"Great societies are built when old men plant vineyards for generations they'll never see," said Tulsa City Councilor John Eagleton recently, loosely quoting a philosopher whose name he couldn't quite place as he explained a proposal he intends to bring before his fellow councilors soon.
The "great society" in this case is Tulsa, and the "vineyard" is a pot of money set specifically aside to fund future maintenance of the soon-to-be-complete BOK Arena, as well as starter costs for a new arena, should this one go the way of the Civic Center.
"In the late '60s, the taxpayers of the City of Tulsa gifted to the City of Tulsa the Civic Center, and for the next 40 years, we had the circus, car shows, wrestling and other events," Eagleton recalled.
"But every year, it got a little more dank, a little more run-down," he continued.
Then, when the idea was pitched for a new, Vision 2025-funded arena "we basically knocked on the tax-payers' door, saying 'We need some money,'" Eagleton continued.
"That would have been needless if there had been a Civic Center trust," he added.
To prevent history from repeating itself, the councilor said he plans to propose a small portion of BOK Arena receipts be diverted into a trust to gather compound interest for 15 years.
Under his proposal, that money would go into an Al Gore-style "lock box," only accessible by a vote of the people, or until that 15 years has passed, giving the fund enough time to "grow into something large enough to make a difference."
After that growth period, a small portion--4.5 percent, if the plan plays out according to Eagleton's blueprint--would go toward regular maintenance.
Or, eventually, the whole wad of cash could be used to get a new arena started.
"When the new is worn off the BOK Arena, we'll have a pool of money for a new one," said Eagleton. "It won't be enough to rebuild, but it would be enough for a tidy down payment."
While the regular yearly operating budget of the arena would already include maintenance, the councilor said it isn't for the kind of maintenance the facility will need in 15 years.
"The regular operating budget will go toward washing windows and mopping the floor, but not toward structural maintenance. I think the City of Tulsa will neglect anything it can neglect for the sake of ongoing operations," he explained.
Hence his push to get a funding mechanism in place.
Eagleton said he's pitched the idea to his fellow councilors and other city leaders in preparation for a vote sometime in January.
"Conceptually, it's universally received with praise, but the devil's in the details," he said of their response.
That "devil," he said, will come in the form of questions about what percentage of receipts to divert to the trust, and other minutiae.
Eagleton thinks one percent would be a reasonable amount, but expects other councilors to have their own ideas.
Also, he acknowledges that there are valid arguments against the plan.
Since the new arena and the Civic Center are expected to operate at an annual loss of around $3 million-ish, Eagleton knows his "BOK Lock-Box" idea will be a tough sell, since siphoning off a even a small amount will either slightly drive up ticket costs for events, or cut into other city expenses.
"I have to respect that opinion, because it would drive up costs, or be an annualized effect on the city government," he said.
While Eagleton's perception is that the idea is popular in theory, he expects some resistance when his colleagues start scrutinizing it in practical terms.
"When they look at this and think 'the cost of this will equal one mile of new road in my district,' the concept might not be so universally received," he predicted.
Also, while most think it's a good idea, in the councilor's experience, he said it wouldn't be the centerpiece of anyone's political resume.
"It's a long-term payoff, but most politics go for short-term wins," said Eagleton.
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