POSTED ON JUNE 20, 2007:
With an umbrella or two, the One Technology Center looks like a good fit for City Hall
While conflict and controversy are often the best ingredients to convince readers that a news story is worth their time to read, the complete and utter absence of contention can be equally newsworthy, especially when the controversy-free story concerns a major decision facing elected officials.
Such is the case, so far, with the Tulsa city government's probable move from its ancient digs at 200 Civic Center to the enormous glass cube known as the One Technology Center, located on the northwest corner of 2nd and Cincinnati.
"It sounds to me like it's a good deal," said City Councilor Jack Henderson after he heard from Economic Development Guru Don Himelfarb on all the pros and cons of the move (they were pretty lopsided, obviously).
Henderson was among other City Council members to whom Tulsa's economic development director presented results of the recently concluded feasibility study on the relocation, recommending they vote for it by the end of the month.
By all accounts so far, it looks like that's what they'll do.
"I feel good about it," said Henderson.
After seeking input from his fellow councilors, he said he has heard only positive feedback on the proposal.
Mayor Kathy Taylor announced in March that the city had entered into a 90-day option agreement to buy the building, pending the results of the due diligence study.
The results are in, and they essentially reiterate all the benefits initially anticipated by Taylor and Himelfarb.
Along with being easier on taxpayers' wallets, Himelfarb said move would also streamline city operations, give a much-needed shot in the arm to the economy of downtown Tulsa, as well as being an upgrade from the city's currently medieval technological capacity.
"The city's pretty much in the Dark Ages with technology," he said when he and the Mayor first proposed the move. "The air conditioning is Third World and the elevators need to be replaced."
In contrast to the nearly 40-year-old edifice now serving as City Hall, the OTC was constructed in 2002 and is replete with various 21st Century technological bells and whistles: a state-of-the-art mechanical system, LAN connections, Internet cafes, conference rooms with motorized screens and HD video walls and audio/video conferencing capabilities, and a telephone system that's already built-in.
Along with consolidating at least seven different city office locations into one, the move would also enable the city to consolidate at least eight different data centers within the OTC as well.
Consolidating, Himelfarb said, "will enhance constituents' experience by the creation of one stop for city services in one convenient location."
And it's cheaper, too.
Himelfarb emphasized, "There is no tax increase required of the citizens of Tulsa."
Rather, he said, the transaction would ultimately save taxpayers' money.
At the time of this writing, Himelfarb hadn't nailed down a final figure, but said the most it would cost would be $67.1 million, which includes the purchase price and relocation expenses, among other costs.
That's down from the $80 million purchase price he estimated in March.
New construction to accommodate city offices would cost $82.5 million, he also said.
Following the conclusion of the feasibility study, Himelfarb said operating out of OTC would save the city $15.2 million over the first 10 years by consuming 30 percent less energy and allowing for more efficient use of space.
"This is basically $15 million that is freed up that the city would not otherwise have to spend on police, roads and other services," he said.
The move would also get the city out from under $24 million in deferred maintenance costs to existing facilities, $12 million of which is unfunded.
The new building is also "as close to a green building as can be," Himelfarb said.
He said moving into the environmentally friendly OTC building would solve the air quality problems now beleaguering city workers at 200 Civic Center.
"It's not LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, but it could be," he added.
It would cost $700,000 to acquire gold-status LEED certification for the new building.
"What would be the purpose of that?" asked Council Chairman Roscoe Turner about the LEED certification.
"Bragging rights" is essentially what Himelfarb's answer boiled down to.
"You'd get the bully pulpit for other office buildings to go that way, and it would demonstrate that the City of Tulsa is a progressive city, leading the way in environmental responsibility," he said.
However, Himelfarb said the expense of getting the LEED certification is currently unnecessary, as there's no rush to make it happen.
"The building is efficient as is," he said.
Look Up in the Sky
Along with saving money, and the planet to boot, the move might also save the economy of downtown Tulsa.
In March, the Mayor touted the plan as "an opportunity to dramatically extend economic development without asking taxpayers for a penny."
"By absorbing the One Technology Center, we'll reduce vacancy and will immediately tighten up the downtown real estate market," said Himelfarb.
Also, the city's current facilities would be sold or leased for retail and commercial development, and City Hall itself would be razed and a convention hotel built in its place, which would support the new convention center and arena, thereby adding businesses to the city's tax roles.
According to the recently completed study, the total yearly benefit to the city in property tax, sales tax and hotel tax from the old city facilities would be more than $5 million, which Himelfarb said was a conservative estimate.
While Himelfarb painted an overwhelmingly bright and positive picture what life will be like when City Hall sets up shop at OTC, that doesn't mean the plan is without detractors or drawbacks.
Parking might be an issue, Himelfarb acknowledged, although no more of an issue than at the current City Hall location.
"In every other major city, you wouldn't give this a second thought but, unfortunately, Tulsa isn't like every other city," he said.
In other cities of comparable size, visitors to City Hall wouldn't mind parking their cars a block or two away and walking.
He said additional parking space will be needed to accommodate Tulsa's unique needs, but short and long-term options have been identified for employee parking within walking distance of the building.
Also, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act is "an issue," Himelfarb said.
However, he said Dr. Lana Turner-Addison, director of the city's Human Rights Department, "has reached out to the administration and said she will do everything necessary" to help make the building ADA compliant.
Also, the estimated costs of compliance are already included in the $67.1 million, he added.
"I've heard comments that the building can get a little toasty," said Councilor Bill Martinson during Himelfarb's recent presentation.
(Remember--the entire building is made of glass. And there are lots of sunny days in Oklahoma.)
"There are a couple of places where, a couple of times a year, where it gets hot," answered Himelfarb.
However, he added, "The problem is not pervasive throughout the building."
Also, he said, afflicted employees "have put up umbrellas to remediate the problem."
There are also wall shades that can be put up, costs for which are included in the $67.1 million.
Henderson asked him to address a rumor that the building was on the market before, but the price went up when the city started looking into buying it.
Just a vicious rumor, according to Himelfarb.
The building would cost $300 million to build by today's construction costs, but sold in 2002 for $120 million, he said.
With that in view, $67.1 million is a steal.
"This is really transformational for the city," said Himelfarb.
"It's rare in the businesses that something like this just lines up," he added.
Himelfarb asked the Council to consider voting on the proposal by June 28.
If it's approved, he estimated that the city would start moving in by the end of the year and, he hopes, be completely moved in by the middle of 2008.
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