According to many, Mayor Kathy Taylor hit a home run with plans for a downtown baseball stadium to be home for the Tulsa Drillers.
She disclosed last week that, rather than building in downtown's East End as previously discussed, or along the river at existing city property at 23rd and Jackson Ave., the new stadium will be constructed at the hub of the Greenwood, Blue Dome and Brady districts, on an eight-acre plot of land between Greenwood and Elgin avenues and Archer St. and Interstate 244.
The stadium would be adjacent to the site of the planned John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation.
Greenwood Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Reuben Gant, who's been at the forefront of efforts to get the memorial to the 1921 race riot constructed, has publicly voiced his support for the stadium's location on what was planned for mixed-use development to be situated around the monument.
The day after the announcement, the Mayor said she's already had calls from out-of-state developers who are eyeing downtown Tulsa as a result of the stadium plans.
"We're starting to see a historic transformation of downtown. You'll be amazed at how much is going to be happening," she said.
"I've been saying that downtown Tulsa won't be recognizable in five years, but I really think it will be sooner than that--you're going to see cranes and construction after the stadium is built," Taylor added.
If all goes as the Mayor hopes, and Drillers' owner Chuck Lamson requires, the stadium is expected to be built and ready for the 2010 baseball season.
The announcement came after several months of negotiation Lamson.
In January, Lamson and Taylor announced that they were entering into exclusive negotiations for a downtown stadium, effectively nixing previously announced plans for the team to become the "Jenks Drillers," with a home stadium to be built as an anchor for mixed-use development on the west bank of the Arkansas River.
With the announcement of the location, Lamson told UTW that the only two items left to conclude the negotiations by the July 15 deadline are to reach an agreement on the stadium's design and to negotiate a lease.
The Drillers owner said he's also pretty enthusiastic about the designated location for the proposed stadium.
"I really think the location has a lot going for it. I feel like it had a lot of potential for a possible site by knitting together the Blue Dome and Brady and Greenwood districts," he said.
"This is a great thing, not just for the stadium, but for the community," Lamson added.
Private donors have agreed to foot half of the bill for the estimated $60 million stadium. The Williams Companies, ONEOK, Bank of Oklahoma, PSO, the Tulsa World and the Kaiser Family Foundation are among the contributors.
The other $30 million will come from downtown business owners, if the City Council approves a new Downtown Improvement District proposed two weeks ago by the Mayor.
The vote is expected to take place on July 10.
If it's approved, downtown property would be assessed at 6.5 cents per square foot.
Federal facilities, churches and any property that qualifies for a homestead exemption would be exempt.
It would replace the current Downtown Improvement District when it expires June 30, 2009, and would expire in 30 years.
The current district was created in 1978, largely to fund Downtown Tulsa Unlimited, the private, non-profit group with which the city contracts for the upkeep and management of downtown.
If the new district is approved, about $1.1 million would go toward the services currently provided by DTU, except it might not be DTU providing the services.
Regular readers of UTW likely remember a series of articles we ran about a handful of disgruntled downtown business owners and operators who demanded that DTU's sole-source contract be put up for competitive bidding ("Who Runs Downtown?" in our July 26-August 1 issue from last year, "Sweeping Under the Rug?" in the April 16-23 issue, and "Much Ado About Downtown in the April 24-31 issue, which are all available at www.urbantulsa.com).
Well, they're getting what they wanted. The city will offer the contract through the public bidding process, which DTU may or not win.
Of course, since the new Downtown Improvement District would fund the Drillers stadium as well as what the current district pays for, its tax will be significantly higher.
However, it isn't clear, exactly, how much higher it will be.
The current tax is assessed on a sliding scale according to proximity to the core of downtown, explained Mike Bunney, the Mayor's chief economic development officer.
He said he didn't know what the high and low ranges for the tax are, nor the average amount paid, though.
But, regardless of where one is situated downtown, it will be an increase, Bunney acknowledged. The only question is how much of an increase.
Despite the proposed tax hike, Bunney said the Mayor's office has received "overwhelmingly positive" feedback from downtown property owners.
"People want the ballpark, and they would like to see it downtown," he said.
But, that isn't to say every downtown property owner is cheering the Mayor on.
"Yeah, any time you're looking at increasing business people's costs, you're going to get negative feedback," Bunney said, noting that criticism of the proposal is dwarfed by the overwhelming support for it.
Maurice Kanbar, who owns about a third of downtown's office space, said he'd been contacted by the Mayor's office about the proposed stadium tax.
"They asked me to support and endorse it," he said.
At the time of our interview, though, Kanbar said he hadn't decided whether he would or not.
"I really don't know. I've left that in Rachel Warren's hands," he said.
Warren is CEO of Kanbar Enterprises. She did not return UTW's telephone calls.
But, Kanbar himself elaborated on his non-position.
"If we were at 80 percent occupancy. . . This has been a really tough ride. My feeling is that Tulsa's going to be great in 10 years and the property will be worth substantially more than it is now.
"That is not the case right now, and it's tough making a return on the enormous investment that I have there because we, unfortunately, did not get mortgages when we should have, and now, of course, it's virtually impossible. Banks are not lending, as it were," he said.
Kanbar, an entrepreneur renowned for his understanding of the marketplace and business smarts (he devised the Skyy Vodka label) lives in San Francisco. He and former business partner Henry Kaufman purchased about one-third of existing downtown property developments three years ago on the prospect of city growth.
Since then, he has broken with Kaufman, taking him to court for allegedly mishandling hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of Kanbar's assets.
While Kanbar seems to officially be on the fence, another downtown property owner isn't convinced that he and others should support it.
Kent Morlan of downtown's Beacon 400 LLC said, "Everybody's scratching their heads about it."
He said the proposed assessment would raise Beacon Services' taxes from the $2,400 it's paying each year for the current Downtown Improvement District to $8,000 per year.
Morlan, who is an attorney--as are most of his tenants in the Beacon building--said, "I'm not going to benefit from the baseball stadium, since I don't sell anything to the public who could come for the games."
Morlan was the most vocal critic of the city's arrangement with DTU and had demanded the opportunity to bid for the contract himself.
Bunney, though, said the benefit it will bring to Morlan and other downtown property owners is the increased property value that will result.
"If you look at the cases of downtown ballparks around the country, in almost every case, it's helped revitalize the downtown area and, therefore, positively impacted the property values," he said.
Michael Sager, who owns property in the Blue Dome District, concurred.
"I'm very much in favor of the stadium being down there," he told UTW.
"I think, in the big picture, the shock is only today, and five years from now there won't be any shock from it at all," Sager explained.
"I mean, it affects us tremendously, and yet we're willing to be a player in the package," he added.
Despite that "tremendous effect," though, Sager said objections like Morlan's are "nitpicking."
"It pales in comparison to the price of fuel. Six and a half cents doesn't even equal the impact of the utility hike," he said.
Sager noted that the assessment tax increase Morlan complained about wouldn't be born by him alone, but would be spread out among all of his tenants.
"It has a substantial cost impact on us today, which isn't factored into our costs with our tenants, but it will be factored in the future," Sager added.
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