City government saw some big changes this year and the national political landscape is still shifting under foot.
Downtown is seeing new growth while at least one mainstay seems to be heading for the door. Oklahoma weather made a master attempt at causing permanent damage and troops who have fought in the Iraq war for nearly a decade ventured home.
Urban Tulsa Weekly is dedicated to seeing you through blizzards, political upheaval, new development and even earthquakes. A short roundup of major players and big disappointments make up this year's Best and Worst.
So take a seat, prop up your feet, sip on a hot toddy and enjoy a year in review -- UTW style.
Most Ridiculous Media Attention
If you don't know who Tower Man is, you don't have a TV, newspaper subscription, Internet access or friends. In August, 25-year-old William Sturdivant III climbed up the Clear Channel Communications broadcast tower at 27th St. and Memorial Ave.; then spent the next six days slinking and catnapping along the tower's rungs and platforms.
The city was captivated as rumors and reports buzzed around about this mysterious, afraid, troubled climber. The Tower Man received national attention through Twitter and live video feeds of the stand-off. After 127 hours, and at long last, the haggard, dusty Tower Man, in nothing more than navy cotton boxers, got into the beckoning bucket and came back down to reality.
Best Disappearing Act
In 2005 and 2006, charming billionaire investor, inventor and Skyy Vodka creator Maurice Kanbar purchased 19 buildings -- more than 30 percent of the office and retail space downtown -- with promises to help revitalize Tulsa's emptied-out downtown.
This year, concerned Tulsans noticed a disturbing trend: Kanbar Properties has sold two of its buildings, demolished two more and dumped out several other tenants. Kanbar told Tulsa media outlets this year, "This can become a very sound and solid investment. It'll just take time."
How much longer should we hold our breath?
Best Downtown Project
The addition of two new grocery stores downtown is great news for current residents and those who would like to see more development in the area. Cam's Grocery and Archer Market have announced plans for opening downtown stores -- something we haven't had for the last 10 years. Almost time -- keep your fingers crossed for springtime openings -- to pull out your reusable, environment-friendly tote and pick up a few fresh apples down at the corner store.
Best News on the Warfront
Our troops in Iraq have finally come home. Lasting almost nine years, the war in Iraq cost America the lives of about 4,500 soldiers and over $700 billion. Operation Iraqi Freedom has been extremely unpopular with Americans, especially in recent years. Now we can all start asking, "When are the troops returning from Afghanistan?" Although 33,000 of our soldiers should be home by the end of next year, the answer to that question could be sometime in 2014.
After record-breaking snowfall in February, Tulsans were sick of the white, powdery stuff. Tulsa practically shuts down when it snows and these particular storms kept us inside for days. We felt like prisoners in our own homes! Plus, it cost the city about $2.5 million. When the snow melted and our lives resumed, we couldn't have been happier. After the equally brutal summer, we hold out hope that this winter won't be quite so bad. Keep those gloved-fingers crossed.
Mac-nerds and PC-dweebs alike -- all can agree that Steve Jobs may have been one of the most innovative and driven men of the last century. Co-founder and CEO of Apple died from complications of pancreatic cancer in early October. Though the Ipad, Ipod, Macbook and seemingly every other Apple-inspired product continue to thrive, his presence will be greatly missed in the entrepreneurial world.
Best Nationwide Exposure
Travel Channel's "Man vs. Food" featured an episode about Tulsa this summer. Host Adam Richman sampled dishes from Joe Momma's, Elote, The Spudder, Ann's Bakery and Bill's Jumbo Burger. Locals were certainly excited. There's just something so thrilling about seeing yourself or someone you know on television. Food, you know, is no exception.
Worst Nationwide Exposure
The federal government poured more than $500 million into Solyndra, a solar panel company backed in part by the Tulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation, only to find them bankrupt and under an FBI investigation in 2011. The financial support had been part of an effort to create jobs for Americans and put an end to U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Once hailed by President Obama as a leader toward a "brighter and more prosperous future," Solyndra failed to make any positive impact and was an embarrassment to everyone involved.
