Recently we learned that our new City Hall isn't as much "ours" as we might have thought.
The City has a master lease with Bank of Oklahoma, intended to mitigate the risk of acquiring the building by guaranteeing a stream of income to be used for paying off the revenue bonds that were used to acquire the building. BOK pays to lease all the non-city space in the building and then sublets it to commercial tenants.
Under the terms of the master lease, we're not allowed to call it City Hall--it's still One Technology Center--and we're not allowed to put signage on the building without BOK's permission. Evidently it reduces the value of the available office space if potential tenants know there are city bureaucrats around, so we're all supposed to keep it quiet. Mum's the word.
Either the City Councilors who backed the City Hall move were too distracted by the transformational qualities of the mayor's new Crystal Cathedral, or they were aware of these provisions that cede to a powerful, private entity far too much control over the building that houses Tulsa's municipal government.
But Mayor Kathy Taylor evidently knew about this and neglected to call the Council's attention to it during the debate over relocating city government.
The former home of Williams Telecommunications Group belongs to the City of Tulsa now, and the words Tulsa City Hall should be mounted in 10-foot tall neon letters across the top of every façade of the building, along with a neon rendition of our city seal. You ought to be able to see it and read it as soon as you arrive in downtown from any direction.
Instead, our city leaders are hoping to get a simple monument sign installed at 2nd and Cincinnati. In the meantime, they ordered a vinyl banner from Kinko's and tied it to the building, although that too might fall afoul of the master lease agreement.
Or the City could hire some of the folks who walk around 41st and Yale holding "Going Out of Business" signs. They could pace up and down Cincinnati Avenue waving placards. As long as they stay on the sidewalk - public right of way -- BOK would have no right to shoo them away.
The sign holders would merely be exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceable assembly: Their signs could say, "City Hall (which happens to be in this building) is Unfair." Or "Recall Mayor Taylor (whose office is on the 15th floor of this big glass cube)." Or, taking a cue from the signs they usually hold, "City Councilors For Sale: Everything Must Go."
I appreciate the importance of honoring lease agreements, keeping the tenants happy and paying rent, and making the building marketable, but this is beyond ridiculous. City government should not put itself at the mercy of one very powerful private company.
The City Hall sign situation makes me glad that the Council took as much time as it did to examine and refine the Tulsa Stadium Trust indenture, which, like the City Hall master lease, was initially put together and pushed by BOK executives. I still have to wonder if there's something lurking down in the fine print, like this silly sign restriction, that will come back to haunt us.
Tulsa shouldn't be the biggest city in the country without a City Hall. If we can't clearly label One Technology Center as City Hall, we ought to keep that name on the vintage 1969 building on Civic Center Plaza.
And just to keep it the official seat of government, the Mayor should office there until we're allowed to call another building City Hall.
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