Tulsa Vision 2025: September 2003 Archives

Another vote for the arena on Elgin


In a guest editorial in today's Whirled, Ed Sharrer calls for rethinking the location of the new downtown sports arena, and nominating a mostly vacant site between 1st & 2nd, Elgin & Greenwood, right in the heart of the Blue Dome entertainment district. Having advocated that idea along with another alternative (click then scroll down a ways), I'm excited to see that someone else sees the same possibilities.

Sharrer points out that the publicized proposed site doesn't offer locations for new development, then sets out the advantages of his proposed site:

Better economic development opportunities.

The Second Street and Elgin Avenue site offers development opportunities in all directions, with the right mix of (mostly vacant) buildings already in place. In fact, city leaders would like to develop an "East Village" concept of shops, lofts and restaurants in that area. What better way to jump-start the effort than to invest $183 million in the neighborhood?

Currently existing entertainment options.

There are restaurants, dance clubs, pubs, an art gallery, and an art movie house within a few blocks of Second Street and Elgin Avenue. Dinner before the game? Dancing after a concert? All within walking distance -- the day the arena opens. Building the arena on the east side of downtown would turn an emerging scene into an instant entertainment destination. These businesses already exist, so there's no need for a "build it and they will come" approach. Let's build the arena where people are already going!

Better access.

Traffic would flow much easier around an east side arena location. Surface streets offer convenient access at Third, Sixth and 11th streets, and there are more expressway exits -- from I-244 at First Street and at Cincinnati/Detroit avenues, the Broken Arrow Expressway at Detroit Avenue, and U.S. 75 at Seventh Street -- than any other part of downtown.

Better fit.

The east side of downtown is simply a better fit for an entertainment venue. The arena's west side "neighbors" would be the post office, central library, city hall, the courthouse and the county jail -- government buildings all. Wouldn't the Blue Dome District, the Brady Arts District, the Performing Arts Center, Greenwood Avenue, OSU-Tulsa and the proposed East Village make more entertaining neighbors?

He acknowledges the idea of connecting the arena to the Convention Center, but lists many cities where there is no such connection. Then near the close, he's got the key quote:

If the arena is built at Third Street and Denver Avenue, we'll create yet another drive up/drive away venue isolated from other attractions. That would be a $125 million opportunity lost.

I didn't want the darned thing, I'm concerned it may be a drain on the city's treasury, but since we're going to do it, let's do it right. Let's do it in a way that makes it an asset to downtown revitalization, not an irrelevancy, as it would be over in the Government Ghetto west of Denver.

P.S. According to courthouse records, the land is owned by L J Realty LLC of Claremore. It is valued at about $750,000 -- the old Santa Fe freight depot at 1st & Elgin, built in 1915, represents about $270,000 of that amount. There ought to be a way to build around it. Leave that building and the land it sits on alone, and the value of the remainder would be about $400,000, less than half the value of just one of the four blocks of the proposed site north of the Federal Courthouse. (I know it isn't that simple, but buying 1.75 blocks of vacant land is bound to be a lot cheaper than four blocks, most of which is developed.)

The question remains -- is it a big enough footprint to build an arena of the proposed size? I suspect it would be, if you stack the two decks on top of each other, rather than having the seating spread out in a single tier. And if you needed a bit more space, you could always cantilever the upper level over the street a bit.

Bidding for bonds


Reliable sources say that there may be some friction between Tulsa County Commission Chairman Wilbert Collins and Commissioner Bob Dick over the issue of who will handle the revenue anticipation bonds for the new county sales taxes. Recall that Tulsa County will borrow against 13 years of future revenue from the new sales taxes so that projects can be built as soon as possible. All the county's bond business for nearly 20 years has gone to John Piercey, chairman of Leo Oppenheim & Co., a division of the Bank Of Oklahoma. Commissioner Dick describes Piercey as a "dear friend". Word has it that Commissioner Collins promised that F&M Bank would get half of the bond business, while Commissioner Dick insists that it all go to Piercey, arguing for Piercey's long history of success handling bond issues for the county. A Tulsa World story from November 23, 1996, on the issuance of bonds for building the new county jail, gives an indication of Oppenheim's customary fees:

Although the Oppenheim officials said their fees usually run somewhere below 1 percent of a bond issue, city of Tulsa officials said they hoped the fee could be negotiated for under $75,000 [for a $70 million bond issue].

There's no requirement for the Tulsa County Industrial Authority (which has the three county commissioners as trustees) to use competitive bidding for professional services like bond underwriting, but for the sake of fairness and the best interests of the taxpayer, it ought to be considered. Here's a link to a description of how things are done in Wisconsin. The result is an average cost of well below 1% of the value of the bonds.

And this story in the Saint Louis Business Journal points out the importance of advertising for bids in the right places. You don't get many interested bidders if you only advertise in obscure local publications.

The district advertised a request for proposals for the last two bond issues in only two publications: The St. Louis Argus, a local newspaper targeted to African-Americans; and the St. Louis Daily Record, a publication of court records and court news read primarily by attorneys. Byron said the 2000 bond issue was advertised in the same newspapers, per the district's purchasing department, and six teams responded.

Under state law, school districts are not required to advertise for bids for professional service contracts. However, district policy requires advertisements to be placed in a locally well-distributed newspaper, Hilgemann said.

Officials from several other local bond issuers — Rockwood School District, Metropolitan Sewer District and Metro — named other publications, primarily The Bond Buyer, a national newspaper published by Thomson Financial, as the typical venue for requests for proposals advertisements. These issuers said they received around 10 to 24 responses for underwriters after advertising in the Bond Buyer. None named the Argus or the St. Louis Daily Record.

Byron said the St. Louis School District started a mailing list of interested brokerage firms after an article on the $120 million issue appeared in a December issue of The Bond Buyer and the district began to get inquiries after the time for submitting proposals had passed.

In a Tulsa Whirled story from February 14, 1991, John Piercey, then with Stifel Nicolaus, complained about being disqualified from a bid for underwriting city bonds after having a lock on the process for several years.

For the first time, the city accepted bids for advance funding of some sales tax projects, but a local firm contends the new procedure unfairly excludes non-Wall Street brokerage firms.

Advance funding will allow the projects to begin sooner, at no added cost to taxpayers, officials say.

Critics have chastised city officials for allowing local firm Stifel Nicolaus and Co. Inc., to handle nearly every city funding package since 1982.

Now, in the first competitive bid for such work, that firm has been axed from a list of potential bond underwriting firms, said a Stifel executive.

City Auditor Phil Wood recommended two years ago that the city make such funding programs open to competitive bids.

A subcommittee of the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority, charged with overseeing the advance funding, accepted 13 proposals. Members examined qualifications and opened only the eight bids of those found best qualified, said subcommittee member and city Finance Director Ron Payne.

"We're looking for the best," said Payne. He wouldn't say which firms' bids were left sealed, saying authority members should be notified first.

Stifel's John Piercey said officials didn't open his firm's bid.

He contends Stifel, the smaller, local firm, is purposely being excluded from getting the chance to handle the bonds.

"We designed the first two advance funding programs that the city did and they were immensely successful," he said. "The company took the heat, if you will, for doing that.

"Now that they're well established, it's like `We don't want to consider the people that brought us the idea the first time around,' " he said.

Later in the story it mentions the concern that the bond underwriter would have the capital to purchase any bonds not purchased by investors. That was for $64.9 million in bonds, less than a tenth of what we will need to finance "Vision 2025 projects" if Boeing comes to Tulsa, a bit more than a tenth otherwise.

For the amount of bonds we're seeking, the best interest of the taxpayers demands a competitive process. Every tenth of a percent difference in fees would amount to a savings of over $800,000, enough to fund a few of the projects. And there may even be a firm out there that could get us a better interest rate for even greater savings. Instead of friction between commissioners over handing all or part of this big contract to one or two companies, perhaps all three commissioners could agree to an open, competitive, and fair process.

Who will build the arena?


There's been a flurry of discussion over on the Tulsa Now forums about the design and location of the downtown sports arena to be built with a new 4/10% county sales tax. A lot of good ideas have been put on the table, mostly aimed at ensuring that the arena fits into an urban street grid and enhances the urban fabric of downtown, instead of being designed in a suburban fashion disconnected from its surroundings. (The OSU-Tulsa campus is a classic example of an inappropriate use of suburban land use in an urban area.)

There's a desire to get these good ideas in front of the people who will make the decisions about the new facility, but no one is quite sure who that is. There is said to be an oral agreement between Mayor LaFortune and the County Commission that the County will give the money for the arena to the city, and the city will handle land acquisition and construction, as well as operation and maintenance. There's nothing in writing, however, and the County may well decide to retain control of the construction process, then stick the city with the bill for operation and maintenance. I hear that there is some unease within the Tulsa City Council about the lack of a written agreement giving the city full control.

As to who will actually construct the arena, a friend has a "word of knowledge" about that, surprising since this friend is a Presbyterian and not given to prophecy, but he prophesies that Manhattan Construction will build the facility and FlintCo will supply the steel. Perhaps his prophetic vision was influenced by the presence of the CEOs of Manhattan and FlintCo on the Dialog / Visioning leadership team. From another source, I'm told that although the Tulsa County Commission is subject to state laws governing purchasing and bidding, trusts like the Tulsa County Industrial Authority are not subject to the same rules and could give the business to whomever they wish.

Meanwhile, the good ideas keep flowing. I continue to believe that vacant, city-owned sites closer to Brady Village and the Blue Dome district would give more of a boost to those entertainment districts and encourage new development nearby, and would be less expensive than a site that requires land acquisition. If it must be near the Convention Center, here's another alternative. The State of Oklahoma's office complex, across Houston Avenue from the Convention Center, has a sprawling surface parking lot. If it's impractical to tear down the State's ugly buildings and have them relocate their offices (maybe to the Williams Borg Cube), we might be able to fit an arena where the parking lot is now. The site is very convenient to expressway access, and no businesses would be displaced. To compensate the State for the loss of parking, use the money saved on land acquisition to build the State a parking garage. Perhaps it could be located on the vacant block just north of the Convention Center exhibit hall.

Back during the campaign, I pointed out that the principal strategy for the vote yes forces was to make people believe that things were so bad that raising taxes by a billion dollars was the only hope for our city. Mayor Bill LaFortune himself said at a forum for arts groups that if the tax package didn't pass, he didn't know what hope we had for the future. The message of doom and gloom was plausible, given the job losses over the past two years, and the vote yes forces sold it relentlessly, claiming that Tulsa would dry up and blow away unless we voted to raise our taxes. TV Guide's plan to move jobs from Tulsa to Hollywood, and Citgo's possible move to Houston were well timed to make Tulsans feel more helpless and hopeless.

But there are indications that Tulsa's economy began to turn around during the summer, along with the national economy, and only now are we hearing some of this good news, now that the desperate electorate has given the County Commission $1 billion to play with. These are developments that cannot be credited to the sales tax increase, because they happened before the increase was even approved by voters, even before the increase was scheduled to be put before the voters. But you can bet that the politicians will try to claim that their tax made Tulsa come alive again.

On Tuesday, September 16, the Whirled reported the latest Manpower Employment Outlook Survey, which says that 37% of Tulsa employers surveyed planned to add workers during the fourth quarter, 17% plan to reduce staffing, and the remainder plan no changes at all.

"It looks pretty favorable," said Mike Arndt, Manpower's manager for the Tulsa area.

The slight increase in hiring comes after two years of major scaling back by area companies, he said.

"Now, they're at a place where they have to add jobs," Arndt said. "They have to increase their head count to keep up with the workload.

"This is a positive thing, because it shows a back-to-back quarter slight upswing in our hiring activity in Tulsa." ...

The Tulsa area's jobless rate during July -- the latest month for which statistics are available -- was 6.4 percent, down from 6.7 percent in June, according the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.

For Oklahoma City, the hiring outlook was less optimistic. Only 13 percent of those surveyed planned to increase their work forces, while 27 planned cutbacks. An additional 60 percent expected no change.

This is the second quarter of good news for Tulsa: Back on June 18, Manpower's survey for the third quarter of 2003 showed 33% of employers planning to hire, 13% and planning to reduce staff, the first time in a year that companies hiring outnumbered companies cutting back. Tulsa employers were more optimistic than those in the nation as a whole -- only 20% of employers in the national survey planned to add staff. And in the same survey, only 13% of Oklahoma City employers planned to add staff, while 27% planned cuts, the same numbers as the previous quarter.

To its credit, the Tulsa Whirled did publish good economic news in its business section, but its more widely-read news section reported the dire predictions of our political leaders. Our leaders could have given us the good and the bad, could have been honest about our situation, but they prefered instead to panic the public to accept a billion-dollar tax increase.

Meanwhile, Mickey Thompson, the head of economic development for the Tulsa Metro Chamber, gave a speech to small business owners announcing more good news:

[Thompson] discussed the city's economic outlook for 2004, focusing on employment, income and manufacturing output statistics compiled by chamber economist Bob Ball.

Despite Tulsa's unemployment woes, there is some uplifting news.

"There's a better than reasonable chance of six new companies coming in, and three more adding substantially to their employment," Thompson said.

And that's with or without the addition of a Boeing Co. jet assembly plant that may or may not be built here. ...

Unemployment in the Tulsa area during July was 6.4 percent.

The outlook is brighter for 2004, though, with the area unemployment rate predicted to be 6 percent.

Like the oil industry bust in the '80s, "everything happened at once," Thompson said of Tulsa's downturn since 9/11, with layoffs and restructuring at American Airlines, WorldCom Inc., Williams Cos. Inc., WilTel Communications Group Inc. and Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc.

"We've been hit as hard as if we were still the oil capitol of the world," he said.

But with the exception of Citgo Petroleum Co., which is considering relocating its headquarters to Houston, there's good news, with many local companies having regrouped and being poised for growth, he said.

Weekly manufacturing wages in Tulsa during July were 2.7 percent above the national average and 15 percent higher than wages statewide.

Thompson said the impact of a Boeing jet assembly plant here would be huge.

The chamber estimates that employment would rise 2.2 percent, personal income would would jump 3.8 percent and unemployment would drop to 5.9 percent in 2004 if Boeing began construction on the plant by the end of next year. ...

So while the city has seen hard times, things are definitely looking up.

"We've passed the bottom, and we're on our way back. In the next two to three years, you won't believe we've come this far," Thompson said. "We're going to have some bad news, but there will be some good news in Tulsa over the next few months."

Some things to notice in Thompson's talk: Jobs are going to come to Tulsa with or without Boeing. Unemployment is projected to be 6% next year, but if Boeing comes it will be 5.9% -- Boeing will have an impact of only one-tenth of one percent on the unemployment rate. And our job woes are not because we don't have a big arena, but because "everything happened at once" -- several major employers suffering major problems all at once.

If you hear of other good news that was postponed until after the vote, drop me a line at blog at batesline dot com.

Is Ken Neal the only sore winner?


Over on Tulsa Today, David Arnett has published an analysis and response to Ken Neal's "Blurred Vision" column in last Sunday's Whirled. Arnett takes the view that Neal is merely venting his own spleen. In this view, Neal's screed doesn't represent the views of a larger group of powerful Tulsans who, rather than being satisfied with their recent conquest of the taxpayer's wallet, are bent on revenge against those who opposed or were publicly neutral on the tax grab.

From the BBC to the New York Times major news organizations seem to be having trouble with honesty and spin, but no real journalism organization anywhere would have published Tulsa World Editorial Pages Editor Ken Neal’s Sunday September 14 piece titled, “Blurred Vision.” Like a skunk at a dinner party, it does not represent any Tulsa constituency, but the singular twisted view of an embittered dinosaur. ...

