It's not a permanent solution. But it'll do until the permanent solution presents itself.
That was the assessment of Tulsa County Commissioner Fred Perry on Dec. 21, as he and other county officials revealed they had come to an agreement to lease Drillers Stadium -- vacant for the past year after the Tulsa Drillers moved to downtown's ONEOK Field -- to a company that plans to operate it as a training and tournament facility for baseball-related activities.
That company, RBI Inc., will assume occupancy on Jan. 1, paying the county $5,000 a month under the terms of the agreement, which is for 12 months.
Not only will that agreement allow Tulsa County to realize a little income from Drillers Stadium, it also will allow the county to avoid the expense of maintaining the field, which Perry said runs into the tens of thousands of dollars a year.
Perry, who serves as chairman of a committee charged with soliciting specific business proposals for the site, said his group will continue to sift through whatever offers are received to develop the property over the long term.
"We've been consistently working on doing something for the short term, and in the process of that publicity and marketing effort, this group called me," he said. "They said they'd been reading about our committee, and they were interested in talking about the stadium."
Perry said one of the keys to the deal was how closely the RBI proposal fit with the results of a public opinion survey county officials conducted last year when the stadium became vacant. Respondents were asked what kind of projects they hoped to see at the site over the short term and the long terms, and Perry noted two of the most popular answers for the short term were youth- and sports-oriented activities.
"This RBI, that's what they're about," he said.
Perry said company officials called him last spring and expressed interest, but it took the rest of the year for the plan to come together. The Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority approved the lease last week.
Jason Arrowood, one of the partners in RBI, said his company is a start-up firm that works to improve the skills of baseball players ages 9 to 18 through batting, fielding and pitching practice, as well as strength and conditioning work. RBI hosts numerous baseball tournaments and holds showcase events around the country for players eager to perform before college scouts.
"College scholarships is what we're all about," said Arrowood, who spent several years playing in the minor leagues. "A lot of kids can't afford to go to college, and a lot of them don't get seen (by scouts). This gives them an opportunity to maybe go to college and play some baseball, if that's what they desire."
Approximately 150 players are enrolled in the program now, he said, though RBI is planning tournaments in Tulsa that will feature up to 40 teams, possibly attracting up to 800 players a weekend. The height of the RBI program runs from May through September, he said, though skills and training activities run year round. Arrowood said RBI would begin to schedule events almost immediately.
He said the stadium -- which was believed to be the largest in minor-league baseball when the Drillers played there -- is the perfect facility for his company.
"It's a baseball stadium, and we're baseball guys," he said. "When the Drillers moved out, it was vacant, and it seemed like a good fit. That's why we like it.
And there's a lot of history here. A lot of big-time big-league ballplayers came through here."
Whether the county's deal with RBI turns into a long-term arrangement or lasts just one year, Perry was happy to have the stadium being used again.
"We're very excited about it," he said. "This is what the public said they wanted to see. We're still open to the long-term possible development of that corner ... but in the short term, this is a great use of the stadium."
Since summer, Perry's committee has been sending letters to developers advising them of the 5.5-acre site's availability. The letter advises recipients that they can have a packet sent to them that includes aerial photos of the site, information on Expo Square, other developments in the area, demographic information and Chamber of Commerce contacts. County officials eventually plan to review whatever letters of interest they receive in return and solicit formal proposals.
But Perry has emphasized the land is not for sale, only for lease. And county officials are looking for a unique development for the spot -- not "just a shopping center and a hotel," Perry has said.
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