Monday, September 11, 2006

A Modest, Half-Billion Dollar Proposal

John-Kelly Warren's dad stood up near the end of last week's pep rally to kick off the unvailing of "The Channels," and challenged the "nay-sayers" to hold back their "nays' unless they had a better idea.

Well, here's my proposal of a better idea. Please note, I doubt that I would support this proposal to the tune of $600 million of sales tax dollars, but hey...I think it's still "a better idea." I even have a conceptual!

Given that it is obvious that J-K and his buddies have reading a lot of Richard Florida's "Rise of the Creative Class," I've come to nickname "The Channels" as, "The Florida Keys." The underlying assumption of their endeavor is, that if you build the islands, the creative class will be lured to Tulsa to enjoy the "island life."

Rather than a climate controlled shopping area and a poodle park designed as a magnate for the trendy and chic, how about just building something that all real Oklahomans would flock to?

Let's build a big-honkin' football stadium!

Just think of it as Warren-Memorial Stadium, home of the "Route 66 Bowl."

Every year, during the "Route 66 Bowl" we could let the creative classes put on a half-time extravaganza, featuring Leon Russell and the GAP Band. We could award the Cyrus Avery Trophy to the winner of the game, which pits the second place team from the Sub Belt Conference against the eighth place team from the Big XII.

The creative classes could develop one heck of a parade that would run along the historic "Mother Road" [with a half-mile deviation to the trendier Cherry Street] that could feature marching bands and a Precision Briefcase Brigade of laid off mid-level managers.

Heck, if I keep ticking off the rich and powerful in this town, what a wonderful opportunity to bury me [ala Jimmy Hoffa] in one of the end zones!

On a more serious note, [more serious than being bumped off?] compare which of the two plans would have the greatest potential economic effects, if done right.

Warren-Memorial Stadium could host an annual, neutral site match up between the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Arkansas Razorbacks at the same time as the Tulsa State Fair. Billed as the Illinois River Shootout, this could become one of the nation's burgeoning rivalries, which would draw tens of thousands to our fair city to swill beer on Cherry Street and to pack the Blue Dome District with chanting fans.

Each December, the Route 66 bowl could lure thousands to the area with a regional match up, just a few miles up the road from the Tulsa Hills Shopping Center. Perfect time to support your teams and shop at some "uniquely Tulsa" stores.

If the stadium can be designed with some flexibility that would allow for a wider soccer pitch, we could have a shot at landing an MLS soccer franchise. What's left of Westport, after it's been torn down for parking lots, could feature adjoining soccer fields.

If we wanted to pop for another $100 million or so to put on a retractable dome [like the brand new Cardinals Stadium in Arizona], who's to say we couldn't try to land a Canadian Football League franchise for our stadium? Hey, if Toronto can have a baseball team, we can have a football team that plays on a 110 yard field!

High school football state championships and rock festivals? Which will lure more dollars to the area?

There you have it Mr. Warren. My better idea.

Or better yet? How about 40 miles of brand spankin' new, four lane roads in our city? You know, a vision of going from worst to first in streets? That might work, too.

Yuh think?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Channels: Video That Illuminates

Spend some time viewing the slickly developed animated video located at You can learn a lot about the mindset of the promoters.

First you're challenged to "Imagine"...Tulsa. But in what is the first major gaffe of their promotional efforts, their bias pops out. You are then shown 15 seconds or more of images of Tulsa to help you "imagine Tulsa." What are the images of? Downtown Tulsa.

Then you're cued about a "Strong, Healthy Community," as you fly over a blurred out West Tulsa, looking off to the vista of, what else, downtown and the river. Magically, "The Channels" fades into the river.

I don't get the connection to strength and health, but hey, why challenge a well financed "feel good" marketing piece?

The next section is worth pressing the pause button a few times, as you see more details of "The Channels" morph into the picture. The first of three islands (let's call it the North Island) appears to have a marina and four high rise condos that seem to rival those seen along Chicago's Lake Shore Drive. If you're buying what Tulsa Stakeholders are selling, then grab a piece of paper and pencil and let's start some tick marks. The North Island yields four high rise buildings that are either Class A condominiums, Class A office complexes, or a combination of both. At the feet of the four high rises are what appear to be three to four-story condos or office buldings.

Press play again and let's move on.

The largest of the three islands is the Center Island, which is the more public and commercial of the three, from appearances. This is where we find the unique "canopy" that will lend some degree of "climate control" to the outdoor market. Despite being the largest of the three islands, this mock up only shows two high rise buildings. Tick mark...Tick mark. Now we're up to six high rise buildings out in the middle of the river. Hey...what's that white frothy stuff just to the east? Is that a big fountain? Do we get the big fountain for our $600 million in public funding?

Press play and let's look at the South Island.

Whoa! Goes by fast, but I counted 9, if not 10, high rise buildings. Tick...tick...tick. How many high rises does that make?

I count no fewer than 15 skycraping, rent generating monolyths of the future. That's a bunch. And we're not talking about some stubby little buildings, either. These babies appear to be between 15 and 30 stories high. Quite an assemblage of new skycrapers we're getting for our $600 million in public funding, huh?

