Tulsa Vision 2025: July 2004 Archives

The Tulsa City Council is sponsoring a public meeting, Monday night, July 26, from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm, in the Expo Building at Expo Square. (Translation for old timers: in the IPE Building at the Fairgrounds. Use the main entrance behind the Golden Driller.)

The announcement says:

The City Council is seeking citizen comments relating to the three elements of the general development process:

(1) site development - infrastructure
(2) site development - zoning
(3) permitting

There will also be a report and discussion regarding the Mayor's task force on the Vision 2025 neighborhood fund.

All the items are important, and if you're concerned about zoning and neighborhoods, you need to be there and be heard.

That last item corresponds with the money that was included as a part of Proposition 4 last September. Here's the language from the ballot resolution, with the neighborhoods part emphasized:

Downtowns/Neighborhoods Fund: 90% allocated to local governments on a per capita basis to promote community beautification and economic vitality of our downtowns including streetscaping, pocket parks, fountains, and downtown housing and 10% allocated to local governments on a per capita basis to support neighborhood enhancements including signage, neighborhood entranceway/gateways and neighborhood assessments projects: $30,000,000

The City of Tulsa has about 70% of Tulsa County's population, so the City should have about $18.9 million for downtown projects (over and above the arena, Jazz Hall of Fame, and other projects that target downtown), and about $2.1 million for "support[ing] neighborhood enhancements".

The neighborhood assessment process is an idea I submitted to the Dialog / Visioning "leadership" committee, and I was a part of a team of people that made a presentation to the Dialog / Visioning "leadership" committee about Downtowns and Neighborhoods.

The idea is a shameless copy of a process that has been used successfully by Kansas City, Missouri. It is a grass-roots approach to understanding the state of a city and what it most needs to become a more livable and a better place. They divided the city into about 150 neighborhoods, and over the course of four years, the City held a Saturday morning workshop in each neighborhood. The purpose of each workshop was to assess the state of the neighborhood, its assets and challenges, and to develop a to-do list of most desired improvements.

Each workshop brought together homeowners, business owners, and representatives of other stakeholders in a neighborhood, such as schools and churches. A city planner would spend about six weeks in advance of the workshop gathering demographic information, preparing maps and other materials, and getting the word out to the neighborhood. The workshop involves six steps:

1. Defining the neighborhood -- coming up with a descriptive slogan; marking a map to identify landmarks, activity centers, paths, districts, barriers, and features.

2. "If I could fix one thing" -- brainstorming about the neighborhood's problems.

3. Neighborhood assets -- identifying places, people, skills, history -- any feature that adds value to the neighborhood.

4. Facts about the neighborhood -- a review of census data and other government statistics to help understand the nature of the neighborhood.

5. Describing the neighborhood -- classifying it as one of four basic types (developing, stabilization, conservation, redeveloping).

6. Making my neighborhood better -- brainstorming specific actions to address the challenges already identified, and then categorizing the actions as things the neighborhood can do for itself, things that can be accomplished with a partner -- like a business or non-profit organization -- and things that require the help of city government.

The result of the workshop is compiled into a report which the neighborhood gathers to review about six weeks later. This link will take you to the full list of reports. Here's a report on a suburban area built in the '70s. Here's one on a 1920s neighborhood with a neighborhood shopping street (like Cherry Street), residential areas, and a university. Here's a neighborhood with a mixture of well-maintained houses, but many neglected properties, a neighborhood that needs to redevelop.

Tulsa has done something similar but more detailed and in depth in a small number of neighborhoods. Sometimes called "small area plans" or "infill studies", they've been done for the Charles Page Boulevard corridor, Kendall-Whittier, the area near 11th & Yale, the 6th & Peoria area, Brady Village, Brookside, and Crutchfield, among others. These plans are well done, and are valuable, but they do require a lot of time and labor, and so only a small part of the city has been studied in this way. The Crutchfield plan (a 45 page PDF document) was just approved by the City Council, and it's a great example of residents, businesses, and various city agencies cooperating to address a neighborhood's problems while preserving what is good about the neighborhood. But it took a long time to put it all together.

