There was a time, as historian and author Michael Wallis recounts, when the relationship between Oklahoma City and Tulsa was anything but a rivalry--at least, from the perspective of many Tulsans, who viewed their city as superior in almost every respect.
"Oklahoma City was this old, dried-up, oilfield whore, and we're this shining, art deco gem," Wallis said, describing that mindset. "Sort of the bluebloods and the rednecks."
Wallis, a native Missourian who moved to Tulsa in 1982 and has called it home ever since, never bought in to that less-than-charitable assessment of the state capital, though he freely admits he has always preferred his adopted hometown to Oklahoma City. Nor was he surprised when he moved to Oklahoma more than a quarter-century ago and found the state's two largest cities locked in a sort of perpetual game of one up-manship.
"I've been aware of that all my life," he said of civic rivalries. "I grew up in St. Louis and spent most of my life staring across the state at Kansas City."
Later, Wallis said, he would witness the same phenomenon in Texas, where it was Dallas vs. Fort Worth, Dallas vs. Houston or Dallas vs. anywhere else. But in Oklahoma, he said, the rivalry between the state's two largest cities took on a unique tension--an East meets West flavor that separated it from, say, Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh in the Rust Belt, Memphis vs. New Orleans in the Deep South or Seattle vs. Portland in the Pacific Northwest.
Former Tulsa Mayor Roger Randle views such rivalries as almost universal, but he agrees that the tension between Oklahoma's two largest cities is heightened by the differences in the regional models from which they have sprung.
"The reason (for the rivalry) is not because of their size," he said. "The reason is because if you have two big cities founded by different types of people, there are going to be cultural differences, and Tulsa and Oklahoma City are culturally different. Tulsa is an eastern city, and Oklahoma City is a western city. What really is at work here is a cultural conflict between East and West."
The Tulsa-Oklahoma City rivalry is a source of almost limitless fascination to some, including Dr. Bob Blackburn, director of the state Historical Society.
"It's one of my favorite subjects," he said.
Blackburn has spent so much time pondering the nature of that conflict, in fact, that he created "Two Sides of One Coin: The Urban Histories of Oklahoma City and Tulsa," an exhibit dealing with the subject for display at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City in November 2005. Before that, he and the late Danney Goble--considered one of the state's pre-eminent historians before his death in 2007--spent decades kicking it around, trying to figure out how the rivalry got started and what kept it aflame.
"We got so frustrated over the course of 30 years by this urban rivalry," Blackburn said. "Our question was, 'What is the basis of this, and is there any reality to this besides the differences people have in their minds?' "
Ultimately, Blackburn said, he and Goble concluded the Tulsa-Oklahoma City rivalry was simply artificial, a product of the imagination more than anything else. And yet, to this day, the rivalry persists, though it seems to have gone through one of those periodic cycles in which the balance has shifted.
Tulsa, perhaps for the first time in decades, has been playing catch-up with its sister city down the Turner Turnpike. And that fact is hard to swallow for a number of its residents.
"Oklahoma City has made a lot of progress," said Randle, now the director of the Center for Studies in Democracy and Culture at the University of Oklahoma campus in Tulsa. "It's become a much more dynamic and active community. There's a lot less for us to look down our noses at than there used to be."
Entrepreneur Elliot Nelson, a Tulsa native and owner of the immensely popular James E. McNellie's Public House downtown, opened a satellite location of the bar and restaurant in Oklahoma City a few years ago. That's given him a good perspective on the way things have changed.
"For so long, it was like no contest," Nelson said of Tulsa's assumed superiority. "But now we have this situation where we're behind in a lot of respects. And that shift has happened in a 15-year period. I don't think anybody really expected that."
Russ Florence, a Tulsa public relations executive who lived in Oklahoma City for a few years in the late 1980s, said he commonly hears that sentiment expressed.
"Even the proudest Tulsans would tell you Oklahoma City has caught us or passed us in some regards," he said. "Some people look down their nose at Oklahoma City, but you can't deny the progress that's been made there. People who do deny that are fooling themselves or haven't been down there."
