Tulsa Vision 2025: August 2005 Archives

UPDATE 9/6/2005: Bobby has reorganized and purged Tulsa Topics, so with his permission, I've taken his audio of the speech, reduced the fidelity to radio quality to get the size down, and uploaded it here (4 MB MP3).

UPDATE 9/7/2005: Bobby has reposted the groundbreaking audio in both MP3 and streaming format here.

And don't miss the commentary on the groundbreaking and Tulsa's downtown revitalization strategy from Oklahoma City bloggers Charles G. Hill and The Downtown Guy.

If you thought that the proponents of Vision 2025 have come to a more balanced, nuanced view of the arena's role in Tulsa's future, you need to listen to the speeches from today's groundbreaking of the new downtown sports arena. To listen to John Erling (the MC) and Bill LaFortune speak, you'd have thought the New Jerusalem just descended from the heavens. (Emphasis added by me in the quotes below.)

Erling's opening:

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to a very historic day in the life of our city, Tulsa, and our county, Tulsa County. To paraphrase, this is the day the taxpayers have made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Today is the day that the result of two government entities, coming together for the common good of the region known as Vision 2025, and we are here, in ceremony, to honor the wishes of our citizens, that we break ground to build an events center that will not only be a gathering place, an entertainment venue, but also because of its design and renowned architect, a reason to make Tulsa a point of destination....

So there's no reason to come to Tulsa until the arena is finished?

Now Mayor Bill LaFortune worked tirelessly with the leadership team and County Commissioner Bob Dick to present the Vision 2025 project to the public, and the arena is the centerpiece of that project, which was approved September 9, 2003.... The vision has always been to create an icon for the community, a center that will be the signature piece of artwork recognized throughout the world.

Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune took the occasion to chastise those who voted against the arena. His tone was defensive and defiant, completely out of place for a celebratory event. It reminded me of some of Bill Clinton's more petulant performances. Here's one segment. Not only does he dismiss those who opposed Vision 2025 as "content with the status quo," but seems to be saying that Vision 2025 is all about grinding other medium-sized midwestern cities in the dust. And, yes, in another Clintonian touch, it's for the children....

John Erling certainly touched on this, but today would not be possible without the efforts of thousands, literally thousands of Tulsans. First and most important, the citizens who voted yes for Vision 2025. They recognized that we had to do something big and bold to move Tulsa forward. They recognized that Tulsa had to build, invest, invest in our infrastructure, to remain competitive with similar cities. They recognized, those citizens who voted yes, that Tulsa had to build to provide facilities that would serve as the foundation for Tulsa's future economic growth. Those citizens, with their foresight, recognized that Tulsa had to build facilities and amenities that would serve us for decades to come. For us, but most importantly as I said -- and we should never tire of this theme -- for our kids and our grandkids, those same citizens rejected the negativism of some, those same individuals who were content with the status quo, content to go by decade after decade with no major public facility improvement, all the while watching almost every other comparable city, including Oklahoma City, move past us, leaving us in their construction dust.

But today I say to you: No more! No more to Oklahoma City, no more to Des Moines, no more to Omaha! Tulsa is alive and well!

"Fie upon you, Des Moines and Omaha, and fie, fie upon you, Oklahoma City! Your vaunted convention centers will be brought low and shall be no more! Not one stone will remain standing upon another. Your downtowns will run with blood! We will loot your concert tour dates, kill your men, enslave your women and children, and sow your fields with salt. My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings! Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"

Look back over that quote. What a paltry vision: Remain competitive with similar cities by building an arena. Nothing about developing our workforce, encouraging risk-takers to start new businesses, accommodating the needs of the elderly and disabled, rethinking our approach to urban design. Nothing about becoming a great city, just making sure Cher has a place to perform when she brings her Frankensteinish carcass to town.

Notice too how LaFortune denigrates the billions of dollars Tulsans invested in streets, sewers, and public schools through the third-penny sales tax and city and school general obligation bond issues in the decade before Vision 2025. Because that money paid for lots of small improvements, and not a single major facility improvement (that always translates to "new arena"), that investment, supported by those of us who opposed Vision 2025, doesn't count.

And notice that this arena isn't just going to be a nice place to watch a ball game. According to Bill LaFortune, it's the foundation for Tulsa's future economic growth.

