POSTED ON AUGUST 29, 2012:
Unpaid bills have led to friction between county authorities and the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame
Deborah Brown has few doubts about the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame's commitment to children and music education.
The founder and executive director of the Deborah Brown Community School decided to have her new charter school, Sankofa, housed on the floor below the Hall of Fame in the Union Depot building downtown.
"I just thought it was a wonderful marriage of sorts between the two entities," said Brown.
The charter school planned for middle-schoolers doesn't stand alone from the Deborah Brown Community School just yet. Brown said having a new president at Langston University, the school's sponsor, contributed to the delay, along with the university having to ask the Oklahoma State University Board of Regents to allow the sponsorship.
Nevertheless, children began in August to attend school at the depot building. But the presence of the classrooms has become another in several points of contention between the Jazz Hall of Fame and its landlord, the Tulsa County Industrial Authority.
Among the questions: How can a school move in without having any sort of lease agreement or informing the county? Also unsettled is the approximately $50,000 the county says it's owed by the nonprofit organization, a mix of electric bill payments, downtown assessments and insurance fees.
The county has set a Sept. 4 deadline, basically, with a special meeting scheduled for that date that could potentially involve taking action -- with county officials pointing out publicly how they think the jazz hall has violated terms of its lease.
But the county and the Jazz Hall of Fame don't have a typical landlord-tenant relationship.
The county purchased and renovated the building with Vision 2025 funds, public dollars collected from a sales tax hike approved by county voters in 2003. Vision 2025 allocated $4 million for the project. The Hall of Fame -- created in the late 1980s -- eagerly moved from the Greenwood Cultural Center into the renovated space, paying essentially no rent as part of the deal.
After the trains stopped stopping in the late 1960s, the depot sat vacant until the early 1980s. But since that time, the roughly 50,000-square-foot structure housed a variety of tenants, though not always filling the entire building. The county purchased the structure from oil and gas giant Williams Companies, and the Hall of Fame moved into the building June 2007.
How the deal was reached matters to Tulsa City Councilor Jack Henderson.
"The voters voted on that to be the Jazz Hall of Fame," Henderson said, adding, "I hope the county intends to let it remain."
He said that he plans to visit with county commissioners about the conflict, but acknowledged he hasn't yet gotten details from them about the dispute.
Publicly, Tulsa County Commissioner John Smaligo and Hall of Fame Chief Executive Officer Jason McIntosh seem intent on minimizing the conflict.
"We're hopeful that the Jazz Hall of Fame will pay all of the money that they owe in utilities and other assessments and fees," Smaligo said. One reason the bills weren't paid, apparently, was because they were not in the name of the Hall of Fame, but rather the Tulsa County Industrial Authority. Smaligo added that it's important that the electric bills be put in the name of the Hall of Fame "like they should have done years ago."
"And if any sublease is agreed to, that we be notified ahead of time," Smaligo added.
The issues were raised with the Hall of Fame at an Aug. 20 public meeting of the authority. In that meeting, McIntosh agreed to pay the roughly $30,000 in electric bills by the Sept. 4 deadline imposed by the county.
In an interview, McIntosh noted that the imposed deadline for the assessment fees related to ONEOK Field came as a surprise.
"It's not like that has been outstanding. That was just presented a couple of weeks ago," McIntosh said.
However, he said the organization plans to pay all the money the county says it owes by the Sept. 4 deadline.
"I wish we had been given more time and have a few weeks. There's not much we can do about that," McIntosh said.
As far as the insurance, McIntosh acknowledged that reimbursing the county ultimately allows for a better rate than if the organization tried to get insurance on its own.
However, McIntosh said he would like clarification on how any future claim payments might be distributed.
Less straightforward, however, is the situation involving Brown's school.
"We hadn't entered into a lease, but we had been prepared to," Brown said.
Yet Brown disclosed in the Aug. 20 meeting a recent $12,000 payment to the Hall of Fame, though she also said it was not a part of any formal lease agreement. In an interview, McIntosh said only that Brown had made a personal donation.
Brown said the school has spent roughly $100,000 on the depot building space to get it ready for students -- another issue of contention with county commissioners, who told McIntosh they should be informed whenever any such renovations are made to the building.
"I feel like I'm in the middle, and I don't know what Jason has done," Brown said.
McIntosh acknowledged that a more formal agreement with the school could be forthcoming. "That's probably where we end up going," McIntosh said.
Another point of dispute brought up by McIntosh at the Aug. 20 meeting was the removal of a generator from the building, which he said caused damage, though Smaligo said "initial review" did not find damage.
Perhaps an even larger question looms, however. Back in 2004, the Tulsa World quoted then-commissioner Wilbert Collins about the impending move of the Hall of Fame into the depot building. The World reported Collins as saying that the organization's revenue was projected to jump from about $400,000 to $2 million.
"Making that leap from $400,000 to $2 million means that there's going to be an awful lot of activity going on, and we trust that they can do it. They say that they can; we trust that they can do it. We want to be standing right beside them to ensure that they are successful," Collins told the World.
The organization's most recent tax return -- dated Aug. 15 -- shows revenue of $604,945 for the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2011. The organization reported a modest surplus of $30,845.
McIntosh -- not the organization's CEO back in 2004 - noted that the group's finances fared much better than the previous year, when it reported only $354,429 in revenue for the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2010 and a loss of $95,285.
"The economy's been tough on us, like a lot of other folks," McIntosh said.
The collaboration with the school is a part of the Hall of Fame's mission to promote music education, he said. The museum frequently host concerts -- often several in one week -- and serves as a site for events like weddings, which provide revenue for the organization. The Tulsa Symphony Orchestra also rents space in the building.
County commissioners have clearly begun to lose patience, but McIntosh spoke with optimism.
"We're blessed with a lot of very committed patrons, and I think that -- I'm very hopeful that -- many of these things will be resolved fairly quickly," McIntosh said.
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