, city and county officials have said the option exists for elected officials to call a halt to the new penny sales tax when funding for all projects and costs has been obtained. No one can say at this point if any surplus will ever be generated.

The Tulsa Whirled's own story on July 23rd had this to say:

Assuming no growth in sales, a 1-cent increase in the county sales tax would raise about $1,014,180,000 over its 13-year life, based on county receipts from the fiscal 2003, which ended June 30.

A 13-year, 1-cent sales tax increase would raise about $1,069,191,000, based on fiscal 2002 county sales figures.

That first, lower number is $129,180,000 above the $885,000,000 designated for projects. The second number, which still assumes no growth in sales, but uses a different baseline, is $184,191,000 above the designated project amount.

The fact that officials have the option to call a halt to the tax is not reassuring. Taxes only go away when they are required to -- as the Whirlpool tax did, when the designated dollar amount was raised. If they were committed to terminating the tax when the money was raised, they could have written a limit into the tax. But they chose not to do so. The only limit is 13 years.

Here's their third slap. They state exactly what Jack Gordon has been saying, but make it sound like they are contradicting him.

The former assessor declares that there is no guarantee that construction jobs will be given to local or state companies. In fact, resolutions call for local vendor preference when possible in accordance with state law. But as Gordon should know, state and local laws require competitive bidding and contractor selection based on the lowest and best bid.

The last sentence is precisely the point: State laws require the county to select the lowest and best bid. Counties can only do what state law explicitly authorizes them to do. They do not have the discretion to give bonus points to local businesses. Local businesses might win the bid, but they have no special advantage, and there is no guarantee that a local business will be selected. It's disingenuous to point to the line in the resolution ("to the extent permitted by law") because the extent permitted by law is not at all.

The Whirled closes by expressing confidence in the common sense of Tulsa's voters:

Let's hope voters, who have shown remarkable common sense over the years, can distinguish the public figures spouting the half-truths from those trying to tell voters what they really want to know and should know. Our bet is they can tell the difference.

The "vote no" team is betting that the voters' common sense will prevail on September 9th, just as it did in 1997 and 2000, when voters saw through expensive marketing campaigns to reject sales taxes for sports arenas.

They pledged to oppose tax hikes


Someone called my attention to this list of legislators who have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. The pledge reads as follows:

I, ____________, pledge to the taxpayers of the _____ District of the State of _________ and to all the people of this state, that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.

Here is the list of Tulsa County legislators who have taken the pledge as of this June:

Sen. Charles R. Ford
Sen. Scott Pruitt
Sen. Jerry L. Smith
Rep. Sue Tibbs
Rep. Todd Hiett
Rep. Hopper Smith
Rep. Fred Perry
Rep. Dennis Adkins
Rep. Ron Peterson

Rep. Adkins is noted as a new signer this year. All of these legislators are Republicans.

All the Republicans in the Oklahoma congressional delegation, including Sen. (and former Tulsa Mayor) James Inhofe and Tulsa Congressman John Sullivan, have taken a similar pledge. Sen. Inhofe has a 100% rating from Americans for Tax Reform. Rep. Sullivan's rating is 91%.

So far I haven't heard any area legislator take a public stand on the proposed county sales tax increase. While a legislator only has one vote on this matter, like an ordinary citizen, a legislator would have some credibility and influence based on his experience in matters of public finance. Will any of these avowed opponents of "any and all efforts to increase taxes" lend their voices to stop a billion dollar tax increase? Or will they allow the proponents to continue to spread the myth that elected officials are united in support?

The latest Urban Tulsa has a thoughtful column from Terry Simonson about the upcoming sales tax vote. Terry hasn't written much since his run for Mayor last year.

The focus of the column is on Tulsa's economy and what we ought to do about it. A few quotes:

The issue for some is whether or not the direction that is proposed with Vision 2025 will lead to a better future for Tulsa and is it believable enough that its worth paying more taxes for. ...

A one cent increase in sales tax may not sound like a big deal unless you have watched your paycheck get smaller or you fear that soon you may not have a paycheck at all. This backdrop, more than partisanship, is what really must be conquered by the Vision 2025 supporters.

There is plenty of talk that American Airlines is not leaving and Boeing is not coming, only they know for sure. What makes a business come here or stay here? For the big companies, its what stockholders want and how management delivers. It doesnt matter to a Citgo stockholder in France, Alaska, or Boston what Tulsa is like if Citgo could perform better and give a better return by being Houston. And government can do only so much to impact a business condition significantly enough to influence business decisions. ...

Simonson offers an interesting approach to helping small businesses grow.

Where do most of the jobs come from in Tulsa? Small business. Who has the greatest difficulty getting the capital necessary to upgrade and expand operations? Small business. Who is likely to fall under the sluggish economy the quickest? Small business. Even though an employee at small businesses may not be making $50,000, more paychecks go into more banks and stores and shops from the small business employee than from any place else.

Perhaps we should have proposed that a small increase in sales tax for a short period of time that would create a capital pool that small business could borrow from and the repayment of these loans would create a sustainable economic development fund that could perpetually help retain and expand small businesses.

NFIB research
shows that small businesses create 2/3rds of net new jobs, and small businesses create nearly all the net new jobs during a recession and the beginning of an expansion -- while big businesses are still finding their feet. I wrote about this back in July.

Terry continues:

Everyone wants new attractions in Tulsa. That was evidenced by the long list of ideas proposed during the revisioning process. Not everyone will agree on how or when we do this. Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Vision 2025 supporters in the economic climate of Tulsa (when the future of so many Tulsans grows more uncertain with each passing day) is to convince citizens that a government led recovery, supported by taxpayers money, is the only hope we have for a better tomorrow.

History has shown that Tulsans are very discerning voters when it comes to publicly financed projects. It doesnt seem to matter much to us who does or does not endorse an initiative or how good the commercials are on TV or even who has the most money to spend in a campaign. The message must hit home in terms of identifying a problem on which there is consensus, that the proposed solutions are clearly and simply articulated and explained, and the public feels compelled to support it. When this is missing and voters are undecided, they simply conclude that voting no costs them nothing.

Go read the whole thing.

A perspective, part of an interesting exchange, over at the TulsaNow forum, from someone who actually lives downtown.

My position on the ballot (yeah or nah) aside, I live inside the IDL.

Have for 7 years now.
Right on the edge of all the wonderful new bars. (Wonderful, maybe if I were still in my 20's)

Unless you live here, and suffer the back lash of confused people driving the wrong way on one way's, with their cars radio cranked to "11" late into the night, and all the subsequent problems, that arise from a short fall of law enforcement, just to name a few, your only seeing the gloss of this "Exciting reality".

Austins' 6 street battle between housing and the night life, is a great example of what we are about to additionally suffer, should there ever be rooftops built for people to actually start living here.

The not yet "24/7" party scene is already loud: which carries for miles. It is also already riddled with issues that contradicts the concept of a nice place to call "home" at 3:00AM.

What's being created in the district, this resurgence, is showing signs that we, on the dimly lit cracked up sidewalks, should be addressing on a loftier level. Some people are and they should be heard out - carefully.

But don't get me wrong: I like walking over for a cold one (during the day) on occasion and personally believe bars serve an important function. (Unlike those in structures 300 feet away)

NO GROW ZONE is a one huge and obvious solution to ever increasing roadways to maintain, expanding infrastructure, pocket slums, infill hesitations, over taxed law enforcement patrolling crime areas, pollution, and a host of other issues. They stop sprawl on a dime.

Yes, developers can build, build all they want -it'd be nice if there is someone out there to tell them how to do it intelligently. If there is, that person must be on an extended vacation - but no building past this line.

At that point they'll have to start looking back into the city itself for new locations.

Which brings in the next set of issues we have to face. With the concept of Eminent domain, at the forefront.

This "little" item is the death of any private investment, on the grass roots level. I have people stop me at the front door wanting to find a similar place of their own, almost daily, for years now.

I tell them a short story.

The area is a target zone for a slew of shifting ideas that one day can have a Library sitting where your home once was, the next an Arena, day after that it's a parking lot.
The Arby's idea was said to generate many jobs.

About this time they say, "well, they have to pay you good money for your place!".

Wrong. There is no way to restore a building, even excluding labor cost, and hope to get anywhere close to breaking even.

NOTE: The price is fair market value, of the land, regardless of what sits on it. You should try it sometime. Sit down, do the math, imagine your home (not house) where you memories are housed, the place that shelters you and your family, the safest place on the p[lanet that you know of, is about to disappear for a few dollars a foot. Second thought, don't try it. It makes one very very excitable. And right now we need calmer talking heads, no?

So then I pick up where I left off in the story..."The thing is if you could repair your car, which is worth $25,000. for $5,000.00 but stood the chance of it being legaly repossed, because the finace company had a better use for the car, and told you you would recieve $1,000. period, see you later", would you repair the car?

Maybe, maybe not.

At that point the eager loft hunter, who has a strong interest in living down here, and are mostly people I would like to have as nieghbors, usually starts to get the bigger picture. And the conversation shifts to other topics.

Sure, nothing is a safe bet. But to see a rendering of a proposed idea, drawn up by some out of state developer, that hasn't even said "Boo" to you (the land owner) and see a Wal-mart parking lot, where your 100 year old home is presently standing is dis-heartening, to say the least.
To say the most would be a very long rant, over many beers at the Blue dome or Caz's, my two favorite places to go when they see fit to let me out of here.

My restoration has been stopped on a dime, and I hate it.
I like the "concepts" on the current ballot, but the wording, order, and means in which to pay for them has made me suspicious and now, very thirsty.

Bottom line is I cannot, in good conscience, vote YES on a 13 year county tax ballot when I may not be living in that county for the 13 years. If My home is razed, I'll be taking my bags of compensating peanuts somewhere else. I refuse to live in a city that follows up the major mistake of building the hugmougous jail inside this precsis confined space with notions of a Wal-mart. How embarressing is that? (Which probably makes the fear mongers in here very happy to hear) jdb

Just came across a thoughtful post on TulsaNow's forum, pointing out the lack of vision and foresight in "Vision 2025".

I haven't studied the "peak oil" issue and won't comment on the merits of those points, but the broader point is well-taken: A real vision process would have included a study of long-term challenges that our community will face -- challenges which will affect every city such as energy availability and the aging of the population, along with challenges specific to our region. Communities like Salt Lake City have undertaken such comprehensive studies. You might argue with the conclusions they drew in Salt Lake City, but at least they addressed the issues. That didn't happen in Tulsa.

And note the great point in the last paragraph. [Emphasis added.]

I recently moved back to Tulsa. I was one of the "youths" that left in disgust, but I always knew I would return eventually because in spite of it's flaws, Tulsa is quite liveable. Many of my friends have also returned.

I only recently learned of the visioning project, and I have been trying to educate myself about its history, so I skimmed over the original list of proposals submitted by citizens. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised by the bulk of community input. Unfortunately, lots of good ideas didn't clear the city government, a few big porkers were added belatedly, and completely unrelated items were lumped together. That's not acceptable. Some folks advocate just passing it so we can at least "do something."

The problem with 2025 is it isn't forward-thinking at all. If it passes and achieves all the desired effects, we will be poorly aligned for 2050 and beyond. Growth is an outdated mantra.

The effects of Peak Oil are already becoming evident. By 2025, the situation will worsen substancially, and by 2050 we will all be in serious trouble. If you aren't familiar with the issue, check:


You are all welcomed and envited to dispute this, but one of the effects will be fealt this winter by spikes in natural gas prices. We can't drill our way out of it: in fact, we already drilled out. Oil capitol no longer.

Despite some of the assertians of some posters to this site, Tulsa is not an intellectual or industrial backwater. We have a highly educated skilled workforce. They haven't all moved away yet, but they do need work.

We have a surplus of vacant industrial warehouses. We should be attracting renewable energy generation manufacturers to locate here. Not stinky obsolete floundering airline manufacturers that regularly lay off their workers. We need a growth industry with a future. Demand for airliners fluctuates; demand for renewables will only increase in the next century. We can be the Energy Capitol, with vision.

As for the rest, passing this bill as written won't help. Probably won't hurt much, but setting low standards is counterproductive. Rewriting it without the tricky picks will be easy. So don't presume this is the last chance to "do something." We can rewrite it. Haste makes waste.

Talk about damning with faint praise -- spending $1 billion like this "probably won't hurt much!" For a billion dollars and a 13 year tax we ought to be taking bold strides into the future, not pursuing old-style economic development strategies (bribe big companies to come, build arenas), and funding projects that are nice, but not strategic.

As the writer notes, it would have been easy for our leaders to do this right. On September 9, we can tell them to get back on track for a real vision for our region.

The vote yes side is trying to allay concerns about the length of the tax, a tough sell, because the tax it will run 13 years, no matter how much money it raises. There is no cutoff once the projects are paid for.

At the TulsaNow forum a week and a half ago, Paul Wilson claimed that we can trust the County Commissioners to cut off the tax, because they did it once before. The 1994-1995 Whirlpool sales tax was ended earlier than scheduled, he said. (This morning on KFAQ, Mayor Bill LaFortune trotted out the same line.)

That didn't match my memory, and afterwards, several people confirmed that Wilson was wrong. County Commissioners made a commitment prior to the election that the tax would be cut off as soon as $26 million was raised. The Whirlpool tax oversight committee had as part of its task monitoring receipts and gauging when the tax could be cut off to take in at least the required $26 million. The Commissioners rejected limiting the tax to a fixed period (although state law at the time limited it to three years). The tax was cut off after a year because the target was reached, not because the Commissioners were feeling benificent.

Commissioners could have placed a dollar cutoff in this tax as well -- someone has suggested the project amounts plus 10% to cover possible cost overruns. It's no good to say the Commissioners might have mercy on us in 10 years or so; they had the chance to make the dollar cutoff a legal requirement and they declined to do so. What do you think they (or their successors) will do after over a decade of enjoying an annual revenue stream of $70 million or more?

Here are excerpts from a story from the April 21, 1994, Tulsa Whirled (emphasis mine). For the full text for this and a couple of related stories, click the link below.

The plant would provide about 1,400 jobs in Tulsa County. The tax will be assessed until $26 million is collected. Officials predict that should take a year or less. Harris said the overview committee would monitor collections to ensure the tax ends on schedule.

And from the September 7, 1994, Tulsa Whirled:

The plant, which will make kitchen ranges, will cost more than $100 million to build. It will have a work force of 1,300. County residents voted last June for a half-penny sales tax to raise $26 million to help Whirlpool build its plant. A condition of that election was that a committee would oversee collection of the money.

The tax went into effect July 1. The first money should be coming in by the second or third week of September, Oklahoma Tax Commission officials said.

The Tax Commission will collect the tax, then give the money to the county treasurer, who will turn it over to the Tulsa County Industrial Trust Authority for distribution to the Whirlpool project.

The trust authority comprises all three county commissioners. The 10-member watchdog panel will monitor the collection of the money, primarily to make sure that once the $26 million is raised the tax is eliminated. Officials believe the $26 million will be raised in about a year....

"No one knows how quickly the $26 million will be raised. It could be 10 months all the way to 14 months." [Commissioner Lewis] Harris said that if slightly more than $26 million is raised, the remainder will probably be used for road improvements around the plant, which will be in the Cherokee Expressway Industrial District.

I've been saying that giving Boeing and American millions of bucks is putting all our eggs in one basket, making Tulsa even more dependent on the weak commercial aviation industry. I've also said that it fails to replace the thousands of high tech jobs we lost due to the "tech wreck" and specific problems at WorldCom and Williams. These are folks who aren't qualified to turn a wrench for Boeing or American, and they're leaving Tulsa because of the lack of local jobs in their line of work.

Since the head of economic development for the Chamber of Commerce had "no idea" how to replace high tech jobs, I asked my friend Russ McGuire, who knows the tech sector like the back of his hand, for his thoughts. Here's the heart of his initial response:

I struggle with this since the real answer requires investment. Public investment means tax dollars and I just don't have confidence that government bureaucracy will efficiently translate my tax dollars into real jobs for real people. Private investment means companies committing to investing in Tulsa, which these days seems to mean tax dollars given (or surrendered) to bribe companies to invest here rather than elsewhere. ...

I've given lots of thought to what core competencies exist within NE Oklahoma (business and academia) that could be leveraged to create a world class leadership position for the state/area. This should translate into jobs. ...

Oklahoma has strong competencies in the following areas:
- Building and operating telecommunications networks (WilTel,Worldcom,Williams,WilTel(2),McLeod,AFN,etc.)
- Building and operating mission critical data centers (Sabre)
- Data Security (Sujeet et al at TU)
- Data/computation-intensive applications (national severe weather center in Norman)
- General construction (pipeline/energy heritage)

We have the following resources:
- Land (cheap and plentiful)
- People (bright, trained, low cost of living)
- Numerous fiber optic/data networks
- Several research universities geographically distributed, but relatively close (Norman, Stillwater, Tulsa)

The question is how to exploit those competencies. One possibility Russ suggests is a centrally located, large-scale data center, doing both production work and R&D, with the R&D focused on "new technologies and services with near-term commercial applications, so that the center could quickly become self-funding." There's a hitch, though.

Initial funding is a real problem. A couple of years ago, I believed that strong local companies, combined with national grants through the universities could cover the cost. Today, I just don't know...

But starting something big isn't the only way to go. Russ e-mailed me again a day later. We could and should be helping entrepreneurs get off the ground, but Tulsa isn't making it happen.

Lying in bed unable to sleep, it hit me that I skipped the entire class of job creation about which I'm most passionate - entrepreneurism.

The reason I skipped it is because I've already reached the conclusion that entrepreneurship, or rather technology entrepreneurship is not supported in Tulsa.

Yesterday I mentioned competencies and resources that can play into Tulsa's technology future. I didn't mention capital. Is that because there isn't any money in Tulsa? Of course not. But, from my experience, that money isn't focused on building great new technology companies.

Over the years I've looked at this from a number of angles. I've been a speaker at two of the Southwest Capital conferences hosted here each year. I've attended meetings of a local Entrepreneurs Club. I've even started a few companies myself. I've been a member of the small committee at Williams Communications that made decisions about which entrepreneurial companies to invest in. I've participated in the COEITT forums aimed at nurturing technology excellence in the area. Bottom line - I've seen just about every angle there is to this issue.

And to be honest, it's embarrasing.

As an expert on the telecommunications industry, I've been invited to speak by chambers of commerce in the Dallas area, the Boston area, the Silicon Valley area, the Seattle area, and even Ottawa. Venture capitalists on both coasts have flown me in to speak to their partners about which opportunities are most promising. I was asked to serve on advisory boards to venture backed firms in Boston, San Jose, and Washington. For three years, TeleChoice, the firm I served as Chief Strategist, and widely recognized as a top expert in launching innovative telecommunications companies, technologies, products, and services, was headquartered in Tulsa. Clients, literally on every continent except Antartica, actively sought out our advice.

We did virtually no business in Tulsa.

We couldn't get the Tulsa Chamber to return our calls. (We actually got excited one time when they DID call back and arrange a meeting. The summer intern who showed up had merely finally gotten to our name in his list of technology companies that he was surveying for some expensive study that yielded no meaningful results...)

Same with local venture capitalists. ...

I fear that Tulsa's "entrepreneurial spirit" is dead. Sure, it was central to the creation of the city and economy, but today it is as dead as downtown. There is capital in Tulsa. Much of it flows to other cities and other states. What stays here gets invested in old economy companies - many of them entrepreneurial.

Is this wrong? Am I condemning the investors?

No. Two obvious observations. I bet those "boring" investments have been much more profitable than technology investments the past few years. But more defensibly - investors are best off investing in what they know, and wealthy Tulsans generally don't know technology...

Am I saying there are no technology entrepreneurs in the Tulsa area? No. I'm one. You're one. There are many more.

Am I saying that entrepreneurial companies can't survive in Tulsa? I certainly hope that's not the case...

So, the natural thought process is: Aha, we should take all that tax money planned to be spent to lure Boeing et al to Tulsa, and instead create a huge fund to invest in entrepreneurial technology companies!

Or, how about, we don't collect the taxes in the first place, meaning that individual investors can choose to do that investing themselves...

It's a shame that someone with Russ McGuire's intelligence and experience doesn't have a seat at the table when we're talking about developing a shared regional vision. But it seems that our city and county leaders and the Chamber Pots only have time for the same old-money interest groups and the same old set of ideas.

And another idea -- let's have our public officials use their "bully pulpits" to encourage the local aristocracy to participate in the development of a private "Tulsa technology" fund to encourage the development of new technology ventures. Treat it as an exercise in local boosterism. As seed money, start with the $800,000 they're about to spend convincing us to raise our own taxes. Add to that seed money the millions in tax dollars that we annually flush down the toilet known as the Metro Tulsa Chamber, as payment for their feeble and clueless "economic development" efforts.

Just prying the Metro Tulsa Chamber off of the public teat would be a tremendous step in the right direction.

CITGO going, gone?


OkiePundit, aka Alfalfa Bill, has some inside scoop on the possibility that CITGO will relocate its Tulsa employees to Houston:

Venezuela-owned CITGO has announced it may uproot its North American HQ from Tulsa and move it to Houston. This could be yet another blow to Tulsa and the state if it happens. CITGO has been a very positive corporate citizen in Tulsa and employs a thousand people in the state.

Until recently, CITGO was run by a Venezuelan that loved Tulsa and intended to stay. Unfortunately, he was replaced some months ago by a loyalist to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who immediately ordered a study of whether CITGO should move to Houston.

At the same time that CITGO's pro-Tulsa president was replaced, Governor Brad Henry's Administration let the only Latin American specialist at the Department of Commerce go - a lady that had worked hard to establish a close relationship with CITGO and to assure they were happy in Oklahoma. With the state's primary link to the company's Venezuelan leadership gone - there was no one left that understood the company's inner culture. As the Miami Herald reports today, Houston moved quickly to stepup efforts to entice the new leadership to move to Houston. The leadership of the State of Oklahoma and Tulsa were apparently clueless about what was going on. This despite the common knowledge that the Houston Partnership (their Chamber of Commerce) continues to aggressively recruit Tulsa's remaining energy companies.

On the news tonight Governor Brad Henry was asked what he thought about yet another big company moving its HQ out of Oklahoma. Looking like a deer caught in headlights, the Governor murmured something about how CITGO really loved Oklahoma and that he'd be talking to CITGO. Belatedly, the Governor is now trying to meet with CITGO executives but CITGO seems in no hurry. Insiders at CITGO say they are frustrated the Governor had not moved earlier to court the new CITGO leadership. They also lament that Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce Kathryn Taylor had relied on her ties to the equally clueless American side of CITGO's middle-management - naively thinking they called the shots at CITGO. And they don't. The Venezuelans do.

Oklahoma might lose CITGO (I hope not!) but we'd stand a better chance if our leaders were savvy.

