Tulsa Vision 2025: September 2004 Archives

Arena unveiled behind a veil

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Cesar Pelli's design concept for the new downtown sports arena was unveiled to the Downtown Rotary Club at noon. Seems funny to me that the unveiling of this publicly-funded project would take place at a meeting of a private club, but that seems to be the way this town operates.

It's (hardly) a conspiracy!

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A goofy notion of recent vintage is that the Reform Alliance majority on the Tulsa City Council is part of a conspiracy to obstruct the implementation of Vision 2025, and that in particular the Council's unwillingness to proceed to condemn two properties on the arena site is all about obstruction -- thwarting the will of the people!

Over on the Tulsa Now Forums, Onslow Stevenson Wakeford III of Jenks (who uses the handle 'swake') presents his conspiracy theory:

The people who were against 2025 are working to make it less successful so that no more such projects are ever passed. Additionally they are attacking the entities who were behind 2025. They are using the city council, and radio to launch these attacks. Their targets are the Mayor(every chance), the Newspaper(Again, every chance, the media bias), The Chamber(economic development funds), INCOG(zoning fights) and the City Council that was sitting when 2025 was passed (now mostly gone and Roop was flipped). Watch, the next two targets are going to be the County Commission and DTU. Oh wait, BooWorld just mentioned that the county commission. So it begins and now everything makes sense. This was and is all about 2025. The anti tax groups lost the election and are going to grind the city to a halt as payback. They are going to make very sure that no tax like this ever passes again. That is why no real reasons can be given for all the votes by the council, itís not about those votes so much as the larger mission. Reform is a code word for Anti-2025.

There are a lot of problems with this theory, the first being that the two Reform Alliance councilors who were on the Council last fall were outspoken supporters of Vision 2025. I debated against Sam Roop during the Vision 2025 campaign, and back in 2000, the night before the Tulsa Time vote. I also debated Chris Medlock on Vision 2025. Medlock did oppose Proposition 1 -- the $350 million corporate welfare check for Boeing, which is now moot -- but he supported the other three. Although Medlock had questions about oversight and governance of the Vision funds, he did not allow that to get in the way of his advocacy, and waited until after the vote to raise the issues. (I think that was foolish, as after the vote passed there was no longer any leverage to insist on proper safeguards.)

I made the point many times during the campaign that most of the projects were reasonable ideas that could have been funded as part of a renewal of the "4 to Fix the County" sales tax, the City of Tulsa's third-penny for capital improvements, or a capital improvements bond issue which would replace bonds that are being retired. Revenue bonds could be used if you could make a business case that a facility would make enough money to pay for itself. There was a way, if our civic leaders were willing to be creative, to fund important projects without increasing the tax burden during an economic downturn.

The central objection from the Vision 2025 opposition was to the tax increase, not to the projects themselves. Now that the tax increase is a fait accompli, and most of the future tax revenues are already committed to bondholders, those of us who were opposed are concerned to make sure that what was promised to the citizens of Tulsa County is delivered, that the process is handled in an open and fair fashion, and that the taxpayers get good value for money. That's why, although I opposed building the arena, I offered some suggestions for where the arena could be located to have a more positive impact on downtown.

With regard to the arena land acquisition, several specific points need to made.

(1) Tulsa's elected officials never held a public hearing or voted to approve a specific arena location. Although the fact that land acquisition has already begun renders this point moot, it needs to be raised. While the 1st-3rd, Denver-Frisco location has been discussed for years (since before the 1997 Tulsa Project), the location wasn't written into the ballot propositions, wasn't approved by the Dialog-Visioning Leadership Team, wasn't approved by the County Commissioners, and wasn't approved by the City Council. And I am pretty sure, although I can't pinpoint the date or time, that Mayor LaFortune expressed an openness before and after the vote to considering alternative locations, in response to concerns about the drawbacks of the proposed site.

