Downtown Tulsa Revitalization Continues

Associate Editor

TWO WAY: Boston Avenue in downtown Tulsa is officially a two-way street.The $5.5 million project includes replacement of water lines and storm sewers, street rehabilitation, brick-like concrete pavers on sidewalks, curb bump-outs at intersections, decorative pedestrian lights between intersections and new trees. Construction began in April 2006, funded by the Third Penny Sales Tax. Other downtown street projects should be completed by the opening of the BOK Center in September.

GTR Newspapers photo

Early in February Tulsa city councilors voted unanimously to reallocate $5.93 million of the city budget for the renovation and relocation of City Hall to the 15-story One Technology Center at 100 S. Cincinnati Ave. It was the last remaining bureaucratic hurdle left for Mayor Kathy Taylor’s plan to consolidate city services in the modern, high-tech structure that once served as the corporate offices of Williams Communications. Now the only task remaining is moving City Hall, City Council offices and most city services to the new location. The vote was one of many recent milestones reached in the growing momentum to strengthen downtown Tulsa’s viability as the economic engine of Green Country.

The vacating of old City Hall adjacent to the new BOK Center Arena opens up prime real estate for interested parties in the hospitality industry to build hotel accommodations addressing the anticipated 1,300 new rooms the city will need to support the center’s events. Efforts are underway to attract developers interested in tapping into the market influx of visitors to the arena.

Good news came March 3 when SJS Hospitality, a hotel lodging company with offices in Broken Arrow, announced it has purchased the Atlas Life Building and is planning to convert one of Tulsa’s premier art deco landmarks into a 120-room boutique hotel. The company will retain the Tulsa Press Club and Atlas Grill located in the first floor. The $12 – 15 million investment is expected to take 18 to 24 months to convert the building. Former owner Maurice Kanbar of San Francisco called the project the start of “a boom in downtown Tulsa.”

Progress on the BOK Center Arena also reached a milestone in late February when workers finished the remaining 20 percent of the iconic glass wall replacing the temporary plywood and sealing the last remaining openings in the exterior. This enabled the building’s heating units to be turned on, flushed and adjusted and the interior trade work such as drywall, painting and other finish work to begin. This milestone is seen by many as the start of the homestretch for the $178 million, 18,000-seat event arena scheduled to open in September. As things stand now, the facility should be completed on schedule.

In anticipation of the completion of the arena, BOK Center management, headed by John Bolton, has begun an all out effort to get the word out about the new facility to music and touring industry professionals starting with an invitation-only party held in Los Angeles in February. Bottles of wine etched with a rendering of the façade of the new arena were given to the guests. Hosting the party provided an opportunity for BOK Center management to begin establishing contacts in the industry capable of bringing the desired caliber of events to the arena. To help attract high quality events to the center, the arena management team has contracted Philadelphia based SMG, a consulting firm that provides facility services to more than 200 public assembly facilities, including arenas, stadiums, performing arts theaters, and convention and trade centers in the United States, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Canada, Europe and the Middle East.

In January a long anticipated agreement between Mayor Taylor and Tulsa Driller President, Chuck Lamson was announced to bring Tulsa’s oldest professional sports franchise downtown. According to the agreement, the Mayor’s office has a four-month window to put together a privately funded deal providing a first class facility for the minor league Class AA baseball team. The city would own the facility and lease it to the Drillers. The East Village downtown is thought by many to be a prime location for the ballpark and it would become another stimulus for development in that section of the city’s core in the same way similar ballparks have done in cities like Toledo, Memphis, Springfield, Mo, and Oklahoma City. Downtown stadiums in these cities have attracted billions in capital investments along with annual economic impact in the millions.

Last November, at the urging of Leon Davis, the city’s director of real estate management, the Tulsa Development Authority agreed to fund an exclusive contract with Jones Lang LaSalle, a Chicago real estate consultant, to market the East Village area and four other properties for redevelopment. The move was designed to offer the properties to a broader, nationwide audience of developers in hopes of realizing optimum value for the real estate. Included in the five properties is the vacated old City Hall building and property.

Another piece of the puzzle to revitalizing downtown will hopefully come from the renewed effort by City Hall, civic leaders and volunteers to complete the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, also referred to as the 1921 Race Riot Museum. The Oklahoma State Legislature promised funding of $5 million but only a portion has been received. The City of Tulsa has pitched in an additional $405,000. But part of the state funding, enough to complete and install the featured 30-foot Reconciliation Tower, has fallen victim to a bureaucratic snafu and now appears to be hung up at the Oklahoma Historical Society. Efforts are under way by Tulsa leaders to get the remaining funding released and to raise additional funding from the private sector for the next phase of development.

The center is named after one of Tulsa most renowned citizens whose many stellar lifetime achievements include being the 1995 recipient of the country’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Metal of Freedom for his leadership role in furthering the cause of equality in America. Franklin is the only Tulsan to ever receive the award.

The conceptual scope of the center goes far beyond that of a memorial to Tulsa’s infamous race riot. It will be a monument dedicated to understanding through learning and community healing through reconciliation. The vision of the mission is to create a facility in the heart of downtown that will house a museum, archives and conference center to attracted not only tourism, but also bring speakers and teachers to the area. U.S. Rep. John Sullivan has worked hard to get the memorial into the national park system, a move that would facilitate nationwide recognition and funding.

Although no specific site has been acquired, plans are well underway for the Cain’s Ballroom Music Museum and Historical Society to locate somewhere in the Brady District. A non-profit entity headed by the owner of Cain’s, Jim Rodgers, has formed along with a seven-member board, an executive director and museum curator. Plans are to open its doors within a year.

Throughout the surrounding neighborhoods in ways large and small Tulsans are marshalling together to bring about a renaissance downtown. Neighborhood alliances such as Preserve Midtown have formed around an agenda that seeks to preserve the historic charm, value and character of vintage Tulsa neighborhoods to help retain the city’s unique quality of life. A variety of new restaurants, galleries and entertainment venues are springing up and drawing customers to downtown. High-rise and townhouse residential dwellings in midtown are on the increase. The refurbishing of the downtown streets, although decidedly frustrating to commuters, is moving to a completion date scheduled to coincide with the opening of the BOK Center. Pedestrian paths have been extended into the inner hub of the city creating a more pedestrian friendly urban environment. In mid-March a free trolley route was begun in midtown connecting the Blue Dome, Brookside and Cherry Street corridors.

Each milestone along the way brings the greater Tulsa community closer to an economic tipping point that will add to the infusion of capital investments in what many Tulsans believe is still America’s most livable city.

Updated 03-24-2008

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