A Gathering Place. Not every detail has been set in stone in the intricate design of A Gathering Place for Tulsa, the new, roughly $200-million park planned for the area alongside Riverside Drive.
"Will there be a period in the day when people are allowed to have an animal in the park? Can they be off-leash? ... Will there be any contained dog areas?" asked Michael Van Valkenburgh, president and chief executive officer of the architecture firm bearing his name.
The answer is not yet known.
"The learning process is still going on. We haven't done the technical documents yet, so this is the period of time when it's still easy, relatively easy to make revisions to the plan," he said, speaking in an interview as the crowds were finally starting to dwindle after a June 18 presentation at Tulsa Community College downtown.
Hundreds stood shoulder to shoulder hearing the first presentation and viewing an overhead presentation. Later, Van Valkenburgh himself repeated the talk to a smaller crowd gathered around a 23-by-10-foot model showing the approximately 55-acre park.
Yes, probing the crowd, there was a small bit of dissent. One woman, for example, said she lives near the eastern edge of the park concerned about the lack of a fence along the park's edge.
But the model and presentation showed an astounding level of detail and features, including a slightly-elevated Swing Hill area featuring swings and a view of downtown's skyline. Blair Pond east of Riverside Drive is the park's signature water amenity -- not counting its proximity to the Arkansas River -- with expectations that it will be a popular attraction.
The design includes "land bridges" across Riverside Drive expected to shield park-goers from the whizzing cars below.
In the interview, Van Valkenburgh said the park will be very accessible to anyone with disabilities.
"There are practically no steps in the entire park, and that is something that we make a big point of in our projects, that we like to see ramps as a preferred alternative to using stairs," Van Valkenburgh said.
In Oklahoma and Tulsa, he spoke about being impressed at how many existing parks have garden features. The new park will also feature an area known as Four Seasons Garden, which will include natural sandstone to frame the garden area.
"We were bowled over with the native stone and the rock formations in Oklahoma," Van Valkenburgh said.
Construction is set to start in 2014, with much of the funding provided by the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
Van Valkenburgh, who said his firm was chosen out of about 90 who expressed interest, praised the way the park's financing has been set up.
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"What's exciting about the anticipated financing of this project is that they're factoring in the creation of an endowment, and so the park is going to be very well maintained when it's finished," he said.
Ziva Should Have Read Urban Tulsa. Somehow, she overlooked the news reports about the recent legal friction involving her employer and the business founded by the man calling her on the phone, begging for a story.
Apparently, she took quick action based on his word as a businessman worried that a blogger "was improperly targeting Tulsa businesses," despite his business coming under scrutiny in the pages of her own newspaper.
That's essentially the explanation from The Tulsa World about why its enterprise editor and star investigative reporter, Ziva Branstetter, ran a background check on a critic of Tulsa-based Beautiful Brands International, then handed the information over to the company's chief executive officer, David Rutkauskas.
This happened on May 8, according to an email uncovered by frequent Rutkauskas critic Sean Kelly, who operates a website, UnhappyFranchisee.com. Two days earlier, Rutkauskas had signed off on a defamation lawsuit against Kelly, with the suit filed publicly on May 14. To anyone who had done a Google search on May 8, the lawsuit would have come as no surprise. In a subpoena reported on in a March 12 news report by The Journal Record, Beautiful Brands had labeled as defamatory some anonymous online comments made by "UnhappyFranchisee" at the Tulsa World's website. Urban Tulsa Weekly reported on the World's response to the subpoena in a May 1 story.
Even before the subpoena, Kelly had frequently published critical reports on his site about closures or complaints related to Beautiful Brands. Until recently, Kelly wrote anonymously on his website, also criticizing Oklahoma news outlets for what he's viewed as softball coverage of Beautiful Brands and Rutkauskas.
Months earlier, Kelly apparently had contact with a different Tulsa World editor to push the paper to do something of a critical look at Beautiful Brands, and the paper in February published an article including comments from people unhappy with their experiences, as well as some who described being satisfied with their business deals.
After the Tulsa World article, Kelly wrote his then-anonymous online comments. Rather than fight to stay anonymous, Sean Kelly publicly revealed his identity.
Yet, according to World attorney Schaad Titus, Branstetter knew none of this when Rutkauskas called her on May 8.He stated in a letter to Kelly that Branstetter "had no knowledge that there was an ongoing dispute between Beautiful Brands over what Sean Kelly said in his Unhappy Franchisee blog or in his comments to Tulsa World's story about Beautiful Brands."
Titus wrote: "At no time did Rutkauskas tell her that he had sued John Doe. He did not tell her he was going to sue Sean Kelly; he did not tell her that a subpoena was issued; and he did not hint or imply that there was a dispute between Beautiful Brands and Unhappy Franchisee over the comments."
Titus also stated in the letter that Branstetter "had no relationship with David Rutkauskas before May (other than him sending a Facebook private message of some sort regarding the Tulsa World's sale)," which was announced in February.
So why did Branstetter hand over the information?
"She provided the report to cultivate what she thought might be a source for future stories and to give him a chance to explain why this would be a story of interest to Tulsans," Titus wrote.
Rutkauskas later dropped the defamation lawsuit and publicly apologized to Kelly for a barrage of public, insulting Twitter messages, some of which included personal information about Kelly -- information about bankruptcy and property ownership, for example, that Kelly's attorney, Jonathan Fortman, has said he believes was obtained from Branstetter.
Kelly is based in Pennsylvania and on his site reports on criticism about many franchise companies, not just Beautiful Brands. On his site, he posted the letter from Titus, noting that the letter did not contain an apology. Kelly also pointed out the silence from Branstetter herself, despite requests for comment and Kelly's attempts to contact her directly.
"In my opinion, if this incident ends up casting Ms. Ziva Branstetter in an unfavorable light, it will not be because of her initial lapse of judgement [sic]. It will be because she is a self-declared proponent of truth and transparency who, when challenged, refused to be open and transparent."
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