Later, LaFortune goes into full hyperbolic overdrive. Uniter, not divider, that he is, he takes another slap at people who disagree with him:

But what about one of the greatest coalitions ever built? We've heard from of our perennial negative voices that we claim to be coalition builders but we're not, and we're afraid they might have been asleep during the Vision 2025 process. And what has now been a coalition building effort recognized nationally by the US Conference of Mayors and the coalition for most livable communities, Vision 2025 was unprecedented anywhere, anytime in the United States of America. Where else -- you name it -- where else and when could you have an occasion which cities, mayors, city managers, city councils, the county government, chambers of commerce, neighborhood associations, and so on, all came together united behind a single vision, a single plan. I call that a coalition, a major coalition never before seen....

LaFortune went on to compare Tulsa's situation before Vision 2025 to Washington and the Continental Army at Valley Forge.

County Commissioner Bob Dick spoke next and delivered a speech that was more what I would have expected on such an occasion: focused on the positive, not an opportunity to take a swipe at one's rivals.

Matrix President Steve Alter was the next speaker. He congratulates the city on doing such a diligent job selecting the construction team. He knows the city was diligent because it selected his team. And he joins in on the hyperbole:

I'd like to say how proud we are to be part of this and what a diligent process the city and county went through, the leadership team, the design review committee, the oversight committee, in their selection of the team to do the most important and the largest project in the urban core ever....

Larger and more important that the Williams Center? That was six blocks, not four.

Later, Alter picked up on LaFortune's idea of the arena biz as a zero sum game.

The challenge was provide a catalyst that puts Tulsa back on the map for major events and stops them to going to all of the cities that Mayor LaFortune mentioned. We not only will have an events center. We will have the greatest architectural events center and a new paradigm in events centers and arenas in the nation.

We have to stop those events from going to all those nasty cities that dare not to be Tulsa. It's not enough that Phish comes to Tulsa. We have to stop Phish from going to Des Moines. Maybe if we design the arena like a Roach Motel -- artists check in, but they don't check out.

It was entirely appropriate to celebrate the groundbreaking, but it would have been better to celebrate and appreciate it for what it is -- a nice place to see a game or a concert -- rather than insist that it is a magic totem that will transform the city's economy. I'd prefer to believe that the Mayor and the others were being disingenuous in ascribing supernatural urban healing powers to the arena. I'd hate to think they really believe this building is the key to Tulsa's future.

Indy info

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Mad Okie was recently at a convention in Indianapolis, a city that Tulsa's arena pushers have cited as a model. He observed some factors that make the sports and convention facilities work in downtown Indianapolis, factors that aren't present in Tulsa.

So what is this fatal flaw? Location, Location, Location! Anyone who looks at the map of where the arena is going to be located will notice the complete lack of anywhere to grow anything, how is this supposed to “grow” downtown? Where is it supposed to grow?

While in Indy, the Colts had an exhibition game, people walked from the parking garage, over a block to grab a bite to eat, then over to the game... 5 blocks maximum worth of walking, there is nothing that will promote that form of behavior at the [Tulsa] arena's location.

He also notices some differences with parking in downtown Indianapolis. Read the whole thing.

Last Tuesday there was a discussion in the Tulsa City Council committee meeting about the lack of a firm cost estimate on construction of the new downtown sports arena and the lack of a business plan to account for annual operating revenues and costs.

Assistant Public Works Director Mike Buchert told the Whirled that the city is relying on the feasibility study done by Conventions, Sports, and Leisure prior to the Vision 2025 sales tax vote. That study is dated March 23, 2003.

Here's how the story in the Wednesday Whirled characterizes the study:

The study by Conventions, Sports & Leisure International determined that Tulsa's market can sustain an 18,000-seat arena, allowing it to operate in the black by up to $1.2 million.

This was based on the arena hosting about 138 events and drawing 570,000 spectators annually. Such a scenario would bring in up to $4.6 million in revenue to offset about $3.4 million in expenses.

Buchert said there are no plans for additional studies.

"Everything has been based on that in terms of planning the efficiencies of the arena."

The single biggest revenue line item is premium seating -- $1,667,000 per year. CSL assumes that the arena will be able to sell 20 luxury suites at $32,500 and 2,000 "club seats" at $1,100 each annually for 40 minor league hockey and arena football games. This represents a premium -- over and above normal ticket prices -- of $26,164 per luxury suite and $572 per club seats. The revenue estimate also includes $250,000 per year for naming rights.