Frightening to think that 1000 Tulsa jobs are at the whim of the crony of a Castroesque Latin American dictator. And frightening to see who we've got handling the matter on our side.

I'm told that there's nothing to this suspicion, but I wonder if CITGO execs took notice of the desperate willingness of Tulsa's leaders to toss money at American Airlines and saw an opportunity to get some cash or at least some concessions. CITGO is a much more credible threat to leave Tulsa than American because they don't have a huge capital investment in Tulsa. As far as I'm aware, CITGO just has to call the moving vans and sneak off in the middle of the night, Baltimore Colts-style.

Desperation is not attractive, except to those would exploit the desperate.

Last night I represented the opposition in the sales tax debate sponsored by the Young Republicans. Clay Bird, the Mayor's chief policy adviser, represented the position "vote yes on everything." Councilor Chris Medlock, having just voted with the rest of the Council to endorse the whole thing (despite serious reservations about governance issues), was representing the viewpoint, "I support 2 and 4, am undecided about 1 and 3." So most of the evening it was those two against little ol' me. Chris did give voice to his concerns about oversight and governance, but rather than oppose the package he would try to fix it after the vote and take a "leap of faith" that the missing safeguards wouldn't be necessary.

Some remarkable things came out of Clay Bird's mouth. Toward the end of the debate, he attacked the Tulsa Beacon, which ran a critical article on the front page this week. He called it a comic book, expressed the wish that people not take it seriously, said that in the Whirled at least they label their editorials as such. (At which remark, I laughed out loud. See below.)

Bird also had an interesting remedy for our status as a "donor county" -- we send more tax money to the state capitol than we get back in services. The legislature won't fix the problem, so we should raise our own taxes to build and fund facilities for state functions like higher education. We will still be sending and receiving the same amount of money from the state, but because we're also taxing ourselves more.... Somehow that makes us not a donor county any more, according to Clay Bird, the Mayor's chief policy adviser.

Bird explained his about-face on the issue of putting the arena and the higher education facilities on separate ballot items. He supported separating them until "Councilor Neal showed me the light." (That provoked some laughter from the crowd.)

Bird confirmed the possibility that TV Guide may pull out of Tulsa, as Citgo is doing. I wonder -- are they serious about moving, or do they think we'll come up with some cash to keep them here?

Bird also claimed that if we don't approve Proposition No. 2, thousands of American Airlines jobs will go away... eventually, when AA stops flying MD-80s.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Bird observed that the split on this issue doesn't run on partisan lines. He noted that Republican opposition to the tax came from the conservative wing of the party, and expressed a wish for a different local party that he could join. He said he considers himself a national Republican and local independent. He considered himself a part of a progressive pro-development party, and the opponents are all anti-development. Afterwards I asked him if he thought the "Chamber, Developers, and Establishment Party" would be a good name for the group he wants to join. He said, "Something like that, yeah." It should be remembered that it was conservative Republican support that won Bill LaFortune the nomination for Mayor.

Clay has actually hit upon the basic division in Tulsa politics, a division that joins people from both national parties in two large factions. The first is a well-organized faction whose party organ is the Tulsa Whirled and which uses the Tulsa Metro Chamber as a taxpayer-funded promotional organization. This faction controls most local government offices and runs the city in their own interest, and have done so for decades. The second faction is not organized at all, and is led by people who have seen up close how the system works and believe that city government should serve all the people, not just the special interests. But I'll save a detailed discussion of political power in Tulsa for another day.

Both Chris Medlock and I were misrepresented by the Whirled in this morning's paper. Chris made a joke about his middle-of-the-road position -- "I'm trying to see if I can straddle the fence without getting hurt." The Whirled reported it as, "After the council meeting, Medlock told an audience at a forum sponsored by the Tulsa Young Republicans that he was 'trying to ride the fence so I don't get hurt.'" Not only were the words wrong, but the wrong impression was conveyed. The reader would get the impression that Chris was worried about his political standing, and that was motivating his stand on the issues. He was just making a joke to break the ice.

The Whirled correctly reported a couple of things:

Bates, meanwhile, said he was disappointed to see the Republicans elected to local offices advocating raising taxes.

Republicans comprise majorities on both the City Council and the Tulsa County Commission, the latter of which approved the ballot measures.

Bates said the four proposals would not build a foundation for the future or take care of the citys current needs.

So far, so good. But then the Whirled ends the story with a purported quote from a different part of the debate. I believe the Whirled misquoted me. At the very least they omitted a significant bit of context. The Whirled wrote, "'Id rather spend it on things that would improve my familys quality of life not on things that are going to improve somebody elses,' he said."

Here's what I said, in the context in which I said it. Clay Bird brought up the small amount of money each family would have to spend each year to pay for this tax and improve the quality of life for all of us. I mentioned that this summer, because the city pools are closed, I paid $150 so that my family could join a neighborhood pool. The vote yes folks want to take more than that amount every year from our family so they can spend it on an arena so they can see Cher. I would rather keep that money and spend it on things that will improve my family's quality of life, rather than being forced (by means of a tax) to spend it on something that someone else wants. I don't think I have the right to tax my neighbor, so I can have his money spent on my desires. Taxes should go to serve the welfare and interests of the general public, not the desires of the politically connected few.

Great column by Jay Hancock of the Baltimore Sun about Boeing's quest for taxpayer-funded goodies. Some highlights:

Boeing denies that last part, of course. The corporate "site selection" charade includes the pretense that companies are not shaking down states and counties for "incentives" such as tax discounts, cheap loans, cash gifts, property grants and so forth.

"Boeing has not asked for any incentives," says Boeing spokeswoman Mary Hanson. "What a state has chosen to include as part of its proposal is its decision."

What a crock of kielbasa. Boeing knows it can expect corporate welfare of at least $100 million as states trip over each other with blandishments for a chance to build the company's new 7E7 jetliner. Any state that doesn't bend down to get spanked will not be considered. ...

Orchestrating the bake-off is Boeing agent McCallum Sweeney Consulting, the hired guns who helped separate $300 million from Mississippi taxpayers three years ago so that Nissan Motor Co. would build an SUV and minivan plant there.

Extracting incentives from reluctant governments is McCallum's specialty.

In a deal three years ago for an Alabama Navistar engine factory, the "incentive package negotiated was four times larger than [that of a] Honda assembly plant" one-fourth the size, McCallum brags on its Web site.

The smorgasbord of taxpayer giveaways McCallum can secure for your firm, according to its promotional material, includes "tax abatements," "tax credit," "tax exemptions," "grants," "site development," "interest subsidies," "capital contributions," "special tax rating" "and more. ..."

This kind of racket has been going on for decades, of course. But the Boeing project is different in a way that cranks up the prurient interest and gall factor: States don't have money to pay for basic programs these days, let alone to give away to big corporations.

Michigan wants Boeing, but Michigan faces a projected deficit of $1.5 billion, has cut Medicaid, trimmed $127 million from state colleges and universities and is reducing its prison population. Texas wants Boeing, but Texas just dealt with a $10 billion revenue shortfall by cutting teacher health benefits and medical coverage for the working poor. ...

I know, I know. Corporate welfare apologists say the Boeing plant will generate spinoff jobs, taxes from new workers and other marginal revenue that will "pay back" the government giveaways.

This is sophistry. Revenue forgone is revenue forgone, and new factories and workers impose extra burdens on government that soak up any incremental taxes. The liberal argument against incentives - that they give taxpayer money to fat cats - is well known.

The lesser-heard conservative position clinches the case. By bending tax statutes into knots for whiny corporations, states tilt the business playground, maim pledges of equal treatment under the law and engage in Soviet-style economic planning. When is Congress going to do something about this?

Read the whole thing. And please note, this writer is focused on tax abatements, not on the kind of direct cash payments and loans that Tulsa voters are being asked to provide to Boeing.

I've been listening to a lot of otherwise intelligent folks spout a lot of nonsense lately. Rational in many respects, they have an irrational attachment to the notion that promised projects for the billion-dollar sales tax increase (September 9th is the election) will elevate Tulsa to the heights of prosperity. These same people believe that our current economic distress is the clear result of the decisions Tulsa voters made in 1997 and 2000 not to raise taxes to build downtown sports and convention facilities. The "vote yes" campaign and the Tulsa Whirled are both peddling this line.

From the Whirled's August 4th condemnation of the Republican and Democratic parties:

Its hard to believe responsible party leaders could stand by and not notice how failure to vote for needed improvements has hurt the city, and still have to debate the small stuff.

Since when did Tulsa fail to vote for needed improvements? In the last 10 years, we've voted for over $1,000,000,000 in taxes for capital improvements for our city and our school system. That's not counting the tax hikes approved by suburban cities and schools. We didn't vote for the Whirled's pet project, but that's hardly a needed improvement, unless you believe in Cargo Cult Economics.

Then I received the following in an e-mail, author's name withheld to protect him/her from embarassment:

We are losing jobs and falling behind other cities. For example, ask yourself the famous Reagan question: Is Oklahoma City better off today than ten years ago? Is Tulsa? If the answer is yes to the first and no to the second, then one must admit that the MAPS plan in OKC has contributed to their success.

One must admit no such thing! This is a classic example of the logical fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc -- "Because A happened after B, therefore A was caused by B" -- bolstered by the selective consideration of evidence. Is Tulsa worse off than 10 years ago? Yes, it is, largely because of massive job losses in a couple of key industries. Are these job losses because we didn't raise taxes to build an arena in 1997 or 2000? No. Bernie Ebbers didn't decide to engage in shady business deals and run WorldCom into the gutter because Tulsa didn't build an taxpayer-funded arena. Bill Bartmann didn't ruin CFS with his shady deals because the Tulsa Project was defeated. Williams Communications didn't go bankrupt because we didn't expand our convention center. And Al-Qaeda didn't decide to use an American Airlines jet to blow up the World Trade Center because the Rolling Stones wouldn't perform in Tulsa. Yet these are the causes of most of the job losses we have suffered in the last 10 years, added to the overall "tech wreck" which affected San Jose (which has an arena and major league hockey, as well as a major amphitheatre, and plenty of entertainment options) even more deeply than Tulsa.

During World War II, inhabitants of some South Pacific islands noticed that Americans came, built runways and control towers, and then planes landed and brought useful cargo. When the Americans left, they thought that, by imitating the Americans, they could repeat the prosperity they briefly enjoyed. So they cleared runways, built control towers (complete with controllers wearing wooden headphones), set out night landing lights, built model cargo planes, and raised the American flag each day, in hopes that the cargo planes would come back with material riches. Here in Tulsa the cargo-cult view of life expresses itself in phrases like, "If we build it, they will come," and, "We have to do something." Whether in Papua New Guinea or Utica Square, the same logical fallacy is at work.

The cargo cults still exist. Here is a site devoted to the John Frum movement on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu, and here's an article by Mike Jay on the history of the Tanna cult.

Lawrence's analysis of what was going on came to constitute a template for what seemed to Westerners an inexplicable and repetitive complex of delusions. First came 'cargo belief': the apocalyptic conviction that the world was about to turn upside down, the islanders finally receiving the material rewards of the white planters and administrators who were currently enjoying the fruits of the black man's labours. Then, even more puzzling, came 'cargo ritual': new religious practices designed to reel in the cargo by magical repetition of the acts which were currently bringing it to the white man. All over, islanders were downing tools, clearing airstrips in the jungle, building imitation radio masts out of bamboo, scouring their bibles for hidden messages, even sitting around politely drinking afternoon tea. If it worked for the white man, so the theory went, it would work for them.

All across the region, colonial governments cracked down hard, rounding up the cargo prophets and imprisoning them. Planters and other Western commercial interests, who coined the term 'cargo cult', saw it all as madness which demonstrated the ignorance and superstition of their workforce. More liberal whites attempted to explain to the locals that cargo wasn't produced by magic, but by hard work and the product of generations of technological progress, and the only way in which Melanesian societies were going to become rich in cargo was by working and earning it. To the locals, the subtext of this explanation was clear: the whites were politely refusing to give up the secret of their cargo.

Many people have drawn parallels between what we ridicule as primitive, irrational thinking, and the equally primitive and irrational thinking that influences the social sciences, city planning, public policy, and even computer programming in the "civilized" West. John FitzGerald, a Canadian writer, sees downtown shopping malls (remember the one Tulsa had?) as an example of cargo cult thinking:

The cargo cult is founded on a familiar, and popular, bit of fallacious reasoning: post hoc ergo propter hoc. The residents of Papua, Yaliwan, Vanuatu and other places noticed that when the colonial occupiers built wharves and airstrips, the wharves and airstrips were soon visited by ships and airplanes which delivered cargos of goods. They concluded that the ships and airplanes arrived as a consequence of the building of the wharves and airstrips, so they built their own wharves and airstrips in the expectation of receiving their own cargoes.

This reasoning seems naive to us, since we already know that the correct chain of reasoning is the reverse: the wharves and airstrips were built because ships and airplanes were going to be arriving. However, in dealing with that which is new to us, just as wharves and airstrips were new to Melanesians, we draw exactly the same conclusions about it.

An example of this type of thinking is the shopping mall. The first shopping malls were tremendously profitable. As a result, people concluded that if they too built shopping malls, they too would make tremendous profits. As a result, we soon had a shopping mall on nearly every block. Retail space expanded enormously, and eventually the retail industry collapsed under its own weight. Retail chains closed and downsized, their unsustainable outlets either replaced by dollar stores or left permanently empty.

Today, Wellington Square in London, Ontario, the first shopping mall in this country, bloated to three or four times its original size and given a trendier name, lies dying in the centre of a downtown which it has already killed. On Saturdays the retail staff in the few stores that are open outnumber the customers. In Toronto, the Eaton Centre has transformed the retail neighbourhood around it into a vast bazaar of dollar stores, adult book stores, and fast food franchises.

And here's a link to a lengthy excerpt on the web of Richard Feynmann's observations on cargo cult science, well worth reading.

When I was invited to participate in TulsaNow, when the Mayor's vision process began, as Tulsa hosted national experts in urban design and development, I was hopeful that we were finally moving away from the cargo-cult mentality and becoming capable of clear-headed and evenhanded analysis of Tulsa's real challenges and what we must do to overcome them. Perhaps I was too hopeful. There's not much difference between "If we build it, they will come," and "John Frum, he still come."

The Seattle Times has a special 7E7 website with an archive of articles, and profiles of the states competing for the 7E7. You can even sign up for e-mail updates.

Here are some excerpts from >a story about North Carolina's bid for the 7E7 facility, using an expensive, underperforming industrial park near Kinston, about 90 miles inland from Wilmington's harbor. Note the numbers -- 50,000 jobs promised, $80 million spent (only $1,600 a job) but only 200 jobs actually generated -- $400,000 per job, which is still a bargain compared to the $1,000,000 per job Oklahoma is bidding for the Boeing 7E7 facility.

KINSTON, N.C. With much anticipation, North Carolina and the federal government invested roughly $80 million on a sprawling airport industrial park among the fields of corn and tobacco here, 70 miles from the ocean.

Backers said it would produce 50,000 jobs for a depressed 13-county area dependent on the declining tobacco and textile industries.

But after 11 years, the hoped-for economic renaissance has yet to materialize. The 2,000-acre Global TransPark has attracted no major tenants, but it has become a poster child for critics of taxpayer-financed megadevelopments.

It has produced just 200 jobs. Right now, the most visible sign of an aerospace industry is an air-cargo company's maintenance facility, which dismantles old 747s for parts.

Still, the site, with great transportation links and built-in training facilities, was designed for exactly the kind of high-tech manufacturing operation that Boeing's 7E7 would require. A state official last week claimed it's in the running. ...

Others, while welcoming the attention, say the project won't rise and fall on any one company. "One of the mistakes of the past was trying to hit the home run," said Eugene Conti, vice chairman of the Global TransPark Authority. "We are now focusing on singles and doubles."

You will recall that the City hired Conventions, Sports, and Leisure to examine the feasibility of a remodeled convention center and a new downtown sports arena. Although we may qualify for a few more events if we build a ballroom and add a few meeting rooms, we still won't attract the big money events.

CSL surveyed convention planners for different types of conventions. 67.0% of national association convention planners surveyed said they would not be likely to use an expanded and renovated downtown Tulsa Convention Center. 85.3% of corporate convention and tradeshow planners surveyed said they would not be likely to use the expanded facility. Corporate shows and tradeshows are the really lucrative events, where attendees are traveling on expense accounts. Even 55% of Oklahoma groups said they would not be likely to use an expanded convention center.

The only category that gave us a majority positive response was the SMERFs -- social, military, educational, religious, and fraternal groups. 47.4% said they would possibly use the expanded convention center; 31.6% said not likely. These are events like reunions, hobby group meetings. SMERF attendees are spending their own money -- they drive rather than fly, stay at budget accommodations and share rooms, stay for shorter periods (weekend events, rather than full weeks), and eat at less expensive restaurants. They also tend to be smaller groups, and by pursuing them, the convention center is competing directly with privately-owned hotel convention facilities like the Sheraton, Marriott, Doubletree and Renaissance.

Here's why conventions don't want to come to Tulsa, from the CSL National/Regional Rotating Event Survey, 2002, with the percentage of respondents with an interest in Tulsa who mentioned the reason, followed by a comment.

"Air access to Tulsa is quite limited, inconvenient and expensive." [9%]

Great Plains Airlines hasn't been able to fix this problem yet, despite all the tax money they've received.

"We prefer the use of hotel event space for our functions. It works well having meals, meetings and hotel rooms all under one roof." [12%]

We still might get these groups to Tulsa, but just not to the downtown convention center.

"Our association only rotates to Tier-I cities." [16%]

Can't do anything about that. OKC won't get these conventions either.

"Our association prefers beach resort destinations for our annual event." [6%]

Again, not much a landlocked city can do.

"Tulsa does not offer sufficient visitor amenities and entertainment options to attract attendees to our event." [20%]

All the yeasayers say, "Aha! But if we build an arena we will have all the visitor amenities and entertainment options we need!" Eight concerts a year (maybe) and minor league hockey will not satisfy that demand. These people are looking for major tourist attractions, exciting urban districts with restaurants and clubs, and probably a certain amount of sleaze of the sort more readily found in Las Vegas, New York, and New Orleans. We have a couple of world class museums and a great zoo, but they're closed nearly every night. We have the start of a couple of good urban districts. I don't think most Tulsans want the sleaze, even if it does attract tourists.

"We do not have enough delegates in the area for Tulsa to be considered as a potential destination." [24%]

This is at the heart of what convention planners want -- people who will pay money to come to their convention. It doesn't matter to the planner whether the attendees come from near or far, as long as they pay their registration fees and walk through the exhibit hall. A city with a large core group of potential delegates gives a planner a headstart in meeting the target -- particularly for a business convention, because businesses won't mind sending their people to a conference if they don't have to pay for travel, lodging, and meals. Of course, the very thing that makes the planners happy makes the host city sad. Local delegates don't bring new money into the economy. The only convention segment where we have a large group of potential attendees -- Charismatic conventions.

And the CSL study projects that the convention center, renovated and expanded, will still lose $2 million per year, money that comes out of the City of Tulsa's general fund.

At the TulsaNow forum, I recited the rather boring list of concerts and events that Oklahoma City's Ford Center has on its schedule for the next year. Karen Keith responded that the reason there wasn't much on the Ford Center calendar is because Oklahoma City is still using the old Myriad (now the Cox Business Services Convention Center) for some concerts. I doubted that, but didn't have the info at my fingertips.

So I checked the calendar of the Cox Business Services Convention Center. No concerts from now through the end of the year.

Not only that, but there aren't any big conventions being held there either. The National Rural Water Association and the PEO Sisterhood are the only apparently national organizations meeting there for the remainder of the year. There are a number of state organizational meetings -- meetings OKC already got before the Myriad had its facelift, meetings Tulsa will rarely get because OKC is a more convenient location for organizations with a statewide membership.

But like Tulsa's downtown convention center, the Myriad is competing with hotels and suburban centers for conventions. The new Reed Center in Midwest City is sized for smaller conventions and surrounded by moderately priced hotel rooms. The Oklahoma Republican Party held its 2003 convention there. 2001 and 2002 meetings were held at the Meridian Convention Center, part of the Clarion Hotel near the airport. The 2000 convention was the last time we used the Myriad, as far as I can recall.

So why isn't OKC getting the big national conventions with the big payoffs? Maybe it's because the national convention industry is losing steam. Maybe it's because the same reasons that convention planners gave for not coming to Tulsa apply to OKC as well, even with the remodeled facilities. More on that in the next entry.

Tulsa Now forum


Did you miss me? I've been catching up on work, sleep, life, and yard work the past few days.

Thursday night was the Tulsa Now Dialogue on Vision 2025. The yeasayers were represented by Karen Keith of the Mayor's Office and Paul Wilson, president of Twenty First Properties. Paul was on the Dialog / Visioning 2025 Leadership Team. Former County Assessor Jack Gordon and I represented the opposition to the sales tax.

When I arrived Karen was reviewing what appeared to be a script with Lee Gould of Schnake Turnbo Frank, the PR firm handling the vote yes campaign. It looked to be about 20 pages, in big bold capital letters, the kind of script that TV news anchors read from. Sure enough, when it was time for the vote yes side to make an opening statement, Karen stood up and read the whole thing. Most people can't get away with that, but as an experienced broadcast professional, she read with energy, and she read it as quickly as possible, but it took at least 10 minutes -- twice as long as the time allotted.

There were about 100 people packed into the room. It was clear by the Vote Yes lapel stickers that most of the people present had their minds made up. There were a few friendly faces in the crowd, including my wife and parents. Before we began I steadied my nerves by mentally singing through "A Mighty Fortress".

I'm going to write in separate entries about some specific issues that came up, but in this entry I'll mention a couple of overall themes. The vote yes side kept returning to the phrase "jobs, education, economic development". I saw the PR guy nodding and smiling every time Paul or Karen uttered that phrase -- "Ah, yes, they're staying on message."

As for our themes: I said that this sales tax proposal is not the culmination of the vision process, but a detour and a distraction from it. Jack spoke eloquently about the impact of this regressive tax on low- and moderate-income families, and the fiscal irresponsibility of a plan that will cause us to pay $200 million in interest, money that will leave Oklahoma to pay bondholders. We both spoke about opportunities to fund the most important projects without raising sales taxes.

One question that really got to me: "If we don't pass this on September 9, what does Tulsa have that would make any company want to locate here?" I said that whoever asked this question must be stuck in Tulsa against his will. I love this city, I chose to return here after college, and it has wonderful qualities and wonderful people. It disappoints me to hear people expressing despair about our city, and the vote yes crowd trying to feed that despair. Later it brought to mind that old Rodney Dangerfield line -- "I was such an ugly baby that my mother had to tie a steak around my neck just to get the dog to play with me." Do people really think Tulsa is such an awful place that we have to offer hundreds of millions of cash and build an arena so that companies will like us?

More later.