Contributing to Blackburn's frustration over his efforts to determine what feeds the rivalry between Tulsa and Oklahoma City is his firm belief that the two cities have far more in common than either is willing to admit. He describes them as siblings separated in age by a few years who are just different enough to get on each other's nerves.
"They've grown with eerily similar patterns," Blackburn said, noting that for most of their existence, Oklahoma City's population and development patterns have been duplicated just a few years later by Tulsa. By the onset of the Great Depression, he said, they were all but identical.
He cites two photos from the 1930s that were used in his exhibit in November 2005 at the state History Center that featured the downtown of each city. Each skyline featured two major skyscrapers of 20 to 30 floors each, a series of smaller, intermediate-size buildings of 10 to 15 floors and many smaller brick two-story buildings that filled out each city's downtown. The two skylines bore a striking resemblance, he said.
"It looked like you could take the names off each one and put them on the other, and no one would know the difference," he said.
Generally, the two cities have followed the same development pace and pattern, Blackburn said. Periodic fluctuations between the two always even out over time, he said, noting that Tulsa's population gains of the 1950s and '60s were offset by Oklahoma City's gain of the 1990s.
"Tulsa will catch up," he said. "This has happened before."
But it's that most recent swing of the pendulum that has unnerved those in Tulsa who like to compare themselves to their counterparts 90 miles to the southwest. Even though Oklahoma City has always had a larger footprint, had a higher population and has been the seat of state government since 1910, Tulsans could take pride in their city's cultural superiority, its status as the epicenter of the oil business and its physical attractiveness, marked by green, rolling hills, a historically significant river and a thick urban tree canopy. It was a sophisticated, urbane Midwestern city with Ivy League sensibilities.
By contrast, Oklahoma City was a flat, sprawling, utilitarian, prairie town with a pronounced dislike for anything that smacked of elitism--especially those snooty, transplanted easterners who resided up the turnpike. In Oklahoma City, the cowboy was still king, even if he was all but a historical anachronism by midway through the 20th century. Culture was measured in terms of Frederic Remington paintings and the thickness of broiled steaks. There was no more obvious symbol of the city's plainness than its so-called river, which, as the old joke goes, had to be mowed three times a year.
Then came the 1990s and Oklahoma City's gradual awakening from a decades-long slumber that had left its downtown all but abandoned, courtesy of an aggressive Urban Renewal program in the 1960s that had gutted it like a fish. The city's centennial celebration in 1989 led many civic leaders to take a hard look at downtown's shortcomings, and discussions began about initiating an ambitious public improvements program that would remake the area.
Those plans eventually were solidified under the auspices of the Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) proposal, and in December 1993, voters approved a sales tax increase that would raise more than $300 million to fund the construction of nine projects ranging from a new arena and ballpark to a canal, library and dams on the North Canadian River. A large part of its past having been torn down and carted off, Oklahoma City would simply remake itself into what became a catch phrase among civic boosters: "A major-league city."
Oklahoma Citians were dreaming big, but it didn't take much imagination. The city had hit bottom and there was no place to go, but up.
But the worst was still to come. On April 19, 1995, a disgruntled Gulf War veteran named Tim McVeigh ignited a fertilizer bomb in a rented truck in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on the north edge of downtown, creating a swath of destruction that left the area both physically and emotionally devastated. Along with the 168 lives the blast claimed, more than 300 buildings in a 16-block radius were destroyed or damaged at a cost of more than $650 million.
"I've written this and thought this many times," said Pam Fleischaker, a political activist and former associate editor for the Oklahoma Gazette, the city's alternative newsweekly, recalling what decades of neglect and McVeigh's act of domestic terrorism had wrought. "At that time, downtown Oklahoma City looked like the set of the movie 'The Day After.' The bombing left a huge hole, and the people there had no choice but to conjure up the strength of will to (rebuild) it. People were embarrassed about the center of the city being so wiped out."
The transformation of downtown Oklahoma City was anything but immediate, but the federal building bombing added a note of urgency to the process. In short order, the MAPS projects began opening, attracting a wave of private investment and ushering in an economic gold rush in the burgeoning Bricktown entertainment district just east of downtown.
