Reader suggests looking to future by accessing the past
Islands as tourist attractions? Well, it has been done. I didn't, however, read anything about palm trees, sandy beaches, sparkling blue salt water to the horizon, or native girls scantily clad in grass and adorning visitors with leis. All I heard about was apartments full of yuppies with more money than brains who will be afraid to open their windows because the Arkansas smells more than ever like West Kansas feed lots.
Sounds like someone is testing Barnum's theory to me. Disguise developer warfare as a tourist attraction, and what do you get? Not tourists.
Why doesn't anyone suggest something that builds on the strengths we have? Doesn't this make more sense than starting from scratch? I have dealt with a lot of business travelers to Tulsa, and I have discussed our attractions with them enough to know what interests them (and who better to being back for vacation, or to spread word-of-mouth advertising).
First and foremost on the list is the Gilcrease Museum. Business travelers don't see it because it closes at five. They want to, but unless they have a weekend in town (which is rare) they don't get the chance. Art lovers know it and respect it, but don't make special trips to see it because the museum only has room to show about a sixth of the collection at a time.
Why book a week in Tulsa if Gilcrease can only show you two or three hours' worth of exhibits? Art and American history lovers may not be big markets, but have we really got so much tourism that we can turn our noses up at them? For the price of one artificial island, we could quadruple its exhibit space and keep it open 'till eight for about a year.
Indian heritage is potentially big. Do we work with Tahlequah and the Tsa La Gi heritage center? Do we work with tribal nations to our mutual benefit? Also of great potential is our oil boo heritage. Anyone of intelligence who pays attention to how the U.S. became the way it is today knows oil had a big role. The Cushing strike and the fabulous Glen Pool are literally the reason America is all suburbs today. They changed the face of the nation, just as our native vultures did.
We hold many keys to how America became America.
The most tangible local remnant of the oil boom is our architecture. It is all we seem to be able to do to keep developers from tearing down the Art Deco. Other, related styles get no respect at all.
The Maple Ridge neighborhood and other similar areas lose history and class all the time to soulless developers, often from Dallas or other such places we really don't want to resemble. By the time our only defense, the neighborhood associations, can react, it is usually too late to save the old oil mansion; all they can do is keep the developer from making anything on the deal by preventing him from replacing it with condos. Locals with more money than taste are nearly as bad.
These neighborhoods delight visitors. I have seen the reactions. Older downtown buildings that aren't Art Deco also appeal-even the old Tulsa Apartments (at least from a distance) did the job. Art Deco didn't ignite in a vacuum, and surrounding it with a combination of modern glass boxes and flat asphalt parking lots doesn't improve the style one bit. I think it look s best in its natural habitat-among buildings that are similar but less inspires. When I was a kid, our downtown was a jewel.
So, if we have this western, native, and Art Deco foundation on which to build, how and what do we build on it? How do we "hook" the many people who would be (and are) interested in these fascinating things? With islands? Modern convention centers that merely keep us up with the Joneses? Soccer stadiums? Of course not.
My best notion on the subject would be steam commuter trains. Using steam in commuter service would get us on the national news in a positive light in a way that yet another steam excursion run to nowhere would not. It would be useful to all residents of Greater Tulsa by relieving what little traffic congestion we have (are we allowed to address a problem before it gets bad?)in a very appealing way. It fits in with our existing strengths so well, even greedy developers might see the value of preservation.
Being mass transit, we should be able to get federal assistance in setting it up. And, if we run one of the trains as an excursion to Oklahoma City once a week (so they can benefit too), we might even get a little state support as well. Wouldn't it be neat if we and Oklahoma City worked together for our mutual benefit? "We have these attractions, they have these other attractions, and you can book a week in each city and ride a steam train between." Why isn't this worth a try? What is wrong with this attitude?
Perfect? No. Easy? No. Guaranteed to work? Ha! But it does play to out strengths. Perhaps its main advantage is that it has never been tried. Everyone and his dog has a new convention center. Everyone and his dog has everything we have--except our interesting heritage. The only way to stand out in this world is to think outside the box. So long as we're just another medium-sized city doing what every other medium-sized city does, we will never get more than a little sliver of the pie--and it won't cure our sweet tooth.
If we try to start from scratch, we'll break the bank just laying a foundation. If we build on the foundation laid by our grandfathers back when Tulsa was a very interesting place, we might just excel. We have excelled in the past, and I don't see why we couldn't do it again!
Provided, of course, we have some funds left over from our developer welfare projects. As for you developers out there--chill out. Maybe we can still get you some welfare in the future--but on the tourists' backs instead of ours!
Like Art, Parties and Writer
Thanks for another insightful article on Tulsa and its potential problems, "Get Some Culture on You," (August 17-23.)
Yeah, Tulsans can be a little lame when it comes to supporting the arts these days. We all want art to flourish, but we also want something for our money.
There have been a number of art functions recently that have been mildly disappointing to a down-right rip off. There needs to be a certain standard met for those who put on these events. It only takes a couple of sorry shows to turn people off to others, even if the next show is good.
You can almost always count on a couple of pitchers with friends for a good time -- not so with many art exhibits. It's up to all involved to make things happen here. Put up a worthwhile exhibit, part with a few bucks and show some support. If we don't, we'll have no scene at all here, and we know what a drag that is.
So let's keep with what's happening and show up! There'll always be another party, but Tulsa without art (and artists) is too scary to think about. Thank you, Ms. Pierson.
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