An observant reader writes about the recent simulated sales tax holiday at Tulsa's Promenade:

[My wife] and I noticed that sales boomed at Promenade Mall when all the stores effectively reduced taxes to zero. This is a perfect, community specific case study of the impact of taxes on consumer spending. Since consumer spending in Tulsa increases with decreased taxes, it is logical to assume that spending will decrease with increased taxes. Additionally, if we were to check on sales at Woodland Hills mall, which probably charged taxes that day, I'd guess that sales dropped measurably. The conclusion: Spending will flow to the lowest cost supplier. If Tulsa increases its taxes, then consumer spending will both decrease and flow to some lower cost city.

I imagine that Bartlesville's sales tax relief drive the same weekend provided an incentive for Tulsa malls to match the offer, to keep Tulsans from making the short drive to Bartlesville to make their back-to-school buys.

Another friend tells me that she defers clothes purchases until she visits family in Minnesota every year -- no sales tax on clothing in the North Star State.

My family spent more than we planned at the outlet mall on a visit to Delaware a few years ago -- no sales tax at all in that state. They even advertise that on their state road maps. Here's a bit from a column defending Delaware's tax structure:

I heard it whispered at cocktail parties, when I was still welcome at them, that Delaware tax structure is incomplete without a sales tax. Those who whisper are fat enough to pay a sales tax and have plenty left over to hope for the best in the bond market.

The burden of a sales tax would fall heaviest on those who have little money to spend on anything that wouldn't be subject to a tax. Before I am accused of fomenting class struggle, I should note that a number of Delawareans have earned fortunes by the absence of a sales tax in the First State.

The right-wingers, including columnist George Will, a fine baseball writer, nonetheless call my arguments "the politics of envy." I call it "the politics of fairness."

This right-winger says, "Amen, brother."

Here's a map showing weighted average sales tax rates around the country.

Debate dodging


The yeasayers are running away from debates and forums, and even from innocuous neutral events. This is the same tactic they used in 2000: If they can deny the opposition a chance to be heard, the weakness of their arguments won't be exposed, and people will only hear their side of the story, by means of their massive media budget.

In 2000, most of the media outlets submitted to this tactic. When the vote yes side would refuse to show up, the station would say, "Well, we can't hold a debate with only one side, so we're cancelling the debate." The vote-yes bullies count on this kind of response.

In 2000, two media outlets showed some guts: KRMG 740 and KWHB (channel 47) both held debates, and when the vote yes side refused to send a participant, they said, "Fine. We'll go ahead without you." In both cases, a proponent showed up to debate -- Jim Norton and Sam Roop, respectively.

This year looked to be different, but the yeasayers have started to back out of debates. TulsaNow went through considerable difficulty to find two proponents (Karen Keith and Paul Wilson) who would appear at tomorrow night's Harwelden event.

A few days ago, I received word from KTUL Channel 8 that Mayor LaFortune has backed out of their debate, scheduled for September 2. The Mayor will instead be appearing on a Cox Cable "town hall forum", at which only one side of the issue will be presented. Sadly, KTUL chose to back down, rather than proceed and have the proponents send another representative. Instead of presenting a live debate, in which voters could hear a free and unfiltered exchange of views, with opportunities for each side to rebut the other, KTUL will air a pre-packaged "special", featuring edited interviews with proponents and opponents.

Today, I heard that the PR guys for the vote-yes crowd have spoiled a planned press conference to promote a voter registration drive. From now until the registration deadline, Arvest Banks in Tulsa will make voter registration forms available at each branch. There was to be a press conference tomorrow at 11:30 at Arvest's downtown branch, featuring the President of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, Arvest President Don Walker, Mayor Bill LaFortune, and Tulsa County Coalition Co-Chairman Jim Hewgley. This wouldn't be a debate, just all sides coming together to encourage people to register to vote.

All of a sudden, something came up and the Mayor couldn't make it. Evidently it was too much trouble to stop by 5th & Main on his way from 5th & Denver to 5th & Boston. Commissioner Bob Dick couldn't come either. I have heard third- or fourth-hand that the PR flack for the vote-yes campaign was contacted about providing another proponent for the event. He is reported to have blasted Jim Hewgley and to have said that they wouldn't appear at any event with naysayers.

It's strange to me that the Mayor would dodge opportunities for debate. He was an assistant Attorney General, District Attorney, and a zoning attorney. He knows how to present a case to a jury and shouldn't be intimidated at the thought of debating some amateur. And he must appreciate that debate is a crucial feature of our system of justice and our political system.

Beyond the Mayor's courtroom experience, he has an extra advantage: This case wasn't thrust upon him. He was a participant in setting the circumstances and parameters of the case. He professes to believe in it passionately. So why not stand and fight, rather than run away? Is this his own instinct, or is he being dictated to by campaign gurus?

Yesterday evening, I was asked by KJRH to tape a brief interview about the Vision 2025 campaign "taking the show on the road". There was a "town hall meeting" at the Broken Arrow Library sponsored by Leadership Broken Arrow.

I met the Channel 2 team at the library and decided spur of the moment to stay for part of the meeting. Only the yeasayers were invited to make a presentation. The head of the Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce (can't recall his name, but he bears a remarkable facial resemblance to Susan Savage) was the MC.

First on the agenda was a video infomercial, featuring "ordinary Tulsans" urging a yes vote and predicting dire consequences if we vote no. The infomercial featured schmaltzy background music, designed to manipulate the viewer's mood.

(If your civic organization has scheduled one of these "town hall" meetings, thinking it's going to be a balanced, neutral informational presentation, you're in for a surprise. If you want your members to get a balanced perspective, insist that your officers invite a representative from the opposition to speak at the same meeting. Call 836-0142 or e-mail voteno2025@usa.com to schedule a speaker.)

Next, Mickey Thompson, head of economic development for the Metro Tulsa Chamber, spoke about the Boeing and American Airlines propositions. He began with a chart showing that Tulsa's unemployment rate now matches the national average, after lagging a couple of points behind for most of the last five years. He said that the Tulsa region has lost 28,000 jobs over the last two years.

After a bit more, in which he mentioned layoffs at WorldCom and Williams, I raised my hand.

[I did not have a tape recorder, so this is my best recollection of how the conversation proceeded.]

"Mickey, how many of those jobs lost were related to aerospace?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe about 2,000." After a wary pause, he continued. "What's your point?"

"We're going to spend a billion dollars if this thing passes, and a large chunk of it is going to try to lure aerospace jobs to Tulsa. Is there anything in this package to address the other 26,000 jobs we lost? Is there anything here to try to regain the kind of jobs we lost at WorldCom and Williams?"

"No. The opportunity we have right now is to attract Boeing and keep American. At some time in the future there may be an opportunity to attract IT [information technology] jobs and we'll pursue that aggressively when the time arises. I have no idea what we can do right now to regain those jobs."

"If an opportunity arises in the future, how would we finance an incentives package to attract IT jobs? Would we go to the voters with another tax increase?"

"I sincerely doubt voters would have the appetite for another tax increase."

"Thank you for making my point."

(Sarcastically.) "Well, I'm glad I helped you make your point."

My point, in case you missed it, is that all the money we're spending will not help the segment of the economy most damaged by the current economic crisis. It will not keep our high-tech workers from being scattered to the four winds. And if we do have a chance to pursue high-tech jobs, we won't have the money to go after those jobs aggressively, because we'll have already committed a billion dollars to Vision 2025.

Imagine an F5 tornado cut a wide swath through Tulsa, from Carbondale to Catoosa, destroying thousands of homes. Then imagine that our city leaders announced that all the Federal relief money would go to rebuild one neighborhood in a flood plain; nothing would be spent on damaged homes in any other part of the city. The city leaders might say, "Rebuilding homes in this neighborhood will stimulate the economy, which will indirectly help the other folks who lost their homes. Never mind that the rebuilt houses are likely to be flooded." The Boeing deal involves the same kind of thinking.

My "no" vote is pro-Tulsa


I received an e-mail from someone who supported my campaign for City Council last year. He expressed confusion that I would aggressively oppose a program he considers good for Tulsa. I sent him a lengthy reply, and I thought it would be worth posting here:

Thank you for writing and expressing your concern. I can understand why you might be confused at my opposition, as the Tulsa World and John Erling have been portraying anyone opposed to this package as thoughtless, knee-jerk naysayers. Both media sources have taken long, thoughtful interviews and extracted soundbites that reinforce their caricature of the opposition. I want to assure you, particularly since you supported my campaign for City Council last year, that my opposition to this sales tax increase is not motivated by petty concerns or personal ambition, but by a desire to see Tulsa move forward with wisdom and true vision.

Like you, I want good things for Tulsa. There are things that Tulsa needs to be doing now to lay a good foundation for the future. While many people believe we just need to do something, I believe we need to do something effective. That was at the heart of my campaign for City Council.

I have been involved in this vision process since before it officially began, serving as a coordinator for TulsaNow, as a facilitator at the Mayor's Vision Summit, and on the Downtowns and Neighborhoods task force of the Dialog / Visioning process.

I have been involved in studying issues of economic and urban development for many years, looking at what has brought real success and real vitality to cities around the world. Jane Jacobs' landmark book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities; Roberta Brandes Gratz's Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown; and former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist's The Wealth of Cities, are among the books that have influenced my thinking, along with the work of academics like Professor Heywood Sanders, a leading expert on the convention industry, journalists like Joel Kotkin, an expert on the impact of the digital economy on competition between cities, and city planners like Vicki Noteis, who led a truly grass-roots process of vision building in Kansas City in the mid-'90s, a process that continues today.

Along with many other Tulsans, I tried to advance those ideas through this process. Unfortunately, the final package was not driven by grass-roots priorities or by the advice of the many experts who have visited Tulsa and given their counsel, but by the same interest groups who put together the 1997 and 2000 packages.

While there are some good ideas in this package -- projects that should be added to our capital improvements "wish list" -- very little is truly visionary, and the bulk of the money will be spent on economic development strategies which will not position Tulsa for future success. As to the specifics:

Boeing: Spending over $1 million per job (including Tulsa's $350 million and the state's rumored $650 million in Boeing incentives) is too high a price to pay, and it only makes Tulsa even more dependent on the perilous state of the commercial aviation industry. Boeing manufacturing jobs won't employ the thousands of high-tech workers displaced by problems at WorldCom and Williams. Tulsa should be diversifying its economy. It makes more sense to leave that money in the hands of Tulsa's taxpayers, for the free market to allocate, rather than letting politicians take it and redistribute it to one company with good lobbyists.

American: I support the Utility Board's recent decision to cut water rates for large industrial users out of city, and to build a sewer line that will serve American and other customers along North Mingo Road. These incentives do help American specifically, but other businesses can also take advantage of them. The sewer line will pay for itself by connecting more paying customers to our system. I cannot condone direct payments to a favored company, which is what the $22.3 million on the ballot amounts to. AA has committed 10 times that amount for naming rights for arenas in Dallas and Miami.

Arena / convention center / higher education: I lobbied hard to get this package broken into logical pieces, but supporters of an arena were determined to tie their pet project to more popular items. Some of the higher education proposals seem worthwhile, but the bulk of this tax will go to fund a new downtown arena and convention center expansion. I have read the feasibility study prepared by Convention, Sports, and Leisure cover-to-cover, and it reveals that better facilities will not draw lucrative national conventions to Tulsa, nor will it draw many major concerts. An expanded downtown convention center would continue to lose $2 million a year, money that comes out of the city's already-tight general fund. CSL projected the arena to make money, but the projection is grounded in selling an unrealistic number of luxury boxes and premium seats for minor league sports. Beyond the economic flaws, I cannot justify taking tax dollars from everyone to build entertainment facilities for a few. Entertainment should be left to the free market.

If the higher ed proposals truly have merit, we should work aggressively for state funding, then if necessary supplement that funding with a bond issue targeted to completing those facilities.

Community infrastructure: Many good projects in this package, but none urgent enough to deserve a tax increase now. In 2004, the City will seek a new general obligation bond issue to replace expiring bonds. In 2006, we will renew the 3rd penny and "4 to Fix the County". These are opportunities to fund worthy projects without raising taxes.

Beyond the pros and cons of the ballot items, I do not believe it makes economic sense to raise taxes now, when the Federal government is trying to stimulate the economy by cutting taxes. In fact, it is cruel to raise the cost of living on the thousands of unemployed and underemployed Tulsans who are working two and three jobs to make ends meet.

What should we be doing? Link up with OKC to get state government to reform our tax structure and workers' comp laws, to make Oklahoma a better place to start and grow a business. At the city level, implement the performance review recommendations to make city government more effective and efficient, so that Tulsa will be a better place to live and do business. Aggressively work with local business to find jobs for displaced high-tech workers -- they are our city's intellectual capital, and we are losing them to Texas and elsewhere, because they can't find work here. Work with private funding sources to develop small-business incubators -- encourage innovative ideas that start small but have the potential to grow big. Continue the long-term program to encourage new residential development downtown and in the surrounding neighborhoods. And finally, develop a comprehensive long-term strategic plan -- not just a list of projects, but addressing the challenges of the next 25 years -- Kansas City has a successful model that we could follow. None of this requires much in the way of public money, and all of it could be done without a tax increase.

There are many good people who sincerely believe that this sales tax program is a good plan. I disagree, but I respect their sincere good intentions for our city. I hope that this message conveys that those who oppose the sales tax are also sincere in desiring the best for our city.


Michael Bates

Julie Del Cour, in today's Whirled, makes hay about Tulsa hosting Barney, while Oklahoma City gets all the great concerts.

Check out the events calendar for Oklahoma City's Ford Center over the next few months. This month features Bullnanza, the Wiggles (a favorite among Barney fans -- Anthony of the Wiggles is my nearly-three-year old daughter's first crush), and American Idols Live. September -- nothing. October and November -- nothing but minor league hockey. December -- hockey and the Gaithers Homecoming Concert -- great for gospel music fans, but hardly the kind of cutting edge entertainment that we are told Tulsa must offer to keep our young people here. And Bill and Gloria Gaither fans are not the sort of crowd that will fill Arnie's Bar after the show is over. (Anyway, Tulsa had the Gaither concert last year, and they will return in October 2004 to the Mabee Center.)

January -- minor league hockey and the Globetrotters. (We get them, too, the night before, at the Mabee Center. And by the way, your vote for Proposition 4 will fund the demolition of the Sand Springs neighborhood where Globetrotter legend Marques Haynes grew up.) February and March -- minor league hockey. April, May, and June -- nothing at all.

So where are all the big name acts? Have they decided Oklahoma City isn't worth the trouble of unloading the tour buses?

Should we raise our taxes by a billion dollars just so our three-year-olds can see their favorite Australian TV stars live? Would preschool Wiggles fans spend big bucks drinking at Bad Girls, Inc., after the show?

And where are bands like Aerosmith playing this summer? Amphitheatres. Wasn't there some guy who wanted to build an amphitheatre near Sand Springs with private (not taxpayer) money? Why weren't our local leaders rolling out the red carpet for him?

And in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, the hot acts are playing privately owned venues like the Smirnoff Music Center amphitheatre (owned by House of Blues) (list of concerts here), and Next Stage, a state-of the-art concert hall (list of concerts here).

UPDATE: Tulsa has bigger names coming to the Cain's Ballroom over the next six months than the Ford Center has over the next year: Dwight Yoakum, Merle Haggard, Michael Martin Murphy, and Leon Russell. Jerry Lee Lewis is at the Greenwood Jazz Festival next weekend, and Kansas will play the Brady Village Stage the following Friday night. Click here for a list of concerts in Tulsa over the next few months. Now these may not be the hottest acts right now, but hot acts aren't showing up on OKC's calendar either.

Anyone out there still believe that there's nothing fun to do in Tulsa? Put down that remote and go out and see for yourself.

Urban Tulsa has published a lengthy interview with former City of Tulsa Street Commissioner Jim Hewgley, who is a co-chairman of the Tulsa County Coalition, the opposition to the billion-dollar sales tax proposal.

The article lets Commissioner Hewgley lay out his case against the sales tax hike and to contrast the concerns about this increase with his reasons for opposing the previous arena proposals. His argument is grounded in his experience with municipal finance and his inside knowledge of convention center and arena operations (he oversaw both, and the PAC, as street commissioner).

The UT interview stands in sharp contrast to Sunday's Whirled article, which edited the opposition's remarks to fit their caricature -- same old bunch with no coherent reason for objecting. By omitting facts that were inconvenient, the Whirled's news editor provided a perfect setup for the editorial board, who condemned the opposition based on the caricature offered on the news pages. This is not the first time the two departments have exhibited such teamwork.

Jim was the author of the original third-penny sales tax for capital improvements, back in 1979. In one of the article's highlights, he explains why that tax failed the first time it was proposed and what he and other city leaders did to fix it so that it would win public support:

�In the fall of �79 Mayor Inhofe called what would have been the version of the vision conference back then. We called a summit and we had it at Gilcrease Museum. We invited everybody. We invited, specifically, all those people that were against us.�

At that time there were five people on the city commission who were Republicans. Hewgley says they were sitting ducks. That�s why they invited the heads of the Democratic and Republican parties. �We wanted to get the parties involved. We also had what was left of the Vision 2000 which had created the Greater Tulsa Council. We had these planning teams. We had a lot of everyday people and not very many vested interests. We had a broader base of people.�

The role of the commissioners was to run the meetings. �Everybody knew, including the people at the table and including us, that we were going to be the ones making the decisions, not somebody pulling our strings like is the case today.� At the end of the process he says they still had all the same people involved. The same people walked the precincts. In 1980 the third-penny sales tax was approved by voters.

�We learned that if you keep putting objectionable projects into good issues and they keep getting beat that probably the way to get them passed is to pull the projects out.� The team pulled two key projects out of the third-penny tax: the 71st Street bridge and the low-water dam. �It goes to show you if you have projects that are worth their salt, they�ll get built anyway. The point there is that we can legitimately this call this vote coming up Tulsa Project 3 just because the coliseum is in it. That�s a lesson somebody hasn�t learned.�

Please read the whole thing.

The yeasayers are telling us that we have to raise local taxes to fund additions to state colleges because we can't count on the state to fund Tulsa campuses adequately. If that's so, there should have been money in this package to fund a far more pressing need -- completing the widening of I-44, particularly its most overburdened and dangerous stretch between the junction of I-44 and I-244 and the junction of I-44 and US 412.

Coming from the west, three lanes from I-44 and three lanes from I-244 narrow down to two for about four miles, before splitting off to become two lanes to Joplin and two lanes to Northwest Arkansas.

Last night, I drove my children out to east Tulsa, to my parents' home for a family gathering. KOTV had contacted me about getting my reaction to the "unveiling" of the arena proposal (really a rehash from three years ago), so I arranged to meet them at my folks' house.

We passed the 129th East Avenue exit on 244 and rounded the bend to see a traffic backed up from I-44 onto the overpass. This is not unusual, and I had no options, so we waited.

It took us nearly 90 minutes to travel the mile and a half to the next exit. There had been a horrific fatal accident near 193rd East Avenue -- a truck lost control, crossed the road and sliced the top off of the car, taking the driver with it.

Once we got off the interstate, traffic was backed up for a mile on Admiral with cars that had diverted from the expressway. It was getting close to 8:30, and the KOTV guys (who had been waiting patiently in front of my folks' place) arranged to meet me near where we were stuck, so they could return to the station in time to produce the story for the 10 o'clock broadcast.

The chaotic, dangerous mess that is I-44 is the first thing to greet visitors to our city and every day it inconveniences and endangers our own citizens. If we raise taxes by a billion to spend on arenas and pools and bribes to Boeing, we won't have it to fix more critical needs.

No federal money for river


KOTV reported recently that the much heralded river component of "Forfeit 4 Greater Taxes" can't happen because the expected Federal funding won't be available, because of more pressing needs. According to reporter Emory Bryan:

The $10 million in the Vision package depends on federal financing, which is not only uncertain - I'm told it's an absolute impossibility for the foreseeable future. The river was one of the early points of consensus for the vision plan, after many of the ideas - and much of the public support focused on items in and along the Arkansas.

The final package contains $10 million of projects to directly improve the river, primarily with two new low water dams that would make the river appear to have more water in it.

The federal funding problem comes down to this - Oklahoma's congressional delegation determines where the money goes for projects handled by the US Army Corps of Engineers. They are not going to even ask for the money until the cleanup of Tar Creek is funded.

A source told me that literally - cosmetic work on the Arkansas wouldn't happen until Tar Creek is cleaned up.

It's hard to argue with those priorities. Tar Creek is a hazard to Ottawa County residents, and potentially to Grand Lake. Our river is already lovely, even without new low water dams.

I have also heard that the "leadership team" that drew up the final package did not bother to consult with our congressional delegation to see whether their assumptions about Federal funding were well grounded.

Commissioner Bob Dick has admitted that due diligence hasn't been done on these projects. That is certainly the case here. And of course, we won't get the results of a professional study on developing the river until sometime next year. What other surprises are lurking?

High praise to KOTV for digging out this information and making it available to the voters.

Updated March 19, 2016 to add link to KOTV story as captured by the Internet Archive on August 1, 2003. Here is the complete story:

The Vision for the Arkansas River

The Vision 2025 plan for the Arkansas River. One of the key assumptions about the financing of the plan - is most likely impossible.

News on 6 reporter Emory Bryan has been covering all the aspects of the Vision 2025 plan and says there's a new wrinkle in the plan to improve the Arkansas.

The $10 million in the Vision package depends on federal financing, which is not only uncertain - I'm told it's an absolute impossibility for the foreseeable future. The river was one of the early points of consensus for the vision plan, after many of the ideas - and much of the public support focused on items in and along the Arkansas.

The final package contains $10 million of projects to directly improve the river, primarily with two new low water dams that would make the river appear to have more water in it.

The federal funding problem comes down to this - Oklahoma's congressional delegation determines where the money goes for projects handled by the US Army Corps of Engineers. They are not going to even ask for the money until the cleanup of Tar Creek is funded.

A source told me that literally - cosmetic work on the Arkansas wouldn't happen until Tar Creek is cleaned up.

Here is the Internet Archive link to KOTV's collection of stories about the Vision 2025 vote.

Whom do you trust?


Just heard from someone who was phone-polled about "Forfeit 4 Greater Taxes". The pollster gave him a list of names and asked: Whom do you trust the most? The least? Whom would you most like to see during this campaign? Least like to see?

On the list: Bill LaFortune, Bob Dick, Karen Keith, Rodger Randle, Becky Dixon, Clayton Vaughn.

The poll also asked how people would vote on each issue, and if they were opposed, what would they propose to do to move Tulsa forward?

Once again, the Chamber Pots are blind to the real problems with this package, and have failed to learn the lessons of their previous defeats. They think if they wrap up this stinker in pretty paper, people will buy it. The only thing they will accomplish by putting a trusted spokesperson in front of this issue is permanently damaging the credibility of the spokesperson.