Success begat success. A new federal campus opened on the north edge of downtown, just blocks from the Oklahoma City National Memorial, while residential housing units, hotels, parking garages, celebrity-themed restaurants, retail businesses and office buildings were being hastily assembled, setting off an unprecedented construction boom. In less than a generation, downtown Oklahoma City had gone from an eyesore to a revelation, drawing international accolades.
As a final stamp of validation, the National Basketball Association arrived--temporarily at first, in the form of the displaced New Orleans Hornets from 2005 through 2007, then permanently with the relocation of the Seattle SuperSonics in 2008, now the Oklahoma City Thunder--seemingly cementing the city's dream of achieving major-league status.
"I don't necessarily think people here dwell on their relationship with Tulsa as much as they've developed a pride they didn't have before," Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said, referring to the headiness of that 11-year period when a new MAPS project came on line each year or a new downtown hotel opened or the NBA brought Kobe Bryant or LeBron James to town.
For Florence, who produced a well-written and knowledgeable music publication called Stage Left in Oklahoma City for two years after graduating from Oklahoma State University in 1986, the changes he has seen in his former home have been nothing short of stunning.
"The contrast between then and now is incredibly dramatic," he said. "Bricktown was a ghost town then. But with MAPS and all the other progress it's made, Oklahoma City's self-esteem has risen dramatically. It's been very impressive."
A native of the tiny Oklahoma farming community of Alex, Florence wasn't even aware of the Tulsa-Oklahoma City rivalry until his college days in Stillwater, when he would venture here on weekends in search of something to do. In those days, he said, Tulsa was the obvious choice for anyone looking for culture, nightlife or any kind of fun.
It may still be, but the choice isn't quite so obvious anymore. Wallis believes that for much of its history, Oklahoma City suffered from the same inferiority complex--or "stepchild image," as he puts it--as the state at large, something to which Tulsa always seemed to be immune. But Oklahoma City's positive changes have no doubt begun to affect the psyche of its sister city, he said.
"I think that has put Tulsans on the defensive," he said. "Up here, we had this complacency in a town where many people were starting to believe their own publicity."
Randle said a visit to downtown Oklahoma City carries with it an air of excitement.
"There's a sense that, 'This is a place to have fun,' " he said. "And we're biting our nails."
Florence, president and chief operating officer of Schnake Turnbo Frank PR, usually spends two days a week in Oklahoma City, where his firm has opened a second office. The changes he speaks of when he describes Oklahoma City's transformation have as much to do with its people as their surroundings.
"It's not just the physical infrastructure but the self-esteem," he said. "That's the real story, in my mind. These people have pride, a swagger in a good way, in a productive way. I think the sentiment in Oklahoma City is, 'Why not us?' "
A Wake-up Call
If it's true that many Tulsans have become defensive about their relationship to Oklahoma City, the silver lining is that the complacency Wallis spoke of is quickly evaporating. Blackburn said that has always been the positive side of the rivalry.
"I think that as one city lags behind the other, the other city can use that as the new standard," he said.
That certainly seems to be the dynamic at work now. After local voters rejected a series of public improvement projects in the 1990s, they responded by passing the Vision 2025 proposal in September 2003. Years later, the city has matched Oklahoma City's Ford Center with its BOK Center and soon will answer the AT&T Bricktown Ballpark with ONEOK Field. The Tulsa Convention Center's makeover will place it on a competitive footing with the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City. A series of new attractions, both public and private, that are planned for the Brady District could transform that area into a hipper version of Oklahoma City's Bricktown, minus the canal. And if plans for a light-rail trolley system reach fruition during the coming decades, Tulsa will have a gleaming public transportation element unrivaled by anything in Oklahoma City.
"I think part of the good that came out of that was that it woke a lot of Tulsans up," Wallis said, particularly those who had always waited on the city's philanthropic community to fund civic projects. "Let's face it: We no longer have the number of people of affluence here who are willing to write a big check like their granddaddies were. Now, there are obvious exceptions to that, like George Kaiser, and I don't mean to say there aren't a lot of generous people here."
But if Tulsans want the kind of civic amenities that Oklahoma City has added in the last decade, they've realized they'll have to pay for or develop them themselves, Wallis said--and they appear to have grasped that message.