Best Thing About 2011
While troops were pulled, city politics shifted and we all learned what the term "fracking" meant, perhaps the best thing about 2011 is that the Mayan calendar wasn't off a year. 2011 was a great run; UTW moved spaces and the new digs are perfectly situated right outside the Pearl District. City development is growing and the new city political landscape has laid the groundwork for high hopes in 2012. Then again, that whole 2012 Mayan calendar mystery is set to reveal itself by this time next year. Prepare for impending doom? Cue the Y2K sequel.
Worst Thing About 2011
While local political chaos will hopefully be winding down due to recent city council changes, national politics are strained as usual. Occupy Wall Street has spread to cities throughout the country and the world (including good ol' T-Town), with many voicing their disapproval of current government. Unfortunately, with President Obama's approval rating at an all-time low and the Republican presidential nominees switching frontrunner spots daily, it's hard to imagine things getting much better in 2012.
Best Celebration of Local Arts and Entertainment
Absolute Best of Tulsa Music Awards -- Urban Tulsa Weekly's annual shindig recognizing your favorite artists, bands and performers was a huge hit this year. The red carpet welcomed new artists and some old favorites at a brand new venue with enhanced technology and a rockin' vibe. The ABoT Music Awards rocked the Joint at Hard Rock Casino and favorites like The Kristin Nicole Band and the Del Toros walked away with multiple wins. The 2012 ABoT awards are already in the works and, though 2011 will be hard to top, this year will likely get your feet dancin' and air guitar riffin'.
An earthquake of significant magnitude in Oklahoma is strange enough, but a simultaneous earthquake, tornado and lightning storm? That's odd, even for us. We're used to 70-degree weather one week and snowstorms the next. We stand on the porch during tornado warnings and look for funnel clouds. But the 5.6 magnitude earthquake felt on Saturday, Nov. 5 broke the Oklahoma record and was followed by aftershocks, as well as severe storms throughout the state.
Worst Sports Story
Oklahoma State University's athletic department experienced tragedy once again, as Kurt Budke, women's basketball coach, and one of his assistants, Miranda Serna, were killed in a plane crash in November. The pilot was a former state senator, Olin Branstetter. He and his wife, Paula, also died in the crash. Oklahomans statewide -- regardless of collegiate preference -- stood together as OSU, friends and family suffered through the tragedy.
Best Sports Story
The NCAA basketball tournament came to the BOK Center this year, generating more than $500,000 in income -- making it the biggest event ever featured at the venue. Team practices were open to the public with free admission. Ticket holders attended six games over the next three days. College basketball took over the town and we loved every second of it.
Jerry Sandusky allegedly had inappropriate relations with young boys involved in The Second Mile program at Penn State University, while Head Football Coach Joe Paterno, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and Senior VP for Finance and Business Gary Schultz essentially looked the other way. When Paterno announced his plan to retire after the 2011 season, students were outraged. They felt the beloved coach was unfairly blamed for what happened. Yes, that's what outraged them, apparently more than the disturbing occurrences between Sandusky and the children. Priorities.
Recently American Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Although purchased tickets and frequent flyer miles are safe for now, there will likely be a cut-back on routes and higher prices in the long-run. This is particularly disheartening to Tulsans since American Airlines is one of the region's biggest employers. During a decade-long recession, Tulsa has managed to hold its own and stay afloat; this latest development will likely have great ramifications on Tulsa's economy and employment rates.
Best Political Change
In November, seven new city councilors were voted into office. Only districts one and five out of nine will stay the same. This is a welcome change for Tulsans who are tired of the bickering between councilors and the mayor, and those who are just ready to see new progress. Some people feel we've been at a standstill. Here's hoping for improvement, and better teamwork.