If you resent government-by-poll, have some fun with them. Switch your answers around. Tell them you love the character you really can't stand. It could be fun to watch.

Because the proponents of this billion-dollar tax hike know they can't win on the merits, they have settled on using emotional manipulation to try to convince Tulsans to raise their own taxes on September 9th. A letter in today's Whirled illustrates the technique:

Doesnt anyone but me remember the way it used to be in Tulsa? There were good schools, opera, ballet, Broadway plays and we were so proud to say that we were living in the most beautiful city in the country. Back then there were presidents and CEOs of oil companies who promoted and led the advancement of our city in all directions.

Evidently this writer doesn't get out much. We still have a great opera. There's a performance on September 13; I've seen the billboards. The 2003-4 season includes three classics: La Traviata, the Barber of Seville, The Tales of Hoffman.

We still have a world-class ballet, too. The Ballet will perform the American premiere of a new ballet, along with a number of classic works. They'll be doing the Nutcracker again -- a Christmas tradition in Tulsa for over 30 years -- but this year will be an entirely new production, scripted and choreographed by Tulsa Ballet's artistic director, Marcello Angelini. Just a year ago, the Tulsa Ballet performed at the Ballet Nights Festival in Sintra, Portugal. According to their website, "Tulsa Ballet was the only American company featured at the festival and the only company in the 37-year history of the Sintra Festival asked to perform six times over two weekends."

And what about Broadway plays? Peter Pan was performed earlier this month at TCC's PACE, starring Broadway performer Kathryn Zaremba. And Celebrity Attractions has a full season planned, including Grease, The Producers, and Thoroughly Modern Millie.

And I haven't even mentioned the Signature Symphony, the Starlight Concert Band, Theatre Tulsa, not to mention countless amateur groups, plus the professional entertainers who perform in nightclubs and restaurants. There is plenty of live, high quality arts and entertainment to be had in Tulsa. All you have to do is scan the events calendar in the paper. There is something happening every night of the week. Or you can ignore the events calendar, pull out the TV listings, and complain about the lack of cultural amenities while you watch "Fear Factor".

And does this writer to the Whirled know how much of this billion dollar package will go to fund the arts? Zero. Not one itty-bitty penny.

As for good schools, Tulsa County has two high schools ranked in the top 4% of schools in the nation, according to the "Challenge Index": Tulsa's Booker T. Washington and Jenks. Tulsa area citizens have put plenty of money in the public schools. Over the last 10 years, Tulsa Public Schools taxpayers have voted for three bond issues totaling over $300 million. Citizens in the suburban Tulsa County districts have been just as generous with their school systems.

I'm still proud of this beautiful city, and I love it when friends visit for the first time, expecting flat, dusty, and barren, and instead seeing our beautiful trees and hills, and the beautiful buildings scattered throughout our city. Sadly, parts of our city are not as lovely, in large part because of some planning decisions made in decades past. But this sales tax hike won't fix that problem -- we need visionary leadership from elected officials and developers to reform the way we build our city.

Tulsa has its problems, but don't slander our fair city to our own citizens and to the rest of the world, just so we can goad Tulsa County citizens into raising their taxes by $1 billion. Let's celebrate what we have and find effective solutions to fix the problems.

What about the oil company CEOs? Most of them moved to Texas, where there is no state income tax.

Continuing with the letter:

Today people say that they will vote against Vision 2025 because they will not get any benefit from it. That means they dont believe money will come in from tourists coming to a new arena or that organizations will choose Tulsa over other places for conventions.

Arenas draw tourists? When was the last time you took a vacation to see an arena? There are some things in Proposition 4 that might be attractive to tourists -- funding for Route 66, the Jenks Aquarium, the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, the Indian Cultural Center -- except for the aquarium, these items tie into our unique history. (I think we could fund them without raising sales taxes, by using state, federal, and private grant money, or including them in renewals of existing funding packages.) An arena (in Proposition 3) would just be a big undistinguished building, a place to play minor league hockey -- a nice diversion for locals, but not a tourist draw.

As for the Convention Center, the CSL study shows that the vast majority of national business conventions and trade shows will not consider Tulsa, even if we add the recommended ballroom and meeting space. The best we can hope for are "SMERF" conventions -- social, military, educational, religious, and fraternal events, where people are spending their own money, rather than spending freely on an expense account. These conventions tend to be small, and many prefer hotel venues rather than downtown convention centers. The new Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center in south Tulsa is aggressively pursuing this kind of business, and we have three other hotels that can accommodate the small conventions that we have a shot at attracting.

They dont believe that our schools need funding because they have no children in school. Vision 2025 means to me that we now have a mayor in Bill LaFortune who has the same dedication and the desire to see Tulsa grow and prosper. If we dont fund these things, one day our school system will be just like Bostons and New Yorks where the wealthy send their children to private schools and the poor and the unambitious are the only ones in public school.

See above about our generous funding of the schools. They did lump about $11 million in common school funding in with the downtown sports arena, as a way of buying votes for that unpopular project. If the schools need this extra funding, they should use a bond issue to get the money directly, rather than going roundabout through the county treasury.

Weve been proud of Tulsa in education, economic growth, infrastructures, building, and architecture, and now it is time to continue the forward step. Our mayor is progressive, hardworking, completely unbiased in his desire for all this area to prosper. He has the backing of the City Council. Now lets show our desire to promote Tulsa by backing these people on Sept. 9.

Billie R. Jones, Tulsa

I want to see Tulsa continue to move forward as well, with a comprehensive, strategic plan, promised as part of this vision process, but not delivered. This collection of projects is not strategic, not visionary, and does not effectively address the real challenges we face.

Tulsans very reasonably feel we ought to show appreciation and concern for American Airlines, Tulsa's largest employer -- do everything to encourage them to stay and add jobs.

Tulsa has already done something significant. On June 25, the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority approved $8 million worth of incentives for American Airlines, including water rate reductions, building a new sewer line to their maintenance facility, and buying a wheel and brake facility (the old Builders Square at I-244 and Memorial), which the airline would lease from the city for $1 a year.

Now the county is applying for a state Community Development Block Grant of $1 million to pay for infrastructure at American Airlines. And American may be eligible for up to $12 million in state "Quality Jobs" rebates.

If Tulsa County voters approve Proposition 2 on September 9, American Airlines would get an additional $22.3 million, on top of all these other incentives. My understanding is that rather than building something for them, Tulsa County taxpayers would just be writing American Airlines a check. (If I'm wrong, let me know.)

Meanwhile, American Airlines has been spending $8.6 million a year on arena naming rights in Dallas and Miami. American has been trying to renegotiate its contracts -- a 30-year, $195 million dollar agreement in Dallas, and a 20-year, $42 million agreement in Miami.

My understanding is that none of the incentives we're offering will reverse the concessions that American employees have made. The CDBG money is suppose to somehow reverse layoffs, but the Whirled story didn't really explain how.

Today I was interviewed by the morning show host that people used to listen to. I thought the interview went well. He was trying to trap me with his questions, but his questions were easily anticipated, and I'm told I did a good job of representing the case against this sales tax increase.

His last question was to challenge me to name one project in this package that you think is a good idea. At some point in the interview, I reminded him that the vote on September 9th is not about whether we like all or some of the projects, but whether we should raise the cost of nearly everything so we can have these projects now. In response to his challenge, I thought of a number of projects that I like, and decided to mention the 61st Street road widening project. I said that I knew the road, it's near my work, I drove it often, and it needs widening, but it doesn't need to be funded now. It can wait until the next "third penny" (2006) or city bond issue (2004) or for a renewal of "4 to Fix the County" (also in 2006).

I didn't get this mentioned, but that project is also a good example of a practical, useful, but utterly non-visionary project that has been lumped into this mess they call a vision.

I didn't bother listening further and went on in to work. Later that morning, a coworker said he heard me on that station, complimented me, and said that the host (the one that people used to listen to) replayed a clip of my comment about 61st Street and said that it showed where my mind was at -- that I was totally focused on my own needs and didn't care about anyone else.

If I were selfish, wouldn't I try to get people to raise their taxes so I can have this project now? Isn't it selfless of me to urge people to defeat this tax increase, even though it contains a project that would benefit me personally?

It is typical of this host (the one that people used to listen to) to wait until after the interview is over, and the guest can't respond, to attack the guest. Much easier to debate a straw man (in the form of a selected sound bite) than a live human being. That kind of approach to the issues is why this guy is the host people used to listen to.

My colleague wondered whether the host's wife, a lobbyist, was making any money off of Vision 2025. I told him I hadn't heard that she was involved in any way. He just assumed that she must be on the "vote yes" payroll since her husband was attacking the opposition. That assumption seems to be widespread, which is another reason that this host is the one people used to listen to.



The following letter was sent to a number of Tulsa political leaders, including the Democratic and Republican county chairmen, back in June, at a time when Boeing emerged as a hot issue, and Mayor LaFortune, among others, floated the idea of putting Boeing and American incentives on the ballot, while putting the rest of the "vision process" on hold. Many people were counseling that putting a big tax package on the ballot, while the economy was still in a downturn, would be inviting a huge defeat at the polls -- better to go ahead and deal with Boeing and American, do whatever visionary projects that could be done without raising taxes, and give the economy a chance to improve before asking for more tax money from the public.

The signers of this letter indicate their displeasure with that line of thinking, but they do so in a very indirect and restrained way. But the intention is clear if you read between the lines. Someone who read this described the tone as "passive-aggressive." Some of the signatories have been significant donors to political campaigns. The signers may be dropping hints about the likelihood of future contributions; at least that's how some of the recipients interpreted it.

(Emphasis added.)

June 20, 2003

Dear [political leader]:

As local business leaders, we strongly support the commitment to revitalize our region through the Vision 2025 process. Nothing has determined the shape and tenor of the Tulsa area more than the willingness of concerned citizens to focus their talent and energy in crafting sensible initiatives to move our city forward.

Over the past 11 months, Mayor LaFortune and Commissioner Dick have conducted a grassroots effort to adress the complex economic challenges faced by our region. The result is a bold and necessary plan that serves as a platform of opportunity to unlock the potential of the Arkansas River, among others. This initiative will stimulate substantial investment, create new and better jobs, grow our small business sector and elevate the quality of life for all our citizens.

Despite the economic downturn and high unemployment, recent polling of Tulsa County voters indicates a majority of citizens want to move forward with a regional revitalization effort, funded by a penny increase in the county tax. In addition, recent developments with Boeing and strong indications of private investment for select projects add considerable value to the package and broaden the base of support. Still, with or without Boeing, the package of projects under consideration of the Leadership Team needs to move forward at this time.

Tulsa's vision is not limited to just building projects, but human capital as well. The OU Clinic will have an estimated economic impact of $1.5 billion and 700 new jobs over 15 years. OSU's Advanced Technology Research Center is estimated to generate $120 million to $150 million in revenues and salaries over the next 15 years, and $400 million in additional contract business. The Tulsa Regional Convention Center project will generate an estimated impact of some $33 million annually and $4.1 million in state and local tax revenues each year! Expo Square Phase III improvements will allow us to attract more than $30 million annually in new livestock/equestrian events to the community.

Delay and political divisiveness will only deny our region the social and economic opportunities inherent in solutions outlined in Vision 2025, and will accelerate the decline of a city at the crossroads. Tulsa's one strategic advantage may be its ability to move from envisioning to enacting a better tomorrow.

As major employers, we want you to know that we, the undersigned, stand in strong support of this strategic vision to ensure the Tulsa area prevails as a competitive, high-quality region in its next era and ask for your support.



Ron King, Chairman, CEO & President
BlueCross BlueShield of Oklahoma

Paula Marshall-Chapman, Chief Executive Officer
Bama Companies, Inc.

Stanley Lybarger, President & CEO
Bank of Oklahoma

David Kyle, President & CEO

Ed Keller, Chairman & CEO
Bank One, Oklahoma

Joseph E. Cappy, Chairman & CEO
Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, Inc.

Steven J. Malcolm, President & COO

The funny thing is that when this was written, there was no public or complete Vision 2025 plan. Two competing plans had been leaked, and the list of projects was changing on a daily basis. It's obvious which projects are most important in the eyes of the signers.

They should release the studies that justify their estimates of return on investment. Interesting that OU and OSU are each supposed to get $30 million, but the OU project is estimated to bring in 10 times the value of the OSU project. That suggests to me that the only reason OSU has a project is because OU got one.

Time doesn't permit a thorough deconstruction of the Whirled's Sunday article on the opposition, in which opposition leaders' remarks have been sliced, diced, and spun to make us look as incoherent as possible. I'll get to it; I promise.

But I have to correct an error which could and should have been checked before it was published. Regarding Tulsa County Coalition co-chairman and downtown businessman Tony Solow, the Whirled says:

Solow, who also opposed returning the Main Mall to a through street, said it is crazy that every time something comes up the city wants to use a sales tax to pay for pie in the sky.

I was at the Council meeting the night (in 2001 I think) when Tony Solow spoke eloquently in support of reopening Main Street and 5th Street, at a time when several Councilors and many downtown workers were trying to stop the project. Tony, who was a long-time Tulsa Tribune reporter, and who has an appreciation for the dynamics of downtown shaped by years of running a small business there, is opposed to the general idea of closing streets in downtown. He is in good company: Jane Jacobs and many other urban experts maintain that downtown street closings and "super blocks" disrupt traffic flow and help to drain the life out of downtown.

I've got more bones to pick with this article, but they'll have to wait.

This was buried at the end of a story by Susan Hylton on page A25 of Sunday's Whirled ("County considers grant bid for AA").

Commissioners on Monday also will consider adopting a resolution that requires a public hearing before any projects are deleted or added to the jobs, education and economic development portion of the vision package. Dick said the proposed resolution is an effort to clarify any questions citizens may have about the process.

Last week, Commissioner Dick, in answering the charge that voting yes would be like signing over a billion dollar blank check, pointed to Section 8 of each of the four ballot resolutions adopted by the County Commissioners on July 7. Section 8 specifies the projects and estimates of the cost of each. But Section 8, in each case but one, ends with this sentence:

In addition, such public trust shall approve any deletion or addition of projects from those listed above and any major change in scope of any such project following a public hearing by such trust.

The "public trust" has seven trustees, and they govern the expenditure of these funds. The trustees are the three County Commissioners, the Mayor of Tulsa, and three suburban Tulsa County mayors, appointed by the Chairman of the County Commission and confirmed by a majority of the County Commission. This trust can decide to cancel promised projects, add different projects, or completely change projects, as long as they money is spent for the broad category labeled on the ballot title as the "purpose" -- either "economic development" or "community infrastructure". That breadth of discretion is why many are calling this a billion dollar blank check.

Now, the trust does have to hold a public hearing before voting to make such changes. This means they have to give the public a chance to speak at the meeting before they take a vote. (You can have a public meeting -- public can attend -- without having a public hearing -- public can address the board.) A public hearing is a good thing; the County Commission is not required to hold public hearings and generally doesn't. Citizens should be seen and not heard, in their view.

For some reason, the phrase about a public hearing was left off of the ballot resolution which includes the Downtown Sports Arena. (The Whirled has chosen the euphemism "jobs, education and economic development portion" to refer to the ballot item dominated by the Downtown Sports Arena. This is because voters really don't like the idea of raising taxes to fund a Downtown Sports Arena.) Here's the end of section 8 on Proposition 3.

In addition, such public trust shall approve any deletion or addition of projects from those listed above and any major change in scope of any such project.

"Following a public hearing by such trust" is missing! Was this a mere "cut and paste" error, or was this deliberate? Not that a public hearing is a true check against abuse of power, but at least with a hearing they'd have to listen to citizens complain before they do what they want anyway.

I wonder if any of the Commissioners actually read these resolutions before all three voted to adopt them. When I called the County Commission late afternoon on Thursday, July 3, to see if I could get a copy, I was told that the lawyer was still working on them. So with the resolutions on the agenda for first thing on the next business day (Monday, July 7), not even the Commissioners, much less the general public, could look them over and catch errors.

So today they are supposed to fix this omission. What other gotchas are lurking in the fine print?

Is Tulsa's port deep enough?


There has been some discussion about Boeing's need for a deep-water port in close proximity to their proposed 7E7 assembly facility.

The McClellan-Kerr Navigation System, which terminates at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, has a depth of 9 feet and a minimum width of 250 feet. In other words, a ship's draft (how much it hangs below the waterline) can't be greater than 9 feet, or it may drag bottom.

I found the following quote on the website of Oklahoma Magazine, in a story about our port, with quotes from the port's director, Robert Portiss:

There are two kinds of ports, Portiss explained: deep draft ports that can handle large, keeled ships; and smaller inland ports, that handle flat-bottomed barges and towboats. Because of the relative shallowness of the Arkansas River System, oceangoing vessels must dock in places like Brownsville, Texas or New Orleans, Louisiana and unload their cargo to river-bound craft before it can be shipped inland to Catoosa or Muskogee, Oklahoma's other port.

That's a key distinction. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that a deep-water port is a requirement, but they also quote Mike Bair, Boeing senior vice president over the 7E7 program, who says that it's only important to have a way to get the very large aircraft parts from the deep water port to the plant:

One of Boeing's 7E7 site-selection criteria is for a deep-water port where these large pieces can be brought in by ship.

Bair would not say how close the port needs to be to the assembly site.

But barges could be used to take the parts from the port along a river to the assembly site. Rail could also be used, Bair said.

"There are obvious places you can go up river -- the Mississippi is big and deep," Bair said.

Hauling big airplane pieces from a port by train would pretty much require a straight shot.

"If we had to go through tunnels or around corners, that gets to be a problem," he said.

"So it's access to a deep-water port. And access means we can reasonably get the parts up and around to where the site is."

That doesn't rule out Tulsa, but transporting parts to Tulsa would require two transfers -- oceangoing ship to barge at New Orleans, barge to rail at Catoosa for the final leg of the journey to the plant at the airport -- instead of a single transfer for a plant on a rail line with a direct connection to a deep-water port. Three Japanese companies are on the shortlist to supply major components for the 7E7. That may put us at a disadvantage, as parts from Japan would have to travel through the Panama Canal, before turning back north and west to New Orleans, there to be transferred for the barge journey upstream. A west coast site would be a straight shot from Japan.

Dilbert on corporate welfare


Someone sent methis link to a Dilbert comic from a year ago. You don't suppose my correspondent had this little tidbit in mind, from an editorial in today's Whirled, about Tulsa's proposal to Boeing?

Sources say the state has contributed a $650 million package to go with a Tulsa package of $350 million.

Boeing's 7E7 plant is supposed to employ 800. The combined state/county package amounts to $1.25 million per job!

A special invitation


Oh the joys of mail merge! Here's an invitation I received in e-mail today:

To: Mr. Michael Bates From: Mayor Bill LaFortune

Please join Tulsa County Commissioner Bob Dick and me next Monday, 7:00 till
8:30 p.m., July 28, at Harwelden, 2210 South Main, for a private briefing on
the Vision 2025 proposals.

A private briefing! I feel special!

The purpose of this briefing is to provide you a complete outline of the proposals that will be on the ballot on September 9th. These proposals have been produced following the most extensive process of public participation in the history of the Tulsa region.

"Following" is the operative word. Following this extensive public participation process, the elders retired to their smoke-filled room and emerged with a plan, as Commissioner Collins said, that they could have produced a year earlier.

You are an important leader in Tulsa, and your perspective on the Vision 2025 proposals will likely influence many of your friends, colleagues, and neighbors.

I certainly hope so!

Jobs and economic growth are urgent needs. We must take action now to support jobs development through the Boeing and American Airlines propositions and create opportunities for business expansion. The education and quality of life propositions will improve the climate for economic development and help build the Tulsa region into a greater and more exciting community to live and work, where our children and grandchildren will want to stay and raise their families.

Do I see an elephant with painted toenails hiding in that jelly bean jar? Yep, it's the Downtown Sports Arena, all $183 million of it. It's the biggest item on the ballot (after Boeing) but it doesn't warrant a mention.

Please let me know if you can attend by replying to this email. You are
welcome to bring a guest (or guests). Please list their names in your RSVP.

Would any of you like to be my guest?

Vision 2025 is a critical opportunity for Tulsa. I hope you can join us.

I will be glad to join you and take the opportunity to be critical for the sake of Tulsa.

You may find the details of the proposals online at: www.vote2025.com
(The site will be fully operational on Monday.)

You may find the details... and then again you may not!

(This email was not prepared or mailed at government expense.)

That's nice. You notice that the word tax never occurs in this e-mail.

Hmm. This came to my e-mail address that's on the city's neighborhood list. You don't suppose that their e-mail address list was collected at taxpayer expense, do you?

Sorry, folks. I just got home from working late, and I'm in a silly mood. Serious analysis to return later today.

Another excerpt from my long response to the Mayor's Vision Summit last year, in response to a question about diversity -- some thoughts on individual vs. shared vision.

I wonder if a "shared vision" is a threat to diversity. At worst, the phrase conjures up images of rallies in Pyongyang. At the least, it suggests a uniformity that can stifle any concept that doesn't fit the conventional wisdom.

Most of the really interesting things in our world are the product, not of a "shared vision" developed by committee, but of the unique vision of one person or a small group. I think of the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas. It started in 1962 as the vision of one woman, Patty Carey, who acquired a used star projector and found some space in the poultry building at the state fairgrounds where she and some high school students could set it up. She wasn't thinking about boosting the city's economy or building a world-class tourist attraction -- she just wanted to inspire young people about space and science. Over time the planetarium grew in popularity, and exhibits were added. Today the Cosmosphere features "a U.S. space artifact collection second only to the National Air and Space Museum and the largest collection of Russian space artifacts found outside of Moscow," including the Apollo 13 command module and Gus Grissom's Liberty Bell 7. No committee would have come up with this idea, and no committee would have put it in the middle of Kansas. (And it is well worth the four-hour drive to visit.) If Patty Carey had gone to the Mayor of Hutchinson in 1962 and sought millions in public funding for her dream, she would have been laughed out of his office. In 1962, the little planetarium in the poultry building didn't need millions anyway -- the dream started small and grew over the course of decades.

The point is that the Next Great Big Idea That Will Put Tulsa On The Map is probably not one that a majority of us would recognize and get behind today. And the combined effect of a lot of Great Little Ideas, individually pursued, may do more for Tulsa's livability than any one big project. Perhaps our "shared vision" should be of a city that encourages individual innovation, rather than one where we are all expected to march in lock-step. (I didn't care for the description of the vision summiteers as an army of 1,100 people. We came to give marching orders, not to take them.) We need to come together to define "a shared vision" for Tulsa's public realm, but there should be liberty for individual visions to grow and flourish.

High-tech underemployment


The lead talking point for the supporters of "Forfeit 4 Greater Taxes" is that it's all about jobs. We need jobs, because so many Tulsans are unemployed.