"I've really noticed that changing for the better," he said. "There is a lot of really wonderful stuff going on all around--not just downtown, but in neighborhood districts and in the areas of hospitality and entertainment."
Randle welcomes Tulsa's rejuvenation efforts, though he considers them long overdue.
"My worry for Tulsa was that it was becoming such a genteel city--and we are--and we had so many good things going for us, there would always be a danger of us accepting a gradual decline," he said, noting that Oklahoma City historically found itself in the opposite position. "Downtown (Oklahoma City) was such an awful wasteland ... my worry was, Oklahoma City had nothing to lose and would experiment and try things and be audacious in what it set about to do and succeed. As it turns out, that's exactly what's happened."
Nelson grew up hearing the same concerns from his father, who went to college at the University of Oklahoma and always saw the potential for Oklahoma City to blossom.
"He always said he really liked Oklahoma City, that it had more of a big-city feel," Nelson said. "He said he knew if they ever got it together, it would thrive because it had more land, more people, more opportunities. So it shouldn't be that big a surprise that it's happened."
Randle believes his once-genteel hometown finally has been jolted into action. Florence takes that a step further, questioning whether Tulsans would have been motivated to improve their city were it not for Oklahoma City's ascent.
"To tell you the truth, I don't know that we would have," he said. "I think that between the Ford Center and their new ballpark, all that has helped Tulsans get a glimpse of the way things could be here. I'm not sure that would have happened without Oklahoma City's success."
Nelson agrees, though he is less diplomatic in his assessment.
"It got a lot of people off their ass here," he said. "It's sad that it took an ego trip to make that happen. But (Oklahoma City's) success got a lot of Tulsans off high center."
Cornett realizes his good fortune in serving as Oklahoma City's mayor--he was first elected in 2004 before being re-elected in 2006--during what is likely the most exciting period in that city's history. Despite being asked about the rivalry on an almost daily basis, he said he's never been one to keep score.
"The best way I know how to answer that is, I didn't feel inferior then, and I don't feel superior now," he said. "I've never gotten into which one's better than the other."
Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor said she is rarely confronted with the issue, despite the fact she has strong ties in both communities. Taylor grew up in Oklahoma City, graduated from John Marshall High School, and served as the state's secretary of commerce and tourism there.
"What I see a lot of is cooperative effort," she said, describing Tulsa and Oklahoma City as the state's two main engines of economic activity. She said she and Cornett have worked on a number of issues of mutual interest and benefit, something that was made easier by the fact that they had already established a friendship before she became mayor in 2006.
"I always expected that Mick Cornett and I would work together," she said.
Taylor said she became a believer in the wisdom of communities collaborating through something she witnessed while serving as the secretary of commerce and tourism. The mayor of Braman, Jerry Johnston, an obscure community on Interstate 35 just south of the Kansas border, rallied his fellow mayors in the area into making a joint effort in 2004 to promote tourism, a collaboration that succeeded beyond anyone's expectations.
"It became the most asked-for brochure" at visitors centers during Taylor's tenure as secretary, she said. "Braman (citizens) couldn't have done anything by themselves, but they made their area a vacation destination point by working with others."
With that in mind, Taylor said she never hesitated to assist Oklahoma City's effort to land an NBA franchise, believing the addition of such an attraction could only mean good things for the state as a whole. That support could be at least partially repaid through the recent announcement that Oklahoma City businessmen David Box and Bill Cameron--a part owner of the Thunder--are leading an effort to bring a WNBA franchise to Tulsa to serve as the anchor tenant at the BOK Center.
Such cooperation between the two cities has not always come so easy. Randle recalled his tenure in the state Legislature during the 1970s and '80s--he served in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, eventually being elected president pro tem of the Senate twice and serving as chairman of the Appropriations and Budget Committee--when Oklahoma City was far more effective at securing state funds than Tulsa, he said.
But that wasn't because the Legislature as a whole was more inclined to favor the capital city at Tulsa's expense, he said.
"Tulsa could get out of the Legislature anything it set its mind to," he said. "But as a community, we were unable to develop a consensus. There was a lot of frustration because Tulsa never developed anything it was that interested in.
