If things go as hyped, the Tulsa Drillers will not only remain the "Tulsa Drillers," but also be more accurately described as the "downtown Tulsa Drillers."
Mayor Kathy Taylor and Drillers owner Chuck Lamson announced last week that they've entered into an exclusive four-month agreement to negotiate to build a stadium for the baseball team in downtown Tulsa, and that less than pop-fly's distance from the Urban Tulsa Weekly mothership on the corner of 7th St. and Kenosha Ave.
The hypothetical stadium would be constructed on the parcel of land between 4th and 6th streets, east of Elgin Ave.
The announcement came after the big "Jenks Drillers" scare of recent months in which Lamson signed a letter of intent to build a new stadium as an anchor for a mixed-use development on the west bank of the Arkansas River in Jenks, which was followed by the Jenks City Council's creation of a tax-increment financing district for the project.
Prior to that, Lamson had been at the table with Taylor and her people to possibly set up in Tulsa on the west bank near the 21st St. bridge.
A downtown location was also on the table.
That discussion followed a downtown land-grab war between the forces of Wal-Mart and the Washington, D.C.-based Global Development.
In the summer of 2006, Global had announced plans to build a massive mixed-use development in the East End of downtown, anchored around a Drillers baseball stadium.
To make a long and tragic tale very short, Global lost the land-grab war to Wal-Mart and now only owns and controls 2.5 acres of the 20 acres they previously controlled for the project.
Near the end of last year, though, after Wal-Mart's conquest had already doomed Global's plans to try to revitalize downtown, they essentially said, "Eh... Never mind. We're not that interested after all." The retail behemoth announced that the region already has enough Wal-Marts, and they're not building any more.
But, the idea for a downtown Drillers stadium as an anchor for downtown revitalization goes back even farther than August 2006.
Not to toot our own horn, but... well, Ok--we'll toot our own horn.
Longtime UTW readers might remember a cover story from about 10 years ago in our paper in which UTW founder/editor/publisher Keith Skrzypczak (known here at the mothership as "Papa Bear") first pitched the idea for a Drillers stadium to be located downtown.
Before anyone gets too excited (but, by all means--at least get a little excited), it bears pointing out that nothing is really happening as of yet.
Last week's announcement was not "The Drillers and the City of Tulsa are building a stadium downtown," but, "For the next four months, we're going to talk about building a stadium downtown."
It doesn't mean that anything is necessarily happening or going to happen. It just means that, if something happens in the next four months, it will only happen between the Drillers and Tulsa.
But, everyone is hopeful that something will happen (with the exception of Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland, of course, but more on that later).
Swinging for the Fences
Lamson and Taylor signed an agreement that he wouldn't negotiate with any other party for a potential stadium location until after May 30, which is the target date for a more definitive agreement.
"The City of Tulsa wanted to know they had a commitment from us to be engaged in the process," Lamson told UTW about last week's contract.
Right now, though, the project is at only at the very earliest of stages.
There are no design plans for the stadium on the drawing board. It's also unclear if they even have a drawing board.
Also, options are wide-open for how they're going to pay for it.
The Mayor said the stadium won't cost a penny more than $70 million.
Mitch Adwon of Adwon Properties, Global Development's local affiliate, pointed out that her figure is twice the estimated cost of the stadium they had planned, but is "not too dissimilar from what we proposed."
Lamson, though, said the $70 million includes $10 million for land acquisition and another $10 million for infrastructure development, with only $50 million for the actual stadium.
"Global Development's proposal was two years ago, and there's been inflation and increases in construction costs since then," he said.
Lamson also said the $70 million figure was agreed upon "mainly as a place-holder."
Even Adwon is stoked for the potential development, even though Global's grand plans for it were thwarted by the Walton Empire.
"We're excited about the prospect of a baseball stadium downtown," he said.
He said the opportunity afforded by a potential stadium provides at least some opportunity of some mixed-use development on the part of Global Development, albeit "not on as grand a scale" as planned, but at least giving them a chance to get some return on the $3 million they've already invested in the project.
"That's a possibility we'd very much like to entertain," said Adwon.
But, that's if Lamson and the City finalize plans, and manage to come up with the $70 million-ish.
Considering all that's come before, are four months enough time to finalize a deal like that?
"We believe and hope so," Lamson answered.
"I prefer to think positively. We'll have a plan in place to secure a facility for the 2011 season," he added.
The Mayor of Jenks is pinning his hopes on a different outcome, though.
Vreeland didn't return UTW's calls, apparently smarting from the rough week he had. Just a few days previous, the State Supreme Court put the kibosh on what looked like, even to us, as an illegal plan get private developers to build him a little bridge across the Arkansas and into south Tulsa (see City "No-Brainer on Bridge, Page ).
He did talk to the local daily paper, though, and essentially said Tulsa shouldn't count its chickens before they're hatched.
"It looks to me like they're still trying to figure out how they're going to pay for it. It sounds to me like we need to wait for the end of May," he told a Tulsa World reporter.
That reporter didn't say whether or not Vreeland was sitting in a poorly-lit room, stroking a cat while he made his pronouncement.
But we did notice Vreeland was very gracious to Mr. Lamson when he bumped into him at a big time Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce luncheon last week.
He might be disappointed after May, though, because Lamson sounds pretty committed.
He told UTW that he'll be perfectly willing to stay at the table with the Mayor past the May 30 target date if progress is being made toward a final deal.
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