This fall Tulsa County residents will be asked if they are ready and willing to turn the banks of the Arkansas River from Sand Springs to Bixby into a vibrant place for new businesses and recreational facilities. Most everyone agrees that it's time to decide. No more waiting or delaying. No more excuses or putting off making this decision. It's time to either forget it or embrace a River Renaissance.
For the past four years a massive effort by citizens, public officials, experts and a broad range of specialists have worked on a river plan to present to the citizens of Tulsa County. This was the promise made following the Vision 2025 vote. The promise has been fulfilled. Now it's time for the citizens to decide.
No effort of this magnitude will be without its critics and skeptics. Yet they will offer nothing new that has not been fully researched and studied during this planning process.
What the citizens of Tulsa County will have before them will be the best possible package which blends the fairest way to finance the projects and tries to meet the needs and desires of the varied communities making up Tulsa County.
This is a tall order. We have a finite amount of land available for development. And the goal has been to meld the desires of many to develop parcels along the river for development that would create jobs and produce income for both residents and government with other citizens desires for recreational areas and incorporate the desires of Tulsa's philanthropic contributors for parks.
In response to public input, the plan will have four components:
1. The first step is to put water in the river. This would be accomplished by constructing a series of low water dams from Sand Springs to Jenks (similar to the dam currently at Zink). Effectively this would create a string of lakes fed by the river.
2. Redevelopment of the west bank near Festival Park and acquisition of land to create a parcel sizable enough for commercial development.
3. The east and west banks of the river would be bridged with pedestrian crossings, and connectors from downtown to the river would be constructed.
4. Multiple community gathering areas would be developed from 19th street to Turkey Mountain.
Preliminary acquisition and construction costs are estimated at $415 million. Preliminary private investment for commercial development will be more than $400 million.
This breaks down to a public investment for parts 1, 2 and 3 of approximately $277 million. Charitable contributions by philanthropic Tulsa citizens lead by George Kaiser will exceed $100 million for Part 4 of the plan.
In addition to the private charitable contributions is the great potential of more than $400 million of commercial investment on the land acquired.
For every one dollar that citizens of Tulsa County pay there will be two dollars of charitable and private investment dollars.
No plan of this magnitude can be financed by one single means. The plan covers developing up to 42 miles of river front. You can't use just sales tax, property tax, federal dollars, charitable dollars or financing tools like tax increment financing (TIFs). None of these methods used alone could or should be relied upon.
Using just property taxes would raise taxes too much on too few; TIF's are good for segments of the project but are not comprehensive enough; federal dollars will help but only for certain pieces.
Funding of the plan with the smallest sales tax possible for the shortest period of time appears to be the best option for some of the bigger projects.
The sales tax option has several advantages. It is spread out over a large population and will even pull in out of County funds from visitors who shop in Tulsa County.
Being proposed is 4/10 of one cent, which amounts to about $100 per year per family for seven years. That's less than $10 a month per family--not much more than two Happy Meals a month.
Organizers believed before the river initiative was put to a vote it was imperative to know how the people felt about various options and what their beliefs and attitudes were about river development as well as several other issues.
The last week of June an extensive three-day poll of hundreds of Tulsa County residents was conducted by a nationally recognized polling company.
For river development the preliminary results are encouraging: 68% favor river development; 60% believe Vision 2025 is a good thing for Tulsa County; 53% believe Tulsa County government is on the right track; 38% believe developing the river for economic development and expansion is their primary reasons for supporting river improvements. Support for river development cuts across age, income, political parties, and gender barriers. There was strong support in each of these groups for Tulsa County to move forward with river development.
As the 2007 celebration of Tulsa's past 100 years draws to a close, we are about to be presented with an opportunity that could very likely be the turning point for Tulsa's next 100 years. The opportunity to create a Renaissance rarely comes along. Carpe Diem!
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