Tulsa::Vision2025: June 2003 Archives

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

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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

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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 what’s 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 World’s 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 Mayor’s 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 don’t 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.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa::Vision2025 category from June 2003.

Tulsa::Vision2025: May 2003 is the previous archive.

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

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