It is an enemies list that Neal produced Sunday. Why would he do such a thing? His beloved Vision 2025 propositions passed. Does he have no personal or professional sense of graciousness or tradition of good sportsmanship? His personal attacks on public figures are counter-productive to civic harmony and humiliating for Tulsa in the eyes of Americans who believe in honest public debate.

This writer and publisher supported Vision 2025 writing several major pieces and daily answering questions in the City Talk Forum. Never-the-less, opposition voices of diverse views are respected by Tulsa Today as they are by Mayor Bill LaFortune, the County Commission, and the majority population of Tulsa. ...

Does Ken Neal have a base? Would any Tulsan claim to be a Neal party loyalist or faithful follower of anything he may write? Likely no more than his "direct report" employees, but if anyone in the metropolitan area would like to express devotion to Neal, please use the Tulsa Today City Talk Forum. If he represents any number of humans, it would certainly be a cultural sub-set previously undiscovered. ...

The battle lines drawn from Neal’s imagination clearly demonstrate a preference for totalitarian government. It is an “elitist versus the rest of us” attitude that stinks of corruption, bigotry, and pure evil. Only an editorial writer who considers himself “bulletproof” could have been so openly small-minded and it speaks volumes of Tulsa World Publisher Robert E. Lorton, the ultimate responsible party and single constituent of Editor Ken Neal’s work.

Arnett addresses himself to Neal's specific attacks on north Tulsa voters (highlighting Neal's thinly-veiled racism), the political parties, and County Commissioner Randi Miller. But I want to call attention to the assertion that runs through Arnett's analysis: The idea that Ken Neal is alone in his biliousness, influencing no one, representing no one, and that the real victors of the September 9th vote -- the Mayor and the County Commissioners -- have respect and goodwill for those who opposed the tax. I hope he is right, and we will see soon enough whether these officials seek out the counsel and participation of the loyal opposition or continue to ignore them as they did during the final stages of the "vision process".

In the last paragraph, Arnett seems to contradict his own thesis. Ken Neal must have at least one loyal constituent, one powerful figure who shares his views -- namely his publisher, Robert Lorton -- otherwise the editorial would never have been published. Neal may not command masses who hang on his every word, but neither can I believe he is an original thinker. I suspect that his words are reflections of the prejudices and passions of the circles in which he travels, circles that include Tulsa's most powerful, the sort of people who pressured Tulsa legislators and political leaders into remaining silent on this issue.

The elected officials and business leaders who supported Vision 2025 should publicly and explicitly disown Ken Neal's venomous ranting, or we can only assume that they share his views.

Sore winners


One of the consolations of losing last week's "Vision 2025" vote was the thought that the winning side would bask in its victory and, satisfied with the result, would not seek retribution against those who opposed the tax or remained neutral.

Had the opposition won, I would have expected opposition leaders to be targeted, as they were following the 1997 and 2000 votes. Those defeats made some powerful people very angry, and retribution was used both to punish opposition leaders (as a means of deterring others from following in their footsteps) and also to prevent any opponents from having the power to hinder some future effort to raise taxes to build a new downtown sports arena. I was a bit worried about the repercussions to me and to my family had our side been victorious.

But now that the other side has their victory and will get their arena, why should they pay any attention to the powerless folks who were unable to stand in their way? Now that they've achieved their goal, why should they be concerned with us? So I thought.

Guess I was wrong.

Advertisers on 1170 KFAQ are being encouraged to stop sponsoring that station, as a way of getting Michael DelGiorno off the air. Michael and KFAQ were crucial to the opposition getting a hearing, and now that the county has their "billion dollar blank check", Michael intends to be sure they spend it as promised, and that they administer the funds in a fair and open manner. Perhaps some people consider that a threat. Through sources outside both stations, I have heard that the first major sponsor to pull out was KTUL Channel 8, which dropped its sponsorship of OU football broadcasts. (Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.) We've written about KTUL before.

Meanwhile, the Tulsa Whirled editorial Borg collective is ganging up on individuals and groups who remained publicly neutral. Here's Monday's editorial, with my comments interspersed:

Party poopers By World's Editorial Writers 9/15/2003

GOP, Demo leaders out of step

Tuesday's Vision 2025 election, a victory for proponents of progress in Tulsa County, demonstrated that the so-called leaders of the local Democratic and Republican parties are out of step with their members.

The four sales-tax initiatives on the ballot passed by landslide margins of more than 60 percent. That could not have happened without support from Republican and Democratic voters alike.

How does the Whirled define party membership? Simply registering to vote with one party or the other -- does that make you a member? Most of the people I know who are active in the Republican party were completely opposed to this tax increase, but many of those same people believed the party should not take an official stand in opposition or in favor, in part out of respect for Republican elected officials, donors, and activists who backed the tax.

Yet during the run-up to election day the county parties refused to take a position on an issue that was key to the area's economic future.

The party chairmen, Democrat Elaine Dodd and Republican Don Burdick, went so far as to issue a rare joint statement expressing their neutrality and declaring that the local party leadership's role was to urge members to educate themselves on the issues and to vote. The fact that neither party has ever before hesitated to weigh in on important issues before the electorate suggests that their explanation was so much twaddle.

The Whirled writer -- probably Ken Neal, who is given to make bald assertions without regard to facts -- makes an amazing assertion: He says it is a fact that "neither party has ever before hesitated to weigh in on important issues before the electorate". That is a falsifiable statement -- no wiggle room or Clinton clauses here -- and it is false. The fact is that the Tulsa County Republican Party also remained neutral with respect to the "It's Tulsa Time" tax. It's my understanding that the Democrats remained neutral in 1997, but issued a statement in support in 2000. Both parties remained neutral (as far as I can recall) on the cockfighting initiative. There are plenty of important issues before the electorate where the parties stay out -- usually because the issue divides their ranks or because the issue isn't central to the party's concerns.

By the way, the Whirled refused to publish the "rare joint statement", which was written by the two party leaders in response to an unprovoked editorial attack. The Whirled's excuse was that it was too long at 500 words to run as a letter, but they offered no reason for refusing to run it as a guest opinon or mentioning this unusual occurrence in its news pages.

More likely, the Republican "leaders" were afraid to utter aloud any word that included the letters T, A or X, for fear of provoking their members on the extreme, anti-tax right.

There was fear at work, but as usual the Whirled gets it wrong. Overwhelmingly, Republican elected officials and party leaders stated their opposition to this tax privately, but said nothing for fear of having their funds cut off by supporters of the tax. I recently received a fundraiser invitation -- the beneficiary of the fundraiser privately opposed the tax but made no public statements about it. I noticed that several of the listed "sponsors" (usually donors of $1,000 or more) were also signers of the June letter warning against political interference with the "vision" package.

The Democrats' reluctance to take a stand is harder to fathom. After all, theirs is supposedly the party of progress. Perhaps it was sour grapes after similar Tulsa capital improvements packages twice failed to pass under the former Democratic city administration.

It's apparent reading this that the author has not bothered to speak to the leaders he's trashing. He just assumes that anyone who isn't in full enthusiastic agreement with him must be acting from base motives.

I don't know the inner workings of the Democratic party, but I do know a lot of active Democrats who oppose on principle the idea of increasing a regressive tax to build entertainment facilities. Back in 1997 and 2000 some of them were reluctant to oppose their own Mayor publicly, some were silent for fear of retribution. There were some wealthy donors to Democrats pushing hard for this tax to pass, and there would have been repercussions had any Democratic elected officials come out publicly.

Whatever the reasons for it, the leadership vacuum in both parties is shameful. Leaders are supposed to lead. The Democratic and Republican "leaders" refused to lead on this issue, even in a direction their members clearly were willing to be led.

So what exactly is the problem? If the voters voted for it anyway, why was it important for the parties to support it officially? Why waste ink and paper attacking them for neutrality? The Tulsa Whirled should thank the party leaders for staying out of it. The Whirled should particularly thank the GOP leaders who kept the party from taking an official stance in opposition, despite strong grass-roots pressure. The GOP staying out of the fray probably boosted the yes side's margin by 5%.

What do you think is behind this attack, which is an echo of a longer blast from Ken Neal on Sunday? Is it just dyspepsia, or is it part of a longer term strategy?

"jdb" over on the TulsaNow forum gives us a brief survey of the history of the Denver Grill, 1st & Denver, and the kind family who built it and still runs it today. Here's an excerpt -- click the link above to read the whole thing.

A new coat of paint and a few sticks of neon would go a long way towards restoring the glamour of this unassuming place from passer-bys on the outside. On the inside it's a treasure trove of history and memories to an era of Tulsa's past, an on going philanthropic establishment for the less glamorous, and the sole livelihood for the oldest daughter of Louise Jones.

Who the heck is Louise? That would be Peggy's mother, Louise Jones, who started working there in 1958.

In 1933 Al Claybrook built the Denver Grill where it stands now and his wife, Mary, ran the joint.

In 1958 Louise dons an apron and one-by-one brings her 8 children into the working world as soon as they were tall enough to reach the washbasin. And thus the Jones family survived some hard times, made a living, and in the process became one of Tulsa's big little places.

Al, on the other hand, didn't fare so well after failing off the roof.

Mary finally hung her dishtowel up for the last time in 1983. She had worked long enough, and by some accounts, Peggy, was already running the place and poised to take the business over in "writing".

Have I mentioned that Peggy has twin daughters and two boys? And that they attended the children's Day Nursery around the corner? She does, and they did....

To close out this overview, I'll say that the Denver Grill is more then a local icon. It's more than a 70-40 year extended family run business. It's more than a historical plaque out front that Peggy never thought to make application for. It's more than a meal-on-loan for some who have taken a wrong turn in life or a few elderly at the Hewgley Apts. that on a fixed income, have to choose between rent, medicine and food. It's more than the place where couples met, married, and started families. The Denver Grill is all of the above -- at the same time.

I thoroughly encourage everyone to stop in and see for yourself, but it only seats 50 people, so you may have to wait in line. And beware the smoke, but moreover -- beware the bigness of this little place.

In all likelihood, the Denver Grill will be demolished to make way for the new Downtown Sports Arena, although it doesn't have to be so. They could situate the arena on the four-block site to leave both the Denver Grill and the Children's Day Nursery standing, which would be a blessing to the respective owners and their customers and clients. They could also, as I've written, use city-owned, vacant land elsewhere in downtown that would provide more synergy with existing entertainment districts.

Another topic on the TulsaNow forums points to the transformation of Gallagher-Iba Arena -- expanding the original facility by going up and out. Could the same technique be used for our existing arena? The "Maxwell House" doesn't have the history of Gallagher-Iba, but working within the existing Civic Center superblock would save the expense of land acquisition and allow the businesses of the proposed arena site to continue to serve downtown Tulsans. Here's one more out-of-the-box suggestion -- relocate the State offices elsewhere in downtown (maybe they can rent part of the Borg Cube), tear down the ugly SOB (State Office Building), and build the arena there -- the site would be closer to the Convention Center than the proposed site.

But a friend experienced in the politics of local government tells me he's amused by all the talk about where the arena should go and what it should look like. This friend reminds me that the money for the arena belongs to Bob Dick and Wilbert Collins, and they aren't likely to care what TulsaNow thinks about it. (The third commissioner, Randi Miller, won't get a say in the matter.) It was said before the vote that the City of Tulsa will ultimately own the arena, and will be responsible for the operating deficit, but this isn't in writing, as far as I know, and the County could just as easily decide to handle the construction themselves rather than giving the construction money to the city, then just stick the city with the ongoing operating and maintenance costs. So all this hopeful talk about urban design and walkability may be beside the point.

UPDATE: jdb edited his entry -- had a couple of biographical details wrong. I've put his new version in the excerpt above. He also reports the reaction to his initial article:

The Denver Grill is being swamped with phone calls.

Mostly older people telling their stories of the Grill and that they were "devastated" to discover the Diner was in the "proposed" footprint of the new arena.

They felt cheated that this bit of information was omitted in all the hype of the "clobbered up ballot".

"They just didn't realize." --Peggy

I asked if this was a bitter sweet note for her. As soon as I said it, I knew it was stupid and verging on the point of being insulting.

Instead of giving me a look I full well deserved, she replied, "Yes, it's good to hear from these people...." and then launches into yet another story of how the Grill was the start of something big in someones life.

Note: some people are bluntly asking her for a "piece-of-the-Grill" over the phone. I found this crass, while she found it touchingly sad.

I gotta ask, even if I am stepping out of bounds here, "Where's our manners?".

In the interest of accuracy, I must inform you that Oklahoma City's Ford Center and Cox Business Center has added one more event to their sparsely populated calendar. John Mayer, a singer-songwriter, is on the calendar at the Cox Business Center (the old Myriad) for November 14. I guess the reason they aren't using the Ford Center is that there's a minor league hockey game that night. Interesting that an event that will largely draw local fans and will not bring money into the community gets priority over a concert of the sort which, we are told, will bring fans and their money from far and wide.

UPDATE: An OKC participant in the Tulsa Now forums (uses the handle TStorm) thinks I am bashing Oklahoma City and the Ford Center with this post. I thought I was being fair by pointing out this new event on the calendar. TStorm offers an explanation for the dearth of exciting entertainment opportunites:

Ford Center is managed by SMG (Spectator Management Group), a national entity in charge of booking events at Ford Center. According to several reliable sources, not very many acts are touring at this time, and those that are have been booked mainly in cities along the coast. American Airlines Arena in Dallas has nothing through December but the Texas Stampede and Gaither Homecoming booked- other than Mavericks and Stars games. Does that make AA Arena a failure? No. Every venue will have its down time.

Here's the reply I posted there:

I like OKC, I have family in the city, and I wish the city all success. I think Bricktown was a fun place to visit before the Ford Center opened, and is still a fun place even when nothing is happening at the Ford Center.

My point in talking about the Ford Center calendar during the campaign was to try to wake Tulsans up from their reverie -- the idea that building the arena would bring big acts to Tulsa on a frequent basis, the notion that the arena would solve our city's perceived entertainment deficit, revitalize downtown, and make it easier to recruit young adults to work in Tulsa. The Ford Center was being held up to Tulsa as the reason behind OKC's success, and a model for us to follow, so it deserves close scrutiny. The people of Tulsa did not vote for this arena (to the extent they knew the arena was on the ballot) just to have a bigger venue for minor league hockey. For all we're paying for the new arena, I would hope the arena management would send the Oilers to play in the Pavilion if there were a chance of getting an act that might fill 18,000 seats.

In an earlier entry, I pointed out that both Tulsa and Oklahoma City have a lively music scene happening outside big arenas, at privately-owned places like Cain's Ballroom and the Green Door and public venues like OKC's Zoo Amphitheater.

As for accuracy and doing my homework, I don't see that I misstated or concealed any information. I appreciate TStorm bringing some additional information to public attention. It is interesting to read that touring acts aren't even coming to the region -- even to a place like Dallas. And that raises the key question for Tulsa -- will we get our money's worth out of this arena? If big acts are staying away from flyover country, the answer is "probably not."

And here's a wild thought, a possible, though farfetched, explanation for the sudden fall off in Ford Center acts. Did Tulsa business leaders subsidize the Ford Center's amazingly successful first year, as a way of increasing demand in Tulsa for a new arena? Did they provide additional financial incentives to get acts to stop at the Ford Center? And did they drop the subsidy once the election was around the corner?

A less farfetched thought -- perhaps OKC subsidized the first year to kickstart the new center and draw fans from outside the metro area, but ultimately decided that the approach wasn't sustainable in the long run.

When life hands you lemons

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There are some interesting conversations taking place over at the TulsaNow discussion forums about the design of the arena.

(Funny how the item that was downplayed the most before the vote has now become the center of attention, perhaps because it's the most expensive. It's tempting to suggest that this is one project it would be safe for the trust authority to cancel, because by design few people realized they were voting on it. They could use the freed-up money for education -- which had star billing on proposition 3 -- or just end that 4/10ths of a cent after 6 or 7 years.)

