Sunday, May 13, 2007

Is Mayor’s List Of Possible Developers For City Golf Properties An Exclusive Club Of One?

Kathy Taylor’s announcement that she wants the City Council to agree to close several city owned golf holes in order balance her 2008 fiscal budget, has caused quite a debate in Tulsa. What appears on the surface to be an attempt to either fund the reopening of some of Tulsa’s long closed public swimming pools (the Mayor’s official spin) or to offset expected losses from the soon to be opened BOk Center, is stirring a lot of discussion about what would be the best establishment of city priorities.

However, sources tell me the real controversy may not come from the closing of the golf holes, but from what happens to the holes once closed.

Sources are saying that Mayor Taylor has already cut a deal with a local developer to sell both of Page Belcher “Back-Nines,” so that the developer can build homes on the properties. The deal calls for the city to be paid upwards of $5 million dollars for the 18 holes lying south of the clubhouse. If true, Mayor Kathy Taylor has struck a deal with a local developer without offering other developers a chance to bid on the properties.

Reports are that a deal may have been in the works for the sale of the golf course properties for a couple of years, which would have put the origins of the plan back into Bill LaFortune’s tenure as mayor. It was reported to me that the developer approached Mayor Taylor’s office about the possibility of purchasing the land late last year. My sources tell me that the developer (I’ve been given two possible names) has already met with the city’s economic development director, Don Himmelfarb, and a deal in principal was struck long before Mayor Taylor’s announcement to the City Council of her intentions to close the courses.

Current golf pro, George Glenn reportedly has a little more than a year left on his contract with the city, but it is speculated that Glenn would be amenable to a buy out.

It is further speculated that the Mayor’s office hopes to enlist Sen. Jim Inhofe to help with the complications arising from restrictions placed on the sale of the properties, due to the fact that some of the original funding for purchase of the properties on which the golf courses lie was supplied by the federal Department of the Interior.

The Mayor’s office hopes that by closing the 18 holes at Page Belcher, coupled with the proposed closure of nine additional holes at Mohawk in North Tulsa, that the savings to the city’s operating fund would make city-subsidized golf a breakeven endeavor. The city’s general fund, the same fund that pays for police and fire, as well as other basic city services, has been forced to increase the amount of its subsidy for the courses, as the demand for golf has declined and the availability of alternate public courses has increased. Proponents of the closure of some holes point out this availability of alternatives is what makes golf a better target for divestiture than say, the city’s zoo.

Even though the plan to close golf holes seems, on the surface, to be a winner for the taxpayer, Mayor Taylor is actually trading “sunk” tax dollars paid in the past, for the promise of future tax dollars. In order to finance the budget shortfall created by the development of the downtown arena (BOk Center), Mayor Taylor seems content to waste most of the $4.1 million of tax payer money that was spent on improving the city’s Page Belcher courses in West Tulsa, that was approved during the 2001 Third Penny Sales Tax vote.

I have been long saying that Tulsa is “capital dollar rich and operating dollar poor.” Golf courses, unlike other municipal assets, can’t be “warehoused.” Failure to maintain the courses for even one season will render them unusable.

The land on which the Mohawk public golf holes lie is unusable for development, because it lies in a flood plain. As such, there is virtually no demand from the private sector for the city to sell the property to developers.

Some of the additional reasons it is more profitable for the city to divest itself of Page Belcher holes, rather than Mohawk, are the greater cost of supplying water to Page Belcher and the fact that the West Tulsa courses lie within the boundaries of the Jenks school district. The proposed properties are also less than a mile from the construction of the new Tulsa Hills shopping center.

Regardless of your position on whether or not the golf courses should be shut down to save money, it is quite troubling to hear that Mayor Kathy Taylor may be planning to offer the highly valuable land to only one, highly connected, developer.

If sold, the city should ask for Requests for Proposals (RFPs) from the entire development sector. How else will we ever know if the citizens are getting the best deal possible on their tax dollar investment? How else will we know that special favors haven’t been granted for future favors?

Clean government demands an open process.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Com'on Please!!

Thanks for your reportage, as it is the typical tactic for this Mayoral Political Pimp. Like we've not seen this before! Really?

Here's the political ploy #1423:

Create the disaster (No City Budget $$'s), Play the 'pea and shell' game with the Citizen's,

While all along sewing up your 'backroom – GOB Deals' and then get your Lorton Lead Rag to Tout "How Amazingly Wonderful the Mayor has resolved the Dis-Arse-Ter!!

And the worst part is the voting public believe it!!

Tut Tut......

DaWizard

Anonymous said...

I have recently moved back to Tulsa after 6 years in Colorado and Florida. I grew up playing the Page Belcher course and have always felt it was one of the city's treasures. I don't understand how a single person can get elected, cut a backroom deal, and close half of what has been a Tulsa institution for years - - Page Belcher golf course. Beautiful golf courses help make Tulsa a liveable city and place for business to come to. Closing 18 holes at Page is a backward thinking act from a backward thinking mayor. What has happened to Tulsa???

Anonymous said...

This is nuts! Tulsans should not let this carpetbagger mayor, come to our city, close golf courses, take over Tulsa' best downtown office property, take over the fairgrounds all the while taking care of her fat cat friends. Closing golf courses will in no way help the city. Is Page making money or losing money for the city?

G Webster said...

I propose calling a Grand Jury to investigate the Machiavellian machinations of our mayor. She is out of control!

notstupid said...

no city should pay 1.6 million to keep a golf course open when there are plenty of private ones. I could not care less about them. If you still want to play golf your going to have to use your own money to do it.

Anonymous said...

Hey, we get what we deserve. Kathy Rodham Taylor is just observing government "of the people (with money), by the people (with money) and for the people (yep, with money)". As one mentioned, she wasn't (and probably isn't) a full time resident of Tulsa. If you think she ever cared about the fine people of our fair city, you're mistaken.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more! Kathy Taylor is out of control and will only lead Tulsa in the WRONG direction. Just a side note, I have a VERY reliable source/friend who tells me the city hall transaction is already done...the deal has been made. This person is involved in the transaction itself!