We do need jobs, but the aircraft manufacturing jobs being touted as part of this sales tax increase won't help the thousands laid off from high-tech jobs at WorldCom and Williams. A series of stories in the business section of the Tulsa Whirled illustrates the challenge these people face in making ends meet when there are so few jobs that match their qualifications. (The stories start on this page, then jump here.) At best, Boeing's arrival and the arena may generate more menial jobs that these folks can do as their second or third jobs.

Read these stories and ask yourself, is it fair to make life more expensive for these people, who have already had to sacrifice so much, who are barely squeaking by, just so you can see a Cher concert in Tulsa?

About a year ago, I responded to a questionnaire about the Mayor's Vision Summit, for which I served as a facilitator. I came across my reply today, and much of it still seems relevant.

(My entire response, along with the responses of others, is in the archive of the old TulsaNow Yahoo! mailing list. UPDATE: I was informed this archive is only accessible to members of the mailing list, so I've added the text here. Click the link at the end of the entry.)

So here's my response to the final question. Unfortunately, I don't think the Leadership Team that produced the "Forfeit 4 Greater Taxes" package gave any thought to these issues.

What are the 10 most important considerations that must be faced in planning for Tulsa's future?

There seem to be various of interpretations of this question. I take this to mean economic, demographic, political realities -- whether positive or negative -- that have to be faced honestly so that we can make sound plans. In no particular order:

1. Tulsa's multi-billion dollar backlog of basic infrastructure needs. [Basic means streets and sewers, not arenas.]

2. The greying of the population. What can be done to make this city more hospitable to senior citizens?

3. Declining demand for unskilled labor as those jobs are exported, rising demand for skilled labor and knowledge workers.

4. The damage that has been done to Tulsa's urban fabric over the last 40 - 50 years. It's there, it can't be easily undone, and revitalization efforts have to be planned in a way that overcomes its effects.

5. The "brain drain" -- why have so many young Tulsans left, where have they gone, and what will it take to get them to come back? Let's find them and ask them. And let's talk to those who went away for a time but came back -- what drew them back?

6. The growing number of immigrants in our midst. How do we deal with linguistic and cultural barriers? How can we help them realize their dreams and thereby enhance their adopted city?

7. The electromagnetic pull of home entertainment -- home theaters, computers, game systems. Americans are finding plenty to keep them amused indoors, and many are oblivious to and uninterested in communal entertainment like nightclubs, movies, and concerts. Home entertainment options are less expensive and can be customized and scheduled to an individual's preferences. Reuters reported on Sunday that ticket sales by the top 50 concert acts are off by 18% from two years ago -- a loss of over 2 million ticket buyers.

8. The deep religious faith widespread in Tulsa and its environs. Some consider this an obstacle to progress, but many consider it a distinctive asset, the reason they came here and stayed. I listed it as one of the qualities we should maintain as we go forward. Whether you like it or not, it's a force to be understood and respected.

9. The diversity of priorities and concerns in Tulsa. Ask a Tulsan what should be our city's highest priority and the answer will vary based on where he lives, where he works, and on his other affiliations and interests. Our plans need to respect those diverse concerns.

10. Tulsa's unique qualities -- call them distinctives or idiosyncracies -- how can we raise awareness and pride locally and use this as an asset in our dealings with the rest of the world? I get the impression than some civic leaders are embarassed by our oil heritage, our Cowboy and Indian roots, and the strength of religious belief here -- so our tourist brochures trumpet the ballet and Philbrook and Utica Square, and downplay things like western swing music, the gun museum in Claremore, and ORU. When a German tourist comes to Oklahoma, he doesn't want to see the opera, he wants to see oil wells, tipis, old Route 66 motels, and tornadoes. Some adolescents go through a phase when their greatest longing is to be just like everyone else. If we're going to set ourselves apart, we have to stop trying to blend in as a modern city like every other, stop treating our quirky folkways as things to be suppressed and hidden, and celebrate them instead. It's nice to have the same cultural amenities as every other large city, but it's the unique qualities that will win the affections of our own people and capture the imaginations of the rest of the world.

Whirled in overdrive


Nice to see that the Whirled has already gone into desperation overdrive mode in support of "Forfeit 4 Greater Taxes". Two front-page, above-the-fold stories. I'll save you the trouble of reading them, because you've read them before:

Our Taxes Aren't That High

All the Other Cities Are Doing It

The first story is actually headlined "Low taxes vs. quality of life". So giving the county a billion dollars will guarantee a better quality of life?

The second story refers to Indianapolis winning the United Airlines maintenance base away from Oklahoma City. Indianapolis didn't win that competition with quality of life alone -- they also used $300 million in financial incentives. Today the base is closed and the jobs are gone. Read this earlier entry about Indianapolis' woes.

And as an extra bonus, I get attacked -- by name! -- in the letters section!

Time for church -- more later.

A reader of this site challenged me on several points. I won't name him, as I have no permission to do so, but I will quote his e-mail. I imagine his comments are widely shared among supporters of "Forfeit 4 Greater Taxes", so here is my reply.

If the "downtown arena" was not going to be built downtown, would you still be against it? What if it was built in Northeast Tulsa, or West Tulsa, or Broken Arrow? Still against it?

I am not against a sports arena, downtown or anywhere else -- as long as the taxpayers don't have to subsidize it. I believe in the notion of limited government -- limited in its powers, limited in the scope of its activities. There are some societal functions that only government should perform; some that could be done privately, but are more efficiently handled by government; and many more that should be left to businesses, individuals, families, and other private organizations.

The free market is very efficient at creating and satisfying the demand for entertainment. If some entrepreneur wished to build a sports arena, local government should wish him well and give him the same consideration as anyone else developing a new business. A privately funded arena would be built for less money, run more efficiently, and located more conveniently for sports fans than an arena whose location and operation is wrapped up in politics.

Friends who support the general idea of a new arena tell me they want it in south Tulsa, because it would be closer to where they live, and they don't like going downtown. The forces backing this package, however, have been trying to get an arena downtown for years, and that's where the one on the ballot will be.

It should be remembered that Tulsa will soon have five sports arenas ranging in size from about 5,700 seats to about 11,000 seats: Mabee Center, Convention Center, Reynolds Center, Expo Square Pavilion, and UMAC. Each of these venues seats enough to accommodate the crowds at 87% of the events held at the Convention Center from 1999-2002.

I understand a person not wanting to spend money. You might not ever step foot in the arena...even though I doubt that, you would probably go sometime and enjoy an event in the larger arena - that you are currently saying we don't need.

Even if I were to enjoy an event in the larger arena, I don't think it is fair for me to demand that my Tulsa County neighbors subsidize the experience. And that is what you will do if you vote to impose a tax to build a sports arena -- you demand that people who will never set foot in the new arena pay for its construction so that you can enjoy it. Not only that, you impose upon your fellow citizen the increased costs of operating and maintaining a new facility. That money will come out of the the city budget, and that means more important city services will be shortchanged so that you can see Cher at the new arena.

I do not understand how you can say, and tell others, we don't need it. It is inadequate for attracting most of the popular entertainers, inadequate as a sports facility, and inadequate for attracting larger conventions.

It comes down to needs vs. desires. A sports arena may be desirable, but it's not a necessity, and in any event, the free market is amazingly efficient at providing for your desires, if you're willing to pay to have them satisfied.

As for the adequacy of the current facilities, Convention, Sports, and Leisure (CSL) did a feasibility study, paid for by the City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Metro Chamber. CSL asked concert promoters if they would come to Tulsa if the proposed arena were built. Reactions were mixed -- many said Tulsa has sufficient facilities, only one said Tulsa needs a larger facility to draw more shows. Here's a quote from the study (in bold to differentiate it from the e-mail I'm answering):

Promoters were skeptical of a new arena's ability to draw incremental events to the marketplace. A few promoters thought that the Mabee Center (11,575 seats) is as large a facility as the Tulsa marketplace can support.

Promoters believed that to differentiate itself, a new arena facility would have to be larger than any of the existing facilities but they thought major concerts would still skip the Tulsa market since the market probably is not large enough to support that size of facility.

As for Tulsa's attractiveness as a convention site -- the facility is the least of our problems. In a later entry, I'll list the reasons 67% of national and regional conventions said they're not likely to use an expanded downtown Tulsa convention center.

All of the above generate revenue. We can debate forever how much revenue to forecast, but nonetheless its Revenue!

When someone wants you to fork over more taxes to pay for their desires, they try to justify it as economic development: "It will generate revenue!" Anyone who has to balance a checkbook will tell you that generating revenue is not enough -- revenue had better exceed expenses. So let's evaluate this proposal for its economic impact.

When you're talking about replacing or expanding an existing facility, incremental revenue is the key number: If we build it, how much more money will we make than we make now. Currently, the downtown convention center and arena loses about $2 million a year. If the proposed improvements are built, Convention, Sports and Leisure (CSL) estimates the convention center and arena will lose $600,000 a year, combined. That estimate is based on some rosy assumptions (like local companies paying tens of thousands of dollars a year to buy luxury boxes and seat licenses for minor-league hockey games), but even then, it doesn't represent much return for a $183 million investment -- less than 1% annually.

If we only sell 10 luxury boxes (@ $32,500 / year) and 500 club seats (@ $1,100), rather than the projected 20 boxes and 2000 club seats, and if Talons and Oilers attendance is closer to historic averages, the arena and convention center combined would lose closer to $2.1 million a year, no progress from current losses. It's up to the City of Tulsa to make up that deficit.

But what about increases in other spending? CSL projects an incremental impact of $5.2 million a year. Even assuming all of that is retail sales, that's less than $200,000 more in city sales tax, hardly enough to make up that huge operating deficit.

There are a couple of more paragraphs in that e-mail that I have yet to address, but it's late -- I'll save them for later.

The coordinating committee of TulsaNow (of which I am one of about 15 members) has issued a statement about the "Dialog / Visioning" process and the September 9 Tulsa County sales tax election. I want you to read this statement before you read on below. It would distort the carefully crafted message to quote one part of it, so I'm going to put the whole thing here:

TulsaNow has been involved in the regional vision process from the beginning. In June we emphasized to the Vision/Dialog leadership team some important principles based on research and prior success. The recently announced package of four proposals that will be presented to Tulsa County voters on September 9 has the potential to address some of those principles.

We believe that quality of life factors are key components of economic development, and that our vision for the future should include enhancing Tulsa's urban landscape, promoting walkable communities, addressing quality of life issues, and recognizing the importance of our city center. We encourage voters to consider whether the current package before the voters will bring us closer to that vision.

To learn more about the principles that can make these things happen, visit our web site. At www.tulsanow.org under Resources you'll find specifics on livability issues and the importance of a vibrant downtown in achieving regional economic competitiveness. This information was researched by TulsaNow members, from case studies of success in other cities and from experts from across the nation.

The citizen-strong process began soundly over a year ago, and we are proud of our involvement in helping it flourish. But at some point, an open, grassroots-driven process turned into a course of action restricted by uncertain hopes of short-term economic payoffs, and focused on political maneuvering for a sales tax election.

For many, this was a disappointing turn from what had been perceived as a significant stride forward in citizen involvement. It was also a departure from the Dialog / Visioning process, which was supposed to have included a Comprehensive Strategic Plan. This step in the process appears to have been skipped. Only a relatively small percentage of this 4-part package is devoted to vision-inspired, proven, and forward-looking strategies for healthy economies and vital city centers.

Although individual members may advocate for or against this package, TulsaNow as an organization is deliberately choosing not to endorse or oppose this package. Instead, we will continue to advocate for our principles. We will encourage and facilitate making all available information about the package accessible to the public. We will advocate for open, fair, and full debate of the issues.

TulsaNow believes the hard work of reshaping our region and our city as a 21st Century haven for expanded economic livelihood and viable, livable neighborhoods is just beginning. Regardless of how the vote concludes, TulsaNow will host The Day After, a September 10 public meeting to continue grassroots community dialogue about the future of our region. We remain positive about Tulsa's future, and we will stay the course.


Now my thoughts: Let me explain why TulsaNow is playing a valuable role in our city's future, and why this statement from TulsaNow is worth your attention.

TulsaNow members have been deeply involved in the vision process since the beginning. In fact, it began in April 2001, more than a year before the Mayor's Vision Summit, as an attempt to restart the civic dialogue about Tulsa's future in the wake of the defeat of "It's Tulsa's Time," the 2000 sales tax proposal for a sports arena. (One of the group's "conveners", Marilyn Inhofe-Tucker has written a brief history of TulsaNow.)

I was invited to participate in July 2001. I suspect that some of the founders were surprised at first to have in their midst someone who had been a leader of the opposition to the 2000 sports arena proposal. But we quickly found common ground: A desire to see Tulsa reach its potential, and particularly to see downtown become a vibrant urban place once again. As we studied the ideas of local and national experts on cities, the focus shifted away from building big edifices and toward the principles that mark successful downtowns -- creating a sense of place, preserving unique history, a combination of residential, retail, offices, and other uses, building pedestrian-friendly connections between activity centers, among other ideas.

As the statement mentions, the Resources section of TulsaNow's website has links, a bibliography, and articles about urban places and what makes them successful. The Mayor's Vision Summit report (both summary and full report) are online as well.

TulsaNow also focused on process, on the importance of true grass-roots involvement in defining a vision for our city's future. TulsaNow leaders helped plan the Mayor's Vision Summit, served as facilitators, and produced the official report. Last fall TulsaNow sponsored a "Battle of the Plans" to give Tulsans with a bold idea the chance to present it to the public. And when TulsaNow became concerned that the vision process was losing focus, we sent a polite but plain-spoken message to the Dialog / Visioning leadership team: "Please don't blow it."

Did the leadership team blow it anyway? You be the judge.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Boeing will cut 4,000 jobs from its commercial airplane unit.

Earlier in the week Continental Airlines announced it would defer an order for over $2 billion worth of Boeing airplanes until 2008, buying only 20 planes from a planned order of 56. Meanwhile, Midwest Express announced plans to slow the delivery schedule for new Boeing aircraft from 12 per year to 4 per year.

Here's the end of the story:

For Boeing the deferrals are another blow in what has been a dismal aviation market. The company may be able to replace the deliveries with other airline orders, but if Continental's move is the beginning of a trend, it could prove more serious.

In late June, Boeing handed out 60-day layoff notices, effective August 22, to 845 employees mostly in the commercial airplanes unit. It was unclear whether the latest announced cuts included these employees.

Boeing has cut about 34,735 jobs as part of a retrenchment that started in December 2001. The latest round will carry the company well past its initial target of cutting 35,000 jobs.

This raises several questions:

  1. If a company is looking for a place to build a new airplane, wouldn't a city with tens of thousands of laid-off, experienced airplane factory workers be irresistibly attractive?
  2. If you can't sell your existing aircraft models, will you be able to generate sales for a brand new model still on the drawing boards?
  3. Do we want our city's economy to be even more dependent than it already is on this industry?

UPDATE (7/18/2003): The WSJ link has expired, so here's a link to a story about the Boeing cuts in the Olympia, Washington, Olympian.

MAPS no vaccine against slump


Proponents of a new downtown sports arena, and proponents of raising taxes in general, often point to Oklahoma City as an example of what we could be if only Tulsans would tax themselves more. The claim is made that if we "invest" in a new sports arena and other public facilities, the economy will grow, and sales tax revenues will increase. Then we will have more money for basic services like public safety, street maintenance, and parks.

The kickoff press release from "Forfeit 4 Greater Taxes" claims that the cause of Tulsa's economic woes are due to the refusal of Tulsans to raise their own taxes:

Urban planners, local government officials and business leaders cite the two prior failed sales tax initiatives in 1997 and 2000 among the causes of the regions protracted economic slump. Oklahoma Citys MAPS project, a downtown revitalization effort, has generated some $1.1 billion in private investment and created scores of new jobs for the area. Meanwhile, greater Tulsa has continued to struggle.

So the troubles of CFS, WorldCom, Williams, and American Airlines were caused by the refusal of Tulsans to raise taxes to build a Downtown Sports Arena? Fascinating. Somehow I had the impression that questionable business practices and a massive terrorist attack were involved in the loss of thousands of high-paying, high-tech jobs.

Meanwhile, according to the "Forfeit 4 Greater Taxes" PR guy, Oklahoma City has created "scores of new jobs". I take this to mean between 40 and 199. If there were 200 or more, he could have written "hundreds"; less than 40 and he couldn't have said "scores". So Oklahoma City's billion-dollar investment has created at most 199 jobs -- that's over $5 million per job. I believe I could live very comfortably on the interest from that, even at today's rates.

Did MAPS immunize OKC from budget woes? What is OKC's fiscal situation? Their city budget and finance website describes it as a "budget crisis" -- cuts of 11% in most departments, 2% in police and fire. From OKC's 2003-2004 budget document (a large PDF file):

Sales tax collections for FY 2002-2003 are expected to end the fiscal year with a total of $139.3 million, which is 1.88% below the sales tax collected in FY 2001-2002. For the first time since the late 1980s, the General Fund is experiencing sales tax receipts that are lower than the previous year.

And what about all that convention business?

Hotel/motel tax revenue sustained a fairly significant decline during FY 2002-2003, with an expected year-end decrease of 4.12% below prior year collections.

And like Tulsa, they're raising money to keep the pools open.

In yesterday's Kansas City Star, E. Thomas McLanahan reviews Kansas City's bid to hang on to its American Airlines maintenance base (emphasis added):

In a bid to prevent American Airlines from closing its jetliner overhaul base at Kansas City International Airport, Mayor Kay Barnes has offered an eye-popping package of enticements.

Saving the 2,300 jobs at the facility is a laudable goal. But Barnes' proposal borders on recklessness.

What leaps out is the mayor's offer to provide American with money from the city's general fund to help the airline make payments on revenue bonds, which would be issued to finance upgrades at the overhaul base. The city already owns the overhaul base and leases it to the airline....

The point is not the specific amount of general-fund money to be placed at risk, but the validity of reaching for it to begin with. Directly paying shaky corporations to do business in Kansas City is a short-run tactic of desperation, not a path to long-term prosperity.

Sage was also murky about the so-called "credit enhancement" feature of Barnes' bond offer. Here, the issue is whether -- or to what extent -- Kansas City taxpayers could be forced to pay off the bonds if American goes belly-up....

If the city loses the jobs at the overhaul base, that would be a significant setback for the local economy and a debacle for the workers involved.

But the benefits of retaining those jobs must be balanced by the costs of the effort -- and the risk of sliding deeper into the loser's game of trying to "buy" development.

When the city's economic-development shop begins reaching directly into the general fund -- and doing it on behalf of a shaky player in an unstable industry -- it's time for a fresh look at where all this is heading.

Read the whole article for details.

Stealth sports arena


There are three words that the Chamber Pots and other supporters of this package hope you won't hear very often: "Downtown Sports Arena". For all their claims that this package represents what the people say they want, they are being very quiet about this item. At $183 million, it is the single largest item among the "visioning" projects, and second only to the Boeing incentives in the entire package. Although they say people are demanding a new Downtown Sports Arena, they aren't using it to sell the package.

(Come to think of it, since $250 million of the Boeing incentives are a loan that they will repay, Boeing would have a net cost of $100 million. So the Downtown Sports Arena is in fact the single most expensive item on this ballot.)

Today's Tulsa Whirled story, announcing the news that the Tulsa Metro Chamber endorses the $885 million tax package, provided this description of the package.

Citizens will go to the polls Sept. 9 to vote on four parts to the package. The package calls for a 13-year, 1-cent sales tax to support four proposals: $350 million in incentives to lure Boeing Co. to build its next-generation 7E7 plant in Tulsa; $22.3 million in incentives for American Airlines; $350.3 million for jobs, education and economic development; and $157.4 million for community enrichment infrastructure.

A $5 million senior rebate program brings the total package to $885 million.

The incentives for American Airlines would fund new tooling, equipment and inventory to keep that company's maintenance and engineering facilities in Tulsa. The community enrichment por tion includes parks, trails and attractions such as the Jazz Hall of Fame, Route 66, Arkansas River improvements and the Oklahoma Aquarium.

Where's the Downtown Sports Arena? The official euphemism ("events center") is not even used in this description, despite its $183 million cost.

Someone sent me a press release from the "Forfeit 4 Greater Taxes" campaign. In listing the projects in "Proposition 3: Economic Development / Educational / Health Care & Events Facilities", the so-called "events center" is listed next to last, following seven much less expensive projects.

I have heard that the Chamber Pots have marketing data that says their polling numbers go down every time the phrase "Downtown Sports Arena" is used.

(All together now: Downtown Sports Arena. Downtown Sports Arena. Downtown Sports Arena. Downtown Sports Arena.)

That's why they insisted on hiding the Downtown Sports Arena under an assumed name and tying it with other, more popular items. Business leaders even threatened to withhold money from the "vote yes" campaign if the Downtown Sports Arena was forced to stand on its own on the ballot. If you're wondering why elected officials didn't insist on a more logical ballot structure, there's your answer.

The Chamber Pots must think Tulsa County voters are pretty stupid. Burying the Downtown Sports Arena in a pile of little projects is like trying to hide an elephant in a jelly bean jar by painting its toenails different colors.

KTUL Newschannel 8 has a story about the Route 66 component of the "capital improvements/community enrichment" ballot item, part of the 13 year sales tax hike proposal Tulsa County voters will decide on September 9. The story makes a perplexing claim:

Twenty-four miles of the legendary road run right through the heart of Tulsa. But, for the most part, you have to hunt for it, in places where weeds grow through the sidewalks and grass tries to cover up signs of the 77-year-old American highway.

Tulsa may actually be one of the easiest cities for Route 66 aficianados to follow the old highway. Coming from the east, you exit at 193rd East Avenue, head south to 11th Street, then west on 11th all the way to and through downtown and across the bridge which puts you right on Southwest Boulevard. The western terminus can be tough to navigate, whether you try to get on the "new" 4-lane to Sapulpa or follow the old 2-lane which parallels the Frisco tracks through Oakhurst and Bowden. But the roads are all there, all well-traveled, no grass growing through the cracks.

Sometime back in the late '80s or early '90s, brown-and-white historic route signs were installed, but according to the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, many are weatherbeaten, have been stolen, or have been knocked down. So at the very least, we should see to it that new ones are put up, and we should put up signs on the interstate approaches to Tulsa to pique curiosity and help travelers find their way from the highway to the old road.

$15 million is earmarked for Route 66 improvements as part of the "capital improvements for community enrichment" ballot item. Voting for that item will impose a sales tax hike of 0.175% for 13 years. That's the second smallest item on the menu. The Newschannel 8 story gives a brief explanation as to what will be done with the $15 million:

Refurbishing the roads with lights, signs, museums, and parks will make it a fun roadway again for both Tulsans and visitors. It will breathe new life and hopefully tenants into now vacant buildings.