But if an arena is to be built downtown with taxpayer dollars, we can at least be sure that it is placed and built in a way that enhances the urban environment, to help recreate downtown as (to use Jim Kunstler's phrase) "a place worth caring about."

Over on tulsanow.org, Jack Blair has posted two topics, one with photos of recently built arenas and how they fail to enhance their environment, and the other showing arenas built before World War II and how they connect to the street and their surroundings. This has spawned a third topic, pointing out that the distinction is not so much the age or the style of the buildings, but whether they stand aloof or connect with their surroundings. Jack is proposing a design task force.

The mission of the task force should be to (1) monitor the convention center and arena design process from its earliest stages, (2) debate the elements that will mark successful designs, (3) research failures and successes in other cities, but not be bound by them, (4) provide quality information, ideas, and expertise to key decision makers throughout the design and construction process, and (5) report back to the citizens of Tulsa, through all available media, on the progress, successes, and/or failures of the design and construction process.

And Jack goes on to list some of his ideas:

Here are a few of my ideas, just to throw into the pot to get things rolling:

  • We should demand that the new facilities close as few streets as possible. We should further demand that the city consider opening up 3rd Street to two-way traffic (and taking down the awkward divider that redirects eastbound traffic around the Federal Building to 4th Street). Can we restore 4th Street between Frisco and Houston?

  • We should demand that the design address the streets and sidewalks, and that it work at street-level. Why can’t the design incorporate street-front retail space?

  • We should demand the use of good materials, not yard after yard of bland concrete, with a huge, yawning glass maw in the front.

  • We should demand that the arena and convention center (and the attendant parking) be designed with an eye toward promoting private investment in nearby retail and residential development.

These facilities don’t have to be exclusive of, and incompatible with downtown street-life. They must be a vital component of it.

And someone linked to this set of design guidelines for a new arena in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina as a good starting point for Tulsa.

I have written elsewhere (scroll down to the end) that I believe city-owned land at Archer and Elgin would be a better choice for an arena location, in terms of creating synergy with already existing entertainment districts. Another possibility is between 1st & 2nd, Elgin and Greenwood -- working around the only remaining building on that superblock. But I confess that I don't know what kind of footprint would be necessary for an arena of the proposed size, and if it would fit in either space.

From the feasibility study, it appears unlikely that we will host conventions large enough to require a 20,000 seat arena adjacent to our convention facilities, so I'm skeptical of the notion that the two must be linked. Perhaps by using urban renewal land, we can save enough on land acquisition costs to build the ballroom on the north end of the exhibit hall. Another thought -- I think you could fit the ballroom in half the space of the existing arena. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong.) So convert the south half into a ballroom and keep the north half in a theatre configuration that would seat about 4000 people for plenary sessions. (Have we ever hosted a larger convention?)

Here's a map if you would like to see the areas I'm talking about.

Still here


Please forgive me if it takes a day or two to clear away the remnants of the recent campaign from the site. I'll get 'round to it.

Batesline.com will still be here. I started this site to write about a variety of topics, not with the intent of creating a campaign site. With the campaign behind us, there will be more about other stuff -- cities and urban planning, history, politics, music, theology, family. Tulsa will continue to get a big share of my attention, and what I write about the other stuff will be tied to events here. (That's why I show Tulsa as a junction in the site logo.)

In the next day or two -- Deo volente -- I'll write an analysis of the election results, a look at what needs to happen next, and an appreciation of the people who gave time, money, and effort to help our grass-roots opposition.

The worst thing that can happen is for Tulsans on both sides of the issue to say, "We did something [as in, 'We gotta do something!] so now we can stop thinking about Tulsa's future." Too many important issues remain, having been ignored by the people running the "vision process".

Tonight there's an opportunity to get the "vision process" back on track. TulsaNow is sponsoring a post-election discussion at Harwelden, 22nd & Main, at 5:30 this evening. Come and contribute your perspective.

A friend relates his seven-year-old son's reaction to the election:

To help Kevin understand why we were voting no, I used a simple example. He's been counting his weeks (forty-some at last calculation) of allowance until he can afford this $100 lego set. I merely asked him how much he thought the sales tax would be on that purchase if the new taxes passed, and then we calculated it. So, now that we've seen the election results, here are two of his quotes: "That settles it. I'm going to order that Lego set from another state." and... "Daddy, can you lend me the money so I can buy that Lego set before the end of the year?"



Thanks to all the volunteers who were involved in the Tulsa County Coalition's effort against our new billion dollar county tax. Although we lost this battle, we fought valiantly and honorably. Thanks to my fellow co-chairmen, Jim Hewgley and Jack Gordon, for their leadership. Special thanks to Dan Hicks and Mike Reed for their tremendous grassroots efforts, to Joni Clark for handling phone calls, to Tom Quinn for using his gorilla and bus to raise awareness, and to a couple of other tireless volunteers who prefer to remain below the radar -- you know who you are. Honor and thanks to the two current elected officials who had the courage to speak out in opposition -- State Sen. Randy Brogdon and Glenpool Councilor Keith Robinson -- and also to former State Rep. Don Weese. Thanks to Michael DelGiorno, Gwen Freeman, and Elvis Polo of KFAQ for making the case every day on radio (and thanks to their management and sponsors for giving them the freedom to speak out). Extra special thanks to my family for giving up Daddy for most of the summer to the cause.

And many thanks to all of you who took the time to visit this site over the last few weeks. You read, some of you wrote back with great questions and great insights. Some wrote with encouragement, and a couple of you even dropped some money in the donation jar. Although I know that the tax issue was the big draw, I hope you'll keep coming back as we hold our public officials to their promises, as we consider important issues that the "visioning process" has yet to address, and as we write about interesting stuff beyond the Tulsa region.

Some thoughts as we prepare to go to the polls:

(1) If you're just finding this site, as you do some last minute learning about the issues on tomorrow's ballot, welcome! To help you find the information you need, there's a search box on the right side of the home page.

If you just want an overview of the issues, read "Why Vote No?" That article is brief, and I've provided links to related entries, grouped by topic. Don't overlook the links at the end of the article, which deal with overarching issues like real vision, governance, economic development, and downtown.

I don't have articles beyond August 30 indexed on the "Why Vote No?" page, so I've reconfigured the home page to go back two full weeks, for now. Scroll down to see all the recent stuff.

If you've got an honest-to-goodness question that you need answered before you vote, e-mail blog at batesline dot com, and I'll try to respond as quickly as my job and personal life allows.

When the campaign ends, you'll find more variety here, as I originally intended, but you can be sure I'll keep writing about our city, our region, and the future.

(2) Before you vote, read the ballot carefully. Ultimately that is the only binding contract between the citizens of Tulsa County and the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners for this tax increase.

The tax is collected at the rate specified on the ballot, for the duration specified on the ballot, and must be spent for the purpose specified on the ballot. Note that very broad purposes were chosen, which gives the Commissioners great latitude. The ballot resolutions reflect the Commissioners' current intent, but those can be amended with only 48 hours notice. Projects, procedures, restrictions -- and, of course, promises -- it only takes two commissioners of the three to sweep away anything that isn't on your ballot.

(3) As you vote, remember that your ballot is secret and sacred. No one can know how you vote.

I have spoken to and received e-mail from hundreds of Tulsa County residents who deliver the same basic message: "I'm against this tax, and I appreciate what the opposition is doing, but because of my job, I cannot come out publicly against it." People are afraid to display yard signs, to sign petitions. Employees, public and private, are afraid of losing their jobs. Politicians are afraid of angering donors and being targeted for defeat (with good reason). Businessmen are afraid of regulatory harassment from city or county agencies, afraid of losing business from the big companies backing this package, afraid of being turned down for loans. I heard that workers at one downtown company were told by an angry CEO that they'd lose their jobs if they opposed the package. American Airlines mechanics were taken off the line to assemble "YES" signs.

It could be that every YES sign in every yard is there because the occupant of the home is a wholehearted supporter of all four new taxes. But I wouldn't be surprised if some companies or government agencies planted signs on every employee's lawn. "No one will be forced to have a sign in their yard. If you object to having a sign, please notify HR and add your name to the no-sign list," also known as the early layoff list.

This is not wild paranoia. Companies and government agencies have been known to track employee behavior away from work and discipline any deviance. My family lived in Bartlesville in the late '60s, a Cities Service family in a Phillips town. Back then Phillips had a company basketball team, a frequent contender for the Amateur Athletic Union crown. Of course the players weren't paid for playing (they were amateurs after all); they worked for the company. Some of these players had jobs monitoring non-Phillips service stations and noticing if a Phillips employee bought gas, oil, or tires from other than Phillips, an act subject to disciplinary action.

Just a hunch, nothing more, but it wouldn't surprise me if some companies and agencies backing this plan are monitoring the yardsigns their employees are displaying.

I suspect similar fears are skewing the polls. When someone calls, verifies your name, and asks your opinion, how do you know it's a real pollster?

If you have been treated in this way, and you resent it, you can fight back at the polls. You may not be able to speak publicly, but no one can know what you do in the voting booth. A resounding defeat of these packages will be the first bold step toward restoring open, honest public discourse in this region.

(4) Even if you like bits of this, for the sake of honest and honorable government, turn it down and send it back to the County Commission with a resounding message.

As parents, my wife and I know our young children have not developed enough discernment and judgment to be trusted with unlimited choice. To protect them from danger, the choices we give them are limited. As they mature we expect to give them greater latitude to choose for themselves. It's responsible parenting to limit a young child's choices, but when politicians treat the voters in that manner, it's insulting.

The politicians unreasonably limited our choices, our ability to define our vision of the future, by not allowing us to choose projects for common and higher education without also choosing the downtown sports arena and Expo Square. Judge Wiseman ruled that what the Commissioners did with this ballot was not unconstitutional logrolling, but that still doesn't make it right. They demonstrated their contempt for the desires of the people of this county. How can we expect them to listen to us after we give them a billion dollars when they don't want to listen to us now?

If we turn this down, they can come back with another sales tax package in six months. They could come back with bond issues much sooner.

If we approve this mess, it will only encourage them.

(5) If this thing fails, it won't be because of marketing or packaging. Can we stipulate to this before the ballots are counted? The usual bunch had full control over how this package was put together and when it was put on the ballot. They had over half a million to spend (I'm sure the number has grown since the last ethics filing) -- a hundred times the opposition's resources. A healthy reaction to a defeat would be for prominent yea-sayers to admit that the projects and the process are bad in substance, not just perception.

Thanks for your attention.

[I'm "postdating" this message so that it will remain at the top of the blog through the time the polls close tomorrow.]

Watch party


There will be a gathering of the "Vote No" forces tonight at Bennigan's at 71st and Yale, beginning about 6 pm. It will be a chance for the far-flung grass-roots to enjoy some fellowship, regardless of the outcome. I am looking forward to meeting the many people who have been putting out signs, distributing flyers, calling and e-mailing friends. Refreshments will be "dutch treat" -- BYOM (bring your own money). Thanks to Bennigan's for letting us meet there. Some other restaurants refused to welcome the opposition.

This campaign has not been centrally controlled and scripted. We have a total payroll of $0. People who care about our region's future have just taken the initiative. As I was driving through the neighborhood on the way back from the polls today, I saw a handmade "VOTE NO" sign in one yard -- magic marker on cardboard.

If you can't come by, you could help us by swinging by your polling place about 7:10 or 7:15 to get your precinct's results, then call 946-1960 to report the numbers. Precinct results look like cash register receipts -- long and skinny -- and should be taped to the door of the polling place. Please make a note of the precinct number, which will be near the top of the tape. Direct results will let us know early on how things are going in different parts of the county, and will also help us ensure that results don't change between the polling place and the electio n board.

No events this month at Oklahoma City's Ford Center. None.

Next month, three minor league hockey games. Barney's got five performances across the street at the old Myriad (the Cox Business Center).

November -- seven minor league hockey games.

December -- seven minor league hockey games and a gospel music concert. (That's the Gaithers' Homecoming -- played at Mabee Center last year, returning to Mabee Center next year)

January 2004 -- five minor league hockey games, International Finals Rodeo, Harlem Globetrotters. (The Globetrotters will come here, too.)

February 2004 -- seven minor league hockey games.

March 2004 -- three minor league hockey games.

April through August 2004 -- absolutely nothing.

Anything here that will draw the "Creative Class" to OKC? If you're trying to recruit a young professional to work in OKC, would you point with pride to this calendar of events?

A month ago, when I called attention to this dearth of big name acts, I was told that concerts aren't scheduled very far in advance. But surely a big act would be announced a couple of months in advance, to allow time for ticket sales, particularly if you want to draw fans from out of town.

Someone on TulsaNow posted a link to TicketsPlus.com, which showed three performances of "42nd Street" and a performance of "The Producers", both Broadway musicals, at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, spread out over the next five months. It seemed strange that there would be these isolated performances instead of multiple-night performances and matinees. It also seemed strange to perform Broadway musicals in an arena, when Oklahoma City has a Civic Center Music Hall designed for stage performances.

On further investigation, these entries on TicketsPlus.com appear to be the result of a data entry error, as the same performances show up on ticketmaster.com at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in Chicago or the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in New York. Other than the one in Oklahoma City, there are at least three other Ford Centers in the country. (Besides New York and Chicago, there's one in Dearborn, Michigan, which would make sense.)

I don't have a good explanation for this sudden shift from feast to famine. Has the novelty worn off for the concert promoters?

Correction to KOTV debate entry


CORRECTION: An earlier entry reported a phone call from the Mayor to Paul Wilson that came to KOTV during the debate intermission, based on an eyewitness acccount. I misunderstood the circumstances and KOTV anchor Scott Thompson's response as they were reported to me. Mr. Thompson e-mailed me with a correction. "Here, then, is the truth. A desk assistant entered the studio just as the President was finishing his address and said the Mayor was on the phone, asking to speak to Paul Wilson. I told our desk assistant that Paul would be unable to take the call, as the President was finishing-up and we were about to return to the air. Paul Wilson then told our desk assistant to have the Mayor speak to someone else in his entourage, who was watching the program from another room here at KOTV." I regret the misunderstanding.

Kevin Adams (whose article The Tulsa Time Blues you should read or re-read before you go to the polls) calls our attention to a couple of articles that question the economic development "strategy" which is guiding tomorrow's billion-dollar sales tax vote.

Here are the lead paragraphs from a story in today's New York Times (free registration required):

City Is Told to Abandon Its 'Doomed' Tactics of Encouraging Growth


Arguing that the industries upon which New York City has depended for its economic well-being have been losing ground and are unlikely to generate many new jobs in future, a new study suggests that New York's longtime approach to economic development is obsolete and must be reconceived.

The study, financed by the Rockefeller Foundation and written by a nonprofit group called the Center for an Urban Future, says the city should abandon the "doomed strategy" of favoring a few industries like finance — an approach the study says has left the city increasingly vulnerable to economic shifts.

City resources should go instead to improving the climate for small businesses and entrepreneurs, tapping the immigrant population as well as academic and research institutions, and improving basic services so the middle class will not leave the city, according to the study, to be released today.

"Start small," the report urges. Large firms are decentralizing operations and adding new jobs elsewhere, and New York's future growth will depend on "whether it can restore its entrepreneurial vitality and create a better environment for smaller firms to grow and prosper."

The recommendations run counter to the city's practice of using tax abatements and real estate development subsidies to keep big companies in New York. That tactic became common in the 1990's as competition among the city, its suburbs and other places intensified....

As large firms everywhere have decentralized, cities like Los Angeles have benefited by the rise of small, home-grown businesses, the study says. But New York "has become one of the worst environments for entrepreneurs and growing firms," the report says, citing rankings by groups like the National Commission on Entrepreneurship and declines in venture capital investments.

