Well, kinda sort of. Downtown Oklahoma City Inc’s- counterpart in Tulsa was started 29 years ago to oversee its business improvement district. But an Oklahoma City maintenance company submitted a better bid to oversee much of the group’s operations and now it’s turning from full-fledged six-person office to a small one-person advocacy group.
As an outsider, I saw this one coming. Time after time, I noticed Jim Norton and his organization were increasingly unpopular among downtown Tulsa civic and business leaders I met with. From my own experience I can testify that Norton was not strong on public relations. Whenever I called, he was defensive, short and seemingly unwilling to tell downtown Tulsa’s story. Now, when these calls involved unpleasant stories, I could understand such defensiveness. But several of the stories were truly upbeat features on downtown Tulsa’s progress.
According to various folks I know in downtown Tulsa, such abrassiveness was not uncommon. I have no reason to believe Norton is anything but a good guy who passionately cares about his city. But if you can’t get along with your constituencies, the noblest of causes can end up stalled.
As tense negotiations continue over Downtown Oklahoma City Inc.’s efforts to do an early renewal of the downtown OKC BID one can only hope a similar situation doesn’t develop here. Just visit Downtown Tulsa Unlimited’s website and one realizes it, like Downtown OKC Inc., was doing much more than street cleaning.
Now, am I saying a similar situation could happen here? Am I suggesting the gang at Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. have some relationship mending ahead? That’s not for me to say. No one is coming out in public and saying so either. But what one side might consider to be typical negotiation tactics can sometimes be perceived as bullying or threats by the other side.
Downtown Tulsa Unlimited found itself with a lot of constituents who rightly or wrongly felt that Jim Norton and the organization no longer represented their concerns. From the folks I’ve talked to in Tulsa over the years, it would appear a little extra effort in realm of public relations could have gone a long way to prevent what’s happening next week.
The demise of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited surely offers everyone a lesson about the need to keep one’s eye on what’s really important and to keep cool on things that won’t really matter at the end of the day.
When I was in college in the late 1980s, a fun weekend consisted of going to the West End in Dallas. Back then Dallas was a big city with a sleepy central business district, no clusters of urban housing to speak of, and just one real urban entertainment district.
West End seemed to be a utopia for urban fun – it had the Marketplace, a mall that had art galleries, restaurants, a game room and theaters, it had an outdoor concert stage, clubs and bars.
It was cool, and it was difficult to see how it could ever fade away. But as we all know, West End is just a shadow of its former self. Downtown Dallas, meanwhile, has exploded into an aspiring world class city with multiple districts and thousands of apartments and condomiminiums. Retail and restaurants can be found everywhere, and lightrail and streetcars link it all together.
But even with an Aquarium, ample shops and stores, even a grocery and a CVS, downtown Dallas is missing something.
None of it really links together. The streets aren’t walkable. Downtown Dallas has a lot of “districts,” but not one of them, not even West Village, is enough to rise up and say “this is Dallas!”
I brought up some of these issues in my column Tuesday. One supporter of Core to Shore contacted me and argued that Core to Shore is necessary if downtown Oklahoma City is to lure in national developers. This individual, a developer himself, added that inflated land prices and splintered ownership of undeveloped downtown properties require creation of an area more friendly to national developers.
What I didn’t hear in all this is how such an area – Core to Shore – will make it any easier to develop these pockets that prevent downtown from becoming one compact community that attracts a critical mass of residents, retailers and office workers. If anything, this argument seems to support Jeff Speck’s warnings that Core to Shore could seriously slow or stop efforts to develop these empty pockets.
After talking to various folks in Dallas, a concensus emerges: Victory Park is the shining symbol of what’s gone wrong in Dallas. Powerful voices, backed with ample funding, dictated the future development of downtown Dallas. But while these individuals (most notably the Perot family) had money and power, they didn’t know much about urban development. The assumption that “all growth is good” is proven wrong by the rows of empty storefronts at the street level of Victory’s stunning new towers.
Score one for Jane Jacobs against the Perots.