I need more detail, but if this is what it's all about, they've missed the point of Route 66. In 2000, there was talk of including money for Route 66 in the "Tulsa Time" sales tax package -- it was designated for "demolition and clearance". One of the task force leaders suggested turning Route 66 into a "tree-lined boulevard." This also indicated a failure to understand what makes Route 66 an attraction, what makes it fun.

Streetscaping and signage and museums are all well and good, but that's not what draws travelers to the old highway. As an old road rambler, I study old maps before embarking on a trip, and I allow for time to follow some of the old roads. We're trying to attract the same sorts of folks to drive old 66 through Tulsa.

Route 66 is a place to get a flavor of auto travel as it was before the interstates. For baby boomers, Route 66 is about remembering childhood family vacations. For Germans and Finns and Japanese, Route 66 is about getting a sense of America in all its weirdness and variety.

What makes Route 66 is the old stuff along side -- old motels, old gas stations, old cafe, old commercial blocks, like the one at 11th and Yale. When a Route 66 traveler approaches a city the big question is, "Do I stay on the interstate or take the old road?" The answer is determined by whether there's anything interesting to see along the city's segment of the old road.

Tulsa has already lost a lot: The Will Rogers Motor Lodge and Will Rogers Theatre. The Spanish-style Park Plaza Courts. Cook's Court. The art deco KVOO transmitter building. The Golden Drumstick. The Bowen Lounge. Wolf Robe's Trading Post. Nearly the entire West Tulsa commercial district. And countless other little motels, tourist courts, and greasy spoons.

Nevertheless, we still have a lot along the road worth seeing, and we ought to take steps to encourage its preservation. Some of these places are well-known enough not to be endangered: Warehouse Market, First Methodist Church. Others are important but underappreciated, all the more reason to identify and work to preserve them. Tulsa County's stretch of road has lodgings (active and inactive) from each decade of the road's heyday -- from the rustic simplicity of roadside cabins in far east Tulsa to the post-war flash of the old Saratoga Motor Inn. The Rose Bowl is a landmark, but the little old Tastee Freeze east of Yale deserves honor as well. Flashy neon signs are slowly breaking and not being replaced, which is sad. We need to keep that Desert Hills cactus glowing.

Oklahoma City decided that such things were too tacky for the approach to the State Capitol and cleared them away from the segment of old 66 which is Lincoln Boulevard. Perhaps a scenic view of Oklahoma's new dome outweighs preserving the spirit of the old highway. But that doesn't apply in Tulsa's case. A Route 66 project that omitted preservation wouldn't make much sense. Perhaps someone will supply me with details to satisfy my concern.

UPDATE: Got a call from Councilor Chris Medlock, who is part of the group developing the plan for Route 66. He says that the focus of spending for this initial phase will be on the sections of the road just outside downtown, for a few miles in each direction, along with money to direct travelers from the interstates to the old road. The aim is to provide public infrastructure improvements which will encourage businesses along the old road to make their own improvements. Councilor Medlock reminded me that the plan considered in 2000 ($30 million) focused on the construction of two visitors centers which would need to be staffed and maintained; this plan focuses on infrastructure which would require very little maintenance, and it leaves the focus on the businesses lining the old highway. Ultimately the goal is to encourage both preservation and development of new businesses reflecting the historic theme. (I guess Metro Diner would be an example of the latter, built in the '80s to look like something out of the '40s.) This is my paraphrase and condensation of Councilor Medlock's summary -- if I missed something crucial, I'll be glad to update this entry again.

Tulsa has not made much of Route 66 as an attraction for visitors and locals, so I hope we can do something to change that. I'd prefer to find a way to do it without raising taxes, however.

Ken Neal's Sunday editorial in the Whirled is such a grab bag of misstatements, distortions, and selective memory that I can't hope to answer it all before I leave for church, but I will at least start the process.

Ken repeats his often stated conviction that the Tulsa Project defeats in 1997 and 2000 were all about partisanship -- Republicans trying to prevent Democrat Mayor Susan Savage from enjoying a victory:

Yes, a new events center and money to refurbish the old assembly center have been voted down twice, once when Republicans sought to beat Democrat Susan Savage by trashing her program for a new center, and once when then Tulsa Congressman Steve Largent came out against the proposal virtually on election eve. Both elections were close but bound up in partisan politics.

The 1997 election wasn't at all close -- the No vote was over 60%, and the areas of strongest opposition were traditionally Democrat areas on the north side and west side. Of the three City Councilors who opposed the project, two were Democrats (Darla Hall and Joe Williams), and one was Republican (Sam Roop). The other three Republicans on the Council backed the tax, as did Governor Frank Keating. The leadership of the Total Tulsa Coalition, the committee opposing the sales tax increase, consisted of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

The vote was closer in 2000 (52-48), but hardly razor thin. Once again it was traditionally Democrat, working class areas that gave the biggest boost to the opposition, while strongly Republican areas gave the sports arena sales tax the most backing. Largent "came out " in opposition only to the extent that he answered truthfully when asked in a radio interview how he planned to vote. He never actively campaigned against it.

In 2000, there were fewer Democrats in active leadership of the opposition, but former Councilor Darla Hall campaigned against it, as did NAACP leader Jack Henderson. Many Democrats who had led the opposition in 1997 were still opposed, but said they could not speak out, because they had business with the city or for some other reason needed to remain in the good graces of Her Honor The Mayor. The word went out that disloyalty would be punished. The same bully brigade is at work this year; more about that in a later entry.

The Republicans who opposed the Tulsa Project sales tax in 1997 and again in 2000 did so out of principle, not partisanship, and you will see most of the same people opposing the same package again this year, even though we have a Republican mayor and a majority of Republicans on the County Commission. Jim Hewgley III, former streets commissioner and a leader of the opposition to this sales tax increase, was an early supporter of Bill LaFortune for Mayor, but because he believes this is the wrong tax at the wrong time, he'll oppose it. Ron Howell is a Republican leader, served on the Mayor's transition team, and headed up the Mayor's performance review of city government. He has come out in opposition to this package, not for political advantage -- his opposition is grounded on principle.

Ken Neal has been telling the same comforting fairy tales for the last three years to himself and the rest of the decrepit downtown establishment -- just get it on the ballot one more time, under a Republican mayor, and it will pass. So why is your sports arena polling in the 30 percent range?

Convention cutbacks


Yesterday's Whirled reported that the annual conference of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives is underway in Tulsa, with a 1,000 people expected to attend. The story notes that attendance isn't going to be as impressive as originally hoped.

The anticipated attendance is about half the size that originally was hoped for, Sgt. Wayne Allen said. When it was announced in August 2000 that Tulsa had won the bid for the NOBLE conference, attendance was estimated at 2,000. Since then, law enforcement agencies have had to make cutbacks because of strapped financial times. Travel has been one of the first things government agencies had to cut back on.

The situation with the economy has been a setback. There is not money for people to go to conferences. It has impacted all cities throughout the country, Nelson said.

Anyone in industry knows that the same thing is true in the private sector. Travel -- especially convention-related travel -- is a very visible expense and is easy to cut. Companies may cut out conferences entirely, or if it is essential that someone attend, they may send someone for a single day -- perhaps arriving in the morning and leaving that evening, to avoid a hotel and car rental bill. They may only allow travel within driving distance to avoid air fares.

A few weeks ago, two colleagues and I went to a computer tradeshow in Plano, Texas. We left the plant at 5:45 am, drove to Plano, arrived at the convention center at 9:45, in time for the first seminars, hit the seminars and made our way around the exhibit hall. At 3 the conference ended, by 3:15 the exhibits were packed away, at 3:30 we were back in the car. We stopped at a new Quik Trip in Plano for gas and 49 cent quart fountain drinks, hit the road and were back in Tulsa by 8.

I estimate that our total economic impact on Plano was $20 for three people (gas, sodas, a Slim Jim, and sunflower seeds). We ate the catered lunch at the conference (paid for by the exhibitors) so if you count that we hit $50 total for the three of us. There were less than 300 attendees, most of them from the DFW metroplex, so I imagine they had a similar impact. Most of the exhibitors were locally-based field reps for their companies, so they weren't paying for hotels or expensive meals either.

Less than $20 spending per person per day is a lot lower than the usual spending figures the convention promoters quote, but I suspect this manner of convention attendance is becoming more common, which brings into question the value of investing more money in taxpayer-funded convention facilities.

Now to be fair, this NOBLE conference is a national meeting, and I imagine most of the attendees will be here for most of the week, will stay in downtown hotels, and will spend their government per diems in local restaurants. But Tulsa's federal "meals and incidental expenses" rate is only $30 per day, so they won't be spending much. I doubt their sending agencies will authorize them to spend the $250 or more per day per person assumed by the $1.5 million economic impact estimate.

Another interesting note: Tulsa won this convention over Cincinnati and Los Angeles, despite our "outdated convention facilities". What drew this group of Black law enforcement execs?

Tulsas history, including the Greenwood districts being home to the first Black Wall Street, aided in the decision to bring the meeting to Tulsa, a NOBLE official said in 2000. The Tulsa Convention and Visitors Bureau reported then that affordability, accessibility and strong support from city leaders were the primary reasons behind Tulsas successful bid.

As I said in 1997 and 2000, and I'll say it again today, recognizing, preserving, and promoting Tulsa's unique heritage will do more to attract tourists and conventions than brick and mortar ever can.

Dan Hicks, an architect and activist involved in the opposition to the 13-year sales tax increase, was on KFAQ this morning, letting people know how to get involved. He had several recommendations:

  • Educate yourself: Listen to Michael DelGiorno on KFAQ (5:30 am - 9:00 am, 1170 on the AM dial). Read the Tulsa Beacon (new issue every Wednesday, Quik Trip and other stores carry it). The Tulsa Whirled has a record of trying to ignore the opposition and withholding information favorable to the opposition; don't expect them to give you a balanced perspective.

    Dan was kind enough to recommend this site as a source of information. I will do my best to update regularly with facts and analysis about this election.

    One more info source to keep an eye on: Tulsa Today, Tulsa's pioneering online news source. Tulsa Today has been tracking Tulsa's "vision quest" since the mid '90s. There are already some excellent articles about this election on the home page; expect to see more in-depth analysis as the next 60 days unfold.

  • Talk to your friends. Point your friends to the information sources above.
    Let them know why you oppose the sales tax increase. The vote yes side will try to make people feel selfish or ignorant for wanting to oppose the tax increase.

  • Call the editor, write letters to the editor of the Tulsa World, Tulsa Beacon, Urban Tulsa. Keep your letters short (under 200 words), and make them witty -- a different angle or a fresh idea is more likely to get printed than "Amen to what that other guy said."

  • Call TV and radio stations and urge them to schedule debates, with opportunities for the public to ask questions.

  • If you want to help with the campaign or would like a yard sign, e-mail voteno2025@usa.com and provide your name, address, and phone number.

    A campaign organization has been registered, and if you want to contribute, make your check payable to "Tulsa County Coalition", and mail it to:

    Tulsa County Coalition 1336 E 48th St Tulsa OK 74105
  • I can't let one appalling claim, made in yesterday's Whirled editorial, go unrebutted:

    Meanwhile, Tulsa falls further behind cities like Oklahoma City, whose citizens have voted more than $1 billion to build their city and watched a return of that much or more.

    Over the last 10 years, since Oklahoma City passed MAPS, Tulsans have approved over $700 million in capital improvements for the city, financed by sales taxes and bond issues. Tulsa Public School patrons voted for bond issues in 1996 ($94 million), 1999 ($109 million) and 2001 ($140 million). Add to that the sales taxes and bond issues approved by voters in Broken Arrow, Jenks, Union, and the rest of Tulsa County for civic and educational improvements. Tulsa County raised $27 million to get the Whirlpool plant, $66 million for a new jail, and $50 million in capital improvements in 2000's "4 to Fix the County" package. Plus $22 million for the library system (1998). And on and on.

    All this is just from memory and a bit of Googling around the Internet. I wonder if anyone has a list of all the sales tax and bond issues passed in Tulsa County since 1993. And I'm not even counting previous capital improvements measures (1980, 1985, 1991 "third penny", 1980 convention center expansion, etc.) that we undertook while Oklahoma City was sitting on its hands.

    I know the Whirled bunch is upset that we haven't given them their downtown sports arena yet, but that doesn't give the right to insult Tulsans by trying to tell us we haven't been investing in our community.

    Whirled-class whiners


    The Tulsa Whirled editorial board gave us a taste of the tone they plan to adopt in the recently commenced "Forfeit 4 Tulsa's Future" debate. In a classic example of projection, the Whirled editorialists whine that anyone with doubts or concerns about the wisdom of this package are the whiners and their concerns are not worth answering.

    Far from whining, those of us urging the County Commission to split the higher education projects from the sports arena worked constructively to repair the problem, first raising the concern with elected officials last month. Concerned that Tulsa's leaders should avoid the mistakes of the 1997 and 2000 sales tax increase attempts, some of us spent many hours over the weekend trying to persuade elected officials to use their last opportunity to repair the problem, and to let Tulsa County voters make rational, meaningful choices among very different types of projects.

    I personally have been involved for the last two years as part of Tulsa Now, trying to help guide the process to a genuine vision that a broad cross-section of Tulsa-area residents could embrace. This is the behavior of a whiner?

    It would be fun and easy to pick apart this childish editorial line by line, but I don't feel like wasting my time. It's clear the Whirled would prefer to holler "nanny nanny boo boo" than to engage in rational, grown-up debate with people who care about this region's future but have a different opinion about how best to secure that future.

    Tulsa Today has posted its story on Monday's County Commission meeting which includes comments from various players in the process. You should go and read the whole thing, but here are a couple of quotes I want to highlight:

    Revitalization will come from the private sector when it comes said Tulsa Real Estate Publisher Teresa ORourke. Officials keep offering tax increases, but without the focus on rebuilding neighborhoods much more crucial to revitalization. Downtown housing is more important to retail businesses and entertainment venues than any arena has ever been in any city.

    Teresa O'Rourke is exactly right. (By the way, she publishes an excellent monthly newspaper -- My Hometown Neighborhood -- which you can find at Albertson's, Reasor's, Walgreen's, and other locations around Midtown.)

    Here's the second quote from Mayor LaFortune:

    When questioned on the regressive nature of sales taxes and their impact on small business and financially struggling families, LaFortune said, Small business is the backbone of Tulsas economy and I am trying to create the draw for big business to come in and bring the jobs with disposable incomes that will flow to small businesses throughout this region.

    It's worrying to read that our Mayor holds to this misunderstanding of economics and is allowing it to guide his policies. He seems to picture big business as the economic engine, with small business being pulled along behind, as if in a trailer. There are two misapprehensions behind his words: (1) Only big businesses (and big facilities like convention centers and sports arenas) bring outside money into the local economy. As the big businesses pay their employees, their employees buy things locally from small businesses. Which brings us to misconception (2): Small businesses are all retail and service establishments wholly dependent on local customers for revenue.

    In fact, many Tulsa small businesses are engaged in providing goods and services to the rest of the US and the rest of the world, bringing new dollars into the economy. The Internet makes it possible for a company of any size to have a worldwide sales presence, which allows even more entrepreneurs with a dream to find buyers around the world who need what they offer.

    The National Federation of Independent Business(NFIB) has research showing that small businesses are our main job creation engine:

    Nonetheless, a fair summary of the relevant research is that small business has created about two-thirds of the net new jobs in the United States since 1970.

    Far from being dependent on the health of big business, small businesses generate their own economic activity, which cushions the blow when big businesses are suffering.

    The proportion of jobs created varies notably over the business cycle. Large firms appear to create relatively more toward the end of a cycle. Small businesses create virtually the only net new jobs during recessions and the early to mid portions of an expansion. The number of jobs it creates tends to be constant across time. As a result, small business stabilizes the economy over the business cycle while larger firms destabilize it through wild employment swings.

    People aren't born full-grown and neither are businesses. Some of today's 10-person firms could have thousands of employees in 10 years. Dollar Thrifty Group, one of Tulsa's largest employers, began as a small business here in Tulsa over 50 years ago. We need to make Oklahoma hospitable to entrepreneurs who want to build and grow a business. Right now our tax and regulatory climate is a deterrent, driving ambitious dreamers to business-friendly states like Texas, where you can keep more of your hard-earned money.

    Michael DelGiorno of 1170 KFAQ has been saying investing $1 million each in 350 small businesses would give us more jobs and more economic growth than giving $350 million to one big company. The facts about small business suggest he's right. At the least, we can avoid heaping higher taxes on small businesses, so they can afford to grow and hire.

    The Stacked Deck


    From this morning's Whirled, about yesterday's County Commission meeting, in which the Commission voted to send the $885 million sales tax increase to the voters:

    At one point, Collins, the commissions chairman, was interrupted by an outburst from Michael Bates, the state committeeman for the Republican Party, who alleged that the leadership team had been stacked with downtown special interest groups that dont represent taxpayer interests.

    Here's some context: Commissioner Wilbert Collins gave a few people -- the Mayor, City Councilors Medlock, Christensen, and Roop, and myself -- the opportunity to speak before the commissioners took up the five agenda items on the election (one for each ballot item, plus one for a sales tax overview committee). Chris Medlock requested that the Commission split the ballot item that includes both higher education funding and the arena and convention center, so that the arena and convention center would stand alone on the ballot. Bill Christiansen echoed Medlock's call, and also requested that funding for the Fred Creek project be restored -- it had been on the list a couple of weeks ago, but was cut for some reason. The Mayor also spoke about the importance of the Fred Creek project, but said nothing in support of splitting off the arena and convention center as a separate ballot item. Then Councilor Roop spoke in favor of making the split, as did I. I pointed out that the "leadership team" was merely an advisory body, but the decision belonged to them, the elected representatives of the people. I also expressed concern that the arena, twice rejected by the voters, would drag down higher education, common education, and the Morton Health Center, which deserve to be considered on their own merits.

    The issue here was clarity and fairness -- will the voters be able to make meaningful choices to approve or reject the various projects?

    Then the Commissioners spoke. A motion was made to approve all five agenda items (four ballot items, plus sales tax overview committee) at once. Bob Dick reiterated his pledge to support whatever the leadership team recommended. Randi Miller expressed her support for splitting the arena and convention center from the other projects, and again voiced her feeling that it would be best to go forward with Boeing and American Airlines incentives and leave the rest for another time.

    Last week, when the question of separating the arena and convention center came up, Commissioner Collins was supportive of the idea, as were six city councilors (all Republicans except Neal, plus Democrats Justis and Williams) and other elected officials. But yesterday, when Wilbert Collins spoke, he pointed out the unanimous vote of the leadership team to recommend the fourfold package to the County Commission. He said he could not undermine the "process", just to help out a few friends.

    It was at this point that I said, "All the citizens need your help. The leadership team was stacked." I did not rise from my seat, I did not scream or shout -- I did use a speaking voice that would be audible around the room. And I said nothing more. Collins admonished me, then said that since his words appeared to be making people angry, he wouldn't say anything more, and they would proceed to a vote.

    Despite her objections Commissioner Miller voted yes, along with the other two commissioners. Collins said that his goal had been to get all three commissioners supporting the project, and he had what he wanted.

    So what happened here? Three elected officials, representing nearly 200,000 people each, abdicated their decision-making responsibility to an unofficial, unelected advisory panel, dominated by representatives of downtown business interests. The six special interest representatives plus closely-allied elected officials (Commissioner Bob Dick, Councilor Susan Neal, Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland) controlled a majority of the leadership team, able to prevail on any issue even if the majority of the County Commissioners, the Mayor of Tulsa, Councilor Christiansen, and the Mayors of Broken Arrow and Skiatook were united on the other side. Adding the six special interest representatives, a 6-3 win for one side turns into a 9-6 win for the other.

    Clearly, the leadership team was structured to ensure that the same cluster of interests that defined the 1997 Tulsa Project package and the 2000 Tulsa Time package were in full control of this package as well, with a new big downtown arena as the primary goal. Nevertheless, a majority of County Commissioners still had the power to dispose of the leadership team's recommendations however they wished.

    Anyone hoping for a truly visionary result to this process is bound to be disappointed today. For all their boasting about listening to the public, in the end, our elected officials heard and heeded only the voices of the entrenched special interests.

    A short insightful reply to "The Tulsa Time Blues" was posted on Tulsa Now's forum, by someone signing himself "wilburchannelcat". (It's the third post on that topic.)

    Tulsa doesn't need a plan or a vision. We need planners and visionaries. We need people who are willing to take risks. We need wealthy citizens to step up to the plate and to support the planners and visionaries. We need great public schools around downtown so that people with children do not feel the pull to suburbia for the sake of their children's education. We need low interest loans to entice entrepreneurs to come downtown. We need to give Michael Sager a big wet kiss for actually doing something with his downtown property. We need to forget about Boeing because they are not going to move to Tulsa - we don't have a deep sea port and nothing can change that. We need influential Tulsans to move downtown and not just talk about what a wonderful place it could be. We need leaders that will raise our standards for what is considered to be good architecture. We need to realize that Major League Soccer doesn't attract a large crown in major cities like Dallas and Kansas City so it probably won't attract a crowd in Tulsa. We need to support the Businesses that have already set up shop in and around Downtown.

    Good points all. 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.

    Tulsa needs people embued with the spirit of the wildcatters -- willing to pursue their unique vision and spend to make it happen. A crown jewel like Villa Philbrook was not built with government funding but by a man with a dream who was willing to pursue it. And the sports venue that gives Tulsa the most positive publicity -- Southern Hills Country Club, privately built. And one of Tulsa's biggest tourist attractions is a college campus built by a man who has had many "visions" -- I refer to Oral Roberts and his university. Likewise most of Tulsa's art deco treasures. Committee-driven "visions" (whether developed by government or big business) tend to be bland, boring, least common denominator. But an individual or small group, willing to take risks in pursuit of a vision, is more likely to produce something bold and daring.

    I especially like the comment about influential Tulsans moving downtown. One or two influential people could start a trend for downtown living, and as people with disposable incomes move in, the retail businesses and vitality will follow. Has anyone noticed the transformation of 15th Street from the BA to Harvard? These commercial buildings, fronting old U. S. 64, are slowly filling up with boutiques, where once they were empty or underused. There was no government program to make this happen, but Florence Park has become a fashionable neighborhood, and property values have rocketed. With wealthier people moving in, businesses catering to them have followed.

    The point about raising architectural standards agrees nicely with a point made by Kevin Adams in the addendum to "Tulsa Time Blues": Base zoning on form, rather than use. What your building looks like has more impact on the value of your neighbor's property than what you do inside.

    The Tulsa Whirled editorial board yesterday endorsed the "vision" plan which the County Commission will consider on Monday. They insisted on calling it "four bond issues," which displays their ignorance of municipal finance. The proposals being discussed are sales tax increases.

    The Whirled writers have repeatedly failed to maintain the distinction between these two instruments of local government finance. It's an important distinction, because they impose different burdens on the taxpayers.