(2) Bob Poe's ranting about losing $10,000 a day notwithstanding, the arena project is not being delayed by the Council's refusal to proceed with condemnation. The building hasn't even been designed, and owners of properties on the periphery of the site have been told that they won't have to vacate their buildings until early spring 2005. I don't know if they've even done the necessary geological study. There is time to handle this in a way that respects those who are being displaced. And even if there were a delay of a few weeks, demolition and clearance could proceed on the other properties. And it's not as though this is an essential public facility like a fire station. No one's going to die if it opens in February 2008 instead of January 2008.

(3) To the extent that there have been delays, it appears that they have been caused by an unwillingness by the Public Works Department to respond in a timely fashion to requests by the City Council for information -- the Council still does not have the actual appraisal reports, which were requested weeks ago.

(4) This is not an ordinary condemnation. Many condemnation proceedings involve strips of land for road widening -- condemnations which leave the improvements on the property and most of the parcel intact. When condemnation involves displacing homes and businesses, it's appropriate for the Council to give the matter careful scrutiny, to ensure that property owners are being treated fairly, and to try to save condemnation for a last resort.

Paul Uttinger, an architect, posted a great reply to the conspiracy theorists on the Tulsa Now Forums (scroll down and look for "booWorld", which is Paul's screen name). Here's an excerpt:

There may be a conspiracy among the 38% of those who voted against this particular Vision 2025 proposition last year, but I'm not part of it. And I don't remember the resolution including any specific design or location for the events center. I remember discussion of the 2nd & Elwood location as the probable site, but I saw nothing set in writing. That's one of the reasons I voted against the question. It was far too vague for me. I like to see good designs well done. Lately Tulsa does not have a good track record in such matters.

I think the reform council is good for the city because it's getting people interested and more involved in what's going on. Split decisions by the council don't bother me at all. In my opinion, they're as good or better than the rubber-stamping by previous councils. According to the mayor's speech yesterday, the arena project is on schedule. I don't think it is unreasonable for Mr Medlock to ask to see copies of property appraisals. He's not my councilor, but I think that he is a good representative for his district and he is looking into long term issues that will affect all Tulsans. Remember, Tulsans are paying for this arena whether they voted for it or not. Not only will we pay for the initial design and construction, but we'll pay for any revenue shortfall for decades into the future. That's why I want the project to be the very best it can be. ...

I'm not part of a conspiracy trying to attack the Tulsa World. I'm just an individual who is disheartened and sickened to read about their plans for "improving" the downtown by demolishing the Skelly Building for a private parking lot.

I'm not conspiring to attack INCOG concerning zoning matters. I'm just one individual who had his property rezoned against his wishes to less than 10% of its previously allowed density while boundaries were drawn 30 feet away in two directions for districts 10 times the density of mine. I'm just one individual who spent many hours of vacation time attending public hearings in which INCOG staff had the first and last word, in which INCOG staff gave planning commission members incorrect information regarding my property, and in which INCOG staff members lied to the city council about my property.

I'm not part of a conspiracy attacking the mayor, but I'm very disappointed that he chose to reappoint Joe Westervelt to the planning commission.

I'm not opposed to change. To the contrary -- I think it's about time for some fundamental changes in how public officials conduct "our" business.

Well spoken, Paul.

No condemnation now I dread

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The City Council has again chosen not to proceed with condemnation against the owners of two properties within the land that someone designated as the site of the new arena. (As Councilor Medlock has rightly pointed out, the site was never the subject of a public hearing. Nevertheless, it's location is now fixed, for better or worse.) There are ongoing concerns about the fairness of the appraisals, and the Council very reasonably wants to see the actual appraisal reports on the properties in question, and who specifically did these appraisals.

Notwithstanding Councilor Susan Neal's concerns, construction of the arena is not being delayed by continuing negotiations with the remaining property owners. We don't even have a design concept for the arena yet, much less a complete site plan, engineering work, and design. We have time to do this right, in a way that makes these property owners whole for their displacement, and I'm glad the Council is following this course.

About this Archive

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

Tulsa Vision 2025: August 2004 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Vision 2025: March 2005 is the next archive.

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