The Tulsa Drillers' new baseball stadium, which is expected to open in Greenwood in April 2010, could bring as many as 400,000 people downtown each year, Mayor Kathy Taylor has estimated. And she doesn't want those people to simply drive to the ballpark then drive home. Like the BOK Center, the new ballpark is seen as an economic driver that will benefit downtown restaurants, bars and retail establishments.
"Anytime you get anything that brings people downtown, and they get used to coming downtown, it makes it easier for me to promote [my store]," said Larry Lyon, owner of Lyon's Indian Store near E. 11th Street and S. Elgin Avenue. "For years we've gotten resistance, that [downtown is] so far and [people] don't know how to get around down there. But things like the ballpark are changing that."
Lyon is part of a nine-member public trust that will guide development in the area surrounding the new ballpark, using nearly $30 million to purchase privately held land and foster business development. The ballpark itself is expected to cost just over $30 million. Of the $60 million total, $30 million has been pledged by more than 20 private donors, $25 million will come from a downtown property assessment district during the next 30 years and $5 million will come from the Drillers' lease during the same period. The trust is planning to issue $25 million in bonds to get the project off the ground.
Trust member Glenn Strobel, who is president of OK Machine and Manufacturing Co. and owns almost two blocks of downtown property, said it is too early to say what the area around the stadium will ultimately look like.
"There's a basic outline of a desire to have family-friendly, point-of-destination types of businesses, as well as local businesses ... that will complement the ballpark so people will think about the area and have a very positive feel about the area," he said.
Strobel said an establishment similar to an ESPN Zone, which offers food, games and entertainment, would fit that vision well. He also echoed Lyon's sentiment that downtown businesses will reap the benefits of having Drillers fans downtown. The team attracted a total of 173,406 fans to its 70 home games this year, and Mayor Taylor predicted other events will eventually be held at the stadium about 30 times a year.
Strobel pointed to one of his downtown tenants, McNellie's Public House, as an example of how a business can benefit from downtown events.
"On Tuesday night [Nov. 11], there was an Eagles concert at the BOK Center, and there was an hour and a half wait at McNellie's," he said. "That's not a normal wait on a Tuesday night. It's the result of people coming downtown to attend events."
A study by Oklahoma State University's Center for Applied Economic Research projected the downtown ballpark would generate about $13 million annually in purchases of goods and services and would create an estimated 200 permanent jobs. Annual sales tax revenue is expected to increase $485,000 because of the ballpark, with $160,000 of that sales tax revenue being distributed to the city.
Jack Crowley, special advisor to the mayor on urban planning, said about 2,000 parking spaces are needed to accommodate Drillers games, and the downtown area already has plenty within walking distance of the stadium. The ballpark will be near the corner of E. Archer Street and N. Elgin Avenue.
Two parking lots near the BOK Center have about 600 spaces, Crowley said, and an OSU parking lot near the ballpark has another 700 or 800. In addition, there are many church parking lots nearby, and Crowley said he doubts Drillers games will coincide with church services often. Churches therefore might raise money by charging $5 to park in those lots, he said.
Most of the land where the ballpark will be built is owned by the Tulsa Development Authority. The principle piece of the site, however, was under option with the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce when the city was finalizing its plans for the stadium. TDA therefore agreed to exchange the ballpark property for another TDA property.
In addition, Taylor and Stanley Lybarger, who is chief executive officer of the Bank of Oklahoma and chair of the stadium trust, promised to help secure $780,000 in private funding to complete the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park -- a memorial to the 1921 Race Riot, which the chamber has been trying to establish in Greenwood. Tulsa native John Hope Franklin was 6 at the time of the riot and grew up to become a widely known historian for his studies of black history, including the 1921 Race Riot. The stadium trust also agreed to provide the chamber with a site for an education center next to the park.
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