Worst Political Change
Tulsans recently voted "Yes" on a non-partisan proposition, meaning future ballots will no longer clue you in on the candidates' political parties. Of course, since the majority approved of this idea, it's a controversial subject, but it could have a confusing effect on many voters. What seems like a nice idea might actually only benefit "insiders" and decrease voter turnout. Hopefully we didn't shoot ourselves in the foot on this one.
Most Shocking Moment
"Justice has been done," said President Obama, as he announced Osama Bin Laden's death on May 1, 2011. A decade in the making, the capture of Al Qaeda's leader was beginning to seem impossible. How many of us thought this day would never come? He had been hiding outside Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, and our troops finally found him. Crowds of people celebrated his death around the world.
Best/Worst Toss Up
Who wasn't excited when they heard that the Admiral Twin Drive-In, a Tulsa landmark, was going to be rebuilt? After being destroyed in a fire Sept. 3, 2010, nobody was sure if it would return. The rebuilding project has taken significantly longer than originally planned and was supposed to start in April, with an opening date during the summer. This was pushed back to Labor Day then pushed back again. When it (supposedly) opens next spring, it will be worth the wait.
Best Thing for Tulsa's Education System
There was a historic overhaul of Tulsa Public Schools this year, referred to as Project Schoolhouse. This included new grade configurations, redistribution of school assets, and reorganization of teachers and administration. Of the 41,000 students in the district, about 7,200 started at new schools this fall. While some parents and teachers are upset with the changes, TPS believes this will have a positive effect overall.
Best Success Story
Many locals got on the pink bandwagon this October, with Turn Tulsa Pink. Businesses and families alike supported cancer awareness by wearing pink, serving pink beverages and doing anything else they could think of to incorporate the color into our lives for a week. During that time, money was raised for charity and general cancer awareness.
Best Joint Effort
Since the beginning of Occupy Wall Street a few months ago, it was just a matter of time before we saw Occupy Tulsa hit the streets. And that they did. Although a diverse group of people, they are unified in their goal "to fight the corporate takeover of America," according to their website, occupytulsa.com. There's been a little dissention in the ranks but they remain focused on their corporate-takedown, government-change goals. Let's let these non-violent protestors use their freedom of speech in peace, shall we?
Person We Got Sick Of
It didn't take long to get sick of Charlie Sheen. Whether they were amused by his ridiculous rants or worried about his mental health, people couldn't stop talking about the self-proclaimed inventor of Tulsa. His local ties, though generally unknown early in the year, were suddenly -- though questionably -- revealed. Some still like to exclaim, "Winning!" in mockery of the fallen actor's silly catch-phrases. The rest of us are just thinking, "Stop!"
Best Thing That Hasn't Happened Yet
We don't know exactly when, but it seems there's a promise of reopening Bell's Amusement Park in the not-so-distant future. According to Robbie Bell, the new park will be located in the 5800 block of W. 51st St. What has started with a couple "kiddie rides" will (hopefully) gradually become a complete amusement park for children. What about Zingo, Phantasmagoria and Himalaya? We'll have to wait and see how Bell decides to appease the adults.
Happy to See
2011 brought continued development of the Pearl District. Soon the area (6th St., just east of Peoria) will hold new art galleries, restaurants, bars and even a recording studio. Projects to control flooding and improve streetscapes are underway. High quality development of residential and commercial properties in the Pearl District will help connect downtown to the University of Tulsa. UTW is happy to see the development underway from our second story windows.
Two arts please; shaken, not stirred
Lot No. 6 is much more than an art gallery. It's a fun place to hang out and have a few drinks, where a different artist is featured each month. They also host weekend entertainment and monthly craft sales, as well as live art events. It's cutting-edge and cool -- where art marries alcohol. Why didn't someone think of this sooner?
Best Foot Forward in Healthcare
After receiving a $4.6 million federal grant as part of the Affordable Care Act, Community Health Connection opened a new facility at 3rd and Lewis, led by executive director Laurie Paul. Community Health Connection works with hospitals to decrease emergency room use for primary care and provides services like immunizations, lab work and mental health counseling. The project had been put on hold due to the troubled economy, but the government (and supporters) actually came through on this one and made it happen.