    In common language, "bond issue" refers to a general obligation bond issue. When voters approve general obligation bond issues, the result is a property tax increase to repay the bonds, which are issued against the full faith and credit of the issuing government.

    A sales tax increase may result in the issuance of bonds, but these are revenue bonds, pledged against the revenues received from the added amount of tax. Essentially the local government borrows against future receipts so they can spend the money before it's all collected.

    If you can't trust the Whirled editorial board to get such a simple detail right, can you trust them to get anything right?

    The Tulsa Time Blues


    I said earlier that Tulsa was mentioned in an essay the new issue of The Next American City. I received permission from Kevin Adams, the author of the essay, to post it here and distribute it. He also provided me with some additional material -- specific policy recommendations which flesh out his ideas. Here is his bio from the magazine:

    KEVIN ADAMS works as an economic development analyst for the metropolitan planning organization of Southern New Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania. He is a native Tulsan, but aggravated with the lack of residential choice in his hometown, currently resides on a traditional American street in the heart of Center City Philadelphia.

    Here are a few excerpts from the article; the full article is linked at the end of this entry.

    Here's how he begins:

    I recently met a woman who had given up her job as a Houston oil company executive to sing full-time in a national touring company. I asked her if she had ever performed in Tulsa, and what she thought of the city. Her response was polite and restrained. After some prodding, she admitted that it was one of the least hospitable cities she had visited. Car-less and trapped in a downtown hotel, she and her fellow performers couldnt wait to get back on the road.

    About the 1997 "Tulsa Project":

    In the late 1990s, Tulsas city government proposed a grand building scheme known as the Tulsa Project, hoping to rescue Tulsa from its image void while revitalizing the downtown. The effort resembled countless other so-called urban revitalization schemes that larger cities had employed, with a few twists.

    Tulsas big idea was to take a failed model and scale it down to Tulsa size. ...

    About the current vision process:

    While its exciting to see community spirit thrive in the face of so many failures, the friction from our collective wheel-spinning is becoming unbearable. I want to scream out to Tulsans to think. If these projects are getting us nowhere, whats the point of yet another?

    Tulsans understandably want an American city to be proud of, but we should slow down and think about the quality urban places we love and why we love them. Is New York just its skyscrapers? Is San Francisco only a bridge? What do these cities, big or small, have that Tulsa does not?

    Is Tulsa a real, defineable, urban place? No, but it could be.

    In its present form, all of Tulsa looks suburban. Even downtown is more an office park than an urban village. Cars are used for all trips. Consequently, each element of city lifehousing, jobs, storesis increasingly separated from others by miles of asphalt, creating a city of parking lots, expanding highways, and little else. How can an outmoded, suburban Tulsa compete with a shinier and even less dense suburb on our fringe? We should leave the suburban market to the suburbs and try to develop a new urban market for ourselves, incorporating the time-honored principles of Jane Jacobs school of urbanism. We should focus on creating exciting urban streets, which will encourage personal and economic exchange qualitatively different from the social and economic interactions of the suburbs.

    What would Joel do?


    I mentioned previously that I'd like to see urban design and economic experts come in to evaluate the $877 million dollar package proposed by the Dialog / Visioning Leadership Team, so that their comments and feedback can be considered before the final package is sent to the people for a vote.

    Joel Kotkin is one of those experts whose advice we should seek. Kotkin is a columnist on real estate and urban growth. He has coined the term "the new geography" to refer to the fact that companies engaged in the digital realm aren't tied to geography in the way that traditional industry is, and that changes the rules of the game as cities compete with one another.

    Following his visit last May, Kotkin wrote about Tulsa in the Wall Street Journal. His last two paragraphs indicate the start of a consensus about where Tulsa should be headed:

    Mr. Anderson and others believe the key to reviving Tulsa, and its downtown, lies in a sweeping revaluation of the city's assets and the adoption of a new, forward-looking development strategy. New leaders in the city like Messrs. Anderson and Coury, software entrepreneur Brent Johnson, and recently elected Mayor Bill LaFortune, largely agree that the city's fortune rests on two fronts. One is enhancing the physical, cultural and lifestyle endowments of the city. Critical to this process will be new housing both downtown and in nearby residential neighborhoods, redevelopment and environmental cleanup along the Arkansas River, as well as expanding the arts presence in the city. "The art deco and the arts won't save the city, but it's something other places don't have," argues Mayor LaFortune. "We have to build on our strengths."

    This is the only way, they believe, to pave the way for success on the second major front-the transitioning of Tulsa from a large, company-dominated economy to one that attracts a plethora of smaller, entrepreneurial ventures, and the generally young workforce that powers them. "The critical issue now is to focus on the growth of small companies," Mr. Anderson believes. "To do that, we have to focus on the quality of life to get them here and keep them here."

    Here are some of Kotkin's own thoughts, as reported in the Tulsa Whirled by Janet Pearson:

    Tulsa's success will depend not so much on traditional economic development strategies, author and consultant Joel Kotkin said, but rather on the top asset of the technological age: human capital.

    There will be no "magic bullet," no corporate white knight who will swoop in and save the city....

    Tulsa has demonstrated its adaptability by rebounding from the energy bust, Kotkin noted, but its heavy reliance on telecom creates new challenges. But Tulsa can emerge from the Williams Communication Group Inc. bankruptcy crisis stronger than ever by coming up with a plan.

    "You should react by saying not that the end is near, but how do we overcome it," Kotkin said. "Those in the telecom industry still have knowledge and skills. Find a way to redeploy them, either in existing companies or by starting new ones."

    Tulsa should refine its ability to attract and retain well-educated and highly skilled workers or lose out to other communities with that edge, he said.

    "That is the real key issue for Tulsa. . . . All the traditional ideas of economic development, particularly those used here in the Midwest, have failed. I really believe human capital will be much more important in the future, and Tulsa has much to offer in that regard."

    But not enough at the moment. Tulsa has major deficiencies -- lack of educational resources, little venture capital, meager research activity, sparse entertainment offerings -- all of which hurt its attractiveness....

    Kotkin believes Tulsa has "the base of a great downtown but you don't have a great downtown." But he doesn't think improved convention facilities are necessarily the answer.

    "What's needed is for people to be able to walk, shop and do things downtown. A grassroots revival is needed, not a stadium."

    And from a news story:

    Kotkin's discouragement of cities seeking to build new arenas and convention centers drew some applause from the crowd.

    "I think those leaders are living in the wrong decade," Kotkin said, referring to backers of expanded convention industry facilities....

    Kotkin contends the convention industry has "played itself out."
    "I can think of better things to do with the money," Kotkin said.

    Think on these things, and ask, does any item in the current proposal address any of these issues? Or does it seem like our leaders are taking us as fast as possible in the opposite direction?

    Broken links to newgeography.com UPDATED to joelkotkin.com 6/18/2005. And see a more recent entry -- a KFAQ radio interview with Kotkin.

    In the previous entry, I brought up the notion of the "opportunity cost" -- "the advantage forgone as the result of the acceptance of an alternative" -- and I applied it to the impact of the proposed sales tax increase on a typical Tulsa County family.

    The same concept applies to the Dialog / Visioning Leadership Team as they consider their options later today. There are a lot of voices saying that we must do something, anything right now, or risk falling further behind competing cities. But there is an alternative worse than doing nothing right now.

    Let's suppose that the County Commissioners put the current package to a vote of the people and it is approved in all its parts, imposing a one-percent tax on all sales in Tulsa County for the next 13 years.

    Now think ahead five years. It is likely that the County would pledge this new tax stream to obtain revenue bonds, so that most of the money could be spent within the first few years to build the promised projects. So by five years, most of the money will have been spent, although we'll still have eight years left of collecting the tax.

    If we get five years into this tax and it is apparent that this $877 million package has failed to ignite our economy, attract high-tech jobs, revitalize downtown, and make Tulsa The Place To Be, what options will we have? It will be politically impossible to raise taxes again to fund new projects that might be more effective.

    This puts a huge burden on our elected leaders to get this package right, because if it passes, we have locked into this course for the next 13 years. Would it not be better to take another month or two, to invite some number crunchers and urban analysts to apply some healthy skepticism, to find out if the package can really deliver what we are all hoping for? I am prepared to nominate an international review panel who will provide us with some honest feedback. But I will do that in a later entry.

    The Next American City


    Got word today that Tulsa Now was mentioned in the the second issue of The Next American City, which describes itself as

    a new national magazine that explores the transformation of America's cities and suburbs, asking tough questions about how and why our economy, society and culture are changing. ["Our Mission"]

    Unfortunately, the article that refers to Tulsa Now, entitled "Tulsa Time Blues", is not yet online; only selected articles from the current issue are available. There are plenty of interesting articles online, however:

    The description of that book review is a fair characterization of the approach that The Next American City is taking: Sympathetic to "smart growth", New Urbanism, and related concepts, but willing to examine honestly their theoretical contradictions and practical problems.

    One complaint: The website is not Mozilla-friendly. You can only get to the drop down menus and therefore to many pages on their site if you are using IE.

    Can't wait to find out what they said about Tulsa Now, but until then, there's plenty of stimulating material to ponder.

    A hopeful sign


    I got an encouraging call from the Mayor's Office Thursday. The Mayor, with the support of most of the City Councilors, will ask the Dialog / Visioning 2025 Leadership Team to separate the American Airlines incentives package to stand on its own on the ballot, rather than being wrapped up in a single ballot item including Convention Center expansion and a new downtown sports arena.

    At the Leadership Team meeting yesterday, during public comments, I objected to linking the American Airlines package to these same projects that had been on the ballot and been defeated in 1997 and 2000. I urged that the sports arena and Convention Center proposals each stand on their own as separate ballot items. (It can be done, see my previous item.) Separating the American issue is a step in the right direction, and my appreciation to the Mayor and Council. I am hoping for yet more progress.

    To finish a thought from yesterday: Here's how you expand and improve the Convention Center, as recommended by the consultants, without also building a brand new downtown sports arena.

    Conventions, Sports, and Leisure (CSL), a consulting firm, was hired by the City and the Metro Tulsa Chamber to study the feasibility of several major downtown projects. Regarding the downtown Convention Center they recommended improvements in technology and aesthetics and the addition of a 25,000 square foot ballroom and 10,000 square feet of meeting space. It has been asserted that we need to put the additional space where the existing sports arena is, and therefore it wouldn't make sense to do the Convention Center improvements without building a new sports arena.

    (The CSL report did not indicate that a bigger sports arena was needed to accommodate conventions, and in fact it noted that over the last three years, only 14 arena events used more than 7,000 seats, and only 3 of those used more than 7,500 of the 8,900 available. The median event drew less than 3,500 people. Perhaps proponents of a new and bigger sports arena would like two seats between them and the next person, instead of just one.)

    Here's an alternative that leaves the existing sports arena in place: There is a vacant city block north of the existing Convention Center exhibit hall and west of the parking garage. As a full block, it has an area of 90,000 square feet more or less, not counting the stub of 4th Street between the exhibit hall and the lot of which I speak. That's plenty of space for a recommended 35,000 square foot expansion, plus corridors and service areas.

    Whether we need a new taxpayer-funded arena or not, whether or not we need to expand the Convention Center are separate issues. The point I wish to make is that the two issues can be separated, and they should be separated on this ballot. In 1997 and 2000 , many Tulsans were frustrated that they could not support Convention Center improvements without having to buy (for twice the price) a new sports arena. This time, Tulsans deserve a full, fair, and flexible choice. I'm hoping our County Commissioners will give us that choice.

    Well, it's out there -- unveiled at a meeting of the Dialog / Visioning Leadership Team this afternoon at the Central Library. Tulsa Today has the details.

    KTUL and KOTV both have stories posted as well. KTUL's story has this surprising detail:

    Even the chairman of the Aerospace Alliance of Tulsa has doubts about the Boeing price tag.

    "Spending 350-million dollars on 12-hundred jobs, I'd like to see the economics on it," says Dick Clark. "That's over 300-thousand dollars per job."

    You suppose local businesses might feel a bit jealous of that kind of treatment? And that $350 million doesn't include a much larger amount that the State of Oklahoma reportedly included in the offer.

    Biggest pleasant surprise: The three packages will run concurrently -- 4/10 of a cent, 4/10, and 2/10 -- so voters can choose to impose a lower tax increase on themselves by rejecting one or more of the packages. The rumored plan had the taxes running concurrently, so rejecting one or more package would cut the number of years, but we'd be stuck with an additional 1% regardless.

    Biggest disappointment: They are tying incentives for American Airlines to a new Sports Arena and expansion and improvement of the convention center -- the proposals will be part of a single ballot item, and voters won't have the chance to pick and choose among them. The incentives are designed to encourage AA to move jobs from their other maintenance bases to Tulsa, jobs we have a good shot at getting. But the AA package is only $22 million, while the arena and convention center will cost $183 million.

    Suppose I went to the supermarket to buy a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk, and they told me, "We won't sell you the milk and bread separately. You have to buy a package that includes milk, bread, and a big-screen TV." My response would be "no sale". Essentially that is what they are asking Tulsans to do by lumping AA, higher ed money, and the old Tulsa Project projects into one ballot item.

    The convention center and arena have been on the ballot twice, grouped together with other proposals. Many people think we would have had convention center improvements in 2000 if the voters would not have had to swallow a new arena as well. The right thing to do is to let the items stand on their own merits as separate ballot items.

    (There is a way to expand the convention center as needed without demolishing the existing arena, but I'll take that up at a later time.)

    "But not the downtown arena!" whined the Tulsa Whirled editorial board, in Saturday's lead editorial. I was encouraged by the news that a $100 million sports arena (alias "events center", alias "coliseum", alias "multipurpose facility") did not appear in a draft of the first Dialog / Visioning package prepared by Tulsa County's mayors and managers, but this development seems to have shaken the sensitive souls who labor in the Bunker on Main Street.

    Sadly, the Whirled's thinking on downtown revitalization is still stuck on a now-discredited mid-20th-century fad dubbed "Project Planning" by urbanist and journalist Roberta Brandes Gratz. The basic concept of Project Planning is to take a lot of public money, clear a lot of land (usually through urban renewal condemnation), build something big in the middle of downtown, and expect revitalization to result. The actual project may have been a mall, an arena, a stadium, a pedestrian mall, or some combination, but the result was rarely as anticipated. St. Louis, for example, has three major league sports facilities, a large national monument, and a shopping mall downtown, but downtown St. Louis is still very, very dead.

    Let's do a paragraph by paragraph dissection of the Whirled's editorial:

    The yearlong Dialog/Visioning 2025 process got off to a good start. There was considerable enthusiasm for developing a plan for revitalizing the Tulsa area and citizens and civic leaders participated by the hundreds in helping to craft a plan.

    They actually get a couple of things right here. The purpose of Dialog/Visioning 2025 is to develop a plan for the Tulsa area. Enough people were hopeful that their ideas would be heeded that 1100 came to the Mayor's Vision Summit, and many more submitted ideas by e-mail. Hundreds of formal proposals were submitted to the Dialog / Visioning process this spring.

    But now, a year later, the economy has taken a nosedive and new issues have arisen. What once was to be a $750 million plan is being pared down to something in the neighborhood of $500 million, with the aim of adding several million dollars for aviation industry proposals.

    Revising the plan to entice or maintain aviation jobs is a justifiable and reasonable objective. Cutting out some projects to achieve that end obviously is necessary.

    OK. Still fairly bland and reasonable at this point. But now their little faces turn red, they shake their little fists, and they throw themselves on the floor and begin to kick:

    But not the downtown arena! Rebuilding downtown Tulsa to bring in more business and tourism was one of the main objectives of the original visioning process; in fact, originally, that was the whole point. Adding an arena and improvements to the convention center are central to saving downtown.

    Rebuilding downtown Tulsa to bring in more business and tourism was not one of the main objectives, much less "the whole point," of the original visioning process. The point, as articulated by Bill LaFortune during his campaign for Mayor, was to develop a "shared regional vision" -- a concept of Tulsa's future built from the grass roots up, not imposed from the top down, and including the entire region in the decision-making process, rather than having downtown Tulsa dictate to the rest of the region. As it was sold to the public, the vision process was a chance for residents of the Tulsa area to define what we wanted our region to become, not a PR campaign to get residents to sign on to the vision of Tulsa's elite. Here's what the Mayor said at the Vision Summit: As mayor of the City of Tulsa, I believe there are three critical areas that I must excel in, Mayor Bill LaFortune said as he opened his Vision Summit. First, minding the store; that is, delivering the basic services. Second, growing the Tulsa economy by retaining and expanding our existing businesses, and bringing new ones to Tulsa. And third, bringing together business leaders, political leaders and all interested citizens for the purpose creating a shared vision for our future. Then, communicating that vision with enthusiasm and clarity and implementing it. This vision summit is about the beginning of the creation of a vision for the future of Tulsa and our metropolitan area.

    Perhaps the Whirled and the other arena pushers thought they had an "understanding" with the Mayor that the vision process would just be a ruse to get the same old "Tulsa Project" back on the ballot for a third time.

    Next, we come to this assertion: "Adding an arena and improvements to the convention center are central to saving downtown."

    Saving downtown from what? For what? We have to define the problem before we can determine the appropriate solution. For the Whirled writers and their pals the Chamber Pots, the problem seems to be, "We don't have a big arena and a fancy convention center like they do in Oklahoma City." If this is how you define the problem, then the solution is obvious.

    For those of us who want to see downtown Tulsa become a vital, bustling urban place once again, the problem is that most of downtown Tulsa's streets are devoid of human life apart from brief bursts around starting and quitting time. The question to ask is, "How do we re-create Downtown as an exciting place to be, as it once was?" The strategic answer is to get people living downtown once again, and to make visiting downtown a pleasant and inviting experience. To get to that goal, you look for positive trends and opportunities and find ways to encourage and facilitate those trends -- fan the sparks into a flame. It is an incremental approach employing a variety of tactics. Roberta Brandes Gratz calls it "Urban Husbandry" because it's like tending a garden -- you work with the uniqueness of the material you have on hand and help it to flourish. (Read the intro to her book Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown to get a better feel for this concept. Better yet, buy and read the whole book!)

    Arenas don't put people on the streets, they put people in seats for a couple of hours. Except for brief periods before and after games, as people dash between their cars and the arena, arena-goers don't interact with their surroundings.

    But residents, shoppers, club-hoppers, and diners move in and out of buildings at their own paces, coming and going at all hours. With more people moving about, and with interesting storefronts around them, visitors to the area feel more comfortable, safer.

    The $200 million they want for a sports arena and convention center improvements could pay for dozens of improvements, each one small in itself, but with a far greater cumulative impact to make downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods livelier, safer, and more interesting places to be.

    And if the Whirled thinks the arena is so essential to our city, why don't the Whirled's owners set out to build it themselves? The Lortons are a wealthy family -- check out Bobby's new 12,000 square foot fortress across the street from Philbrook -- and while I don't know that they could build it all on their own dime, I'm sure they could put together an investment team, if they really believe it is a financially sound project.

    What I don't understand is the Whirled's fixation on the arena. Is it a matter of being unable to shake off the conventional wisdom about downtown projects, no matter how thoroughly it's been disproven? Or do the Whirled publishers or their friends and allies have some financial interests that would be served by the building of a taxpayer-funded arena, but wouldn't be served by a true revival of downtown?

    Back to the Whirled editorial:

    Early in the process, Mayor Bill LaFortune concluded that an areawide plan would benefit the entire region, so Tulsa County and area municipalities were invited to join the process.

    Not so. The County Commission had launched its own process (Dialog 2025), in addition to the process tied to Bill LaFortune's campaign pledge, and it made sense to combine the two efforts. The awkward name, about which they complain at the end of their editorial, is a product of the merger of the two processes. And the idea of including the entire region was an explicit part of his "shared regional vision" platform plank. What part of "shared" and "regional" don't you understand?

    The result has been scores of proposals and extensive review of them, leading to the draft $750 million plan announced a few weeks ago. Then it became necessary to consider making a bid for the Boeing Co. 7E7 plant and to also find a way to help our own local aviation giant, American Airlines. So the two teams charged with finalizing a project package went to work with the paring knife. One team called for deleting the downtown arena.

    If their own report is to be believed, that team consists of the Mayors and City Managers of Tulsa County's cities and towns.

    Someone is going to be unhappy with the final list, regardless of whats on it. But there are some things that absolutely have to be on it or the whole exercise will have been futile. They include improvements to downtown Tulsa, including a new arena; substantial sums for the two local campuses of Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma; major development on the Arkansas River; and of course the aviation proposals.

    Yes, someone is going to be unhappy with the proposal. Why shouldn't we let the Whirled and the Chamber Pots be disappointed in the proposal this time around? It's their turn. They have had their proposal on the ballot twice now. They lost twice, thanks to the tens of thousands of Tulsans who were disappointed with the Whirled/Chamber proposals. I think it's my turn to be delighted by a proposal.

    Now to the suggestion that a certain collection of projects have to come out of the process, or the process was an exercise in futility. The way the Whirled puts this seems to suggest, once again, that they assumed their old favorites would get a third chance at the ballot box, that the whole Vision process was just a ruse to get more people to buy into a predetermined final outcome. Could it be that our elected leaders have fooled the Whirled by honoring their stated commitments to an open, grassroots-driven process?

    My understanding of the process is that it was to develop a 25-year vision that reflects the dreams of Tulsa area residents for their community. We were told that there was no short-list, no preconceived notions. If that long-term vision process isn't brought to completion, if that process is preempted by plopping the same old stale package of projects on the ballot, then it will have been truly futile, and the hundreds of hours I have put into it over the last two years (through Tulsa Now and the Dialog / Visioning Downtowns and Neighborhoods Task Force) will have been wasted.

    There is a possibility, or at least a growing perception, that the process is spinning out of control. Now is the time to seize it back and re-emphasize the original objectives: projects that will enhance the entire region. The downtown Tulsa, university and river projects are without question among the most significant in that regard.

    "Out of control" is a telling phrase. Time and again, the Whirled editorial writers have demonstrated that they don't really care for government by the consent of the governed. Autocracy and Latin American crony capitalism is more their style. So who was supposed to have control of the vision process? They were, I suppose.

    To whom are they talking to when they say, "Now is the time to seize it back"? Not to ordinary Tulsans. This is a warning to Bill LaFortune and the County Commissioners to toe the Whirled line: "Make it come out our way, or face our wrath!"

    If the process is out of control, it's only that the rush to get an initial package on the ballot has put the cart before the horse. First we ought to nail down the long term plan, then we select the projects that make the most sense as first steps toward the long-term vision.

    And since it looks like retooling is necessary, could someone please come up with a better name than that infernal Dialog/Visioning?

    Yes, it's an awkward name, and it's an awkward process. But an open process to develop a long-term vision that reflects the shared aspirations of nearly a million souls who live in this region is bound to be complicated and messy. The Whirled would love a little "smoke-filled room" action right about now. Let's hope and pray they don't get it.

