Tulsa::Vision2025: May 2003 Archives

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

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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 entries in the Tulsa::Vision2025 category from May 2003.

Tulsa::Vision2025: June 2003 is the next archive.

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