Before I began writing for UTW, I did a piece in 2008 for La Semana -- a Tulsa based, international bilingual weekly, I posed a set of questions: things that were on the minds of lots of folks at the time:
• Can Tulsa use our spectacular new BOK Arena to out bid and secure winning acts for Tulsans and actually help make us a "destination" city?
• Can we be an effective counter-trend player in the tide against dramatically dropping attendance to live music events, conventions and many kinds of sporting events?
• Will sometimes timorous Tulsans overcome their aversion to downtown homeless folks, hang-ups about one way streets and questions about parking and show up for Arena shows and after event adventures in downtown dining, drinking and fun?
• Can the new BOK Center... help re-animate Tulsa's downtown; will we see a march back to Tulsa's core as a grand venue for enterprise, new ventures and other high yield efforts?
The Results So Far
The answer to most of these questions, four years forward, seems to be yes and in some cases a very strong yes. Example: the BOK Center is the recipient of the 2011 International Association of Venue Managers excellence award, an award given annually to a single venue in the world. And, according to published local reports, the BOK Center generated almost $600,000 in sales tax revenue for the first quarter of its fiscal year. It's also produced $322,000 plus in operating profit from July through September of last year. And more generally the BOK Center's revenue and ticket performance in the three years since wind up, in 2008, is amazing.
It seems fair to imagine that the only signal difference between last year's BOK Center performance and this year's results, may be the special revenues from last year's NCAA event in March 2011 and the lack of high profile concerts which is glaringly apparent over the past few months.
On the "spill over front", it looks as though the BOK Arena gambit is succeeding as well. Northwest Mutual Insurance is moving its offices from south Tulsa to downtown. It will be part of the $100 million One Place: an adventurous mixed-use development project sited across the street from the BOK Center.
"Mutual" currently employs more than 50 people in Tulsa and has a planned employee add path of about 25 people a year: it's likely that when the One Place project is completed in early 2013, that 100 or more additional employees will be in place. Bounded by second and third street and Denver and Cheyenne avenues, the One Place site plan calls for a hotel, a public courtyard, underground parking and residential, retail and restaurant spaces. Cimarex, an energy company, is moving 400 folks from a current downtown location to One Place as well.
The US Economy, Downtown and The Big Reset
Tulsa's downtown is undergoing an array of high speed kinetics: the metamorphic is sparked, in part, by two contrasting development/planning notions: the work and ideas of New York master builder Robert Moses, whose focus on gigantic projects was legendary; and the "small is beautiful," urban place models best represented by Jane Jacobs and more recently by voices like "New Urbanism" leader Andres Duany.
The dual outlooks are a kind of "two strand" physical poetry, with facilities like the BOK Arena and the new One Place project encapsulating the "Moses" outlook; while the ensemble of restaurants fielded by Elliot Nelson, the two soon-to-open downtown grocery outlets, and Tulsa Developer Jamie Jamison's Pearl district residential project being examples of the "Jacobian" outlook in Tulsa.
Just now, we have an unemployment rate that is a fraction of the national rate: and when the upturn in the national economy fully manifests here, in financial services and in entertainment, design and technology, job creation could accelerate -- especially in the downtown. But our vast and ongoing national economic transformation is a big mover as well: it has spawned radical reductions in the office space once needed for armies of back office workers, administrative employees and middle management people.
And, these "trans-sector" convulsions have reduced office space requirements in places like Tulsa's downtown. But there is a rise in the residential rental space markets: one that development planner Richard Florida and others, have illuminated. The financial meltdown and new mortgage lending constrictions have produced a demand for lots of additional rental space -- demands documented by a recent, and rigorous downtown Tulsa residential study.
Moreover, there are a variety of novel uses emerging including tens of thousands of new square footage devoted to a new headquarters for the Arts and Humanities Council, for TU Arts and Philbrook via the new Maxwell Art/Guthrie facility, all to be located in the Tulsa's Brady District.
As the Brady District and Blue Dome growth spur accelerates, it seems likely that spill over development will get underway in places like Tulsa's 6th St. corridor/Pearl district. Already, with the new OU/TU School of Medicine location in the East Village we can see stout activity linkages to our Central Business District, to Midtown and to the University of Tulsa campus. And with the new All Souls Unitarian Church along 6th Street, leading to the spacious new, Urban Tulsa Weekly location (to use one fab example), on E. 6th St., we have an emerging corridor with warehouses, retail and studio spaces -- these new operations are harbingers of a very different, but vibrant service and activity ecology for Tulsa's downtown and the midtown space.
Design & Tulsa Future
Architectural, industrial, product and fashion centric design services are a huge and increasing powerful part of America's economic and job future.
The BOK Center was designed, project team manager/senior architect Steve Alter says, to suggest a teepee, a tornado, or a gust of Oklahoma's storied winds.
Like Frank Gehry's now fabled Bilbao/Spain Museum, the BOK Arena has an exterior festooned with a shiny, twisted metal façade punctuated with vast glass panels and a wildly irregular geometry.
The Project, at nearly $190 million, is one of the most complex structures ever completed in Green Country. The facility has been consistently rated as one of the most imaginative, most productive facilities of its kind and is often mentioned in the same breath as Madison Square Garden and the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
With the arena, Alter and company created a design that, in an almost magical way, resonates with Tulsa's Native American heritage -- but the project was also fueled by a feverish revolution in computer visualization, advanced modeling and an explosion in the building arts use of novel materials. This revolution in design and materials, Tulsa's healthy obsession with adaptive re-use of our downtown historic properties and the great quest to re-invent what downtowns are all about, is core for an America that works in the 21st century.
It's also a challenge, that if successfully managed here, could define Tulsa as one of the hottest towns on the globe -- and we should want that.
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