One big problem for growing businesses is high real estate costs, which the study traces in part to the city's practice of subsidizing the real estate costs of large employers. The report says the practice has distorted the "real estate market in ways that actually inhibit the development of new businesses and the retention of lower-margin industries." ...

The study recommends that the city work harder to help growing businesses thrive, in part by addressing "the fundamental issues hampering business growth in the city, such as permitting, business taxes and policies that spur exorbitant real estate speculation."

The city should also do more to encourage the growth of immigrant and minority-owned businesses, the study says, perhaps by following the example of cities like Los Angeles and Houston. According to the report, those two cities rebuilt their economies in recent decades in part by diversifying, reducing regulatory hurdles and helping immigrant-run businesses to develop.

In addition, the city should extend its economic development efforts beyond large-scale commercial projects in Manhattan to include neighborhoods in all five boroughs, the study recommends. It notes that the Bloomberg administration is already working to develop viable and more affordable business districts in Downtown Brooklyn, as well as Long Island City and Flushing, Queens.

Finally, the report suggests that the city support policies that will help retain middle-class residents. It should follow through with plans to increase the housing stock. And it should use scarce city resources to maintain and improve basic services like law enforcement, sanitation, public transit, education, parks and the infrastructure.

The report states, "This vision should begin with the premise that blindly following the post-1950's strategy of ever-intensifying real estate speculation, over-concentration on selected sectors and `Capital of the World' rhetoric will erode the city's overall competitiveness even further, strain the city's financial resources and widen the gap between rich and poor."

I don't know if we subsidize real estate costs for large employers, but we do have zoning laws which discourage home business, and I understand that there is a severe shortage of small retail space, which would boost costs and provide another entry barrier. I don't see many new small spaces being built; mainly big boxes are being put up these days.

Notice the keys -- take care of the basics, reduce red tape and regulatory barriers, tap into the entreprenurial energy of new arrivals to our country, and don't focus exclusively on "downtown".

And here's Joel Kotkin, who visited Tulsa back in May 2002, writing in the Washington Post. Tulsa gets a little mention....

.... There is a dramatic shift afoot in urban fortunes, weakening the clout of the biggest cities while spreading power and influence to scores of smaller centers, nowhere more markedly than here in the United States.

Blame 9/11, technology or geographic shifts in the national economy -- or a combination of all three -- but the nation's urban hierarchy is flattening out. A host of smaller players are chopping off chunks of what was once the big boys' exclusive domain. What used to take place almost entirely in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or San Francisco -- whether in high finance, advertising or marketing -- is now happening more and more in unlikely locales such as Omaha, Des Moines, Fargo, N.D., and Columbus, Ohio. "Technology now gives each town the same global footprint," says Rich Nespola, a native New Yorker and president of TMNG, a communications consulting firm headquartered in suburban Kansas City, Kan. "People can work where they are comfortable and where it's most profitable." ...

Extensive interviews with young professionals, corporate executives, human resource workers, post-graduate students and recent immigrants reveal that many are willing to exchange "the bright lights" of the global centers for affordable housing, a sense of community and economic opportunity. "It's gotten very easy to get workers to relocate here," notes Randy Schilling, founder and CEO of Quilogy, a St. Louis-area technology company. "You get a guy here from Chicago, New York and San Francisco, and even if he gets a pay cut, he and his family live better."

All these factors are stirring a renewal of cultural life in places in America's second-tier cities. Rather than in the mindless new stadiums and convention centers promoted in the past, this renaissance expresses itself at street level, in new restaurants, art galleries, loft developments. The hot real estate ticket in many of these cities is no longer the suburbs, but close-in, leafy urban areas near the historic core. Kansas City's Country Club Plaza, St. Louis's Central West End or Des Moines' Court Avenue may not be Soho. The denizens of the brew pubs and bars in these places appear to be older, less edgy, straighter and more family-oriented than lower Manhattanites or San Franciscans. But they are rekindling urban life where, for a long time, it seemed to be in irreversible decline. You can now hear decent music, or enjoy a good Italian meal, in Fargo and drink a more than passable cappuccino in virtually every second-tier city.

All this could augur a new future for American urbanism, one that recalls the dynamic era of the earliest 20th century, when second-tier cities enjoyed their own periods of vibrancy. This was the era of "Meet Me in St. Louis," when the city hosted the 1904 World's Fair, Kansas City was a jazz capital, and upstart oilmen turned downtown Tulsa into an art deco showcase. Today a resurgence in these places could bring a much-needed new diversity to our cultural life, now dominated by New York and Los Angeles.

There may also be some good news in these developments for the global cities. The current restructuring and declustering of urban activities offers a clear opportunity for Gotham and global-city wannabes to rethink their economic and political priorities. Perhaps the first thing would be to chuck the "capital of the world" pretensions and start focusing on the mundane things -- fostering family-oriented neighborhoods, middle-class jobs and efficient city services -- that made these cities great in the first place. A stronger commitment to the things that matter to ordinary people may be the best way for cities like New York to retain their importance, and carry their greatness deep into the new century.

Hitting the nail on the head


Someone writing under the name "Citizen" posted this message over on the City Talk Forum. "Citizen" has hit the nail on the head, and you need to read this.

(I've added emphasis to my favorite quotes.)

The promoters have spent an enormous amount of energy and column inches lately trying to demoralize those opposed to Vision2025 by speaking of "do nothings" who don't care about our city and have no concerns other than themselves.

This couldn't be more wrong.

I'd suggest those most vocally opposed have even greater concern than whoever sees this package as a magic pill benefit to our city.

It most certainly is not a magic pill. But, it does have a time-release factor which not only does not require another dose later, it eliminates that possibility altogether. That's if the patient lives.

People, to me, don't seem to understand the terms of this deal well.

Personally, I'm opposed to every proposition on the ballot. This has nothing at all to do with the project lists or even the huge amount of money involved, rather, it's the open-ended, long term, short-sighted implications which I find abhorrant.

If our leaders were as concerned with our opinions and vision of what our city is to become, they would have never packaged it in this manner. It gives us little choice, by design.

The good part is that this one can be defeated, and should be, because it's not the end of the world (the one you live in, but perhaps will be for the paper).

In as little as a few days, and certainly within a few months, a new issue can be prepared which does allow us choice. A couple of months is nothing when compared to the THIRTEEN YEARS the current package entails.

It's not just a lot of money, IT'S A HUGE AMOUNT OF MONEY. And, the structure of this ballot gives almost total freedom to our County Commissioners (all three of them) to do anything they desire with that money.

Sure, they passed a resolution with a project list. It's also subject to revision with just the same ease.

One minor point -- two Commissioners teaming up could do anything they desire with that money. Commissioner Randi Miller is frequently at the short end of 2-1 votes, and I fully expect to see many more votes like that if the Commissioners have a billion dollars to play with. And they can repeal or modify any of those resolutions on 48 hours notice. The only thing set in stone is the purpose, amount, and duration of the text set out in the ballot title.

I'll be the first to admit that many of the projects are appealing. Some are not. One in particular is wrapped up in a way to best assure it's passage even though we've already twice rejected it. I resent it even being on the ballot now, much less that it's not its' own item.

I'm not voting against Tulsa, I voting against this form of "representation". Just how many times, in how many ways, do we have to tell them what we want?

It ain't their city, it's ours.

And, there is no magic pill, especially one that fixes all the things our servants have not done in years past.

Hear, hear! Well spoken! How many times, indeed, do we have to tell them no?

Some yea-sayers suggest that it's "three strikes and you're out", but the 1997 and 2000 pitches were low and inside and Tulsans wisely declined to swing at them. This one is in the dirt, and I trust that Tulsa County residents will have the same good sense on Tuesday. When we're given a good pitch -- 3rd penny for capital improvements, school bond issues -- we knock the ball out of the park.

City or County, Savage or LaFortune, behind it all we've been stuck with the same worn out pitcher -- the powers that have run this city for so long. Out of ideas, out of energy, but unwilling to yield the ball to a reliever. Time to send to send them to the showers. A resounding defeat Tuesday is the first step.

Channel 6 debate, maybe


KOTV channel 6 has a debate scheduled for 7 pm tonight, with Jack Gordon representing the forces of light. No idea who will speak for the other side. The start time may be delayed because of CBS coverage of the US Open Tennis Tournament, and the debate may be interrupted halfway through by the President's speech. KOTV has committed to go ahead with the broadcast even if the other side doesn't show. Should be interesting.

UPDATE: The Mayor originally agreed to do half the debate (because of a prior commitment), with Bob Dick handling the other half. Then the Mayor was going to do the whole thing. Then Friday morning, he backed out, with no word on who would be coming in his place. Tonight we found out, when 21st Properties President Paul Wilson showed up. You'll recall that Wilson filled in when OU-Tulsa president Ken Levit was pulled at the last minute from the KRMG debate.

UPDATE & CORRECTION: This entry reported a phone call from the Mayor to Paul Wilson that came to KOTV during the debate intermission, based on an eyewitness acccount. I misunderstood the circumstances and KOTV anchor Scott Thompson's response as they were reported to me. Mr. Thompson e-mailed me with a correction. "Here, then, is the truth. A desk assistant entered the studio just as the President was finishing his address and said the Mayor was on the phone, asking to speak to Paul Wilson. I told our desk assistant that Paul would be unable to take the call, as the President was finishing-up and we were about to return to the air. Paul Wilson then told our desk assistant to have the Mayor speak to someone else in his entourage, who was watching the program from another room here at KOTV." I regret the misunderstanding.

A reader writes with an observation about a major demographic trend that will start to manifest itself about halfway through this thirteen-year sales tax.

One thing I've not seen in the debate is a consideration of what is possibly the most important economic of event since the Industrial Revolution: The retiring of the Baby Boomers. That is just about to happen and as the Dodge commercial says: This changes everything.

Current labor projections are that with just 3% annual economic growth, by 2010 there will be the most sever labor shortages ever, especially skilled labor; and that is taking into consideration the jobs lost to India, China, etc. I think this makes even more doubtful the wisdom of buying jobs at the extremely expensive rate requested by Boeing.

There will be ever increasing demand on public facilities related an aging population; and there will be an increasing demand for facilities related to retirement. It appears that Tulsa's response will be to offer the retired tourist the joy of our four-foot deep muddy river -- i.e. lovely Zink Lake.

Maybe somebody would like to expand on this; somebody needs to. Something like: How do you think Oklahoma's world-famous nursing homes will do with the aging population after Oklahoma's two big population centers have shot their financial wad on some pie in the sky?

Question: What state is the only state to add TWO congressional seats in the last census?

Glen Hiemstra, the futurist who spoke at the Mayor's Vision Summit, also raised the coming boom in the ranks of senior citizens as a trend we need to deal with as we develop a vision for the future. In the end, despite some proposals that dealt with this issue, the "leadership" team ignored it, since it wasn't about their beloved Downtown Sports Arena.

More about this later.

AA mechanics don't support Prop 2


The other afternoon I had an interesting phone call with Grizz Lee, an officer in the Transport Workers' Union (TWU) local at the American Airlines maintenance base. Grizz told me that he and several other union officials oppose all four sales tax increases, including Proposition 2, which would give money to American Airlines. A lot of the rank and file workers feel the same way.

Here's the main reason: AA workers have taken pay cuts ranging from 10% to 30%. Workers feel they've sacrificed enough. They don't want to pay higher sales taxes on top of the concessions they've already made. And American Airlines has made no promises about what it will do if it gets this $22.3 million. AA hasn't promised to stay, hasn't promised to halt layoffs, hasn't promised to call back laid-off workers, and hasn't promised to restore the pay and benefits the workers gave up. AA also hasn't threatened to leave if we don't give it to them. The rank and file at AA figure that AA management has plenty of money to mismanage already -- why raise our taxes to give management more money to waste? (Waste on things like arena naming rights in Dallas and Miami -- over $200 million.)

I've heard from many AA employees -- both management and rank and file -- that there is no chance AA will leave Tulsa. AA has a huge capital investment here, and some facilities that would be prohibitively expensive or impossible to reproduce elsewhere. One is their turbine facility -- it would cost $1 billion to rebuild it somewhere else. Another is an injection well for waste disposal. It saves AA a lot of money to be able to send waste down to a pocket deep in the earth, rather than through a more expensive method. This well is grandfathered in by the EPA -- AA couldn't build a new one in another location.

One AA flight attendant notes that AA can't even put an engine on a plane for the $22.3 million we'll pay them.

And we also hear that some mechanics resent being pulled off the production line to assemble "vote yes" signs on company time.

Tulsa has already done a lot to help American Airlines. Thursday night, the City Council approved the last of $8 million in incentives -- including lower water rates and a new sewer line. And if American does bring new jobs to Tulsa from another maintenance base, they would qualify for the Quality Jobs program incentives, worth up to five percent of their expanded payroll.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me to make a point-by-point reply to Julie DelCour's opinion piece about the downtown sports arena and convention center in the Sunday Whirled. He thought it seemed a bit one-sided.

[I started it back then, but to be honest, it wore me out, and I went on to other things. Sometimes I think they're throwing as much nonsense as possible in a deliberate attempt to wear the opposition down trying to refute it all. With the vote rapidly approaching, I thought I better buckle down and finish. I've actually addressed most of the points in separate entries.]

In Internet parlance, this approach to commentary is called "fisking", an eponym in honor of Robert Fisk, columnist for "The Independent", a British newspaper. Fisk is noted for bitter anti-American, anti-Israeli reporting, loaded with factual errors. Bloggers deconstruct his columns paragraph by paragraph, commenting as they go.

So here goes:

Visions of Billy or Barney? By JULIE DELCOUR World Editorial Writer 8/3/2003

Issue isn't only about new Tulsa arena

This spring the Ford Center in Oklahoma City attracted Billy Graham, the world-renown evangelist. Shortly before, the Tulsa Convention Center welcomed Barney, the world-renown purple dinosaur.

This is a nitpick, but the term is "world-renowned," the state of being renowned ("widely acclaimed and highly honored") throughout the whole world (if not throughout the whole Whirled).

The Ford Center didn't attract Billy Graham. Billy Graham was invited by Oklahoma City churches to come and preach. As with all his missions, Rev. Graham accepted the invitation after much prayer and consultation, believing that God was calling him to preach at this place, at this time. (A page on Graham's website explains how a mission to a city is initiated.) A city mission is organized by local churches, and this local organization handles all the arrangements, including the venue.

Clearly Graham enjoyed appearing at the new, 18,000-seat venue that accommodated 100,000 of his admirers over several days. Barney must have felt equally at home here because the 40-year-old, 9,000-seat Tulsa Convention Center is a dinosaur.

Ms. DelCour doesn't seem to understand the point of a Billy Graham mission. It isn't a performance in front of "admirers". It's about Billy Graham preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to his fellow sinners. And how is it clear that the new arena was a source of enjoyment to Graham?

The Tulsa Convention Center is not a 40-year-old, 9,000 seat facility. The Convention Center Arena has 9,000 seats, and was opened in 1964. The Convention Center includes the 100,000 square foot exhibition hall and gallery, which was completed in 1984. Is it too much to expect precise expression from editorial writers?

In 2002-2003, 27 acts appeared or will visit the Ford Center, including the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Fleetwood Mac and Tim McGraw. In the same period the Tulsa Convention Center will have hosted eight such events, including the band, Def Leppard, and World Wrestling Entertainment -- twice.

As I noted in an earlier entry, the Ford Center lists only one pop or rock event for the next 12 months. ("American Idol Live!") Other than that, the only events on the calendar are rodeo, minor league hockey, a religious meeting, a southern gospel music concert, and a kids' show.

