Tulsa::Vision2025: July 2003 Archives

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.

    About this Archive

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

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

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

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