The question then is can Oklahoma City learn from Dallas? And can we learn from our own past? As I’ve delved into these issues, I keep hearing that we can’t stop our momentum, that Core to Shore is critical to moving forward. Oklahoma City is moving toward a future that is based on assumptions that may or may not have been fully throught out to begin with. Are we following the same logic promoting Core to Shore that Dallas did with Victory? Sure, the mayor and others say Core to Shore is an inevitability. Likewise, our grandparents heard that destruction of Main Street to make way for a Galleria mall was an inevitability. We also hear that placement of a new convention center south of Ford Center, detached from Bricktown and existing hotels, is an inevitability. But is it?
Over the past couple of days I’ve been amazed to learn that such questions have been bouncing around behind closed doors for quite some time – but nobody has wanted to be the one to take a chance and be the first to challenge the mayor, challenge the chamber, challenge the planners.
I’m not so shy. More to come. Up next: What about the Santa Fe Depot? How can it help solidify Bricktown as “a place” worthy of Jane Jacob’s seal of approval. And if a convention center is needed, is south of Ford Center really the best site?
It’s a tough job. But someone has to do it. Coyote Ugly is open in Bricktown. And no, I’ve not asked for a water.
We interrupt this MAPS 3 discussion to bring you this special bulletin: Oklahoma County Commissioner Ray Vaughn is trying to get voters to first approve a hike in sales taxes and property taxes for the county jail according to a report today on KWTV.
This is an intriguing development for anyone hoping to see a third chapter of MAPS advance development of the central city.
Having once covered county government, here are some questions I would be curious to see answered:
- How is Sheriff John Whetsel’s insistence on patrolling areas already patrolled by Oklahoma City, Edmond and Midwest City police an efficient use of existing tax dollars?
- Why does each county commissioner need their own road crew consisting of hires who historically have been political supporters from previous campaigns (what some people would say is patronage hiring)?
- Why does each county officer need their own public relations flack?
- How much of county time is spent politicking instead of accomplishing actual business?
- How much nepotism can be found within Sheriff Whetsel’s office?
- Are county employees hired based on actual qualifications or based on who they know?
- How much money has been spent settling lawsuits related to Oklahoma County’s hiring practices?
- When was the last time Oklahoma County officials had to CUT their budgets?
- Has Sheriff John Whetsel provided any of the last three jail task forces with all the documentation they requested on his budget, finances and operations?
- Do you trust Oklahoma County or Oklahoma City City Hall to best advance this community’s interests in the future?
- What raises have the county officials given themselves the past five years? What are they paid now? How does their pay compare to that paid to the governor?
I’m sitting on a sold-out Heartland Flyer from Fort Worth back to Oklahoma City as I write this (the posting was delayed until Monday morning, however). I’ve spent the past five days in Dallas/Fort Worth, and I’ve come back with a lot to share with you, the readers.
Let’s just start with the train itself. The Heartland Flyer, by all appearances, is a success. Is it still relying on public subsidies to stay afloat? Yes. And so are the airlines and every motorist in America. I also know now, without a doubt, that the train is generating tourism, and more importantly, tourism dollars, for Oklahoma City.
But our relationship with the Heartland Flyer might well represent our city’s relationship with Oklahoma mass transit in general. We give token attention to it, but we don’t put the same emphasis or work into it that we do our streets and bridges.
That’s odd. Truth be told, Oklahoma City wouldn’t have been born without trains. Ask any historian – they’ll back me up on this.
When the mid-20th century arrived, we turned our back on trains. There wasn’t any referendum, there were no polls – but there were certainly some suspicious business deals that led to the dismantling of the once beloved Interurban and OKC Railway Co.
Likewise, one might look for some odd reasoning behind the abandonment of Amtrak service in 1979. We were told sacrifices were being made and that we needed to be grateful when we got the Heartland Flyer.
The Heartland Flyer, of course, only goes to Fort Worth and isn’t well connected to the national system. But let’s just be grateful for what we’ve got and not expect too much, alright?
Likewise, compared to other stops along the route of the Heartland Flyer, Oklahoma City’s train station is pitiful. The grand old Santa Fe Depot isn’t the problem – it’s still a wonderful building. But it’s got no soul – no life, no activity. When city leaders failed to have the vision necessary to buy the once dilapidated station in the mid-1990s, the late Jim Brewer did. And the Brewers aren’t the bad guys here – they’re businessmen. They buy properties and seek to make money. They renovated the station – with more than $1 million in state tax dollars – but they’ve made it whole.
