One of the founders of a planned arts high school said he is no longer considering locating the school at a site on the Evans Fintube property northeast of downtown and is instead pursuing other options.
Last summer, Tulsa advertising executive David Downing asked the Tulsa Development Authority to donate a plot of land on the south end of the Evans Fintube site bordering Archer Street for the Oklahoma School for the Visual and Performing Arts. But the authority has not acted on that request, pending the outcome of an environmental study and because of U.S. Housing and Urban Development restrictions and objectives regarding the property.
Downing said he has decided to eliminate that location as a potential site for the school and is now pursuing the donation of several acres of property on the west side of the Oklahoma State University-Tulsa campus that is controlled by the University Center at Tulsa trust.
"It looks promising, but no decision will be made until June," Downing said. "We're going to let this process play out, and hopefully, we'll wind up with some gift of some land around June 1."
Downing expressed some frustration at the lack of progress for the school, which was authorized by the passage of House Bill 1737 by the Legislature last year. Gov. Brad Henry signed the bill in June 2009, but Downing has been unable to move forward with fundraising for the school because he hasn't secured a home for it.
The residential school, modeled after the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics in Oklahoma City, would feature 200 students from around the state studying visual art, drama, dance, vocal performance, photography, film and writing. Admission would be based on a series of auditions.
Downing and his father-in-law, local oilman and philanthropist John Brock, came up with the idea for the school five years ago. They need to raise $20 to $25 million in private funds to build the school, outfit it and create an endowment.
"A year or so ago, we went down the fundraising path and raised $1 million," Downing said. "But everybody else told us, 'Come back when the land is secure.' Once we have the land commitment, we have plans to get this done quickly."
Downing said he was not overly disappointed by his inability to line up the Evans Fintube site. In fact, he said, when he took a group of 20 or 30 school supporters on a bus tour of potential sites in December, that location was the least preferred by those who rode along. Many of those supporters simply felt the site was too far removed from downtown to be desirable.
"Our architect liked the look of the (already existing building on the site) and saw the potential of making that a nice-looking campus," Downing said. "But while there's plans on the blocks for that area east of OSU-Tulsa, there's certainly no development going on now."
He said he has several other sites around downtown in mind in addition to the new target.
"We have a B plan in case that doesn't work out," he said. "There are other tracts inside the Inner Dispersal Loop we're looking at in case the UCAT trust site doesn't pan out. There are several possibilities, it's just a matter of panning it out."
Downing said he does not plan to approach the owners of any of those other properties until he has an answer from the UCAT trust.
Regardless of where the school ultimately is located, he hopes to have the land donated, though he didn't rule out the possibility of paying cash for it.
"We'd love to have something given to us, but there's not going to be a perfect scenario," he said.
The upside of the UCAT site, Downing said, is that its footprint is large enough to accommodate any facility that might need to be built. The downside, he said, is that there are no existing structures on the property that could be renovated, meaning construction costs will be higher.
"No one site's going to be perfect," he said. "You take the good with the bad. Our point of view now is, let's get something locked up and deal with the money second."
Downing is trying to remain upbeat about the prospects for the school, which he said last year he hoped to have open for its first class in the fall of 2013. But that target date might be pushed back because of the delay in lining up a location.
"I'm not discouraged, I'm just frustrated," he said. "The bill was signed a year ago. And I'm a go-getter."
Even so, Downing acknowledged the delay has not been all bad, considering the sorry state of the economy and the state budget.
"I give myself a little solace knowing there's no possibility of us having to go to the state this year and asking for the first disbursement of funds," he said, indicating it will likely be a year and a half before he'll be in a position to seek any money from the state. "So we've got some time, in that respect. If the state was flush with money, I'd be a little more worried.
"But it's going to be great when we get it done. The law authorizing the school exists, and the mechanism for funding it exists."
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