Urban Tulsa Weekly: February 2008 Archives

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, a preview of Tuesday's Tulsa City Council primary election and a look down the turnpike at Oklahoma City's vote on "MAPS for Millionaires" -- the 15-month, one-cent sales tax to upgrade the five-year-old Ford Center for an NBA team. There's also a brief tribute to the late, longtime District 2 City Councilor Darla Hall, and a plug for Saturday night's Bob Wills' Birthday celebration at Cain's Ballroom.

On the MAPSforMillionaires.org website, there's a scan of a "vote yes" mailer featuring a photo and a quote from former Mayor Kirk Humphreys. He's using religion to sell this NBA tax:

This vote on March 4th is about so much more than one building or one basketball team. It's about doing the right thing for our city -- creating the environment where we can grow together as families. But it's also about having a facility where we can come together as a community, for events like Women of Faith, Promise Keepers and others, and reach people in profound ways to promote our values as a city.

Of course, there's already a facility capable of hosting Women of Faith, Promise Keepers, and even Billy Graham -- the Ford Center. Those events have already been hosted there. It's hard to understand how new locker rooms, NBA team offices, and a separate NBA practice facility miles away will make the arena more conducive to mass Christian conferences and rallies. Shame on Kirk Humphreys.

While Oklahoma City prepares to dole out more corporate welfare, a Tulsa area legislator is trying to curb the practice. UTW's Brian Ervin reports that State Sen. Mike Mazzei, a Republican, wants to sunset the large number of special tax credits which are targeted to favored businesses. The bill, SB 2024, would ensure that the tax credits are scrutinized on a regular basis. Mazzei says combined they amount to $1 billion a year in lost revenue. The state's total budget is only $7 billion. Mazzei notes that all these tax incentives for economic development haven't amounted to much in the way of good jobs for Oklahomans.

The story also reports an example of unintended consequences in tax credits:

Investors managed to discover some loopholes in two tax credit programs, enabling them to fleece the state of Oklahoma for as much as $66 million in 2005, according to estimates by the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

State officials noticed a steep and sudden increase in requests for certain tax credits that year, prompting lawmakers to look into the matter to discover what Gov. Brad Henry later called "an accounting shell game."

The tax credits in question were designed to encourage investment in Oklahoma, but crafty investors discovered they could make instant profits of 100 to 500 percent by claiming the tax credits on borrowed money.

State Treasurer Scott Meacham outlined a scenario to illustrate the problem: investors could put up $10 million of their own money for a project, and then borrow another $115 million. They could then apply for a 30 percent tax credit (if the project is in a rural area, while urban projects' have a 20 percent tax credit) for the $125 million and get $37.5 million from the state: which is a 375 percent profit at taxpayers' expense.

It is and was illegal to use borrowed money to fund business ventures, but the investors were able to get around that law by creating layers of limited liability companies with the same board of directors, so no actual laws were broken, so no one was prosecuted.

Thank you, Sen. Mike Mazzei. Expect to see him take some arrows from those who have been on the corporate welfare dole from years.

My column in this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly is about two aspects of city planning: the planning failure that resulted in a jail and homeless services being located right between revitalizing older neighborhoods and an arts and entertainment district, and the need for a land-use planning tool like neighborhood conservation districts to permit infill while protecting the character of our older neighborhoods. You can read more about the idea on the Preserve Midtown website.

In my column, I mention the notion of using lawsuits instead of zoning to regulate land use. This idea was proposed in "Beyond Zoning: Land Use Controls in the Digital Economy," a 1998 paper by John A. Charles, Environmental Policy Director for Cascade Policy Institute. It sounds appealing in theory, but I think it would be a practical disaster, as I point out in the column.

Also in this week's UTW, Kent Morlan, who both resides and owns a business downtown, points out the waste in the way downtown streets have been rebuilt. I like the idea of reopening closed streets and turning one-way streets into two-way streets, but the massive use of concrete pavers and other streetscaping has overcomplicated what should have been a simple idea.

My column in this issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly is about the news that the Tulsa 66ers will be moving to Bixby and what that means for the prospects of luring the Tulsa Drillers to downtown Tulsa. The same factors that make Bixby, Regal Plaza, and the SpiritBank event center attractive to minor-league basketball will be present in Jenks's River District development. Global Development's East End project, with surrounding mixed-use development, would have come closer to the situation the 66ers will enjoy in Bixby (minus the demographic advantages). Can an isolated ballpark in downtown present as appealing a situation to Drillers owner Chuck Lamson as a Jenks stadium surrounded by restaurants and nightclubs? Can Tulsa offer a better downtown location? Is a Tulsa Landing, with a ballpark on the river, still an option? And how do we keep family entertainment in central Tulsa if we can't keep families here? Reader Joe Gaudet posted this comment on the article:

You hit the nail on the head. When me and my wife moved here in 2000 with our two (then) small children we were intent on living in town. We interviewed school principals and studied real estate for six months plus. Our desire was to enroll the kids in Monte Cassino and try to live close by because we wanted our kids to be able to walk or bike to school in safety. The beginning of the school year forced us to make a decision and we selected a home in South Tulsa because there was much more house to be had for the money plus the Jenks school district had a great reputation. Our kids are teens now. One is in college and the other graduates High School in two years. My wife and I are planning to move in town then, that is providing we can find affordable housing to downsize to and public safety still remains an issue for us, especially as we get older. We do not carry concealed weapons and do not choose to. We do enjoy walking to entertainment and right now Brookside or Cherry St. looks to be the best option, except as Bixby and Jenks evolve the idea of a condo nearby starts to become an alternative. I am only citing my personal example but I am sure there are others like myself that would live in town if the key items were not repetitive issues: A) Public Safety B) Affordable Housing and C) Quality K-12 ed. Swanky loft living is attractive for young singles but if the goal is to get residential to support downtown retail and entertainment one must consider the needs of young families.

Also in this week's issue, a column by Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller about what might be done with Drillers Stadium when the Drillers move away. After speculating on the use of the ballpark as an outdoor music venue and a soccer stadium, she concludes with this surprising idea:

If there are no feasible ideas for retaining the stadium as a sports/music venue and the stadium has to come down, we could look to the private sector to develop a state-of-the-art family entertainment facility. Along those lines, perhaps there will come a time when the Fair Meadows Race Track is not the best usage of all the real estate currently used for the track, given that there are less than 30 live racing days a year and the rest of the time the property sits largely unused. If a good portion of the Expo Square real estate from 15th Street to 21st Street along Yale was cleared and opened for private development, it could create the perfect economic development climate to compliment the already great improvements happening at Expo Square.

Sounds like she thinks Fair Meadows is already a waste of space. Beyond that, anyone struck by the irony that the commissioner who led the charge to demolish Bell's Amusement Park thinks an amusement park at the fairgrounds would be a good idea? And who do you suppose would build a such a facility between 15th & 21st on Yale? Could it be the people who already lease the southern end of that strip for Big Splash?

Pave review

| | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (0)

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I review Councilor Bill Martinson's proposal for funding $1.6 billion in street repair, rehabilitation, and reconstruction, and show how it dovetails with former Streets Commissioner Jim Hewgley's proposal for funding an aggressive street repaving program.

Also, UTW has several new, young columnists: Arts writer Nathaniel McKnight made his debut last week. Josh Kline joins G. K. Hizer on the music beat. And Isaac Farley, from Chattanooga by way of Belize, is new to Tulsa and is out to help us see our own city through a newcomer's eyes. Welcome aboard to all three.

In last week's Urban Tulsa Weekly column, I wrote about how school choice could be used, as it has been in Milwaukee, to attract and retain families with children in the older parts of Tulsa, specifically the area served by Tulsa Public Schools. (I also posted a blog entry earlier in the week about charter schools having the same impact in Cleveland.) I didn't specifically address the Tulsa school board election, except to say this:

The candidate who can credibly promise to support new and expanded charter schools, to oppose the district's suit against the charter school law, and to work against nonsense like the Tulsa Model for School Improvement will have my vote.

In this week's issue of UTW, I go into specifics about the two candidates for TPS Board District 5, the race between Radious Guess and Brian Hunt:

From their websites and their responses to various questionnaires, neither one appears to be driven to fix what's broken with TPS. Do they see the shortcomings of the system's curriculum and teaching methods? If they do, they aren't saying.

Do Guess and Hunt disagree with the school board's misguided effort to get the charter school law declared unconstitutional? They aren't saying anything about that either.

Since I wrote that, Hunt has made some public statements, at a forum and on his website, regarding charter schools and the TPS lawsuit to kill the law. Here is a statement from Hunt's Q&A page:

What is your position on Charter Schools?

From across the country charter schools have had mixed results but have provided some innovative ideas. TPS already sponsors three charter schools and I believe there is a valid place within the public school system for them, recognizing their role as a laboratory for new ideas that can be shared with all schools regarding what works and what does not. I have toured 2 charter schools because I wanted to see them first hand and the people I met with indicated that in the 2 years they had been at each of their schools no one from the board or service center had ever visited or inquired about lessons learned and or best practices in their deregulated environment.

I do not know all the specifics or motivations of why TPS decided to pursue a lawsuit, but as a business person I believe it is not the most productive use of resources to challenge a law that is being implemented by other Oklahoma school districts, like Oklahoma City.

If Ms. Guess has something further to say on the topic of charter schools and wishes to e-mail or phone me, I'll add that information to this entry.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Urban Tulsa Weekly category from February 2008.

Urban Tulsa Weekly: January 2008 is the previous archive.

Urban Tulsa Weekly: March 2008 is the next archive.

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



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]