"Meanwhile, we would see Oklahoma City people troop out to the Legislature all the time. There was certainly a perception that it was the state capital and therefore had the right by virtue of that to put its hands in the state till, and they did that with great frequency. But some of us felt frustrated that Tulsa didn't seek to equal what Oklahoma City was doing."
The ability of Oklahoma City leaders to prioritize their needs and build consensus was a much more effective approach, Randle said.
"Tulsa didn't think in those terms," he said. "So Oklahoma City was constantly getting things, and Tulsa was being left out."
Taylor acknowledged that was the case in the past, but no longer.
"I think we've changed in recent years with our OneVoice agenda," she said, referring to an effort established in 2007 by the Tulsa Metro Chamber to unite regional programs, organizations and partners in securing state and federal funds. "In recent years, we've all supported each other's agendas."
Cornett takes that a step further, promoting the idea of developing a joint agenda between Oklahoma City and Tulsa that would allow the two cities to have a much greater voice in the Legislature, which historically has been controlled by rural interests.
"We've got to work together," he said, noting that neither city can afford to let a rivalry get in the way of something that would benefit both communities. "It's in our best interests to get along."
Cornett, a former television sportscaster, believes athletics has contributed in no small part to the competition between the two cities. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that in no other area has the ill will between the two communities been on display as often and as obviously as when the Central Hockey League's Tulsa Oilers and the Oklahoma City Blazers meet each other.
"Sports demands rivalry," Cornett said. "That's where your interest comes from. We played that up, especially in hockey."
The irony of that situation--the honor of two cities in a Bible Belt, football-dominated state being fought over largely by Canadian immigrants on a sheet of ice--never seemed to dampen anyone's enthusiasm for those grudge matches. On an otherwise gloomy, mid-winter Saturday night, thousands of fans always could be counted on to flock to their city's arena, get tanked up on cheap beer and fluorescent nachos, then hoot and holler with delight at the prospect of witnessing a much-deserved beatdown of those vicious punks from up/down the turnpike by the hometown heroes.
Win or lose, it seemed like the only time people really went home unhappy was when there was no blood spilled. If the police periodically had to intervene--as they did during a March 1994 playoff game between the two in which Blazers enforcer and former Boston Bruin Bruce Shoebottom had to be subdued by five Tulsa officers after he attempted to leave the penalty box prematurely and engage in an on-ice fight--so much the better.
But those days appear to be over, what with the recent announcement by Blazers owner Bob Funk that his team had ceased operations. Observers reckon that the hockey team's demise was at least partially due to, ironically, the competition for the sports entertainment dollar with big-league The Thunder. The arrival of the NBA no doubt had some impact on the Blazers' attendance, but word is the franchise's meltdown had a lot more to do with the owner's recent and costly divorce, the much higher rent it was paying at the Ford Center and poor management of the team.
The Blazers--at one time a prospect for a National Hockey League franchise--continued to lead the CHL in attendance every year and ranked as one of the top-drawing teams in all of minor-league hockey which should have made the franchise profitable, but the front office was said to be overstaffed and overpaid.
The two cities continue to compete against each other in arena football--that is, unless Tulsa's team moves to San Antonio--but no one really expects a Talons-Yard Dawgz game to gin up the same kind of visceral appeal as Shoebottom vs. the TPD.
Perhaps the demise of that hockey rivalry is just the latest sign that the ages-old rift between Tulsa and Oklahoma City ain't what it used to be. Cornett, in fact, has wondered periodically about the prospect of the two cities becoming partners in a number of endeavors.
"Uh-huh, I do," he said. "I think about how different it would be and feel if we were 60 miles apart, not 90. Working together, we could have one airport, one convention center ... at some point, it makes sense to combine our cities."
But with the decision by each city a decade ago to institute a major makeover of its airport, the prospects for a joint effort on that front now seem dashed, he said. Cornett also sees little chance of a development corridor between the two cities emerging because Turner Turnpike was not built with access roads.
"If it had been, you'd see development," he said.
