Channeling the Young Professional

The Channels is designed to change Tulsa’s trajectory and be the start of a trend where young professionals are attracted to Tulsa.
But what do young professionals — the people the project targets — actually think about the $788 million plan to create islands in the Arkansas River?
The Tulsa Business Journal collected a sampling of opinion — asking about a dozen YPs what they think about erecting 40 acres on the water.
The Channels will create a 12-mile lake and public gathering place on the Arkansas River.
Tulsa Stakeholders Inc., the not-for-profit corporation formed to fund and promotes the project, hired Bing Thom and other experts to develop a plan to create an urban core for the area and be a catalyst for the region’s economy.
The project is what Tulsa needs to jump ahead of other cities, said Dave Shirley, an account executive at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma. “A project like this is what we have been waiting for! We can’t let this opportunity slip through our fingers.”
Shirley believes in using The Channels to start a “Brain Gain” campaign.
“As a parent, I hope my children go to college and settle in the Tulsa area,” Shirley said. “But if Tulsa keeps losing young educated people, it will be a ‘tax’ on our future and mean less growth and investment. We must do something. Developing the river may be part of the solution.”
Many YPs think The Channels is a “neat idea,” but not feasible.

Forward Thinking
“Some see it as a little elitist,” said one YP who asked to remain anonymous.
The Channels backers have made some missteps, the YP said, in the way they presented the project, “Having the unveiling at S.R. Hughes in the middle of $10,000 couches,” for one thing.
It is the ultimate gated community because it has a moat, the YP said.
YPs like the spirit and energy the concept has created, but find it hard to swallow the price tag.
“We find it difficult to believe that will be the final price. It will escalate.”
YPs like the idea of creating a 12-mile lake, “at the same time, Tulsa has a lot of available land,” the YP said.
The Channels project is innovative and forward thinking, said Sarah Bachman, a young professional asked for her opinion.
“We call ourselves ‘Comfortably Cosmopolitan,’ and this project would make that claim a reality,” she said. “The Channels would bridge all walks of life and generations, it would create a haven for us all. While I am anxious to learn more details, I am excited about what this project would mean for our city, our residents and our future residents.”
The project would foster economic vitality with the construction cost alone, Bachman said.

Interesting, But …
The Channels is an interesting project, said Scott Cooksey.
“But, let’s not overlook some of the amazing architecture and opportunities for adaptive re-use already present in Tulsa.”
Cooksey is ypTulsa chair and a speaker and consultant.
As an example of what a dense, urban living model can look like, The Channels is right on, he wrote via e-mail.
“It is not, though, the only mixed-use, densely populated ‘neighborhood’ we need to thrive as a city. There are many more moving parts.”?
Creating a sustainable, “green” community living and gathering place is a quite attractive idea, globally speaking. And, being olly speaking. And, being one of the first developments of its kind in the world would certainly restore Tulsa to the world stage, Cooksey said.
“One feature which I find interesting, is the concept of a wind-powered generator farm being geographically placed near the oil tank batteries tying the future of energy to our city’s historic past,” he said. “However, in all reality, the $788 million price tag is a bit tough to swallow without disclosure of more details.”
That amount of money could go a long way in adapting existing, available spaces for re-use in ways no one has really considered previously, Cooksey said.
“For only a fraction of the $788 million, art deco gems like the recently destroyed Tulsa Auto Hotel could have been re-designed as a unique, mixed-use space for living and commerce.”
Cooksey was impressed with Bing Thom’s emotion during a recent presentation.
“For a world-class designer to have that much emotion and passion about a project of this scale in my city is simply amazing,” Cooksey said. “Is the Channels the ‘right project’ for Tulsa? I haven’t yet made up my mind.”
Cooksey wants Tulsa competing with places like Austin, Portland and Nashville — not Omaha, Springfield or Oklahoma City.

Catalyst for Growth
If Tulsa wants to compete with New York, Chicago, San Francisco or others in the areas of business development, the arts and social reform, the city needs to be open to creative ideas such as The Channels, said Jay Matlock, portfolio manager at Longbow Asset Management Co. “The Channels could be the catalyst to spur urban development, tourism and economic growth in Tulsa.”
“The young professionals in Tulsa have been starving for a defined segment of our city that allows for an all-encompassing living, working, and entertaining environment,” Matlock said. “An environment that assists in retaining and attracting young professionals is vital to the livelihood of Tulsa.”
The $600 million in public funds is a high price tag for this project, he said. “You have to look at a cost benefit analysis. Opponents of this project should consider this as an investment in our own community. The Channels are expected to generate an income sufficient enough to be self sustaining as well as provide additional revenues for the city that could be used for other improvements in the areas of crime prevention and improved educational support.”
Support for The Channels project will not come easy, he said.
“Young professionals are begging for a reason to jump on board and support this project. Continued education and easy to access information on The Channels are a must in order to spur increased support.”
The Channels is an exciting project that addresses what so many Tulsa leaders and outside consultants already know, said Adam Leavitt, CFP at Hogan & Slovacek PC. “Talented young professionals from Tulsa are moving to more exciting communities and there are few draws to bring outside YPs into our community. This is a major problem for the long term vitality of our city.”
There are better ways to spend the money.
“We need to consider the project’s grandiose vision, accept or reject it, then move on in united support of The Channels or another project,” he said. “In the end, what is essential is that we make some progress and not allow indecisiveness perpetuate the status quo – which for Tulsa means deterioration.”
Leavitt supports The Channels, “However, I would need to find out more before voting for it.”

Timing ‘Not Right’
Bryan Weeks favors the project. “It is a refreshing and innovative concept that would vastly improve the city’s image and attitude.”
However, Weeks believes the $600 million would be better spent on aging roads, downtown and historic improvements.
Another idea would be to use that amount of cash to create “incentives for young entrepreneurs and their business ideas.”
“Creating something new will not mask the problems the city already has,” Weeks said. “It will only create a greater dichotomy. We need to first deal with these problems and then make additional improvements.”
Tawn Albright is a YP who moved West to follow a career opportunity. Albright lived in Tulsa for several years to raise his children and be close to his parents.
He moved to Los Angeles where he heads corporate development for Ticketmaster.
Albright is impressed by the vision of The Channels team and applauds them for putting the concept out there. “They are challenging the status quo and dreaming big.”
“With that said, the timing is not right for such a project,” he said.
Tulsa has to live with the fact that if it does not focus on hitting “singles” and building infrastructure that it will slowly decline, he said.
“The ‘build-it-and-they-will-come’ model will not work for Tulsa. Diversification of jobs and industries will.”
Tulsa needs to focus on technology.
“If the city could attract engineers, programmers and Internet/media professionals then it would position itself well for the 21st Century,” he said. “This could be done for a fraction of the costs of The Channels and leave room for more infrastructure development that we all know the city deeply needs.” ?

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