Local government and business leaders have not been shy about following the example of other cities when it comes to rebuilding and revitalizing downtown Tulsa.
Marlin Keranen, general manager of the Crowne Plaza Tulsa hotel, is the latest example of that.
Keranen is leading the effort to put together a new marketing committee, independent of local government or other downtown organizations, that will market and promote all the attractions that downtown Tulsa has to offer. He said he hopes to pattern the group after a committee he helped form in Toronto in 1993.
Keranen--then the general manager of a Holiday Inn in a section of that city's downtown he described as somewhat questionable, in the eyes of many residents--said the committee wound up having quite an impact.
"Absolutely," he said. "In fact, we eventually became so successful, the city of Toronto would not let any event go on downtown without being approved by us."
Keranen isn't expecting the Tulsa committee to duplicate those results any time soon. But he believes it's long past time for a local group to emerge that is solely devoted to educating people--locals, as well as visitors--about what is available to them downtown.
Past attempts to put together such a group under the auspices of other organizations failed, prompting Keranen to mount this effort. He said he once worked with the now-defunct Downtown Tulsa Unlimited to put together such a group, but Keranen said DTU had its own agenda and a direction it wanted to go in that he felt was not a good fit for the kind of group he wanted to start.
Later, Keranen said, he worked with the Tulsa Convention and Visitors Bureau, which had announced its intention to form marketing committees for four districts in Tulsa, including downtown.
"We jumped on board, but when that contact position was eliminated, that was the end of that," he said. "It finally reached a point where some of us who had been talking about this said, 'We can't keep relying on other people.' We said, 'Let's form our own group independent of government and other marketing organizations in the area.' "
Keranen sent an e-mail to dozens of potential members of the committee in early January in an attempt to gauge their interest in joining such an organization. He said he received an excellent response to that query and now hopes to plan an organizational meeting in February.
"It's my belief, as well as that of a lot of other people, that Tulsans don't really have a good education as far as how much there is to do downtown," Keranen said, describing the mission of the committee. "With all our new restaurants, the ballpark getting ready to open and the BOK Center, we need to get the word out that downtown is the place to go.
"We also need to dispel a few myths about downtown not being safe," he said. "If you look at the police reports, downtown is actually one of the safest parts of the city."
Keranen said his committee also will do what it can to battle the notion that there is insufficient parking downtown.
"We know that parking garages sit empty day after day and night after night," he said.
One thing the committee won't do is pursue a political agenda, he said.
"We're not there to tell the city to clean the streets or plant more trees," he said. "Anyone who comes (to a meeting) and talks about politics will be in the wrong place. We will seek the help of the city, but it's not our job to tell the city how to do their job."
Keranen is hoping for an initial membership of 100 to 150 businesses and individuals, though he expects that number will grow as the group achieves success and builds a higher profile. He said within three or four years, the committee he helped found in Toronto hit its stride and began to enjoy the dividends of its work.
That group relied partly on dues from paying members for its operating budget. Keranen said a discussion about whether the Tulsa group would seek dues from its membership hasn't taken place yet, though it is a possibility.
But the Toronto organization also benefited from funding from a credit card firm that had been recruited by Keranen. The company provided the committee with a $250,000 stipend to help get its message out, an approach Keranen said he would try to duplicate here.
"Absolutely," he said. "I've already sent some e-mails out."
Keranen said the committee--which does not have a name yet--would strive to form partnership with local Web-based groups, media organizations and event organizers to convey its message. Eventually, he would like to see the creation of an annual "Taste of Tulsa" event featuring downtown restaurants, and he envisions a day when various subcommittees are formed to address the specific interests of downtown businesses and property owners.
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