They keep trying to tell us that there's no hope for new jobs unless we pass this billion-dollar tax increase. But the Whirled business section yesterday had a story (starts here, continued here) that illustrates some key principles of economic growth, and shows us that Tulsa can grow quality jobs. Let's read through the story together:

Two Tulsa companies are expected to hire more than 400 people in the next few years as they expand operations as part of the Oklahoma Quality Jobs Program, state and company officials said Thursday.

That's about half the number of jobs Boeing would bring (800 to 1200) for our $350,000,000 investment, had they selected us. (As previously reported, Tulsa did not make the short list -- only cities with deep water ports are still in the running.)

Aircraft Fueling Systems, a 9-year old Tulsa company that employs 100 people, will triple employment during the next 10 years under the program, said Parker Strickland, chief financial officer.

"We’ll add 25 to 50 jobs over the next 12 months," Strickland said. "We’re among three companies that have received a $47 million one-year contract with the U.S. Navy to update and maintain fuel control systems for automated fuel handling equipment around the world.

"We have additional bids in place for military contracts, and we also are expanding the commercial side of the business."

The keys to Aircraft Fueling Systems’ growth from fewer than 30 employees three years ago to its current count of 100 is the versatility, efficiency and speed the company brings to a project, company executives said. ...

Among the company’s recently completed projects are the engineering and construction of a $20 million, 24-gate fuel line at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the engineering, design and operator training for a $35 million fuel facility for Southwest Airlines at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

Note several things. Aircraft Fueling Systems didn't exist 10 years ago. Few of us have heard of it. Someone had an idea and started a small business. Three years ago, they had fewer than 30 employees. But this small business wasn't dependent on local customers, or on a local big business to be their main customer. They have customers all over the country: both commercial airports and the Defense Department. They are bringing new money directly into our economy. We didn't have to raise our taxes to make this possible.

Ameristar Fence Products, a 20-year-old Tulsa company started by one man with a little fence-building background and a lot of vision, is steadily adding jobs to keep up with high production demands.

Ameristar employs more than 450 people and sells $100 million in products every year, company officials said. By the end of the year, the company will have already reached the employment level it projected when it entered the Oklahoma Quality Jobs Program. The 10-year contract with the program says that by the end of the contract Ameristar should have created 475 jobs, a number the company has nearly realized, said Ameristar spokesman Bruce Scott. The bulk of the jobs are manufacturing and sales positions, he said.

In the next three years, Ameristar expects to expand its facilities in northeast Tulsa and steadily add workers for an estimated total employment of about 700 people. Company officials also predict Ameristar sales will double to $200 million in five years.

Ameristar specializes in steel and aluminum ornamental fences that are used around golf courses, schools, parks, housing developments, stores and other facilities. The fences are installed around new projects but are just as often used to replace old fences, company officials said. The company’s newest and fastest-selling product is a fence so strong that it can stop a 15,000-pound vehicle traveling 40 mph, which is the federal requirement outlined in an antiram certification drawn up by the State Department.

Heightened security since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has increased the need for such fences around government and military operations where a vehicular bomb could be used, company officials said.

Ameristar has already sold the fence for use around two Air Force bases in California, one in Missouri and another near Washington, D.C., he said. The Pentagon also is considering one, the company said.

This latest security fence adds to a long line of ornamental fences, fence hardware and fence coatings that Ameristar has been designing and building since Oklahoma native Eddy Gibbs founded the company.

In the early days, Gibbs was known to load up a truck with fence products and start driving. He wouldn’t come back until he had sold everything and the truck was empty. After the company’s fence hardware went over well, Gibbs started cultivating the niche of ornamental fencing, said Mark Meek, national marketing and sales manager.

Here's another company that started as a one-man operation -- can't be any smaller than that -- and has grown to be the largest manufacturer of ornamental fencing in the world, according to its website. Mr. Gibbs found a niche and exploited it, selling his product all over the country. This company brings in new dollars to our economy.

The yea-sayers say that paying hundreds of millions to bring one big businesses into town is the only way to grow our economy, and to help small businesses grow. That just shows how they misunderstand what small business is all about.

All over Tulsa are small and medium-sized businesses with a great idea and a vision for being the best in the country or the best in the world at what they do. They aren't waiting for work from local customers, but they're searching out and getting clients and income from all over the world. Oklahoma has the Quality Jobs program to help these businesses get off the ground and add new jobs to the economy. Any company that brings jobs benefits from it. If we vote no next Tuesday, Boeing and American would still qualify for the Quality Jobs program, just like any other company. That's the fair and sensible way to provide incentives to companies, not raising regressive sales taxes and directing the money to just a couple of favored companies.

The cynical gang who put together this package tied a wee bit of money for the public schools to the $183 million for the downtown sports arena, so they could tell you, "It's all about the children."

A Tulsa Whirled story this morning confirms a lot of suspicions. It is interesting that they turn to someone from the Tulsa Metro Chamber to answer questions, instead of asking someone from a public school district.

If Proposition 3 passes, public school districts will get $55 per pupil for only two years. That's equal to the annual textbook allocation from the state. They have to use that money for instructional materials. The Chamber flack says that schools would be able to use their $55 state textbook allocation for something else instead, like hiring teachers. But the extra money will only be there for two years, at which point any new teachers would need to be laid off.

I'm sure the local districts would be grateful for any bit of help right now, but if Prop 3 passes, the children (and their parents) will be stuck with an enormous bill. The County will borrow money to buy these textbooks in years 1 and 2, and we will spend the next 11 years paying back the loans, with interest. By the time the loans are paid off, the textbooks will be obsolete and this year's kindergarten students will be graduating seniors.

On top of that, because of the dishonest way the County Commission structured this ballot, in order to get the pittance for schools, we have to approve $183 million for the Downtown Sports Arena and Convention Center, plus another $40 million for Expo Square. That's like going to the store to buy a gallon of milk, and being told to get the milk you have to pay full price for a big screen TV -- we'll throw in the milk for free. That's no bargain, and neither is this. Essentially we'll be paying over $3,400 per pupil to get $110 worth of books. Proposition 3 is a bad deal for kids, for teachers, and for taxpayers.

More debate notes


The mention of former Mayor Terry Young reminded me: About three weeks ago, Terry Young was a last-minute substitution at the Tulsa County Democratic Party forum on the proposed new county sales taxes. I learned a couple of days ago that OU-Tulsa President Ken Levit had been scheduled to speak for the "vote yes" side, but was a no show. So Democratic Chairman Elaine Dodd went to Terry Young, who had only come to listen, verified that he was a supporter, then asked him to speak for the vote yes side in the forum, which also involved former County Assessor Jack Gordon, speaking for the opposition, and Sally Frazier, representing the undecided point of view.

This last Tuesday was the KRMG - Downtown Kiwanis Club debate, scheduled for 12:30. Here again, it was supposed to be Jack Gordon vs. Ken Levit, but at 10:45, a vote yes apparatchik informed KRMG that Twenty-First Properties President Paul Wilson would be speaking instead of Ken Levit. KRMG newsman John Durkee, the moderator, made a point of mentioning the sudden change during his introductions, with a hint of irritation creeping through his professional tone. The next morning, I called KRMG to talk about Channel 8's furtive decision not to air a promised debate, and at the end of the call, John Erling mentioned the sudden shift on their debate, and that he later learned that Levit had been told 10 days earlier by the vote yes PR flacks [my term, not Erling's] that he would not be doing the KRMG debate. The flacks just didn't bother to tell KRMG until the last minute.

Ken Levit is a good, honest man, and it looks to me like he hasn't been treated with due respect by the yea-sayer strategists. I suspect in the case of the Democratic Party event, as with KRMG, the PR flacks told him not to show up, but they failed to notify the people running the event.

As I write this, there may be a debate on KOTV Channel 6 Sunday night. The Mayor was originally willing to participate, but as of this morning the willingness went away. The change in attitude followed (but was not necessarily caused by) the Fox 23 debate the night before. We will see what comes to pass. The debate will follow "60 Minutes" at around 7 p.m., although the programs may be delayed by U. S. Open Tennis coverage.

And I'll close with these actual debate notes, found after a debate some days ago.

The yea-sayers continue to believe that the vote no victories in 1997 and 2000 were just a matter of packaging and marketing, and if they can just be more careful about image management, they will win this time. But the previous elections were about the merits of the proposals (or lack thereof), and I'm confident that the same will be true this time.

Gorilla campaigning


Tom Quinn owns a large (25-foot) inflatable gorilla
. Tom is a man unafraid to take aim at the powerful if he thinks a wrong is being committed. In 1986, as a political unknown he beat incumbent Mayor Terry Young in the Democratic primary. He's targeted ONG with billboards and a website. And this week he lent his gorilla to the vote no cause. A bit of fun, a chance to gain some attention, and to let the silent majority out there know that they aren't alone in thinking this tax plan is a bad idea.

The gorilla was up at 68th & Riverside Wednesday, and at 71st and Memorial on Thursday. The campaign had permission from the property owner to set up the gorilla, but there was still a bit of trouble. Here's an eyewitness account:

This morning's two-man rally at 71st and Memorial turned tense when Vision 2025 Supporters called out Tulsa's Men-in-Blue to intimidate Vote No Supporter Tom Quinn, his loyal sidekick Georgy Porgy, and even the 25 Foot Blue Gorilla looked a bit deflated after the police presence.

Tom Quinn got his Blue Simian friend inflated about 6:00 a.m. this morning, hoping to catch the attention of morning rush hour commuters at the 10th Most Dangerous Intersection in America. Dan Hicks showed up shortly thereafter to coordinate with the news media. Channel 6 showed up around 7'ish to shoot a few shots after Dan had headed to work. Georgy Porgy handed out signs (about 20 I think), and walk the sidewalks waving Vote No signs at traffic.

Unfortunately, 2 & 8 didn't show up until after the plug had been pulled on the blue gorilla around 8:45 a.m. Likely Story-Lie for 5:00 P.M. broadcast: Vote NO Rally Deflates!

Around 8:15 a.m. or so, an SUV showed up with two ladies. When they got out of the car wearing Vision 2025 T-Shirts, I deduced they weren't there to make a Vote NO campaign contribution!

They said they worked for the leasing agent (Leinbach and Associates). They said we didn't have permission to be on their property and had to leave. They also said it was "Just a Coincidence" that they were wearing VISION 2025 T-Shirts to work this morning. Right. I took some photos of the event.

I kept walking the sidewalk waving a Vote NO sign in each hand while Tom engaged them in conversation.

I was pretty much out of earshot, but I did eventually hear Tom on the cell phone talking with the new property owner about our presence.

At about 8:40a, two Tulsa Police Dept. cruisers showed up; they didn't get out of their cars except to double up in one car and shoot the breeze.... Other than a show of force, they had no interaction with me, and I presume none with Tom. I was mostly walking around picking up our signs and helping shut down the site by that point. Got some neat photos of Tulsa's finest.

As we were deflating the Gorilla, the two remaining TV stations showed up and shot some footage as described above.

Interesting that the vote yes campaign seems to have enforcement squads ready to shut down any show of support for the opposition. Today I noticed a white car pulled over onto the grass (well onto the grass) left of the westbound Broken Arrow Expressway on-ramp at Sheridan. The car had a "Vision 2025" sticker on the back window, and a blonde woman was standing next to the driver's side door with a 35mm camera, taking a photo of the new message on the billboard:


What a strange thing for a yea-sayer to take a picture of, I thought.

Plenty of people have complained to me of their VOTE NO signs disappearing from their own yards. I have heard reliable eyewitness reports of organized teams scouring neighborhoods and removing VOTE NO signs, sometimes within hours of their placement.

On the Channel 47 debate the other night, we were asked about negativity in the campaign. From what I can see, most of the negativity seems to be coming from "vote yes" minions who can't stand the idea of dissent and feel the need to eradicate it. At least, I hope it's the minions and not their bosses that are behind sign disappearances and other forms of harassment and pressure. The so-called naysayers seem to be keeping cool and having fun while trying to communicate a serious message.

Forum and debate notes


I am rarely in the mood or condition after a debate to blog about it, but these are some of the most interesting and fun parts of the campaign. They are both mentally energizing and physically exhausting.

Last Friday was the Channel 47 debate. I had just flown home from Montreal earlier in the afternoon. (Thank heavens for all the empty seats on AA -- I was able to standby for an earlier flight than one that would have landed less than two hours before air time.) Following the debate, I was cornered by two vote yes supporters. One young fellow berated me, asked me questions then wouldn't let me answer, and when I decided I'd rather have a conversation than the shouting match he was pushing for, he yelled at me for walking away. The other supporter, an older fellow, was calmer in tone and demeanor, but just as accusatory. He said he wanted to ask me one question: "What will you say to your children and my grandchildren five years from now when they ask you why you set out to kill this great city?" I respectfully disagreed with the premise of his question and set out to address his premise, but he kept interrupting me: "Answer the question!" Then he offered to buy me lunch.

These people were not rubes or bumpkins. The vote yes campaign has succeeded in riling up intelligent middle class people, convincing them that Tulsa will dry up and blow away unless we pass this billion-dollar tax. It doesn't help to have the Mayor going around town saying things like, "If this doesn't pass then I don't know what hope we have for the future." It ain't that bad, folks!

Wednesday morning, I spoke to about 70 CITGO employees. I have deep CITGO roots -- Dad worked for them for 20 years, starting in Bartlesville, then moving with HQ to Tulsa in 1969. We rented a company-owned house in downtown B'ville for a while. I could identify service station logos and recite commercial slogans before I was three. ("Cities Service is CITGO... now!") A Cities Service National Merit Scholarship paid part of my MIT tuition bill. Of course, Dad was laid off in 1985, after Occidental Petroleum bought the company.

Most of the questions seemed to come from an opposition perspective -- these folks understand that this sales tax isn't going to help them keep their jobs in Tulsa. Got some good questions from a younger woman, who seemed to be leaning in favor, maybe buying into the idea that this will magically give us the momentum to help keep her job in Tulsa. It was a unique event for me -- I had the floor for 45 minutes, spent about 15 minutes setting out my key points, then taking questions. Other than questions, there was no one to rebut or challenge me. "How nice," I thought. "The Mayor gets this kind of setup every place he goes."

Last night I was at the Lewis Crest neighborhood association, perhaps the most surreal event of the campaign, held in the Fellowship Hall of Christ Presbyterian Church -- my home church -- before about 30 neighbors. Karen Keith was scheduled to appear, but was also scheduled to do the Fox 23 debate, so in her place, not one person but two -- Michael Sager of the Blue Dome District and Michael Buchert of the City of Tulsa Public Works Department. Instead of showing the schmaltzy video, the two did a standup routine of sorts, covering the ballot items and tossing the conversational ball back and forth while moving back and forth in the front of the room. It reminded me of some sort of minimalist improvisational drama. Before their presentation was over, Michael Hughes, formerly working with the Mayor on the vision process, now with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, showed up.

I had a Powerpoint presentation on my laptop, prepared to help me compete with their video. I didn't wander quite as much, as I had to advance the slide show, but I was able to hit my objections / concerns with each ballot item.

Then came questions. Now all three Michaels were front and center -- with me between Mr. Buchert and Mr. Sager. There were no time limits, so the yes side answered, and usually wandered on to other questions, then I rebutted, then they both rebutted my rebuttal, and so on.

Then Councilor Susan Neal showed up and asked to make a few remarks, which turned into a lengthy and impassioned appeal. Then I got to rebut her, then Susan and Michael and the other Michael got to rebut my rebuttal. Then more questions, more wide-ranging answers, more rebuttals and re-rebuttals.

There was a lot of energy and passion expended in that room -- all to win the hearts and minds of about 30 voters. The event should have been taped and televised -- it had a lot more spark than a traditional TV forum with limited reply and rebuttal time. None of the homeowners got up to leave or complained about the time. I guess it was spellbinding.

