Terrorist attacks, millions of dollars in debt and risky real estate ventures were among the issues under consideration last week as City Councilors contemplated consolidation of city offices into the One Technology Center in preparation to cast their votes on the proposal.
"I'm concerned about security risks for assembling all city employees in a central location if there's a terrorist attack," said Councilor Rick Westcott as Economic Development Director Don Himelfarb made one final pitch last week for the deal.
"It's a sad fact, but we wouldn't even be having this conversation 10 or 20 years ago," answered Himelfarb.
While he acknowledged the potential security risks in putting all of the city's eggs in one basket, he said the current arrangement at 200 Civic Center is a much more vulnerable target.
"Someone could drive an explosive-filled van under this building and there would be no way to stop them," warned Himelfarb.
He said he and other city officials have consulted with BOk security personnel about those considerations, and "We've asked the right questions and looked at the right issues" and "We think we've found the right balance between citizen access and security," he assured.
The One Technology Center is "not perfect" from a security standpoint, but is much safer than the existing City Hall, he said.
"We've taken every precaution," Himelfarb explained, which includes a building that doesn't have underground parking, and stanchions blocking the loading bay, which he said is the only point of access for an attack on OTC via explosive-filled motor vehicle.
After lengthy deliberations, the Council voted 8-1 to turn the big glass cube on the northwest corner of 2nd and Cincinnati into the new City Hall.
The plan, now that the Council has approved the purchase, is to consolidate 14 departments, eight data centers and about 1,000 employees into the building in the interest of getting the best use of space and city resources, as well as creating a single location for Tulsans to utilize city services.
The discussion about safety further prompted Councilor Roscoe Turner to ask about insurance costs, and if Himelfarb and Mayor Kathy Taylor had developed a business continuity plan in the event that a terrorist attack took out the existing center of city government.
"Most businesses have a continuity plan, and that issue needs to be taken up whether you move into this building or not--that's a concern that goes way beyond this transaction," answered Himelfarb. "We should already have a plan on the shelf."
Kim MacLeod, the Mayor's spokesperson, told UTW that, ever since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the city has had a contingency plan in place should a similar calamity befall Tulsa.
As for insurance, Mike Kier, the city's finance director, said the One Technology Center would be added to the city's existing property damage policy, but said any cost differences associated with that change weren't factored into the financial model presented to councilors.
While security concerns were of interest to the councilors, the potential financial risks seemed to far eclipse them.
"Is this a blank check for $76 million, and is this the last the Council sees of it?" asked Councilor Cason Carter.
The resolution they approved will incur up to $76 million in debt for the purchase of OTC and related costs.
"What if the Council wants to make a revision to an amount or line-item changes?" Carter also asked.
"I don't have a problem reporting back to you on a regular basis with whatever accountability you want," answered Himelfarb.
Even with Himelfarb's assurances, though, Carter, expressed reservations about the Council approving a lump sum of such an amount without itemized figures for all of the individual costs associated with the purchase and move.
"It isn't right for one entity (the City) to bear all the risk while another (the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority) controls the resources," he said.
Carter qualified that he wasn't suggesting that the expenditures weren't justified or that the TPFA couldn't be trusted, but that the Council has a responsibility to make sure "the risk matches the accountability."
Westcott said he has "truly, honestly laid awake and lost sleep" contemplating those risks, since repayment of the bond debt will depend on rental income from the city's tenants at OTC.
Himelfarb, though, assured that the risk is "fairly minimal," based on current market conditions and the tenants currently occupying OTC.
Fairly minimal or not, the councilors amended the resolution, though, to include a choice of two conditions that must be met before the transaction is completed on Sept. 10.
The first is a master lease for 10 years in which a third party would be responsible for finding tenants to lease space not occupied by the city. If tenants can't be found, for some reason, that third party would eat the risk rather than the city.
However, one of Himelfarb and the Mayor's selling points for the move to OTC was that leasing the extra space would provide another stream of revenue to fill city coffers. Under the master lease agreement, though, the third party would reap the profits from those leases rather than the city.
The second condition is that, if the master lease isn't hammered out by the Sept. 10 closing date, the city will create a reserve fund with at least $12 million in capital assets with the city properties emptied out by the move.
Carter said the amendments "take away the real risk in the transaction."
Councilor John Eagleton was the lone naysayer who cast the only vote against the purchase.
So, he was asked--Why are you being such a party-pooper, Councilor?
"Because it was the right thing to do," Eagleton told UTW.
"If the Borg-cube was such a good buy, why was it on the market for so long? Why isn't there a corporate headquarters there?" he added.
For readers who don't follow Star Trek, the "Borg-cube" is the enormous, cube-shaped starship that is home to a race of malevolent cyborgs, against whom "resistance is futile" as they travel the universe, conquering and assimilating other species under their collective hive-mind.
Apparently, the Mayor's push for, and the eight other councilors' assent to, purchase of the One Technology Center bears a certain resemblance to the fictional race of villains for Eagleton.
"I feel like Captain America," he said. "I stood up for what I believed in, even though I was the only one and everyone else thought I was wrong."
And what Eagleton believes is that the city shouldn't be in the business of leasing real estate.
If the two conditions came with an "and" between them instead of an "or," though, he said he'd be satisfied that they alleviate the risk, but since the master lease is optional and the reserve fund only holds buildings in trust that the city already owns, the same level of risk remains, he said.
"If this works out--and I'm going to do everything I can do to make this work--a bunch of politicians can pat themselves on the back; but if the wheels come off this thing, it's the taxpayers that are going to eat it," Eagleton said.
He added, though, that "it's not a completely cloudy day" because, despite the risks, "there will be some nice things happening from this," such as the economic development most commentators expect the move to spark by tightening up the downtown real estate market and providing vacated city properties to be bought and developed by private interests.
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