"I am 80 percent certain that a new baseball stadium will be built in downtown Tulsa."
So said Jim Norton, president of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited, who discussed the possibility of a Tulsa Drillers move at a Tulsa Press Club luncheon on Tuesday, August 14, as part of a wide-ranging 35-minute talk about projects underway downtown, followed by a seven-minute question and answer period.
"There are at least two and maybe three sites that we have identified, working very closely with Mr. (Don) Himelfarb and the city economic development department for a potential baseball park," he said.
Norton said he has communicated to Drillers owner Chuck Lamson that the site ought to be the one that works best for the team, but he acknowledged that public subsidy of the development of a new stadium would give city government a say in its location.
Norton declined to list the ballpark locations under consideration. Global Development Partners had proposed a minor-league ballpark with home plate near 6th & Frankfort as part of its proposed East End development, but that property is now targeted by Seayco as the location of a Wal-Mart Supercenter.
In the recent past, two other downtown parcels have been mentioned as stadium sites, both owned by the Tulsa Development Authority: One site, between the Brady Arts District and the remaining buildings of Deep Greenwood, is east of Elgin between Archer and I-244. The other is the site of the Hartford Building, soon to be vacated in the move of City of Tulsa offices to One Technology Center.
After noting that he is not the same Jim Norton who owns a car dealership, he launched into with his standard presentation to civic groups, four reasons why downtown is important: (1) it provides a sense of place that can't be found at 71st and Memorial; (2) it's the "center of a lot of stuff"--higher education, local, state, and federal government, many of the city's largest churches, and the largest concentration of office space; (3) its streets, sidewalks, highways, and other amenities represent an enormous public investment; and (4) it is an important part of the property tax base, particularly important to the operation of our schools.
Norton then gave an overview of development and construction downtown, leading off with the BOk Center. He predicted that that people would come to Tulsa "just to look at the building" because it was designed by famed architect Cesar Pelli.
Reflecting on the lack of private development in connection with the new arena, he pointed out that it took many years after Oklahoma City approved the MAPS sales tax before Bricktown began to take off.
It may be, he said, "eight or 10 years [from the 2003 Vision 2025 election], a couple of years after the BOk Center opens, before we start to see the kind of development we all want."
"Restaurateurs, hoteliers, people that develop retail and office and housing, they're not going to invest their money on the chance that you're going to build something. They want to see that puppy up and running and things going on inside it before they commit their dollars," said Norton.
Norton said, "We are working with some hotels that are willing to make up-front investments," but the mom-and-pop businesses that make a city vibrant "don't have the deep pockets to make an investment in a building or a lease until that foot traffic is in front of that space."
Which is contrary to what has been going on in the Brady District, however, and to some extent, the Blue Dome District as individual entrepreneurs continue to liven up this part of downtown through their own ingenuity.
He told the audience to keep in mind that the BOk Center is not just for sports, but will also host ice shows, circuses, conventions, and concerts. He expressed confidence that having SMG manage both the Ford Center in Oklahoma City and the BOk Center in Tulsa would bring more and better events to the city, and that the new arena would have a "major impact" on downtown.
The renovation and expansion of the Convention Center would be the most significant impact of Vision 2025, according to Norton. Additional meeting space and a new ballroom would qualify Tulsa to "bid on four to five times more conventions than we can bid on now."
Regarding another downtown Vision 2025 project, the Centennial Walk, Norton revealed that the text for the historical markers planned for the path would be written by Tulsa author Michael Wallis.
"They're not going to be dull and boring. They're going to be kind of whimsical," he said.
The new Centennial Green (south of 6th Street between Main and Boston) will be the starting point of the walk, which will encompass the office core and the Blue Dome district, with branches to the Brady Arts District, TCC, and Cathedral Square. DTU is exploring how to provide a way for a visitor to download a narrative walking tour to an MP3 player.
Norton stressed the importance of housing to the vitality of downtown. Loft developments on 1st Street, in the Mayo Building (underway in the next 90 days), and in the Mayo Hotel, subsidized by Vision 2025 funds, should be ready for occupancy next year. Norton said DTU is encouraging owners of historic buildings to consider residential use.
Plans for the Mayo Hotel also include a boutique hotel on the middle floors. John Gaberino plans to convert his storefront coffee roasting facility into a full-fledged coffeeshop.
In response to a question, Norton said he was unaware of what subsidies may be offered for construction of the Wal-Mart Supercenter on the site now occupied by Nordam.
"Don Himelfarb is completely in charge of that deal," Norton said. He had seen a couple of different site plans--one eight months ago, one two months ago, he said.
Norton apologized for the state of the streets downtown, with roughly 50 blocks in some state of construction. The streets and sidewalks are being completely rebuilt, including the replacement of old utility lines. Conduit capacity is being tripled in hopes of avoiding excavation of the streets once they've been completed.
"By replacing these lines now they'll last us another 60 or 70 years," he said.
Regarding last fall's CORE recommendations for downtown historic preservation, Norton said that it was "not true" that DTU opposed them.
"We favor most of them," and particularly support a downtown historic survey, as long as it includes "functional obsolescence as part of the analysis. He would "probably have an objection" to the proposed demolition review committee, but he believes there is a place for compromise.
Much of the information presented in Norton's talk is available in DTU's "In the Loop: An Insider's Guide to Development within the IDL," available for download at DTU's website, tulsadowntown.org.
The 30-page quarterly report provides a brief description and a photo for each of 45 private and public construction and renovation projects, some underway, some long-completed.
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