The blogosphere tunes in


Starting to see some comments on far-flung weblogs about our billion-dollar sales election next Tuesday. Lynn of Reflections in d minor, who lives somewhere out in rural northeastern Oklahoma, has this to say:

Since I don't live in Tulsa and rarely even go there anymore I haven't bothered to familiarize myself with the details of the Vision 2025 plan but there is one proposal that has been getting a lot of attention that makes me want to beat the planners over the head with the Sunday edition of the Tulsa World and say "What. The. Hell. Are. You. People. Thinking?" That is the proposal to build a 20,000 seat stadium in the downtown area.

1. It has already been rejected twice. There is obviously something wrong with the whole idea. Figure out what it is before you try to force feed the same plan to the voters for the third time.

2. A stadium downtown? Are these people out of their minds? Has anyone thought of the traffic problems this will cause? Even assuming that nobody drives to an event alone, there will be somewhere between 5,000 to 10,000 cars trying to get out of the downtown area after every event. Consider building a stadium somewhere else.

3. Would a 20,000 seat stadium be large enough? The population of Tulsa is almost 400,000 and that's not even counting the surrounding area. Obviously, a stadium does not need to be large enough to hold every person in the city at once but a stadium that would not even seat one tenth of Tulsa's current population doesn't seem very forward looking.

As for the rest of the plan... I just don't know. It seems like a bad idea to bribe corporations to locate here but there's a lot of competition for jobs. What are other cities doing? If this is the game that everyone else is playing Tulsa might not have a choice.

It seems to me that the best idea, in the long run, would be to spend money on things that will make Tulsa a better place to live and to visit. I'm not knocking the quality of life in Tulsa but it's not the kind of place that decision makers are likely to look at and say, "Yes, this is a good place to live." Such people expect adequate facilities and infrastructure, but they also look at the city's cultural attractions and the overall attractiveness of the city.

The very things that make the average voter howl about the unfairness of "taking from the poor to support things only the wealthy are interested in," are exactly the the things that any city needs in order to attract corporations. A healthy arts community - fine arts museums, the local orchestra, etc. - improve a city's image and make it more attractive to corporate decision makers. And putting the Tulsa Philharmonic back on its feet would cost a lot less than building a stadium.

However, the first priorties - before a stadium, before the arts, even before public parks - should be the basic necessities: roads and bridges, water and sewer, and revitalizing the vast eyesore that is north Tulsa. Most of all, the city's planners need to listen to the people. Find out what they really want instead of offerring up a corporate wish-list and trying to convince everyone to vote in favor of it because "we have to do something."

And Byzantium's Shores offers Tulsa some advice drawn from Buffalo's experience with a downtown stadium and an arena:

Of course, it's one of the never-dying lies in America that sports venues spur economic development. "Restaurateurs will be champing at the bit to open near the park," we are told. "Think of the building that will go on around the new arena," we constantly hear. Of course, this is all nonsense. The area surrounding Pilot Field is no more hopping than it was in the early 1990s, when Buffalo's population was something like 30,000 people greater than it is now. Ditto HSBC Arena, the venue built for the Sabres in the mid-1990s. And it's like this everywhere: just read through the current tour of all thirty Major League ballparks on ESPN.com, and note how few of those articles describe a hotbed of activity beyond the ballpark walls. Sports arenas don't generate economic activity by themselves. They can help attract tourist attention if they're used for lots of other uses, but even those types of tourist-attraction events tend to attract insular fans who don't exactly spend lots of time touring the cities themselves. ...

[A thought related to this: My first visit to beautiful Montreal was to see the Saint Louis Cardinals play a double-header against the Expos in 1985. Six hours drive from Boston to Montreal (past beautiful Vermont foliage which we didn't have time to appreciate), six hours inside the hideous Stade Olympique, six hours home in the dark. We spent $0 and no time at all outside of the stadium. We bought cokes and hot dogs inside the park. Having just returned from my second business trip to that city, I can't believe we spent all that time in the stadium and no time exploring the city, but our beloved Cards were headed to the World Series. Back to Buffalo....]

Nowadays, though, Dunn Tire Park Pilot Field is looking a bit worn at the edges. The stands are never packed anymore, though the place does do pretty good business during the summer.... It's still a nice place to catch a game in summer, and the drum-and-bugle-corps shows they have there are a lot of fun, but the ballpark is no longer the place to be in downtown Buffalo, as it once was.

As for HSBC Arena, there's another sore spot. Built for the Sabres at a time when Adelphia Cable was on the rise and Buffalo was eagerly hitching its fortunes to Adelphia's star, the Arena is a beautiful venue indeed. But all the usual arguments were trotted out: without the added revenue of luxury boxes, the Sabres would lose money and then leave town. It would spur development in Buffalo's Cobblestone District. (Nope.) It would be used for all manner of special conventions and out-of-town events. (Not really. Part of the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament was held here a few years back, but that was that. This is a constant point of annoyance with me. Why can't Buffalo host a Final Four? or the Nationals or World Figure Skating Championships? No reason that I can see, except we never seem to try to get those events. As Toby Ziegler once said on The West Wing: "It's not the ones we lose that bother me, it's the ones we don't suit up for.")

And of course, Adelphia's fortunes dried up spectacularly in yet another of those "Big company cooking the books" scandals. The Sabres were sold, and for a time it appeared that they might be sold to someone willing to move them elsewhere. I was prepared to simply say, "Fine, let 'em go," until I learned that the Arena's operations are so expensive to the City and the County that without the revenue the Sabres bring into the place, the Arena would likely be shut down entirely. Talk about putting the horse in front of the cart, eh?

I don't know how this all reflects on Tulsa, a town with which I am totally unfamiliar. I know that Tulsa's population is bigger than Buffalo's, but I don't know if that reflects the metro area or if Tulsa is one of those towns that thwarted suburban outflight by annexing the suburbs, which Buffalo can't do. I also don't know if Tulsa has any major league dreams of its own (the Tulsa Sabres, perhaps?). I'm always of mixed-mind on these kinds of things. I do think that big-league sports events can enhance a city's image, but only if they're done right. And it's not even always necessary. New Orleans has plenty of cache, despite the fact that the Saints always stink. Austin, Texas seems to be doing just fine these days.

So, on the basis of Buffalo's experience, I would say to Tulsa: Be careful. If you do it, do it right, and for the right reasons. Don't delude yourselves into thinking that downtown will become like Times Square by virtue of a big arena or ballpark. And if the choice is having an arena or having schools and arts, choose schools and arts. Please oh please.

Comparing metro areas, Buffalo is bigger (1,200,000 vs. 800,000) and nearly five times denser -- more people packed in a smaller space.

And then this, from Archipelapogo, a former Tulsan who comments on the plan and our downtown's development. (Forgive me, but I've bowdlerized a few words for the family audience.)

I'm always intrinsically skeptical about using taxpayers money to lure investment by private business (be it manufacturaing, a sports franchise, etc.). Tulsans have been sweating p**s for the past two years with American Airlines financial woes and layoffs. Tulsa's been hit hard by layoffs, some 27,000 in this recent economic downturn. That's what happens when you have a very few companies (AA, Williams Corporation and its subsidiaries, BOK and its partners, etc.) employing a significant part of the population. When the s**t hits the investment fan and companies, whether they're HQ'd in Tulsa or not, pull back resources and lay people off, it has a major impact on the city. When Williams Communications and AA had rough fiscal years, lots of Tulsans were laid off.

That's what scares me about the Boeing plant. We seemingly have little guarantee that they'll stay past the extent of their loan. We have little guarantee that the 7E7 is going to be a successful plane for a significant period of time. And what happens when the manufacturing of the 7E7 ceases? Again, thousands laid off.

The flipside of the proposals are numbers 3 and 4, which seem to actually seek to give Tulsa some much needed investment in the city itself. ... That said, I still have doubts about Tulsans and their desire for stuff like this. I've seen the (larger) semi-pro hockey team play in front of a half-empty crowd. The Arena Football Team won't be there five years from now (call me on it if I'm wrong, but I doubt it). And most of the major music acts will instead play Dallas, Kansas City, or Oklahoma City instead of Tulsa, all of which are larger cities and are for the most part accessible to those in Tulsa.

There has been a big push by the powers that be in Tulsa to redo the downtown area, attempting, as many other cities are doing with varying success, to lure young urbanites down there to replace the low-income residents that moved in during the great flight to the suburbs. They've done a fairly good job, attracting several bars and music venues that appeal to those in the target demographic and giving the young folks in Tulsa some desperately needed places to hang out.

There has been the erection of many new lofts and apartments downtown, replacing dilpidated and unused old housing that had no value. All of this is good, but there are still problems. ...

If Mayor LaFortune wants to make Tulsa a better place, both more desirable for tourists and residents, he'd do well to look at what cities like Ft. Worth have doen with their downtown, creating an area where there's free parking, lots to do, safety, and cleanliness. It's family friendly without being overly cheesy. It's not necessarily someplace that I would like to hang out all the time, but it's good for the masses and good for Ft. Worth.

Fortunately I don't have to make a decision about whether I would support all or any of Vision 2025. Although I'll likely never live there again, I do hope the best for the city and I hope that any or all of the four sections that pass come to full fruition. I would, however, encourage the voters to be careful and not be blinded by idealism. Make sure it's practical, doable, and enforceable.

Boeing: Tulsa doesn't make the cut


Seattle's KOMO-TV is reporting that there is a short list (although Boeing denies this) and Oklahoma's not on it.

The states still in the running all have direct access to the ocean and deep water ports.

Governor Gary Locke told KOMO 4 News Wednesday that Boeing has narrowed its list to a handful of states in the competition for the 7E7, and Washington is one of them.

The list of finalists has been cut from about three dozen proposals to about six, and sources tell us the main competition is coming from the south -- especially the southeast.

"We're among a handful of states that are still in contention," Locke said. "I'm confident that we have the people the infrastructure and the incentives."

It's the prize revenue-hungry states are after: The new manufacturing plant for the next Boeing plane, the 7E7. And as Gov. Locke told Seattle Rotary, it's not just jobs on the 7E7 that hang in the balance.

"If the 7E7 is built in another state, then we know that succeeding aircraft will be built in that other state," Locke said.

The governor won't say much about the other competition, but sources tell KOMO 4 News that in addition to Washington, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina are still in the hunt. One state that reportedly is out of the running is California, in part because of the political instability there.

Come to the Fox 23 debate


Fox 23 debate tonight -- open to a limited number of members the public. Click on the link at the end of the entry for the full details.

Given the location, shouldn't this be sponsored by Oertle's?

The Channel 47 debate is supposed to be reaired on Cable 7 / UHF 47 at the same time.

The League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Tulsa (LWVMT) has agreed to assist Fox23 in presenting a LIVE, one full hour, telecast regarding the Vision2025 propositions beginning at 8 p.m on Thursday, September 4. The purpose of this email is to encourage you and your friends to attend so that we are assured of a large, interested and involved, but orderly, audience which will submit questions for a panel.

The forum will be held at the Fox23 studio at 2625 S. Memorial. Interested participants are encouraged to arrive by 730 to ensure orderly seating and to receive various materials and instruction. Questions may be submitted to the panel BEFORE the broadcast via cards which will be provided. There will be live questions submitted by the audience during the broadcast.

Got the first mendacious mailing from the yea-sayers. "Vision 2025 puts education first!"

I believe Tulsa County voters are not stupid. I believe they will see right through this kind of manipulation. Vision 2025 puts the arena first by spending more money on it than anything else on the ballot (after the Boeing bribe) and by tying the arena, like a boat anchor, to education.

Prop 3 includes $11.3 million for "instructional materials". This money will be spent in the first two years. It will be enough to buy three or four textbooks for each pupil in Tulsa County's public schools. Then the money will go away, and taxpayers will spend the next 11 years paying back the money we borrowed to buy those textbooks. By the time the tax expires, the textbooks will be long out of date.

This is just a bit more sugarcoating for the poison pill of the arena and convention center, which will bleed at least $1 million a year out of the city treasury, money that should go to pay policemen and firemen, fix the streets, and fill the city swimming pools.

Another great post from jdb over at tulsanow.org.

He makes a couple of references that may need explaining. Desco is the company that's been given the contract to redevelop the 115-acre "East Village" area. Desco is a St. Louis developer that has mostly done big-box stores. When the Tulsa Development Authority began the process of East Village development, the idea was to use existing buildings and build new ones to create a dense urban fabric, mixing residential, commercial, entertainment, and office uses -- the way downtowns used to be before we bulldozed them using urban renewal and eminent domain. The concern is that Desco will decide they need the loft buildings that jdb and his neighbors inhabit in order to build some huge edifice, and TDA will acquire them for Desco, using eminent domain if necessary. Under that kind of threat, it's hard to think about investing in renovations and improvements to your property.

What I would propose.....in place of 2025...?

...has been asked of me countless times.

In a nut shell:

Downtown is a small precious area.

The "talk" was for a "walkable" downtown with green space. Vibrant, diverse, sense of community.....

But everything I've seen presented is at odds with this concept: arena's, convention centers, the Desco plan, box stores....all on a bigger is better scale with matching price tags.

Instead, these big places should be out in the city where they have room to grow, more potential for attendance, out where they belong - amoung the Tulsa masses.

Rooftops inside the IDL will never exceed that of the smallest, poorest planned, outer laying areas - there is simply not room enough to do this - even with going up. It should be obvious to anyone who takes the time to think about it.

Downtown should be stuffed with small places that fit inside of the availiable spaces, with green space sprinkled every where inbetween: with what constitutes our skyline as the Hub. Not just three little "special" areas among acres of parking.

The word "space" is important.

A simple bike trail that threads through on it's own painted road lanes.

Vision is something like a light rail above the MKO line that runs down the middle of 51, with a BA car park for a fast ride into downtown and "transportation" once you get here (but maybe something different then what you drive out south)

You don't have to cut a billion dollar check to build a few bikes lanes.

There is only one downtown. It should be vastly different from the rest of the other areas in the city.

Pack this place with roof tops, and small biz. using infill not bull dozers. God knows there are already enough Albertsons and wal-marts to go around. Remove the "target zones" so people feel secure with building something.

And build smart.

Little tiny places everywhere you looked: where one could walk half the day and still not see everything because they have stopped and talked to the local people, they have made a friend, maybe they are excited to come back, maybe they learn something personal like, "Hey I dont have to work for a large company and toil my life away when what I really want to do is make enough money to stay alive while learning yoga, next week they may be learning Bio chemistry (I saw this happen)

Ask yourself, "Where do you feel more special, more valued or important on a human level: at the wal-mart, or at a mom and pop shop that the owners man the till and know your name and ask where the kids are?"

This is not visionary but it sure gets closer to quaility life issues then the mantra of "JOBS JOBS JOBS!"

"Jobs" are important, but this falls into the category of "daily business". And that someone has been remiss in addressing this issue doesn't merit the haste of 2025.

Few people live like we do here in the IDL.

We have keys to each other's homes, step out the back doors and gather in our common area for grilled food stuffs, look after each other's pets and pipes. We work at home, from home, and walk to work when it's elsewhere (can't do that out south, can you?).

We shelter old buildings against the elements of time. (when's the last time someone stopped and asked if they could see the inside of your old home?)
That's all of us not just a few neighbors we select out of a multitude.

Note: Ray's son, Dylan has lived here, inside the IDL all his life. They were among the first wave of "loft hunters" 25 years ago. And that was real "lofts" not apartments built inside an old place to look like lofts.

The city's willy nilly placement of roaming target zones, for the last decade have been keeping people - not bringing them in.

Just one giant reason it's losing ground. The usage of Eminent domain here is another: among many.

Recall what Hudnut said about E.D.? Or did that fall on the deaf ears of the eager at the Summit?

There is already a convention center in Tulsa that is actually bigger then the city was told it should have. And it's where it should be.