Yet, other opportunities remain. Taylor is particularly enthusiastic about the possibility of high-speed rail service being established between the two cities, providing an alternative for motorists who bristle at the prospect of higher tolls. Cornett supports that project, as well, though he cautions against the short-sightedness of focusing on that one link.
"Indirectly, that's the answer," he said. "The direct answer is that both cities need to connect with Dallas. Tulsa shouldn't be trying just to connect with Oklahoma City."
Pleased as he is to be mayor of a city whose fortunes are improving, Cornett is not above casting an envious eye Tulsa's way every now and then. An avid golfer, he particularly wishes Oklahoma City had a set of links that was the equal of Southern Hills, which has hosted numerous PGA events while being regarded as one of the finest courses in the country. And he freely admits his city's efforts to improve the North Canadian River--a seven-mile section of which was renamed the Oklahoma River by the Legislature in 2004--have not matched the natural beauty of the Arkansas River.
For their part, both Taylor and Randle believe their city could learn a thing or two from Oklahoma City.
"They've done an exceptional job of long-term planning and communicating the goals of their long-term planning," Taylor said. "Of course, Tulsa hasn't updated its long-range planning and land use for 30 years," though she pointed out that process is taking place right now.
Randle said, "The big thing we would benefit from adopting from Oklahoma City today is to be creative and innovative, and risking with experimentation for development."
The Little Things
With so many of their differences slowly disappearing or being minimized, what remains to separate Tulsa and Oklahoma City? Perhaps it's the little things, the personality quirks that may be invisible to those outside the state but which are obvious to residents of the two cities.
Fleischaker recalled moving to Oklahoma City in the 1980s from Washington, D.C., so that her husband could take over the family oil business. She went to work as a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood across the state and quickly became aware of the differences in civic engagement between the two cities.
"I noticed immediately the difference in the kind of people who came out (for events in Tulsa) and how easy it was to get people involved," she said. "They were well educated, activist donors. It was so much easier to organize and raise money and communicate with people than it was in Oklahoma City. (Tulsans) took pride in that ... In reverse, people in Oklahoma City would say, 'You could never get it done here,' whatever we were talking about."
That level of engagement in Tulsa has also manifested itself in the form of support for the arts. Blackburn cited an example from the Great Depression, when Tulsa became the first city in the country to get a federally funded symphony orchestra under the Works Progress Administration. Tulsans initially welcomed that development, but when it became clear the symphony would operate under a good deal of government red tape, disillusionment set in.
"The leaders in Tulsa said, 'We don't like all these rules,'" Blackburn said, adding that they soon disbanded the symphony and saw it move down Route 66 to Oklahoma City. Tulsa city fathers organized their own, privately funded symphony, one that wasn't controlled by the government. "They could still afford it, even in the depths of the Depression," Blackburn said.
Throughout much of the 20th century, the city's status as an oil and manufacturing center allowed for the creation of individual wealth in Tulsa on a scale that Oklahoma City--where the economy typically was based on land, ranching and farming--couldn't match, he said. And those who led Tulsa's many corporations were much more willing to write a check in support of a museum or performing arts organization than their brethren in Oklahoma City, who usually were writing those checks from a personal account. That also explains Tulsa's superiority in mid-century downtown architecture, Blackburn said.
Yet, there are signs that is changing, as well. The oil business has now spread across the globe, and Blackburn pointed out that the advent of deep natural gas exploration has led to the ascent of two Oklahoma City-based corporations--Chesapeake Energy and Devon Energy--to the top of the local energy food chain.
Combined with the Sonic Corp., the Oklahoma City-based fast food empire with drive-in restaurants located across the country, that city now has three corporate heavy hitters with an inclination toward charitable giving that was much more common in Tulsa in the past. Fleischaker said their influence on Oklahoma City has been substantial.
"The three people who run those companies are well-educated, very smart guys committed to the arts, business and intellectual activity," she said.
The city's eye-catching new central library and the relocation of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art to downtown in 2002 after a $40 million renovation of its current home have helped improve the cultural landscape, but she points out it takes much more than an NBA team to make a city cosmopolitan. The city's spread-out population still makes it seem like too much of a western city.