The rest of the animation shows "quality of life" enhancements that we should all get to enjoy after we've sunk 15 years worth of tax money into their development. That is, if you can find parking...which I never see in the conceptuals. Brick pathways...wind mills generating clean, renewable energy to power our future...a wind surfer throwing caution to the wind and saying, "dirty brown salty water don't scare me, I'm a 'strong' and 'healthy' member of the 'community'"...vibrant shopping amidst flying Frisbees™ that would never dream of bonking an elderly, yet strong and healthy shopper in the head.

You don't even have to "Imagine," because their marketers are doing it for you.

All told, a minute-and-a-half of what a mere half-billion tax payer dollars, might get you.

Now let's go back to those tick marks we were keeping, because they should have you thinking seriously about what you're being sold.

Fifteen new Class A residential and/or office properties. Wow! How do you think Maurice Kanbar and Henry Kaufman are feeling now about the values of their multi-million dollar investments in downtown Tulsa's older office buildings? How about the myriad of other owners of downtown and other Class A properties that are looking at such a serious over-saturation in new properties?

Here's Test Number One regarding the bill of goods we're being offerred:

If the developers of The Channels truly believe their fancy conceptualizations are what you're really going to get when this project is completed, then anyone seeking funding for the "Vote No" campaign need look no further than the current owners of Tulsa's nicer office and condominium properties as a funding source.

Why? Because they're going to see their investments dwindle to next to nothing, coupled with the reality that Tom Baker of the Mayor's office still is pushing to have their buildings retro-fitted for sprinkler systems, which will cost them hundreds-of-thousands of dollars.

So what's the test?

If these investors remain silent, then you know that they've been assured that the high rises are just part of the "bread and circusses" that are being sold to the public to get the tax money approved. If these investors don't help fund an opposition effort, then that fancy animation is just "sizzle," and you're not going to get the "steak" you saw on the menu.

Come on folks. The reality of our real estate markets in this town is that we're over saturated in everything. The home builders have glutted the residential markets and are feeding off of the suburban flight movement that is just getting fired up [remember the Bixby Bridge, our other public/private offering?]. The reason you're not seeing cranes in the air atop new office buildings is there is no demand for new buildings.

Construction of fifteen or sixteen new towers will deflate the property values of existing Class A properties the same way every new housing project in the suburbs deflates the value of existing homes in the city.

I'm guessing though, Tulsa Stakeholders doesn't really think any of those fifteen structures will be least not until the marketplace could support them, which is in ten to fifteen years at best.

So, what will your children get, while they're waiting for the new towers that your children's children are going to get? Vacant park land, that's what.

But vacant park land in a conceptual drawing doesn't elicit the requisite "Oh boy...gotta have that!" response that will get you to separate yourself from your tax dollars. Not like "pie in the skyscrapers" will.

Next time you see a "Stakeholder" ask 'em about the buildings.

Let the dialogue continue.

But "I Already Have a Park To Take My Dog To"

Want to change "The Channels?" Don't even think about it.

I've just returned from the grand unveiling of Tulsa's latest visionary solution to what ails us. I've come away with so many thoughts and observations, it's obvious I'm going to have to share them in multiple installments. However, one suspicion was overwhelmingly confirmed.

Your're going to hear a lot about the community "having a dialogue," but via the speaker Tom Cooper's slip of the tongue, it's obvious this train has left Dialogville and is heading full of steam, toward Rhetoric City.

What was his slip? Cooper, who is one of the six principles in Tulsa Stakeholders LLC, who has spared no expense to provide us with this great vision, while speaking about the multiple "dialogues" the group wants to have with various civic groups around the city, said they hope to visit with as many of us as possible to "educate" and "pursuade." defines "dialogue" as follows:

1. conversation between two or more persons.
2. the conversation between characters in a novel, drama, etc.
3. an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue, esp. a political or religious issue, with a view to reaching an amicable agreement or settlement.
4. a literary work in the form of a conversation: a dialogue of Plato. –verb (used without object)
5. to carry on a dialogue; converse.

6. to discuss areas of disagreement frankly in order to resolve them. –verb (used with object)

It was obvious to me that Mr. Cooper was far more interested in merely Definition 1, than he was in Definitions 3 or 6.

Those of you expecting a process by which to offer alternatives, or to suggest meaningful changes to the project will be politely pushed aside for "one-on-one" discussions "later." As Mr. Cooper said to one questioner from the audience, "I'm not going to get into a debate with you in front of everyone here."

Sure would be a shame to ruin a good pep rally with honest debate or real dialogue.

Before ending this entry and returning to the Doubletree to retrieve my digital camera I left under my chair, let me make a couple of more observations about the Question and Answer period that ended the presentation.

1. There were more negative questions than positive; two-to-one by my reckoning.

2. There were over thirty rows of chairs in the hall, but no positive questions were offered from any rows, except the front four, where the insiders sat.

3. The Q&A went SO poorly, in fact, that frantic supporters tried to get in "just one more question," so that Bill Warren, John-Kelly Warren's father, could stand up and give an impassioned speech about why this had to happen [More on this later I hope].

Finally, my favorite question out of all of them came from a young women who identified herself as Claire. She was twenty-something and shared that she was a lifelong Tulsan. Before asking a fairly fair question about why we weren't building on the assets we already have as a city, Claire retorted Mr. Cooper's argument that animal lovers should support the half-billion dollars of public investment in their "pet" project. Animal lovers? Why is that? Because animal lovers would have a great "pet park" to take their dogs to, Cooper explained. Claire opened her remarks by saying:

"I already have a park to take my dog to...Woodward Park."

Thanks Claire!