How about we keep the small one and book smaller things there - and maybe think about local stuff?

All this finger pointing at other places is juvenile as we are not them and they are not us. Vision would be defining Tulsa - not aping OKC (bless there man-made little ditch)

But anymore I don't know what to believe, except stamping out downtown with the same cookie cutter that's been stamping out everything else around here is wrong. It's the result of a one track mind set: which is not conducive to diversity, sense of community, or is even walkable.

Ok maybe in a BIG nut shell, jdb

It's hard to state one's definition of a "quality life", in just a few words while having to defend them at the same time.

Here's a bit from the October 27, 1995, Tulsa Whirled. We're being told we can trust the County Commissioners to handle $1 billion the right way, because of the way they handled the Whirlpool tax, and because there's an oversight committee. Here's how the county treated the Whirlpool oversight committee:

[County Commissioner] Selph was present at Wednesday's meeting of the Whirlpool panel to try to smooth ruffled feelings among members who believed they were kept in the dark over how $1.7 million in excess Whirlpool sales tax revenues were spent. Committee members said they were especially concerned over commitments made by the Tulsa County Industrial Authority, which is made up of Selph and fellow Commissioners Bob Dick and Lew Harris.

On Sept. 18, the authority gave approval to spend $341,073 to build a portion of Whirlpool's wastewater treatment plant, $449,266 for a series of water and sewer lines and the balance of excess tax revenues for various road projects at or near the Whirlpool site.

The problem was that no one from the 10-member oversight panel was
present at the meeting, nor did the members believe they had been adequately briefed on the process of deciding on the projects and the allocation of funds.
All the panel received was a copy of the authority's resolution approving the projects.

"Call this an apology," Selph said. "I think there was a misunderstanding, or the result of a lack of communication, but you should have never received just a copy of the resolution."

Several members noted that a proper briefing was not the only thing the panel lacked. Apparently after more than a year in their watchdog role the oversight committee has yet to see a map of the Whirlpool facility. That lack of familiarization was a stumbling block to Wednesday's discussion as Selph, authority counsel John Weidman and county fiscal officer Wayne Carr attempted to explain to the panel why the wastewater, sewer and road projects were selected. ...

[County fiscal officer Wayne] Carr tried to ease concerns that Whirlpool sales tax money was being "comingled" with county general revenue funds. An additional concern was how Whirlpool revenues would be kept separate from Criminal Justice Authority sales tax funds, which are expected to begin flowing to the county in mid-December.

Carr explained that each fund has always been kept separate, as required by law, and was subject to strict accounting and auditing procedures.

[Watchdog committee chairman John] Gray, however, said neither he nor the public at large was impressed by audits.

Lest anyone say, "That was a long time ago": One of the current county commissioners, Bob Dick, was on the commission in 1995, and both he and Commissioner Wilbert Collins have shown contempt for openness and public input in their handling of more recent county matters, such as their handling of contracts at the fairgrounds.

One more thing: The Whirlpool tax was authorized by the voters with a narrow purpose and under a narrowly drawn statute which was in effect when the tax was passed. The Commissioners could only spend the money on qualified projects related to manufacturing facilities. The tax before us next Tuesday would empower the Commissioners to spend the money on anything relating to broad purposes like economic development and infrastructure. They can spend any excess as they wish, and the county trust authority can add, delete, or change projects at will. The oversight committee will only learn about it after the fact and will have no power to reverse the decision of the trust. This truly is a billion dollar blank check.

KTUL Channel 8 was supposed to be re-airing the Vision 2025 debate which we taped last Friday at Channel 47. Channel 8 anchor Carole Lambert was one of the panelists. I just received word that they're showing a Cheers episode instead. Were the "vote yes" PR people unhappy with their side's performance? Wanted to be sure it didn't get prime time coverage on a major network station? Did they threaten to pull ads if the show wasn't pulled? Or is there a more innocuous explanation? If you're curious, call the station and find out -- 445-8888.

UPDATE (21:56) -- Several friends called the KTUL newsroom to ask for an explanation. Whoever answered the phone claimed that the production quality of the tape from KWHB was not up to their broadcast standards. When one friend asked if the problem was with the tape itself or with the production quality, the person on the other end hung up.

KTUL was given the tape immediately after the taping Friday night. Their own crew and truck were present, and Carole Lambert taped an on-the-spot report in front of the KWHB studios at 88th & Memorial. If there had been a problem with the tape, they had three and a half days to get a better tape from KWHB. KWHB felt it was high enough quality to re-air on their own station Monday night. Several friends saw KWHB's rebroadcast, and no one reported that anything was inaudible or that there were distracting technical problems. Perhaps there were a couple of occasions where the camera was on the wrong person -- not uncommon in a live event, especially one with 10 participants but only three cameras -- but the content is what matters to the voters of Tulsa County.

There was no warning. No one called me or Jack Gordon to say that the debate would not be airing. Many people had sent out e-mail alerts advising Tulsans that the debate would be on again tonight. The TV Guide channel showed the debate, as did Sunday's TV World, and the debate still shows up on KTUL's own website schedule, as of 9:56 pm, September 2, 2003.

Then there's this item, posted Friday night on KTUL's website (emphasis added):

Debate Held Over Vision 2025 Proposal

Friday August 29, 2003 11:11pm Reporter: Carole Lambert Posted By: Kevin King

Tulsa - A televised debate over the Vision 2025 proposal was held Friday night. No matter which side you're on, it's becoming a harsh battle over Tulsa's future.

Both sides were pretty outspoken. The debate, which aired live on KWHB Channel 47. It was a one hour debate with Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune and Karen Keith telling Tulsans why they should vote for Vision 2025 and Republican Michael Bates and former County Assessor Jack Gordon telling Tulsans why they should vote no.

NewsChannel 8's Carole Lambert was on the panel and asked whether offering Boeing 350-million dollars in incentives is setting a dangerous precedent.

"There is a precedent in Tulsa for this with Whirlpool and others," LaFortune said. "There have been incentives provided to bring jobs to Tulsa and agreements made that when you receive funds, those jobs come, well you don't receive funds. As a matter of fact, if that commitment's not made, the tax is not levied."

"We need to be fair, we need to set an environment that's good for all companies," Bates said. "The state incentives, the Quality Jobs program, is available to any company that brings good jobs to our community. That's there even if we vote against this. Boeing would qualify for the Quality Jobs program if they come to Oklahoma."

If you missed Friday night's debate, you can catch it again. Through our partnership with Channel 47, we will re-air the debate Tuesday, September 2nd at 7:00 on NewsChannel 8.

Copyright 2003 KTUL, Inc.

If a scheduled program is preempted for any reason -- breaking news, technical difficulties -- standard practice is to run a crawl advising viewers of the change. If nothing else, it prevents hundreds of viewers from calling and asking what's going on. In this case KTUL simply ran "Cheers" with no explanation. It must have been a last minute decision, or they would have reverted to ABC network programming, instead of a 20 year old sitcom episode.

KWHB deserves great praise for once again (as they did in 2000) producing and broadcasting a debate on this important issue -- a 13 year tax that will take over $1 billion from Tulsa taxpayers.

KTUL must answer for its decision to break their commitment to show the debate on their station. Did they bow to pressure from the "vote yes" campaign? Was there a threat to pull ads? What would be enough to get KTUL to tarnish their journalistic credibility, to withhold a polite dialogue on an important topic from the public?

MORE (22:45): Just spoke to Carole Lambert as she left the studio following the 10 o'clock news. Carole suggested I contact KTUL General Manager Pat Baldwin (445-9302). She was surprised at the 2 o'clock production meeting to see no reference to the debate in the rundowns for the 5 and 6 o'clock broadcasts. That was when she was told that the debate would not air -- no explanation given. It was only when she was on the phone with me that her producer gave her the official explanation. She did mention that her husband, watching the debate when it aired previously, noticed occasions when the beginnings of questions were cut off because the sound wasn't brought up quickly enough for a given microphone. So you run a crawl disclaiming the production values -- the point is the information being presented, not how slick it looks. Right?

UPDATE (9/3/2003, 13:30) -- Just got off the phone with KTUL General Manager Pat Baldwin. The conversation started with him on the offensive, claiming KTUL had no obligation to air the debate, had made no commitment, had no obligation to notify anyone of the change in plans, and he didn't owe anyone an apology.

He repeated the claim that there was a production values problem, although he had not personally seen the tape or the debate. He said they normally use five cameras, 47 only used three, and they didn't have the material to repackage the debate the way they would like. The problem was not with the tape itself. He claimed there was another reason for cancelling the debate -- the possibility that Todd Huston's lawsuit challenging two of the four ballot items might prevail. He said that because the original KTUL debate had to be cancelled (because the vote yes people claimed a schedule conflict), and the KWHB debate was moved (from the 21st to the 29th, again because the vote yes people had a schedule conflict), and the production quality (not slick enough), and the possibility that the lawsuit would affect two of the ballot items -- he just decided that he'd had enough and to forget about the whole thing.

In the course of the conversation he mentioned that he is on the board of the Tulsa Metro Chamber. But he assured me that no one pressured him into cancelling the debate.

He said he would consider airing the debate at another time. Perhaps some encouragement would help.

UPDATE (9/4/03, 11:30): Pat Baldwin called again. He says I mischaracterized what he said about his relationship with vote yes marketeer David Littlefield -- they are not "good friends", but they did go to lunch and have spoken at various events as they're in related businesses. I'm sorry for misunderstanding, and I've made the correction above.

He also gave me more detail about the problems with the KWHB tape. On previous joint efforts, Channel 8 asked 47 for two things: a "clean feed" and a wide shot stationary camera. The "clean feed" (without captions and graphics) allows Channel 8 to superimpose its own graphics. The wide stationary shot allows them to cover up mistakes in direction. If the tight camera is on the wrong speaker, they can replace the shot with a wide shot. The KWHB wide camera didn't remain stationary, he said. Baldwin said Channel 47 had provided these in past joint efforts, but not this time, for whatever reason. I will try to confirm this with Channel 47 GM Bill Paddock.

I still consider these technical nitpicks. It can't be that hard to say, "We know this broadcast isn't up to our usual standards, but we feel these issues are important enough that we are going to bring this to you anyway." Substance over style.

Is the upgrade to the downtown convention center about making Tulsa competitive with other cities, or is it about making downtown Tulsa competitive with southeast Tulsa?

The existence of John Q. Hammons' Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center, at the heart of Tulsa's main commercial corridor at 71st Street & US 169, is an inconvenient fact for promoters of Proposition 3, the proposed new sales tax that includes money for a new downtown sports arena and renovations to the downtown convention center. The Renaissance's very existence contradicts several assertions made by the yea-sayers. Perhaps that's why it wasn't taken into consideration in CSL's study of the feasibility of expanding the downtown convention center.

The proponents say that Tulsa needs a facility with a ballroom at least 25,000 sq ft in size. The Renaissance Tulsa has a 28,800 sq ft ballroom.

When confronted with the $1.7 million operating deficit projected for a renovated and expanded downtown convention center, the yea-sayers say that convention centers are "loss-leaders", expected to lose money so that visitors will come and spend money around the city. But John Q. Hammons built his Convention Center with the expectation of making a profit. Motivated by profit, and guided by years of experience developing hotels, Hammons chose a location and a design and amenities that would make the Renaissance ulsa attractive to convention and meeting planners. That's the free market at work.

When plans for the hotel were first announced, Hammons was pressured by city leaders to call his facilty a "conference center", so as not to give the voters of Tulsa the impression that expansion of the downtown convention center was unnecessary, in the lead up to the "It's Tulsa's Time" vote in November 2000.

A Tulsa Whirled business article dated April 4, 2002, drew this comparison:

Conversely, about 15 miles to the southeast of downtown, a multistory atrium-style hotel with 300 guest rooms and suites plus an 80,000-square-foot convention center is scheduled for completion early next year, said Mike Craddock, vice president of Hotel Broker One.

"We're going to see the biggest hotel in Tulsa history," Craddock said of the building on 71st Street just east of U.S. 169, the Mingo Valley Expressway.

It is owned and being developed by John Q. Hammons Hotels Inc. of Springfield, Mo.

"It will compete directly with the convention center downtown," Craddock said. "New properties always do better."

The possible rivalry could reduce crowds and subsequently the amount of money spent in the downtown area, which already is suffering from layoffs at companies that have downtown operations, Brandt said.

Mike Craddock's statement about direct competition fits the results of the CSL feasibility study, which shows that the overwhelming majority of national association and business conventions and tradeshows would still be uninterested in Tulsa, even if we expand and renovate the downtown convention center. Only SMERF groups had even a plurality expressing an interest, and that appears to be the target market of the Renaissance Tulsa as well. If private companies can cater to this market and bring these groups and their money to town, does it matter if they're going downtown or to the southeast? It matters to those with an interest in downtown real estate, but it doesn't affect the bottom line for the community's economy -- jobs, spending, and tax revenues.

Stephen Goldsmith, former Mayor of Indianapolis used a "Yellow Pages" rule when considering whether government ought to perform a certain function, or leave it to the private sector. "Look at the city’s Yellow Pages. If the phone book lists three companies that provide a certain service, the city probably should not be in that business, at least not exclusively."

Even if the downtown center were fully revamped, it would still be at a disadvantage to the Renaissance Tulsa. The Renaissance is walking distance to restaurants, movie theatres, a large discount and grocery store, and clothing, electronics, and office supply stores. The downtown convention center is in the middle of a big government complex, with little private enterprise for blocks. To get from the convention center to our nightclub and restaurant districts, you've got to walk at least half a mile past the jail, the homeless shelter, and the bail-bond offices (to the Brady District) or past empty parking lots and empty office buildings (to the Blue Dome District).

Perhaps the best thing to do with the convention center is privatize it -- sell it off to private investors who will make it competitive with the Renaissance. Or perhaps downtown property and hotel owners could purchase it and run it as a loss-leader to draw people downtown. But government has no business losing money (reducing the money available for basic city services) in an effort to draw business away from a private company.

Why vote no?

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NOTE: I originally published this as a special page on this site, rather than as a blog entry. To make it easier to find, on July 11, 2007, I've added it as an entry on the blog.

Why Vote No?
Against the proposed Tulsa County Sales Taxes
September 9, 2003
(alias Vision 2025)

Proposition 1: Boeing
Proposition 2: American Airlines
Proposition 3: Arena, higher ed, etc.
Proposition 4: Parks, tourist attractions, etc.
Links to other batesline.com entries

On September 9, Tulsa County residents will vote on four new sales taxes, totaling 1% for 13 years. We believe this is the wrong tax, at the wrong time, for the wrong projects.

Adding these new taxes at this time will hurt an already-suffering local economy. These new taxes increase the cost of basic necessities (food, clothing, electricity, natural gas, over-the-counter medicines), a cruel additional burden to impose on the thousands of Tulsans who are unemployed and underemployed. Tulsa's sales tax rate will become the 4th highest of the 50 largest cities in America. The tax rate in other Tulsa County cities will approach 10%. At a time when federal officials are cutting taxes to stimulate the economy, raising local taxes will undo their efforts locally.

Even if times were good, none of these projects are urgent enough to justify a tax increase. Many of these projects shouldn't be funded by sales tax at all, because they aren't sound public investments. Some of the projects are worthwhile, but they can be funded when we renew existing revenue sources like Tulsa's "third penny" sales tax. Government should live within its means instead of asking us to tighten our belts.

The proposed projects do not address our region's most urgent needs. None of the money will be used to fix the city's budget problems. None of the money will address the heart of our unemployment problem -- the loss of thousands of high-tech jobs. Laid-off computer engineers from WorldCom and other companies won't qualify for jobs as Boeing factory workers.

