By 2006, long-time workaholic Chuck Lamson had purchased controlling interest of the city's AA, Colorado Rockies-affiliated franchise.
By the latter days of 2008, Lamson, the general manager of the Tulsa Drillers, had agreed to terms that would enable the return of professional baseball to downtown Tulsa.
And finally, at long last, Lamson can let his hair down and say some of the things he has been really thinking all along.
"Let's just put it this way. It's not something I want to go through every year," said Lamson at the thought of the ongoing negotiations. He had been looking for a stadium deal for more than a year. It was just about as much as he could take.
In the past year, we've witnessed news conferences, read media releases and covered the proposed stadium enough that public perception is this new ballpark is a done deal. And as of last week, it pretty much is.
Tulsa's beloved baseball team has been rounding third base headed toward a new stadium for what seems like eternity. The exclusive negotiating period between the Drillers and the City of Tulsa started January 22 of 2007.
It's been almost two years since the mayor of Jenks sat down with Lamson for lunch. Wandering eyes saw the meeting. Stories of a pending move to Jenks were littered throughout T-Town and by some long-time media "authorites," it was pretty much a done deal.
But, said Lamson, "It was more of an exploratory thing on their part. I didn't tell them 'yes' and I didn't tell them 'no'. I said when you get something a little more defined, talk to me."
Today, Jenks is out of the picture and downtown Tulsa is the focus - the Greenwood District, to be more precise. "We became kind of a corner piece for the two entertainment areas, which kind of ties them together," he said.
Lamson is referring to the Blue Dome and Brady districts. The cross section of I-244, Elgin Avenue, Archer Street and Greenwood Avenue provides the landscape for the proposed stadium.
Indeed, it is the very location that Urban Tulsa Weekly had suggested/predicted more than eight years ago in a cover story as the most perfect of possible locations for the relocation of Drillers Stadium and one of the linchpins of continued downtown development.
Man Behind the Deal
Lamson was assigned to the Tulsa Drillers in 1979 as a left-handed prospect of the Texas Rangers. He grew up in South Jersey, so imagine the feeling when he was told to report to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Culture Shock 101.
An injury late in the '79 season derailed his return to the "Bigs." Surgery on his pitching elbow didn't go as smoothly as all parties had hoped. As a result, he spent 1980 with the Drillers. Needing to strengthen the surgically repaired elbow, he spent that summer in Tulsa working and rehabilitating.
Excitement built the following summer for the new-at-the-time Drillers Stadium. The price tag in 1981? A hefty $1.8 million.
Of course, Drillers Stadium opened as Robert B. Sutton Stadium. Sutton financed the construction after attempts at public funding failed.
In 1982 it was renamed the Tulsa County Stadium when Sutton's company came under fire for legal and financial issues. It was formally named Drillers Stadium in 1989.
Looking for extra cash before spring training, Lamson sold tickets for the ball club.
Big sales and good money piqued his interest. Meeting with the public and talking baseball were right down his power alley. "I knew the topic, I mean, obviously I knew baseball. I learned about our product," he said.
The Rangers ended up cutting him in the summer of '81. A short stint in the Dominican Republic followed. The team did the American thing and released him, thus giving him his independence on July 4th.
In 1982, several options were on the table - a "no promises" opportunity to pitch for the Angels, a minor league coaching position with the Mariners and a full-time job with the Drillers.
Director of Stadium Operations, i.e. groundskeeper, was his chosen path with the Drillers. You know what the fancy title got him? The opportunity to sweep the turf and fix the dirt.
They say you're the last to know when your career is done. The same holds true for Lamson. "I am not kidding myself. I think my career is about over. I said let's stay here (in Tulsa) and get established and see how things go.
"I went from assistant GM to what was basically that same title, but director of operations which oversaw everything except for the GM role," he said of his tenure with the Drillers from 1982-1995.
The rest, as they say, is history. He took over the role of Executive Vice President and General Manager in 1995.
Through a stock plan offered by then owner Went Hubbard, Lamson achieved his current role with the Drillers.
To trust in something or someone is to have confidence in - or an expectation of - something in return. We trust our vehicle will get us to work. We trust the electric company will supply power. Then there is the other kind of trust.