But the idea of making a lot of money off the station by turning it into a hotel or restaurant or shops hasn’t materialized. But that may be good news. With all the ideas being considered for MAPS 3, it’s amazing that perhaps the simplest and most cost effective option has yet to be even discussed.
Downtown Oklahoma City is a tourist destination. I’ve seen ample evidence of it this past week. Keep reading this blog all week long to learn what possibilities lie ahead if we just appreciate what we’ve got.
This week I’ll be asking more tough questions, challenging conventional wisdom, exposing shortcomings and providing alternative ideas.
Oh, and get ready for an OKC Central video unlike any you’ve seen so far.
Today I’ve got the story on Jeff Speck’s final report on how to make downtown Oklahoma City more friendly to pedestrians. I’m always reminded of how lucky I am to have a great group of readers here at www.okccentral.com when I read comments like this:
Oh boy, new urbanism. People need to watch out for this stuff, it’s great and dandy on the outside and reduces the human “footprint” but it could be dangerous to people’s freedom. I hope the government doesn’t get directly involved with these future plans. I hope the best for OKC and it’s downtown, it’s definitely the pioneer of Oklahoma.
Danny, Tulsa – Jun 21, 2009 at 11:39 am
“Dangerous to people’s freedoms.” Danny, what in the world are you talking about? The New Urbanism approach advocated by Speck and others encourages cities to give people greater freedom via mixed-use zoning (it’s ok to have housing, shops and offices in the same building) and allows commercial construction without a required number of parking spaces.
Speck’s report urges the city to “allow” people to park on the streets. It urges the city to create spaces that will “allow” people to actually walk or ride bicycles from place to place, instead of being restricted to traveling by car. The plan also would “allow” people to get around by car as they do today, but without having to navigate confusing one-way streets.
This isn’t a Republican-Democrat debate – it’s a question of whether or not we want our downtown to be a community again.
No guys, he’s not the “Republican mayor Oklahoma City.” He’s the non-partisan mayor of Oklahoma City. A lot of observers I know say this non-partisan nature of City Hall is what has kept it professional and efficient, and unlike the usually corrupt dysfunctional Oklahoma County governement. People inside and outside of City Hall widely believe a key to Oklahoma City resurgence the past 20 years is partially due to the non-partisian nature of the council – there isn’t a Republican and Democratic wing fighting each other.
This isn’t the first time we’ve had Mayor Mick with partisian politics being attached to his office. I’ll ask Monday how this one transpired.
For a great summary of the increasingly very, very cool film festival, go here.
It really is amazing to think how far this festival has come in a few short years. It was an obscure gathering, at best, and I don’t think many people knew it existed when it first started (2001 I think). But since it moved downtown, it’s developed its vibe, traditions and quirks. The viewing out on the lawn at NW 4 and E.K. Gaylord is especially nice, and I’m not sure that site will be easily replaced if it’s ever turned into the home of the Greater OKC Chamber.
To all those who made deadCENTER what it is today – thank you. What you’re accomplishing is as important, in my mind, as any of the brick and mortor projects completed with MAPS. Yes, I really mean that.
The detours along I-235 the past couple weeks may be a pain, but consider this: according to a Tulsa World database on federal stimulous spending in Oklahoma, the $2.9 million project is the one to get the stimulous funding in Oklahoma County.
Tulsa County, meanwhile, has several projects totaling $59 million.
Curious sidenote: when the lobbying was underway, Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor was very vocal while Mayor Mick Cornett was relatively silent, at least publicly, on the issue. Mayor Mick has also indicated he’s not too worried that the downtown boulevard promised by ODOT has yet to be funded or even make the eight-year funding plan.
Yes, I’m suspicious…. will voters be asked to end up paying for a boulevard that ODOT promised to pay for in order to win the city’s support for the new alignment?
History shows ODOT has not always kept its mitigation promises, most notably the Harrison-Walnut plan drawn up for I-235 construction.
I’m watching… are you?