Worst Thing That Hasn't Happened Yet
Oklahomans endured some pretty intense weather in 2011, including blizzards, tornadoes, extreme summer heat and -- something new and exciting -- earthquakes. As mentioned above, we even experienced several of these events at once. Luckily we have yet to experience a simultaneous blizzard, tornado, lightning storm, earthquake and...hurricane? But don't count it out for the future -- Oklahoma's unpredictability may force a coastal move.
Best Reason to Give Cheers
Here's something many, many Tulsans are thankful for: the host of all things fun -- the BOK Center. This year it allowed us to get up close and personal with some of the best college basketball players in the nation at the NCAA Tournament, superstars like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, and award-winning barbeque at the Rock 'N Rib Festival. Of course it is also home to the Tulsa Oilers and Tulsa Shock, as well as a current local favorite, Winterfest.
Sad to Go
It was a tough decision on which was more disappointing. So UTW chose a tossup. The Tulsa Talons are now the San Antonio Talons. That doesn't have quite the same ring to it. Unfortunately, due to low ticket sales the move was a financial necessity. The T-Town arena football team flew the coop and they will be missed.
The Green Onion first opened in 1986, on 51st St., between Harvard and Yale. It was closed and reopened in 2009, but business began to lag due to surrounding road work over the last couple years. They officially closed again in August. It's always sad to see a local restaurant go, but it especially hurts when city development takes at least part of the blame.
Best Passing of the Buck
Few events were as shocking as the death of 24-year-old George Clinkscale in 2011. The former TU linebacker died after participating in an unsanctioned boxing match at GUTS church in September. Many people blame the church for this tragedy, noting that the event, called "Guts Fight Night VI," was technically illegal. The finger-pointing has certainly made the rounds though -- the boxing commission, referee and organizers are all under pressure.
Best Event in the Animal World
Finishing touches on Tulsa Zoo's Sea Lion Cove - due to open in March 2012
The Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum has begun their master plan to build new exhibits and attractions, and is putting finishing touches on the Helmerich Sea Lion Cove, set to open in March 2012. Sea lions tend to be zoo favorites since they can interact with humans and perform impressive tricks. We will be able to watch their silly antics from various vantage points at the new exhibit.
Plans for development along the river are moving along beautifully. The Economic Development Administration awarded a $500,000 grant to support the project. Now it's time to decide where exactly that money will go. The people have spoken, with expected requests of a movie theater and restaurants, but also with, "We'd really like to see some water in that river, please."
Predictions and Things We'd Like to See?
Tulsa gets three Christmas parades and twenty splintered sectors of the Occupy Tulsa Movement.
Republicans, presidential and congressional, fight to the political-death and cancel each other out, ensuring a democratic victory on all fronts.
Tulsa will ring in 2013 with the usual fanfare and without the imminent threat of the end of the world as we know it.
Pop Culture Museum finally breaks ground.
American Airlines' Tulsa-based jobs remain intact despite internal reorganization.
The suburbs appreciate the Mother Ship. TPS gets the credit it deserves. City Council is ready to rock. The 6th St. corridor becomes the city's aorta. A metro area brew pub is established. Wine and real beer in grocery stores.
Light rail and commuter connections between Oklahoma City and Tulsa Metros with an Amtrack connection. Real river development.
The firemen and the EMSA's can be friends. New leadership: not as rich as Bloomberg, but Tulsa is no New York City -- still, George Kaiser for Mayor! Kathy Taylor as TU President and Keith Skrzypczak as Doctor Dolittle
Trash gets picked up on time. Civil Service pensioners required to do more volunteer work than walk their dogs in nice neighborhoods.
Seriously folks, Tulsa is a city of great potential but small-mindedness and shallow leadership. In history, when the going got tough, the tough got going. We are ready.
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