A trust is created for the purpose of making profit and is usually characterized by some kind of commercial activity.
Forming the Tulsa Stadium Trust took longer than many citizens, who wondered why there were no bulldozers or cranes in the vacant field, expected.
"I don't want to get into specifics," said Lamson several times during an interview a couple weeks ago, "but its economic issues relating to the trust. Obviously it takes two to tango. There's a disagreement over some of the economics."
Lamson went to bat with the two Steve's. His accountant and lawyer, respectively, Steve Resnick and Steve Labovitz, assisted him with the dealings. Both brought experience with regard to landlord/tenant agreements.
A one-page document would have sufficed for Lamson, but the lawyers, donors and city officials needed more protection for the "what if" scenarios.
Just look at the federal bailout, er, rescue package. What started out as a simple document grew exponentially to the point that Americans, once again, paid the price for jargon they did not comprehend.
Finally, on November 5th, the day after the elections, Tulsa citizens passed both streets propositions, the trust approved the lease and the Drillers signed the dotted line.
The meeting's agenda included organizational items. "The trustees also approved the lease. It has been signed with the Drillers. That was reviewed, discussed and approved by the board of the Tulsa Stadium Trust," advised Stan Lybarger, Bank of Oklahoma president and chairman of the Tulsa Stadium Trust.
There are a few loose ends to tie up. For one, the TDA (Tulsa Development Authority) owns the site where the $60 million ballpark project will be constructed.
"We will be going to the TDA shortly, in the relative near term, to make a proposal for them to transfer the site from the TDA to the Tulsa Stadium Trust which would provide the site necessary to construct the ballpark," said Lybarger.
The beneficiary of the trust is the City of Tulsa, and the TDA is the City of Tulsa. "It's kind of like transferring something from your right pocket to your left pocket," said the chairman. However, processes must be followed any time private donors pledge $30 million.
Just don't expect the Drillers owner to jump head-first into politics once the stadium ordeal is completed.
He favored fixing the streets. The citizens have spoken. No more potholes.
Lamson said passing the two propositions should renew the confidence in elected officials. "One of the things I've seen which is disheartening for me a little bit is just the lack of civility and public discourse. There was quite a bit between the counsel and the people forming the trust," he said.
No one disagrees with allowing differing opinions in the discussion. The problem is how these varying opinions are shared with other. Civility and alternative solutions can turn into rancor and a simplistic bash fest.
"I'm not blaming anybody, but you look at these counselors and agree or disagree with them; they are committing a significant amount of time in public service for $12,000 a year. You have to give them credit when they do have thoughtful discourse," said Lamson.
Great ideas are often formed from the sum of many good ideas. Constructive criticism is welcomed.
"It's concerning to me that, as a general citizen and taxpayer, there's not a little more civility and respect for the elected officials. I know respect is a two-way street," he continued.
Could passing the street proposal propel the city into a positive mood much like when Vision 2025 passed?
"I don't think many people disagree that downtown redevelopment is important to the economic health of the area. It's been done in so many other cities that it's a proven model.
"You can disagree on the ways to get there but I think ultimately you've got to get there so that we can retain our young people, which are a valuable resource, and so we can attract new businesses which will bring jobs and housing to Tulsa," he said.
Beyond Park Walls
Small business owners in the surrounding downtown area will foot the majority of the tax burden. Let's be honest. Nobody likes taxes. Nobody.
Lamson is also a small business owner and understands the plight of his cohort. Many of the businesses downtown will rake in huge profits due to the additional foot traffic once the stadium is erected.
A connected businessman in the St. Louis area advised that downtown restaurants and bars are packed when the Cardinals play downtown. Some of the patrons return on non-game days just because they've found a new favorite hot spot.
Now, Tulsa's minor league squad shouldn't be compared apples to apples with a major league team. Take the Springfield Cardinals for example.
Its stadium, Hammons Field, was completed in 2004. The word spread and baseball fans from St. Louis and across Missouri made the trek to see what the buzz was all about.