    I wasn't the only one amused by the Whirled's panicky reaction to the news that their beloved sports arena (alias "events center", "multipurpose facility") might not be in the initial package to be put before Tulsa County voters this fall.

    I'm going to post my own reaction to the Whirled's panicky Saturday editorial tonight. For now, here's another take. Dan Wilson read the same editorial and thinks the Whirled has let the cat out of the bag -- it was a set up from the beginning.

    The Tulsa Worlds Saturday editorial June 21 laid any doubts aside on the Dialog/Visioning 2025 process (Tulsa Project 3) and clearly stated, Rebuilding downtown Tulsa to bring in more business and tourism was one of the main objectives of the original visioning process; in fact, originally, THAT WAS THE WHOLE POINT. [All caps not in original -- ed.]

    Now we know, everything else has been subterfuge and camouflage. This is Tulsa Project 3. The same people (Tulsa World and Chamber of Commerce) are using the more reasonable hopes and dreams of the broader community to push the narrow small-minded special interest package again. The only difference, this time it is a BILLION dollar tax increase.

    Begun as an open inclusive process, now secret meetings by Chamber whores apparently control the final decision. Get ready Tulsa. The people have voted twice not to build a downtown arena. Taxpayers want the nuts and bolts of area infrastructure repaired before monuments to self-aggrandizement are built.

    Now with a crashing economy, it is employment blackmail as cover for the same damn downtown sports arena. So much for changing the political leadership in Tulsa and the end of any hope that this Mayors vision is different from the loathed Savage Administration it followed. Raise taxes during a depression? Sure! You bet! Why did anyone ever think Mayor LaTaxes was a Republican? This mayor is certainly not interested in the fortune of average people.

    I think the writer lays too much of this at the Mayor's feet, when the process has been set up to diffuse the decision-making authority. But more about that later.

    The Tulsa Now! coordinating committee, of which I am one member of about 20, sent a bluntly-worded open letter to the Dialog/Visioning 2025 Leadership Team. The letter was released to the media and received some immediate reaction. Here's how it begins:

    Dear Regional Leaders,

    Tulsa faces a defining moment. We are about to make decisions that determine our regional prosperity for a long time. The stakes are high.

    Please dont blow it.

    Last July, an unprecedented 1,100 citizens gave a resounding thumbs-up to a Visioning process. City and County leaders collaborated and listened as 287 project proposals were submitted, many from the grass roots. That process now seems in jeopardy....

    What prompted the letter was the concern that the Leadership Team would abandon or jeopardize the vision process in focusing on luring Boeing's 7E7 final assembly plant to Tulsa. There have been rumors that everything else may be put on hold while this proposal is being pursued.

    KOTV phoned Jamie Jamieson and asked him to come down for an interview. Jamie is a fellow Tulsa Now! coordinating committee member and a proponent and practitioner of the New Urbanist approach to urban revitalization. Jamie phoned me, and I joined him down at the station. I used the drive downtown to condense and organize my thoughts into soundbites.

    They interviewed us up on the station roof, with the downtown skyline looming in the background. We made different but complimentary points. I said that I had been active in the vision process, and that I was also involved in the process leading up to "Tulsa Time", the arena sales tax defeated in 2000. As in 2000, it appears to me that a good process is about to be derailed by the Leadership Team, breaking faith with the 1100 who turned out for the Mayor's vision summit last summer, and the many more who submitted ideas to the process this spring.

    The Leadership Team seems to be jeopardizing the process in three different ways: (1) By focusing on the potential of aerospace manufacturing jobs from Boeing and American Airlines, the Leadership Team may fail to give due attention to retaining and adding high-tech jobs, which are key to our city's future. Aerospace manufacturing jobs are good things, but we can't afford to put all our eggs into one basket. (2) The Leadership Team is ignoring grassroots concerns about increasing the regressive sales tax when so many are unemployed and underemployed. (3) Some on the Leadership Team are pushing for the same old project, like an arena, when there are other projects, not as ostentatious, but which can have a greater impact on our city's livability and attractiveness at a much lower price. An arena might be a great thing down the road, but it is not the highest priority right now. All these things jeopardize public confidence in the vision process and jeopardize a positive outcome.

    They used a sound bite from Jamie at 6 o'clock, and one of me at 10. They didn't display my name over my picture, and after my sound bite, anchor Scott Thompson referred to me as "Jamieson", amalgamating my comments and Jamie's and blaming (or crediting) him with all of them. Thompson credited "Tulsa Now" as an organization with the notion that including the arena in the package was a problem. I know that not all Tulsa Nowers share my perspective on an arena -- some consider it to be poison to the vision process, some think it would be a good thing -- that it isn't the most important item on the list of projects, but it wouldn't be a deal-killer.

    It is the way of the TV news -- you have no control over how they edit you, and while I'm always happy for the opportunity to speak to the vast audience, it seems some key detail always gets mangled in the process. Print media does the same thing. I cast no blame -- but that's why I have a blog. I get to be my own editor.

    The Tulsa World reported last Friday morning that Tulsa may attempt to lure Boeing to locate its 7E7 final assembly plant in Tulsa. There is speculation that incentive packages for Boeing and American Airlines could be a major component of the "Vision" package to be put before Tulsa County voters this fall.

    A story in the San Bernadino Sun reports that the legislature of State of Washington voted to authorize $3 billion in incentives to keep Boeing's new facility in state. Tulsa County sales tax revenues amount to about $70 million per year per penny of tax, so I assume that if Tulsa is to compete at this level, we'll need the state government to help. It remains to be seen whether the state government can get its act together to help, with our governor MIA and our de facto ruler in rehab.

    Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, United Airlines' maintenance hub has closed after 10 years. Indy used $300 million in incentives to woo UAL, beating out OKC in the process. Indianapolis did have the sense to get UAL to sign a "pre-nup" of sorts, with UAL agreeing to pay penalties if they failed to live up to their promises of jobs and investments. UAL never provided more than 3000 of the 7000 jobs promised, but they aren't in a position to pay penalties, and now Indianapolis is asking a bankruptcy judge for the $117 million UAL owes. I expect the judge's ruling will be, "Get in line, pal."

    The Wichita Eagle has a good analysis piece looking at the competition for the Boeing facility and recounting some of the hazards in this approach to economic development.

    Will Tulsa's leadership fall in this pit just as other cities are wising up?

    Another World story reported that Tulsa continues to suffer a huge year-over-year job decline -- at 4.5% (18,300 jobs), it's second only to San Jose of all the metro areas in the country. I suspect that a large number of these lost jobs were from our high-tech companies, or the secondary economic impact of high-tech layoffs. More manufacturing jobs would be great, but we really need act now to retain our high-tech knowledge workers before they all move to Texas to find jobs.

    I keep thinking back to Joel Kotkin's speech in Tulsa last May, and the importance of attracting and retaining "knowledge workers". (Here's what he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, and a Tulsa World column about his visit.) The Boeing and American initiatives represent skilled manufacturing jobs. It's important that we have those kinds of jobs, but such jobs do not help the high-tech knowledge workers who lost their jobs at WorldCom and Williams and who are now crossing the Red River in search of work. More blue-collar jobs will help local service businesses and retail, but will not generate the high-tech jobs we need for Tulsa's future.

    Instead of dumping a pot of money in some company's lap, let the Legislature reconvene and reform the laws that interfere with capital formation and deter entrepreneurs. It's about time we made Oklahoma friendly to wealth creation and investment.

    Sorry for the slow pace the last few days. Life has been busy.

    I received a couple of interesting responses to my report on Atlanta's downtown and why nothing seems to have worked, and also to my item about the proposed downtown Tulsa sports arena, redubbed the "regional events center". The writers have consented to be quoted here. Here's one comment:

    Why the Bricktowns of the world (also the Buckhead area of Atlanta and the Dallas West End) are doing so well is simply that people crave Authenticity.

    Tulsa, too had a Bricktown, which was north of the Williams Center to Archer between Cheyenne and Detroit area. Unfortunately, aggressive urban renewal razed those old buildings to make mostly parking lots in the late '60's/early 70's. OKC and Dallas just were not as aggressive as Tulsa in the Demolition Derby, and managed to save a critical core of the older brick office buildings and warehouses. I remember when ALL the Dallas West End had going for it was a Spaghetti Warehouse, and an undistinguished hamburger stand, circa 1980, plus many, many old vacant cotton warehouses. It did have a slight advantage in being 4 blocks from Dealey Plaza, though.

    I fully expect to see a new Tulsa Project III additional one-cent Tax Blitzkrieg to be launched on us about 60 days before a scheduled special election. The proponents will be well-organized, well-financed, and speak with a well-honed message from Turnbo and Snakey. They will blitz the airwaves with the message to just spend one more itty-bitty penny and HALLELUJAH -- Salvation will come to Tulsa. The 60-day blitzkrieg is to prevent an opposition groups from a) getting organized, and b) getting a different message to the voters.

    Tulsa's core problems are lack of new high paying jobs, and holding on to the ones we've still got.

    In a later comment, the same writer adds:

    Finally the idea about people craving authenticity is not truly an original idea of mine. Michael Crichton introduced me to this idea in his fine book Timeline. I think this craving has something to do with the success of E-Bay, where people can buy tiny bits of Americana or memorabilia, stamps, coins, collectables, hoola-hoops, Davy Crockett Caps, etc. Or, witness the popularity of antique stores, frequently in small town America. Guthrie comes to mind. It's a living Bricktown!

    Then there's this from a well-traveled young entrepreneur -- the kind of person everyone says we need to attract to Tulsa:

    ...when I read the draft of projects being considered the other day, my primary reaction was: "Tulsa Regional Events Center---What in the World and Why?!?" Why would something suddenly appear "out of the blue" and warrant almost 100 million dollars of tax money? What is the purpose for it? We already have an event center going up west of downtown. And where would it be?

    Your comments answered my question of "What is it" (leading to a subsequent feeling of depression and nausea...and confirming my worst suspicions), but what I don't understand is why the new administration (who is supposedly more enlightened and concerned about the vitality of Tulsa) refuses to take into account proof of research and the similar mistakes of other cities? When plans were announced for the music pavillion, I thought this issue of the arena was taken care of....

    I appreciate the article about Atlanta. In fact, I have visited Atlanta a number of times, and although I drove through downtown for the first couple of times looking for SOMETHING to do (unsuccessfully--I might add), I always spent my time in Buckhead--quite disappointed that a city of such size would have only a very small area of vitality and interest. So I quit visiting Atlanta. The one time I did anything in downtown Atlanta was go to a Braves game, then immediately left downtown when the game was over to drive back to Nashville where things were more interesting. And when I spent a few years in Nashville, it was prior to the building of their arena. And I can tell you...that city was ALIVE downtown...years before the building of an arena. People flocked to the restaurants, clubs, eclectic shops, and entertainment in the downtown district. (I still miss my old hangout--the jazz club.) And I had friends who lived in loft homes above the downtown retail shops.

    Thus, even my own limited travel experience disproves the theory that an arena revitalizes anything! So why in the world are they ignoring research and the mistakes of other cities to still consider an arena of primary importance for tax money? I have always thought that if it's such a great idea, a savvy private investor will take advantage of the opportunity and do it him/herself. (Oops! Someone just did that...or something very like.)

    That last parenthetical comment is a reference to the Oklahoma Music Pavillion, a privately funded venture for a 20,000 seat concert venue scheduled to break ground this month.

    Sunday's Tulsa World has what appears to be the shortlist for the Dialog / Visioning package to be put before the voters this fall.

    Here, in PDF format, is the first part of the story, and here is the jump page.

    There's a lot of variety in the list, and it totals nearly $800 million. (I'm gratified to see that my proposal for a Neighborhood Assessment Process, modeled after Kansas City's successful program is on the list, although at a modest price tag of $2 million, I think it could be funded without being part of a tax increase package.)

    Then there is this thing called the "Tulsa Regional Events Center", estimated to cost nearly $100 million. I don't recall seeing it on the list of proposals submitted to the Dialog / Visioning process, but there was an item called "Multipurpose Coliseum", submitted for consideration by the City of Tulsa. I think it's safe to assume that this is the twice-rejected sports arena under an assumed name. The CSL feasibility study calls it an arena -- the study makes no reference to an "Events Center".

    I have heard that there is market research that says that if people think of this sports arena as a sports arena, it will fail a third time. Thus, apparently, the reason for the name change. The move is an insult to the intelligence of Tulsans, who will have no difficulty in seeing the arena for what it is and evaluating it accordingly.

    If the Leadership Team members try to lump this arena in as part of a tax package this fall, it will sink the whole Dialog / Visioning Process. This would be a sad thing for the whole region, but especially for those of us who have participated in the process, trying to come up with a vision for the future that all Tulsa area residents can embrace. There are no shortage of arguments that can be marshalled against building a large arena with tax dollars, and the CSL study provides plenty of ammunition.

    $100 million is a high price to pay in a time of layoffs and bankruptcies at Tulsa's largest employers, but even in prosperous times it would be redundant to build another arena in a city with four currently in use (one nearly new, another recently renovated) and one more about to open.

    To make a new arena even more pointless, later this month ground will be broken on the Oklahoma Music Pavillion, a 20,000 seat state-of-the-art amphitheatre to be built five miles west of downtown. This amphitheatre will once again make Tulsa a stop for the top touring acts, and it's going to be built entirely with private money. The CSL feasibility study warns that this privately-built amphitheatre will endanger the feasibility of an arena, and encourages the government to offer a "public-private partnership" -- entangle government with the private project just enough so as to be able to dictate terms and ensure that the amphitheatre isn't big enough or nice enough to compete with the arena for major concerts. Such an offer of help would be about as sincere as when King Herod asked the Magi to report back on the whereabouts of the newly-born King of the Jews, so that Herod could come and "worship" him.

    Ponder that for a minute: The government is advised to sabotage a private enterprise to ensure that it can't compete with a publicly-funded facility.

    Opposition -- particularly to the arena -- is already lining up across the political spectrum -- grassroots Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Greens, and Independents. A number of people have told me that civic leaders are wondering if I will once again be a leader of the opposition, as I was in 2000. Instead of worrying about me, or any other potential opposition leader, the elected officials ought to think carefully about what they put on the ballot for this fall. I could sit on my hands or even come out in support, but if the arena is part of the package, someone will rise up -- some citizen who just wants to see her tax money used wisely -- and will make the convincing case against the arena. The arena will sink and take the whole Dialog / Visioning process down with it, along with the careers of several politicians.

    It doesn't have to be this way, if our leaders have the courage to do the right thing and leave the arena off the ballot.

    Last week ground was broken on a new downtown destination for Atlanta, the $200 million Georgia Aquarium, to be funded entirely by a donation by Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution used the occasion to take a sober look at the likely impact on downtown Atlanta's vitality:

    Construction cranes will raise hopes along with girders. Finally, boosters exhort, Atlanta's urban core will have the last major draw it needs to turn back 35 years of downtown resembling a ghost town at dusk....

    Gov. Sonny Perdue adds his voice to the chorus. "This area can be a dramatic destination for people to stay longer in Atlanta," he said this week.

    If the hyperbole sounds familiar, it is. Downtown Atlanta's recent past is checkered with the "next big thing" that was to save it.

    The renovation of Underground Atlanta was the buzz in the 1980s. The 1990s were a whirlwind with the opening of the World of Coca-Cola museum near Underground and the decision of the Atlanta Falcons football team to stay downtown rather than move to the suburbs, not to mention the 1996 Summer Olympics, which were to make everyone want to live in the city center.

    Each event was a step forward. But collectively the projects have remade downtown into the home of no more than 2,500 residents. It is not a destination that keeps suburban residents returning to events such as $3 summer concerts at Centennial Olympic Park and free ones at Woodruff Park, or packing Underground's restaurants on the way to a Braves game.

    This year alone, Macy's closed its historic department store and the prominent King & Spalding law firm announced it would move out to Midtown. Last year, Georgia-Pacific scrapped plans for an office building once slated to rise more than 20 stories above Peachtree Street.

    Note that Atlanta's downtown population is pretty close to Tulsa's. (2,487 was the population within Tulsa's Inner Dispersal Loop in the 2000 census.) If billions of dollars of public and private investment in large edifices haven't made the difference for downtown, will one more tourist-oriented facility bring it back to life? The article goes on to give hints as to what is holding downtown Atlanta back:

    This is a break from traditional planning in Atlanta, where attractions are plunked down with little effort to link them. Atlanta's hotel district is not within easy walking distance of the football and baseball stadiums, the convention center or Underground....

    These days, walking the streets is not a pleasant experience, in part because sidewalks are broken and filthy and homeless loiterers use shrubs as toilets and aggressively hit up pedestrians for cash. Few of downtown's narrow streets beckon tourists to stroll along them in hopes of finding that funky gift for friends back home....

    The lack of restaurants downtown could become a bigger issue once the aquarium and Coke museum open. Several fancy places already exist near the park and downtown hotels. But they are priced for diners on expense accounts, beyond the reach of families on a budget....

    There's also a clue as to what might help the most:

    Meanwhile, Georgia State University's downtown expansion is helping to make streets feel safer.

    Thousands of students trek daily to and from the main campus, classrooms and studios in the historic Fairlie-Poplar district, which lies between Peachtree Street and Centennial Olympic Park. GSU President Carl Patton believes the students and faculty are boosting the area's vibrancy. Still, the college crowds have not prompted many new restaurants to open.

    Maybe there's a clue here -- people, not big buildings, make a downtown more vibrant. Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin summarized the problem, as quoted in a sidebar to the other article:

    "We see a thriving Buckhead. We see a Midtown with a great plan and a revitalization under way," she said. "But in downtown -- while we have assets like the Georgia World Congress Center, the hotels, Philips Arena, the Georgia Dome, Centennial Olympic Park -- it still doesn't seem to come together. You don't have a sense of place. And you don't know you are in Atlanta."

    I've not spent much time in Atlanta, but I read that Buckhead is a district of historic residential neighborhoods and walkable shopping districts, while Midtown Atlanta also offers historic neighborhoods and landmarks like the fabulous Fox Theatre. Downtown has big sports/convention facilities, but the areas that are thriving have history, local character, and, most of all, people living there.

    I note that the AJC's article was picked up by the Tulsa World over the weekend. Let's hope that the members of the Dialog / Visioning leadership team read the article and take Atlanta's lessons to heart as they choose a package to put before the voters.

    Here is a very thorough set of links challenging the conventional wisdom about government-funded convention centers. It's accepted by even the most avid convention-center proponent that these facilities cost more to run than they bring in revenues. The question is whether they bring in enough additional dollars from outside the region to raise enough tax revenue to cover the operating deficit of the facility and to increase revenues for other public services. These articles are worth reading and absorbing as the Dialog / Visioning Leadership Team is considering which projects to include in a fall tax vote.

    Chamber Pots


    Tulsa Today has a powerful account of the self-destruction of the once-powerful Tulsa Metro Chamber, an organization that receives millions of tax dollars annually to promote Tulsa's economic development. The article quotes an unnamed staffer who describes Chamber CEO Jay Clemens as "a complexly bizarre kind of guy who vacillates between psychotic paranoia, arrogance, and bullying." The article goes on to detail the control-freak organizational culture that keeps employees in a state of fear and keeps board members in the dark.

    The Chamber's influence has been on the wane since the November 2000 defeat of "It's Tulsa's Time", the $263 million sales tax increase for a new arena and convention facilities. I served on the Convention and Tourism Task Force leading up to that vote. It was supposed to be a grass-roots process to determine what Tulsans wanted for our city, and there were reports that the Steering Committee was developing a novel set of recommendations that would look very different from the failed 1997 proposal. The Chamber leadership and then-Mayor Savage sidelined the Steering Committee, a broad-based group which included opponents of the failed 1997 package, and created an "Executive Committee" that could be relied upon to reach the predetermined conclusion. The Chamber's campaign strategy was to avoid debate and pretend that the opposition didn't exist. The ostrich-like strategy didn't work, and Tulsa voters simultaneously turned down the Tulsa Time package and approved "4 to Fix the County", a sales tax extension for a variety of improvements to county facilities and infrastructure.

    The Chamber leadership seems to still want to believe that they alone run the city, and they've rebuffed friendly overtures to include them as partners with other groups in developing a new vision for the Tulsa region. "My way or the highway," is the unspoken gist of the Chamber's response.

    High praise to Mayor LaFortune and his team for setting out to scrutinize the effectiveness of the Chamber's economic development efforts. Meanwhile, the hundreds and thousands of ordinary businesses who belong to the Chamber ought to wonder if their interests are being effectively represented by the organization that receives their dues. The board's job is to hold the CEO and staff accountable; the members should insist that the board do its duty.

    Yesterday morning I went downtown to the Dialog / Visioning 2025 Leadership Team to hear presentations on several proposed projects. These project presentations are part of the final phases of a process which will lead to the selection of publicly-financed projects to come before the voters in the fall.

    I missed most of the arena and soccer stadium presentations, but got there in time to hear about two amphitheater proposals. Bill Bowman of Oklahoma Music magazine is building a $25 million amphitheater five miles west of downtown Tulsa, north of the Keystone Expressway at 81st West Avenue in a valley seemingly designed by God for the purpose. The financing is lined up, zoning permission has been obtained, and ground will be broken in June 2003, with a planned opening about a year later. The venue will be state-of-the-art, will hold up to 20,000 people -- 10,000 under the roof, designed to allow for year-round events. They plan to take advantage of Tulsa's fiber optic backbone to broadcast live concerts world wide.

    The most impressive thing about this project is that it is entirely privately financed. After years of being told that Tulsans have to raise their taxes to build a venue worthy of Phish, Cher, and Paul McCartney, a private company comes along and just does it. They see a market, they think they can exploit and even drive demand, they are willing to take the risk, and if it works they'll reap the rewards. Meanwhile, Tulsa will have a world-class concert venue without paying higher taxes.

    The only public investment Bowman is seeking is for improvements to nearby roads to accommodate the additional traffic -- widening 81st West Avenue to five lanes and improving the interchange with the Keystone Expressway -- about $5 million for a road that also can serve new development in Tulsa's undeveloped northwest territories.

    The only other thing Bowman asked (indirectly and politely) was that the government not build a comparable publicly financed amphitheater. The issue was raised by a question from the audience, and Bowman said that the uncertainty about whether his facility would be competing with a tax-funded facility was making it hard to nail down deals with sponsors and promoters.

    Predictably, the Tulsa World downplayed news of the development, but Tulsa Today has a great story.

    Tulsans ought to get behind this and tell the Mayor, County Commissioners, and the other public officials and business leaders who serve on the leadership team to provide the small amount of help needed to make it happen. Let's hope politics doesn't keep a businessman from building something great for Tulsa.

    About this Archive

    This page is a archive of recent entries in the Tulsa Vision 2025 category.

    Tulsa suburbs is the previous category.

    Tulsa Vision2 is the next category.

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