That's where the Kansas City approach can complement what we've been doing in Tulsa. The detailed studies are valuable, but most of Tulsa's neighborhoods won't get any attention at the rate we're going. In about four years, with about $2 million in funding, Kansas City covered every part of the city, giving everyone a chance to evaluate the state of their neighborhood. Through this process, the city has a detailed list of what needs to be done. The reports are used by planning staff to prioritize capital improvements, evaluate applications for federal development grants, and review zoning changes. More detailed plans might be drawn up for a neighborhood if the neighborhood assessment identifies the need.

So this is what that ballot resolution is referring to with the term "neighborhood assessments". The idea was warmly received by the Dialog / Visioning leadership team, and Mayor LaFortune in particular said that we should do this. In presenting it to the Dialog / Visioning team, I made it clear that it could be funded, as in Kansas City, with existing revenues. Kansas City didn't treat this as an additional project but as a new way of doing business. It will be interesting to see Monday night if the City Council will ensure that the idea is implemented as promised.

Barry Friedman does some legwork in this week's Urban Tulsa, talking to the committee that toured arenas last month to get ideas for Tulsa's new downtown arena. If the name weren't already taken, we could write a book called See, I Told You So. It's a bit late for someone else to take up the points we made during last summer's sales tax campaign, but we're happy to see someone else asking skeptical questions.

By the way, I don't disagree with the trip to look at the arenas or with the number of people that went. If we're going to do this -- even if it won't work and we don't need it -- we need to do it right. We need to build something that we can be proud of, that will serve our needs for a long time into the future, something that could at least marginally help encourage new life in downtown.

Friedman also talks with a concert promoter, Johnny Buschardt, about Tulsa's need for a big arena:

“I mean it’s a great idea, but does Tulsa need it? Not even remotely,” he says. “This is a waste of money.”

For Buschardt, who brought in Sinbad to the Union High School Auditorium last October and produced the Jay Leno benefit at the Mabee Center in June, the issue isn’t just one of perception, it’s one of numbers.

“Oklahoma City already has a 20-thousand seat arena. And they don’t have another 11-thousand seat place (The Mabee Center)ý down the street the way Tulsa will.”

Further, if the point of the new arena is to attract big name talent, Buschardt believes it won’t be as easy as it seems.

“Only a handful of artists can fill 20-thousand seats,” he says, “and they’re not playing cities with 300-thousand people, like Tulsa,” citing that Rod Stewart sold fewer than 10-thousand at the Ford Center.

“Take an artist like Eric Clapton. He’s not going to play both cities,” Buschardt continues, adding that in his opinion Clapton couldn’t sell out both venues on successive nights even if he did.

As to the contention that once the Tulsa arena is built, it, and not OKC, will be the venue of choice in Oklahoma, Buschardt is less sanguine.

“Obviously, you want a transition like that, but artists are not going to be swayed solely by the fact than you have a new venue. Oklahoma City has ties with Clear Channel Communications (the biggest tour promoter in the country), a bigger population than Tulsa, downtown development, and other things going for it, as well.” ...

Saying that Tulsa is a 2nd-leg town (meaning that it would never get, for instance, Simon and Garfunkle on their initial tour), Buschardt believes that Tulsa would be better off working with the existing venues in town, most notably, the Mabee Center, which artists seem to love for a variety of reasons, most notably, its acoustics.

“You want to build upwards of a 20,000-seat arena for an area that has 300-thousand people. That means you expect one out of every 15 Tulsans to come to your event? Not going to happen.”

Buschardt really should use the metro population of 800,000 for a point of comparison -- that means one in 40 Tulsans, but that's still a huge proportion, and how many acts will be able to attract such a broad audience willing to pay the premium prices a big name can demand?

Friedman also raises the number of arenas already in Tulsa's inventory -- with the new one we will have 50,000 seats versus 77,500 in the Los Angeles metro area -- and the half-empty arenas that witness first- and second-round NCAA basketball tournament action.

Of course, the article veers from the facts it presents and concludes that the new arena is bound to have a positive impact on downtown. It quotes Cesar Pelli, the new arena's architect as saying, "I saw all of the empty parking lots and thought it was such a pity." The empty lots are a pity, but a new arena isn't going to prevent more of them from being created. In fact, unless Tulsa acts to protect the investment we've made to try to recreate a dynamic urban downtown, we may see more buildings come down to provide convenient parking for the arena, rather than visionary reuse of older buildings.

About this Archive

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

Tulsa Vision 2025: June 2004 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Vision 2025: August 2004 is the next archive.

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