Once taking in a ballgame or two, customers should come back to the area for what? A winning team, pleasant atmosphere and entertainment in and around the ballpark.
Property owners not in the food, retail and cold beverage industry can also look forward to increased property value. Buy low -- sell high.
Because the agreement with the City was reached in principle, some downtown properties have received 15 queries. Before the agreement? These properties had gotten none. There are no signed deals yet, though businessmen are taking note.
Nobody said life is fair. If a ballpark benefits downtown, shouldn't the downtown businesses pay the piper? Sure, unless you're one of the businesses.
"I know that the mayor and her advisors explored a lot of different options before they went this route. They looked at a hotel/motel tax. They looked at a sales tax," Lamson explained.
The decision is final. The tribe has spoken. Time to turn the page.
The previous spot being discussed covered 11 acres. The Greenwood location gives the stadium a mere eight acres with which to work. Can it fit the need? Yes it can.
The news channels aired footage of mockup ballpark configurations. Those were premature. Nothing is concrete. The developers were awaiting the ink to dry on the signed lease before dedicating too much time to the project. Now, it's time to get out the drawing boards.
The lease will be 20-30 years. If the park is paid off in 23 years, the lease will end at that time. The lease protects the city and the team. New businesses downtown equate to additional property taxes funding the ballpark. Once the park is paid off the lease is terminated. "That locks me in to stay in the stadium while there are still taxes being paid by the general public. That was a fair concept of the parties," said Lamson.
"Most stadium designs now have a 360 degree concourse so you can walk all the way around the field. You can be out in the outfield plaza and look back to the field," he said with a spark.
The backdrop of the Tulsa skyline should be tremendous. Having additional amenities such as a large lawn with seating for a thousand or so would be the whipped topping. A big picnic area, a kid's play area, a beer garden and perhaps a party deck are all up for consideration.
The Manhattan Construction Co. is lined up ready to build Tulsa's venue. HOK Sport is one of the world's leading sports venue architectural firms. They are ready to craft a ballpark that screams Tulsa. They are currently working on the new Yankees Stadium and Minnesota Twins facility. They also designed the park in northwest Arkansas.
The Drillers will take the plans to the Rockies organization for a look-see. The relationship with the Rockies is vital to the Drillers. It has been productive and beneficial for each party since the Drillers became the double-A affiliate of the Rockies.
"I want them to have some input. The players are an important piece to the ballpark. The investment they have in these guys to get them to the major leagues is pretty significant. You want to provide them a good place for development.
"Our contract with them goes through the 2010 season. We can extend that at any time for an additional two or four years. We're very happy. They're very happy. Hopefully once we get this ballpark thing all buttoned down then we would look at talking to them about extending as well," Lamson said.
Did I mention we might get a beer garden out of this deal? I'm not 100 percent sure what a beer garden entails but it can't be a bad thing, right?
100 Miles and Running
Just because you're running on a treadmill doesn't mean you are not making progress. However, it doesn't mean you're going places either.
It's estimated all paperwork must be finalized by the end of this calendar year to meet the 2010 deadline.
"Without weather (the construction company) could have the stadium ready for occupancy by March of 2010. We play in April but we sure need to be in the ballpark at least a month before the season starts," said Lamson.
Don't tell that to the Oilers. The ice was poured in the BOK Center three days prior to the home opener. Then again, they lost the home opener so maybe Lamson has a point.
Let's hope the cost of building materials comes down and gas pumps continue to roll back the prices, which can only help the price of steel and concrete -- a couple of vital cogs to building a stadium.
Building a stadium is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all involved. "Let's take our time and do it right," Lamson said.
"The more people that are coming (downtown) are spinning off for restaurants, night spots, sales tax, critical mass and those types of things. I know there's a give and take but I hope that's the recognition," said Lamson.
In light of the approved lease, congratulations to the city, the team and the fans.
In the mean time, the Drillers will be at their old location for at least one more year. Visit www.tulsadrillers.com for their curtain call of a season.
Here's hoping for a holiday groundbreaking event, an original stadium and baseball in downtown Tulsa for years to come. Now it's time for citizens, donors, contractors, the trust and the team to play ball.
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