"I can't imagine any kind of mass transit here, and that's what says cosmopolitan to me--a large number of people mixing downtown," she said.
It is in that regard that Tulsa still holds the most distinct advantage over its neighbor. Nelson acknowledges that Oklahoma City's Bricktown may have become a cash cow, but its broad, family-oriented nature can't match the funkiness of the Blue Dome district, and it has nothing that approximates the historic oomph of Cain's Ballroom in the Brady.
"Bricktown is its own neighborhood; it's not really even part of downtown," Nelson said. "Our downtown neighborhoods have a lot more integration with the business community. We're full every day."
Whereas Bricktown is home to dozens of cavernous, flashy attractions that thrive on nights when the Thunder is playing at the nearby Ford Center, Nelson sees Tulsa's downtown progressing under a more organic pattern, one that doesn't rely quite as heavily on big events. He cited a recent discussion on that subject that he had with a group of friends over cold pints at McNellie's.
"We were completely full at 10 o'clock on a Tuesday night," he said. "We knew the people in Bricktown probably weren't full."
The typical crowd at McNellie's--"left-leaning, artsy, hipster kids," as Nelson says--isn't looking for what Bricktown offers.
"This is a more Bohemian, bootstrap kind of place," he said. "Bricktown is really big and really shiny. We're not throwing up a bunch of neon here. McNellie's is the biggest restaurant around here, we're not that big--there are probably six places bigger than us in Bricktown."
Nelson's plan was never that ambitious, he said.
"We built a neighborhood bar, now we've got to build a neighborhood," he said.
On the other hand, Nelson said, his McNellie's location in Oklahoma City in a neighborhood just north of downtown never struggled through an acceptance phase like his flagship operation in Tulsa. People in Oklahoma City, he said, seem more willing to support a new venture than their counterparts in Tulsa, especially if that operation is located downtown.
That story likely would not surprise Randle, who believes Tulsans are less likely to welcome something or someone new into the fold.
"My sense is that Oklahoma City was always a place where a new person could arrive in town and, in a matter of months, be part of the crowd," he said. "In Tulsa, we reflect a more eastern kind of reserve."
"I do think when you compare the two cities, something I noticed when I moved there is that Oklahoma City is a much more open society than Tulsa," she said. "Tulsa has always had its caste system, its country club-style ways of measuring people's success that are artificial. Whereas, in Oklahoma City, if you could get it done, you're the greatest. It's a much more welcoming environment. Yes, it has its social set, but it's not very stratified."
Just as squabbling siblings eventually outgrow their differences, Tulsa and Oklahoma City seem to be bridging the state-of-mind gulf between them. That's a good thing to those who believe a combined effort on the part of the state's two largest cities could yield big results.
Even the physical separation between the two is hardly an insurmountable obstacle, Florence believes.
"We're less than 100 miles apart," he said. "You can get there in less than an hour and a half. There are people who drive farther than that every day in Dallas.
"If we combined our resources and talent, we'd have a pretty good thing going here. Both cities could make so much progress if we worked together. The mindset of the people I work with in both our offices is, we're just high on Oklahoma as a whole. We all love both cities ... If we could just get these two cities in step, there's nothing we couldn't do. Some cool things could be in store."
Cornett echoes that sentiment, arguing that despite the national economic downturn, Oklahoma is well positioned to take a major step forward. He reported that a recent visitor to his office, a newspaper reporter from Sacramento, Calif., provided him with figures that indicate that twice as many Californians are moving to Oklahoma these days as there are Oklahomans moving to California.
"I call it 'The Wrath of Grapes,' " Cornett said. "That's an amazing turnaround in one generation's time."
Cornett said Tulsa and Oklahoma City rarely compete directly for companies, conventions or attractions, and the opportunities to work together on job creation become more common by the day.
"So for that reason, it does us no good to sit around and wish ill will on Tulsa," he said. "If Tulsa succeeds that helps the economic base of the whole state. And that helps Oklahoma City."
Wallis rejects the idea of the rivalry ever disappearing completely, but he applauds the direction it has taken in recent years.
"I think a certain amount of rivalry enriches and is good," he said. "I hope we can just keep it harnessed and we use it to benefit both cities."
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