Are these estimates reasonable? I have my doubts that so many companies and individuals will be willing to pay for premium seating for minor league sports. But even if the predictions are fulfilled, the assumption is that all premium seat revenues will go toward annual operating costs. If those revenues are instead pledged against the cost of construction, the arena will have an annual deficit of $481,000.

What about annual revenue for naming rights? Based on a survey of recent naming rights deals, we'd be doing well to get $500,000 a year in a multi-year deal -- 15 years seems typical. Once again, if we pledge the entire $7.5 million toward construction, none of it will be available for operations. That means the $250,000 CSL figured in toward annual operating revenue. Combined with the shortfall if premium seat revenues are diverted to construction, that would make the annual deficit $731,000.

There are a couple of other factors that CSL couldn't have known about that city officials should take into consideration.

In March 2003, a barrel of West Texas Intermediate went for $33.55. On Friday, August 19, 2005, the price was $65.35. CSL estimated annual utilities costing $600,000. If oil prices have nearly doubled in little more than two years, does that estimate still make sense? And what impact will a doubling of oil prices have on construction costs?

The other factor: Casinos. Although Indian gaming was a growing industry before the November 2004 election turned bingo halls into full-fledged casinos, it has exploded in the months since then. March 2003, the date of the feasibility study, was early enough in Brad Henry's term as governor that no one, not even CSL, could know if the expansion of Indian gaming had the legislative support to go forward, much less popular support for passing a referendum. There's anecdotal evidence that gaming is hurting the restaurant business, and if so, it's more likely to affect other leisure spending. A 10% drop in minor league sports attendance would mean a $320,000 drop in arena revenues, based on CSL's sensitivity analysis.

We don't necessarily need a new study done from scratch, but at the very least, city officials should examine the assumptions that went into the CSL bottom line and ask if those assumptions are still valid. If more accurate assumptions show a shortfall in the construction budget or the operating bottom line, it's time now to figure out how to close the gap.

Urban Tulsa Weekly writer G. K. Hizer has had it with hyper-optimistic predictions of what the new arena will do for downtown Tulsa:

Ground breaking is finally scheduled for later this month, and the spin doctors have been working overtime to remind everyone what a great thing we’ve got coming. Details of our urban savior center are finally being released, and I’d have to say that I’m thoroughly under-impressed.

Hizer points out that the arena might get one conference basketball tournament a year. The rest of the year the arena will host minor league hockey, minor league basketball, and minor league arena football, none of which have been packing people in.

But we'll be getting all the big concerts, right?

Now, as a music fan, I at least wanted to believe the arena would attract some major acts to town. When the details finally came out, what did we get? End-stage seating for 14,000. Not that there are very many acts actually touring arenas these days, but you do realize that those that do are looking for 18,000 seat capacity and up, right?

When Tulsa's arena does start hosting concerts, we'll be competing with Oklahoma City's Ford Center for tour dates. Hizer says the Ford Center has only hosted 15 concerts so far this year, and only four over the summer.

Hizer isn't happy about the selection of a starchitect either:

Instead of an arena designed to complement the classic architecture of downtown Tulsa’s more valuable skyline pieces like the Mayo and Atlas buildings, we’ve got to have something bold – something artistic.

What we get is a sweeping piece of art that sticks out like a sore thumb. This arena would fit in better on the south side of town, to go with ORU’s Jetson’s-style “futuristic” look.

I have to agree with him, and at this point I have to eat a bit of crow. When the selection of Cesar Pelli was announced, I was pleased, because it was a break with the pattern of giving contracts to major donors to the "vote yes" campaign. Tulsa architect Gary Sparks was a $10,000 contributor, the highest-level of donor to be passed over for Vision 2025 work. His pay-in-hopes-of-play notwithstanding, based on his past efforts, I think Sparks would have produced a design more in keeping with Tulsa's architectural heritage.

I had hoped that starchitect Pelli would have been held in check by the some of the members of the oversight committee who understand New Urbanism and the importance of building in a pedestrian-friendly way. Did anyone tell Mr. Pelli, "We're sorry, sir, but that just isn't the sort of thing we were hoping for"? Did anyone ask him to make provision for retail space along the street frontage? Did anyone say we'd like the building to add to our downtown collection of art deco masterpieces? Perhaps the oversight committee was too awed by Pelli's starpower to dare suggest that he should subordinate his personal vision to the vision of Tulsa's citizens.

