Tulsa Vision 2025: June 2004 Archives

It was pointed out to me that a couple of City Councilors (both members of the Cockroach Caucus) who were given the heave-ho by the voters back in March are still listed as members of committees overseeing the City of Tulsa's Vision 2025 projects. Specifically, David Patrick is still listed as a member of the City of Tulsa Project Oversight Committee, which has overall responsibility for all of the City of Tulsa's projects, and Art Justis is still listed as a member of the Events Center Design Committee.

I don't know whether these former councilors are actively participating in these two very important committees. They are the only councilors serving on those two committees, so whether they are active or not, the current City Council has no representation. They should be replaced with currently-serving councilors, preferably from the Council's working majority. It is early enough in the process that a changeover would not be disruptive. The simplest thing would be to replace each with the man who defeated him at the polls. There's something undemocratic about a defeated councilor continuing to represent the Council in overseeing the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars.

UPDATE: I am reliably informed that the former councilors are no longer participating on these committees, but no current councilors have been appointed to replace them.

Downtown housing misstep?


If we want to see downtown become once again a place that bustles with life from early in the morning until late at night, a place with stores and restaurants, it won't happen until there are more people living in and near downtown. The occasional visits from people going to the arena or attending night classes won't be enough to sustain new businesses. Just as retail followed the rooftops out to the suburbs, retail won't return until the rooftops are there.

One of the more sensible steps the city has taken to revitalize downtown are the efforts to encourage new housing in downtown. You could argue about whether any tax dollars should be spent on this effort -- we'll take that up another time -- but developing homes where people spend a lot of time should be a more cost effective way to revitalize than building big facilities that are only rarely used. In the last several city bond issues and third-penny sales taxes, voters have approved money for encouraging downtown housing development. Here's the description for the $4 million included in the current third-penny sales tax plan.

This project will continue the highly successful 1996 Sales Tax program which has resulted in two public-private developments in the core area. The Uptown Renaissance Apartments at 11th and Denver and the historic rehabilitation of the Tulsa Tribune Building converting it to loft apartments at Archer and Main. This funding will be used to attract additional public-private redevelopment, including sites recommended in the AeCom study area.

But money isn't going to make a difference if it isn't spent strategically, and there's concern that the latest expenditure from this fund is not going to be efficacious. The Tulsa Development Authority has opened negotiations with the owners of the Philtower building for their use of $1 million to convert nine floors (12 through 20) to 12 "loft" apartments.

Arena quest

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Mayor Bill LaFortune and the committee overseeing the construction of Tulsa's new downtown sports arena are starting Monday on a seven-city tour to gather ideas for our new arena. (Whirled story here, jump page here.)

It's interesting that most of the arenas the committee will visit are smaller, and all of them are more expensive:

Basketball Capacity
Omaha, Neb.
Qwest Arena
$291 million*
Green Bay, Wisc.
Resch Center
$45 million
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Van Andel Arena
$75 million
Columbus, Ohio
Nationwide Arena
$150 million
Raleigh, N.C.
RBC Arena
$158 million
Charlotte, N.C.
Charlotte Arena
$200 million
Duluth, Ga.
Gwinnett Center
$90 million
* Omaha's numbers include new convention center.

So the three arenas that are closest in size to what Tulsans were promised cost far more than has been allocated for Tulsa's arena, and the most recent arena costs twice what we were told to expect to spend on ours. Remember that the $183 million has to be divided between arena construction and renovation and expansion of the convention center -- the money allocated for just building the arena is closer to $125million.

The project director for Tulsa Vision Builders, Bart Boatright, has a solution for making up the difference:

The budget could be significantly expanded by private funding through the sale of arena suites, advertising and naming rights, Boatright said.

The story goes on to say that OKC's Ford Center naming rights went for $8.1 million for a 15-year deal. That won't quite cover the gap.

The problem with using the sale of luxury suites to offset construction costs is that those dollars have already been assigned to cover operating costs. The feasibility study done before the vote (see my analysis here) assumed the annual rental of 20 luxury suites and 2000 club seats at annual fees of $32,500 and $1,100 per year, respectively, as a major source of operating revenue. If these very optimistic assumptions were met, the study projects an annual surplus. But if they only manage to sell five suites and 500 club seats, the arena will lose nearly $1 million a year. If premium seat fees are assigned to construction costs instead of operating costs, the facility is projected to lose $1.6 million a year.

Another interesting thing -- Mayor LaFortune is quoted as saying he hasn't spent much time in arenas: "I've only been in two arenas in my life, so I really want to be there to get a feel for everything." (Tulsa has five arenas -- downtown, the Pavilion, the Reynolds Center, the Mabee Center, and UMAC. Which three hasn't he been in yet?) What that tells you is that attending spectator sports and major concerts isn't part of his life, although he enjoys playing basketball and going to smaller performances at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. I wonder how many people promoted this arena and voted for this arena thinking, "I'm rarely or never going to go there, but lots of other people will use it"? What if it turns out that the vast majority of Tulsans aren't interested in arena events?

Arena size matters


The Whirled is upset because the downtown sports arena may not be 20,000 seats. They are worried that if the size is downscaled we may not get the big tournaments and concerts that were promised. I'm looking for any indication of what was promised, and I seem to recall that an arena size as small as 15,000 was mentioned.

Nailing it down is difficult: The day after the election, all the content from Vision 2025 campaign website (vote2025.org) was rendered inaccessible -- the hot links on the home page were disabled. The Internet Wayback Machine (archive.org) doesn't have any snapshots of the contents of the site -- webmasters can deliberately program a website so that archive websites. It looks like a calculated effort to defeat any attempt to hold the proponents of Vision 2025 for the promises made to the voters.

They forgot about Google, which had captured several internal pages. I found this:

Tulsa Regional Convention / Events Center / $183 Million

This includes a much needed modernization of the existing convention center and the construction of an 18,000 fixed seat events center that, in combination, will provide state-of-the-art facilities that will make Tulsa a more attractive entertainment venue for conventions, trade shows, concerts, religious, sports and other large events, creating hundreds of new jobs for Tulsans and expected to generate an estimated economic impact of $92 million annually and $5.86 million in state and local tax revenues.

So there's the promise: 18,000 fixed seats. So it could seat more for concerts, but only 18,000 for sports events. Presumably the proponents felt that would be enough for to serve the sports events they want to attract.

(By the way, a search of the Whirled's archives reveals that the phrase "events center" has not been used in its pages since September 14, 2003, less than a week after the vote. Since then, they've gone back to calling it what it is -- an arena.)

I'm not happy that they have our tax money for their arena, but it's important that it be done right. The feasibility study revealed doubts that Tulsans would fill anything bigger than the Mabee Center, so maybe it would be better to build smaller but high quality, so we can make the most of Cesar Pelli's creativity. On the other hand, if someone can produce a serious feasibility study showing that a 20,000 arena will lose less money than a 15,000 seat facility, that ought to be considered, too, although it's hard to imagine.

About this Archive

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

Tulsa Vision 2025: May 2004 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Vision 2025: July 2004 is the next archive.

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