This package is not visionary, and it does not lay a foundation for future economic vitality or improved quality of life. It consists of corporate welfare, a twice-rejected downtown arena, and a piece of the pie for each of the suburbs. The Dialog/Visioning leadership team, a body dominated by the Chamber of Commerce and construction, hotel, and real-estate interests, did not address crucial questions about transportation, growth, demographic trends, and economic diversification.

There are also serious concerns about how the tax receipts will be managed and overseen. The tax will continue for 13 years, with no limit on the money it could raise -- a conservative estimate is $1.2 billion, over $2,000 for every Tulsa County resident. County government in Oklahoma lacks checks and balances. The county public trust can add and delete projects and spend excess funds without a vote of the people. That's why we refer to this as a billion-dollar blank check. The funding plan involves borrowing nearly all the money up front and paying it back over 13 years -- an approach that could cost taxpayers $200 million in interest.

No plan is perfect. And we have to do something, don't we?

Tulsa has lost a lot of jobs -- 27,000 over a two-year period. All the more reason that we shouldn't just do something. We need to do something effective. When I'm sick, I don't just want a doctor to do something, and I don't just want him to deal with symptoms. I want him to apply his diagnostic skills to identify and address the root problem. This package doesn't fix Tulsa's "symptoms" -- our current recession -- nor does it lay a foundation for sustainable economic development and future prosperity.

Tulsa County residents have invested well over a billion dollars for capital improvements over the last 10 years -- money for education and quality of life, as well as basic infrastructure -- public schools, higher education, downtown improvements, museums, convention and performing arts facilities, parks. We should be proud of what we've accomplished, and we should expect our government leaders to make better use of the tax dollars they already get from us.

Where can I learn more?

On the web, go to www.batesline.com for extended commentary on this sales tax proposal and the vision process. If you have further questions, e-mail Michael Bates at blog at batesline dot com.

A sample ballot and the official ballot resolutions are online at www.tulsacounty.org

Why vote NO on Proposition 1 (0.4% for Boeing)?

This proposition invests your tax dollars in a troubled company in a troubled industry. It puts all our eggs in one basket. Tulsa's economy is already too dependent on commercial aviation, which is in a slump from which it will not soon emerge. It does nothing to address the need for high-tech jobs, which make up the bulk of the jobs we've lost over the last two years. It is a shortsighted approach to economic development: We can't afford to buy all the jobs we need at the rate of $350,000 per job. Instead we need to make Tulsa a better environment to start and grow businesses. And because of a loophole in the ballot, the full amount of the tax could be imposed (over $400 million) even if just a handful of 7E7-related jobs are located here. Oklahoma already offers incentives to companies that create new jobs in our state.

Relevant articles on batesline.com

All our eggs in the aerospace basket

Boeing to cut 4000 airplane jobs
High-tech underemployment
Dilbert on corporate welfare
Is Tulsa's port deep enough?
Nordam adds jobs -- cost to taxpayers = $0
Regain technology jobs? "I have no idea"
North Carolina built it -- and no one came
Boeing puts squeeze on states in search of corporate welfare
Business Reform looks at Tulsa's corporate welfare bid

External sites
Seattle Times -- 7E7 story archive

Why vote NO on Proposition 2
(0.025% for American Airlines)?

American Airlines' long-time and significant presence in Tulsa is worthy of our appreciation, and the City of Tulsa has already demonstrated appreciation by approving $8 million in assistance earlier this summer, in the form of capital improvements and rate cuts that will help other industries as well. American Airlines is already eligible for millions in state incentives if they add jobs here. AA hasn't threatened to leave if we don't vote to pay them this extra $22.3 million, nor have they promised to add jobs or rollback concessions if we do.

Simply giving money to a specific company is unfair to the many other companies who stay here and create new jobs here. Many AA employees feel they've already paid enough for the mistakes of management, through drastic wage and benefit concessions. AA workers look at wasteful corporate spending on executive bonuses and sports arena naming rights (over $200 million for arenas in Miami and Dallas) and ask why they should pay higher taxes to give their bosses more money to throw away.

Relevant articles on batesline.com

A hopeful sign
Kansas City's risky offer to AA
What we've already done for American Airlines

Why vote NO on Proposition 3
(0.4% for arenas / convention center / education / Morton Healthcare center)?

Most of this money ($183 million) will be spent on a new 20,000-seat downtown sports arena and downtown convention center expansion, facilities that have already been rejected twice by the voters. Feasibility studies show that these facilities will not attract many big-name concerts or major conventions, and instead will cost the city millions of dollars each year to operate and maintain. That reduces the amount of money the City has for funding police and fire protection, street maintenance, and other necessities. The facilities would put government in competition with local private businesses for entertainment and convention dollars.

The education projects were added to this package in a cynical attempt to get the twice-rejected arena passed. In order to get $8 million for a new TCC facility, you have to vote for over $400 million in new taxes -- that's like having to pay for a big-screen TV just to buy a gallon of milk. Tulsa County voters should say no to this package and tell the County Commissioners to try it again, the right way: Give us a chance to vote for higher education facilities alone.

In the meantime, Tulsa's leaders should push state government to give Tulsa County our fair share of money for higher education facilities. Stillwater and Norman don't have to raise their own taxes for facilities at OSU and OU. Tulsa County residents have already paid millions for campuses and facilities -- we shouldn't have to pay more.

The amount of common education money in this package amounts to $8 per pupil per year -- not enough to buy a ticket to a hockey game at the downtown arena.

Relevant articles on batesline.com

Private enterprise and major entertainment venues

Bricktown's Magic
A millstone by any other name would sink as fast
A collection of Convention Center criticism
Has the secret agenda been revealed?
Tired old thinking is hard to shake
How to improve the convention center without building a new arena
Whirled-class whiners
Convention cutbacks
Not partisanship but principle

Stealth sports arena
Is a new sports arena a need or a desire?
Public hearing intentionally omitted?
Vote yes strategem #1: Tell them something bad about Tulsa
That exciting Oklahoma City arena
No exciting concerts and no big conventions in OKC
If we fix up our convention center, they still won't come
The cargo cult approach to economic development

Why vote NO on Proposition 4
(0.175% for roads, community centers, parks, tourist attractions)?

This proposition includes many worthwhile projects, but none of them are urgent enough to justify a tax increase. On September 9th, we won't be voting on whether we like these projects. We'll be voting on whether we want to raise taxes now because we need them right now. These are the same sort of projects we've funded in the past through temporary sales taxes and bond issues. These projects should be considered as part of the long-term capital improvements process, and included as appropriate in the City of Tulsa's bond issue next year, or in the renewal of sales taxes like "4 to Fix the County" and the City of Tulsa "third penny" in 2006. If any of these projects are truly urgent, our city and county leaders should rearrange current spending priorities to accommodate them.

Relevant articles on batesline.com
The station you used to listen to for news
No federal money for river

Route 66 -- what's in the plan?

Links to other batesline.com articles

About real vision:

My "no" vote is pro-Tulsa
What Tulsa should be doing: Developing venture capital

Will Tulsa's next big idea come from a committee?
Most important considerations in planning Tulsa's future
Opportunity Cost: The Danger of Doing Something Rather Than Nothing
A billion dollars but nothing to fix I-44
Terry Simonson on the economic recovery and the sales tax
Kevin Adams: The Tulsa Time Blues
Wanted: Visionaries -- not a vision
"Vision 2025" isn't forward thinking
TulsaNow speaks on the sales tax election

About economic development:

CITGO going, gone?
Buy local: Hire Tulsa's top talent
MAPS no vaccine against slump
Tulsans have invested billions
Small business drives our economy
What would Joel do?

About taxes and governance:

The Stacked Deck
Vote yes myth: County commissioners cancelled Whirlpool tax early
Jim Hewgley discusses the fiscal case: Why Vision 2025 is myopic
The low-income apartment mess: A reason not to trust Tulsa County government
The impact of high sales taxes -- a local case study
Mayor, Chamber of Commerce to lead sales tax opposition

About downtown:

Wi-Fi as a tool for downtown redevelopment
The view from a seven-year downtown resident
Comments about Atlanta's downtown failures and Tulsa's proposed arena
How NOT to revitalize downtown -- learning from Atlanta
Envisioning Elgin as the new Main Street
Where's the music in downtown?
Whirled needs correction about Solow's views on the mall

About the ballot's constitutionality:

Is the ballot constitutional?
Lawsuit details

About the campaign, debates:

A straw man is easy to knock down
Truth in Whirled headlines
Young Republicans debate; Whirled gets it wrong (again)

Tulsa Now forum
Debate dodging
Whom do you trust?
Whirled in overdrive
$877 million "Vision" plan unveiled
Will the vision process be derailed?

Vision blurry?
"Vision 2025" broadcast debates

Tuesday, September 2, 12:30 pm,
KRMG (AM 740)

Thursday, September 4, 8 pm,
KOKI (Cable 5, UHF 23)

Replays of the August 29th KWHB debate:

Monday, September 1, 7 pm,
KWHB (Cable 7, UHF 47)

Tuesday, September 2, 7 pm,
KTUL (Channel 8)

Thursday, September 4, 8 pm,
KWHB (Cable 7, UHF 47)

Monday, September 8, 7:30 pm,
KWHB (Cable 7, UHF 47)

Oppose the
billion-dollar blank check!
No new taxes!

To stop the sales tax increases, your help is vital!
To donate, mail a check to:
Tulsa County Coalition / Jim Hewgley
3130 S Quaker Rd
Tulsa OK 74105
For a sign or to volunteer, e-mail voteno2025@usa.com

or call 836-0142

Another visionary proposal, ignored


The politicians keep saying that this September 9th tax vote is the culmination of a grass-roots driven "visioning" process. But a comprehensive, strategic plan -- promised as an outcome of the visioning process -- was never completed. The only ideas given a hearing before the "leadership team" were those that required taxpayer funding -- specifically items that could be lumped into a sales tax vote. Reforms, private initiatives, and public-private partnerships were ignored if they weren't expensive.

A reader writes with an example of an idea that is inexpensive, was submitted by a credible organization, addresses a strategic need, would improve the quality of life for many Tulsans, and would even make the politicians look good -- and it was completely ignored.

[Habitat for Humanity] submitted to INCOG one of... those ideas for what Tulsa could do between now and 2025 to be a better place...

Basically, here's what I proposed on behalf of Habitat for Humanity:

- Eliminate poverty housing and provide a safe, decent, and affordable home
for every Tulsan.

- Requiring no new government funding.

- Requiring virtually no new government resources.

- Funded through existing entities (both privately and government funded)
such as Habitat, Tulsa CAP, HUD, etc.

- The main emphasis would be on taking an existing program hosted through
the Mayors office (HOT - Home Ownership Tulsa) and use it to coordinate the
efforts of these existing entities with their existing funding mechanisms to
wipe out the blight of homelessness, sub-standard housing, and slum lordism
from our city.

- The multi-faceted benefits of home ownership are well documented. Families with a safe and affordable home do better in their jobs, their children do better in school, and they are better citizens.

- Home ownership isn't the right answer for everyone (e.g. the elderly and
infirm), so the plan also included safe, decent, and affordable housing
alternatives for these segments.

We tried to hand the local politicians a gift on a silver platter. Slightly redirect a current effort (focused on "home ownership" - now focus it on providing a safe, decent, and affordable home for every Tulsan), don't need to raise any additional taxes, but be able to claim an incredible victory for our city that few others have been able to match.

I never even heard a response to my proposal. I read in the Whirled (before
I cancelled my subscription) that there were meetings where people were presenting their proposals to the Vision 2025 folks - I was never invited...

Oh well...

One of the defects of the convention center feasibility study done by Conventions, Sports, and Leisure, International, for the City of Tulsa, is that their data for convention industry trends stopped in mid-2001, before September 11, and the related upheaval to the travel industry and the economy at large. Here's some information to fill in that gap. Convene's annual Meeting Market Survey for 2003 is on the web, and it paints a bleak picture for meeting planners. Budgets for organizing expositions and conventions are down, as are budgets for attending such events.

Corporations, though, did not cooperate, as they cut back on exhibits, attending personnel, and sponsorships. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and resulting travel limitations by corporations softened exhibition attendance considerably in the fourth quarter of 2001. That continued in 2002, as 57 percent of planners recorded a decrease or no change in their largest convention’s attendance. And the average number of individual exhibitors reserving space in the largest 2002 expositions was 194, down nearly 10 percent from 215.2 in last year’s survey. The size of an association’s largest exposition took a particularly hard hit. Net square footage dropped 18 percent, from 98,750 in 2001 to 80,750 in 2002. Drilling down into the numbers uncovers some important differences among associations.

Note that both those square footage numbers are smaller than the 100,000 sq ft exhibit space (not counting meeting rooms, etc.) at Tulsa's downtown Convention Center.

The article goes on to say that attendance is falling in most categories (medical continuing education being an exception -- and those meetings are almost always in resort locations). SMERF meetings (social, military, educational, religious, and fraternal organizations) saw their attendance drop by 5%. SMERF is the only category of national meeting for which a plurality of planners expressed any interest in meeting in an updated and expanded downtown Tulsa Convention Center.

It's interesting to see how dependent some of these organizations are on meeting and convention income -- 37% in the case of trade associations. It's vital to these organizations to generate a big turnout. The most sure way to get a good turnout is to have a large group of potential attendees living near the convention site or else to have a convention site that attendees really want to visit -- major tourist destinations and resorts. Facilities aren't enough to make a meeting a success.

Here's another interesting report, which says that U.S. meeting planners will only hold 7% of their events at convention centers, but 75% will be held at city, resort, and airport hotels.

A reader writes:

Give me 2 things the City should do instead of Vision 2025 (if it should do anything), and explain how those 2 things would be funded.

Here are a few of my ideas:

(1) A Tulsa venture capital fund, something I am told we lack, and it's hurting our ability to create new jobs. This would be funded and managed privately, set up with the purpose of helping innovative ideas get off the ground here in Tulsa. I would hope our elected officials would use their "bully pulpits" to promote the idea, and encourage Tulsans who invest around the country and around the world, to invest in Tulsa as well. I could even imagine small investors participating. Cost to taxpayers -- zero -- unless the legislature would provide some tax benefit for investing in funds of this type, which might be a good idea.

(2) Coupled with that -- put some energy into and bring attention to "Tulsa's Top Talent" -- the effort to keep laid off high-tech workers in Tulsa by helping match their skills to business needs. A start's been made, but there are very few participants thus far.

(3) Begin now to prepare for the upcoming legislative session, work with OKC Mayor Humphreys and the mayors of our larger cities, and build support in the legislature for reforms to make Oklahoma a more attractive place to start and grow a business. No extra cost here -- the Mayor just needs to redirect his attention away from convincing us to raise our own taxes, and focus his energy and political capital on our state leaders.

(4) Fund some of the "community enrichment" projects as part of the next city bond issue (2004), third-penny sales tax (2006), or "4 to fix the county" (also 2006), when we'll be voting to renew existing taxes, not raising them. Again, no extra money from the taxpayers.

(5) Implement the recommendations of the Mayor's Performance Review, and continue the process to cover the entirety of city government. There may be some up-front costs, but the result will be long term savings and greater customer satisfaction. The process has been privately funded, and if the Mayor actually implements the recommendations, donors may be willing to continue the process.

(6) Fire the Chamber of Commerce. We've been paying them to do economic development and convention and tourism promotion -- over $60 million in hotel/motel tax dollars since 1987. They haven't done much for us. Their head of economic development says he has no idea how to grow high-tech jobs in Tulsa. This money was earmarked originally for construction, upkeep, and improvements to the convention center, but the Chamber convinced then-Mayor Dick Crawford to give them half of it. In contrast, Omaha allocates hotel/motel funds to pay directly for improvements to local tourist attractions.

How's that for a start?

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Vision 2025 category from September 2003.

Tulsa Vision 2025: August 2003 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Vision 2025: October 2003 is the next archive.

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