Back to G. K. Hizer: As a contrast to the grandiose plans that are supposed to turn our city around, he calls attention to the Living Arts of Tulsa Center, which is one of many groups working to make Tulsa a more interesting place. By itself, it may not have much of an impact, but entrepreneurs and small arts organizations can have a big cumulative impact.

He hints at the contrast articulated by Roberta Brandes Gratz in Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown: Project Planning vs. Urban Husbandry. Project Planning is popular with politicians. It's flashy, it's big, it's expensive, and a big project usually involves imitating something that seems successful in another city, without understanding the factors that made it successful there.

Urban Husbandry requires not so much money, but more patience and care, and there aren't as many ribbon-cutting opportunities. It involves identifying and nurturing small positive developments and slowly rebuilding the intricate connections between buildings and streets and people which create a vital, interesting urban place. You can read the intro to Gratz's book online, and you should, if you're interested in revitalizing downtown Tulsa.

(You can also read Gratz's speech to the Congress for New Urbanism, which is a kind of synopsis of her book, in PDF format.)

Arena naming rights survey


Found on a website called Revenues from Sports Venues, the naming rights for arenas and stadia around the country, what was paid for the rights, and the length of the agreement. (That's an Adobe Acrobat PDF file.)

The nearest comparable arenas are the Ford Center in Oklahoma City and Alltel Arena in Little Rock. Alltel bought its rights for $7 million for 15 years, while the Ford Center naming rights went for $8.1 million for 15 years. The best deal I could find for an arena without a major league team was the $14 million Qwest paid for 15 years' naming rights at Omaha's arena.

Counting the arena cost

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For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. -- Luke 14:28-30

The Whirled reported today that ground breaking for the arena will occur on August 31.

The budget for Tulsa's new downtown sports arena is $141 million. Land acquisition, which is now complete, cost $10.6 million, leaving $130 million for design, engineering, utility relocation, and construction. There's ample reason to believe that amount of money won't be enough, but exactly how much the arena will cost still isn't known. The arena's blueprints won't be ready until December, and only at that point will it be possible to say, with some degree of accuracy, what this thing will cost. And if the cost exceeds the Vision 2025 funds that have been allocated to the City of Tulsa for that purpose, where will the rest of the money come from? Shouldn't we have answers to these questions before we start construction?

Jim Hewgley III, the former street commissioner who oversaw the last expansion of the Tulsa Convention Center in the early '80s, has said that there are three things the city needs to have in hand before we proceed with construction: warranty deeds for all the land, blueprints, and a turnkey contract. That last item means we've got an agreement with the builder that says we'll pay you so much for a building that meets our specifications and is complete by a date certain -- we turn the key in the lock and it's ready for use.

The Mayor and others have said that any gap between $141 million and the actual cost of construction can be closed by selling naming rights and premium seating -- club seats and luxury boxes. But during the campaign to pass the sales tax to pay for the arena, we were told that premium seating revenues would go toward operation of the arena and possibly result in an operating surplus. According to the numbers in the feasibility study by CSL, if premium seating revenues are diverted away from operations and toward construction costs, the arena would have an annual operating deficit of $1.6 million, which would come straight out of our city budget for public safety and streets. Before we build this thing and start paying to keep it open, shouldn't we know where we'll get the money to cover the operating deficit?

In other arena news, Tulsa Front Page, a new weekly newspaper, has a couple of cover stories about the arena. (The stories aren't online.) One story features quotes from concert promoter Larry Shaeffer, who says the arena won't be enough to revitalize downtown on its own, but it will "probably help some people redevelop downtown." He goes on to say that it won't be enough to bring in a few big name acts a year; the arena management will "need to get things in there that nobody's thought of."

Another story has this gem from Mayor Bill LaFortune: "Cesar Pelli's masterpiece will serve as an irresistable attraction to our city.... People will come from all over to see this arena and its design." I'm hoping that's just garden-variety boosterism speaking, because an arena, even a starchitect-designed arena, won't be a compelling reason for anyone to visit our city.

The front page photo has this caption: "Cathy Boatright, along with her sons Davis and Bryant, examines a scale model of Cesar Pelli and Associates' design for the new downtown Tulsa arena. Boatright and her sons, who attend Metro Christian Academy, gave an enthusastic thumbs-up to the final design." Their approval shouldn't be too surprising -- Cathy is the wife of Bart Boatright, the project director for the arena.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Vision 2025 category from August 2005.

Tulsa Vision 2025: July 2005 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Vision 2025: September 2005 is the next archive.

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



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