Tulsa Vision 2025: May 2004 Archives

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

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

This is money well-spent.

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

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

“It symbolizes the American Way of Life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how his scenario unfolds:

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

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

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

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

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

• Bass Pro typically looks for $10 million to $30 million in local incentives – including free land and subsidized rent. According to a Feb. 15 story in The Buffalo (New York) News, Oklahoma City leaders offered $17.2 million to attract its Bass Pro Outdoor World. Bossier City, La. paid $32 million for a parking garage, road and parking upgrades. Norfolk, Va. offered $10.8 million to land Bass Pro. “Yeah, it seems everybody wants one in their back yard, but they don’t come cheap,” said Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Emphasis added.]

The article lists other items for the agenda:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broken Arrow bonds


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

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

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

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

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

Funnelling into Owasso


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Vision 2025 category from May 2004.

Tulsa Vision 2025: April 2004 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Vision 2025: June 2004 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



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