Tulsa is in a race with other mid-size cities to provide top-notch facilities, and downtown property owners are being called upon to swing for the fences in the mayor’s bid to build a downtown ballpark.
As the deadline for a plan neared, city officials offered up an alternate possible location because the site was next to entertainment areas already developed like Greenwood, the Brady and Blue Dome districts; there was a five-lane street and the potential for light rail.
The city first looked at a location in the East Village area for the ballpark, then switched to a tract owned by the Tulsa Development Authority in the Greenwood District in the northeast corner of the Inner Dispersal Loop.
“Once we talked to the architect, it just made a lot more sense because it gave us traffic density,” said Mayor Kathy Taylor.
She agreed TDA owning the property was also a factor.
“But it is the preferred site regardless who owns it,” she said. People patterns will have to change, she admitted. People are leery of coming downtown. There is the fear factor. That will change once activity picks up, she said.
“But, we have proven it is safe. We have bike patrols,” she said. “We want the feeling of there is something going on here. With the ballpark bordered by the Greenwood District, the Blue Dome and Brady; and with the investment that has already been made in those areas, that location makes sense,” Taylor said.
Property owners heard all the advantages for building a downtown baseball stadium for the Tulsa Drillers during a June 27 meeting with city and Tulsa Metro Chamber leaders.
And Drillers’ owner Chuck Lamson, talking as a fellow business owner, told them, “We feel this is important for our continuation.”
The Tulsa City Council is expected to vote on a proposed 6.5-cent per SF assessment Thursday, July 10, to raise $25 million in public funds for the stadium.
The $60 million ballpark is the critical ingredient for igniting a downtown revival, said Metro Chamber Chair Stan Lybarger.
“That concentration of venues creates a critical mass,” said the president and CEO of Bank of Oklahoma. “With the ballpark, (BOk) arena, the convention center — then the entertainment district becomes automatic.”
The proposed ballpark for the Tulsa Drillers would be a proven economic driver, according to Oklahoma State University economist Mark Snead.
Data on ballparks in other municipalities show they improve the property and sales tax base, said city and chamber officials.
If approved, groundbreaking would be this fall. An estimated 1,400 temporary construction jobs would be created during the 18-month construction period, according to data from OSU’s Center for Applied Economic Research.
The study, titled “The Expected Impact of a Downtown Tulsa Stadium,” was launched last fall and released Jan. 6, Snead said.
“They asked us to take a detailed look at it from a broader economic perspective,” Snead said. “They are concerned with the fine details: The construction, placement and other issues. They asked us to look at the bigger picture.”
The first pitch would be in April 2010. More than 200 permanent positions would be created, according to the report.
The economic output during the construction phase would be $114 million in sales and $46 million in payroll. Annual economic output would be $13 million in sales and $4.4 million in payroll.
The study reported that $1.4 million in construction phase sales tax revenue would be generated — $385,000 of which is distributed to Tulsa. Annually, sales tax revenue generated at the stadium would be $485,000 — $160,000 of which would be distributed to Tulsa.
About 125 people heard Taylor, Lamson, Lybarger and principal architect David Bower of Kansas City-based HOK Sports tout the advantages of a ballpark located in the Greenwood district of the Inner Dispersal Loop.
The 6,200-seat stadium, in the northeast corner of the IDL, would act a bookend with the Brady District and the Blue Dome district between the stadium and the nearly complete BOk Center on the west side.
The stadium would be two blocks from the railroad tracks, opening the way for light rail, Taylor said.
In addition to the stadium, downtown would have the iconic arena and a renovated convention center. Those three facilities would allow a critical mass for the growth of an entertainment district, said Lybarger and Lamson.
When combined with the BOk Center and potential hotel development, the stadium will provide a strong economic boost with additional foot traffic in downtown, Lybarger said during the presentation June 27.
Lybarger said the addition would be similar to the Bricktown ballpark in Oklahoma City.
“That was the single most important investment in Oklahoma City,” he said.
“It serves as a catalyst for a broader effort to enhance and redevelop downtown,” Taylor said.
“It would encourage connectivity between the Central Business District, Brady, the Blue Dome district and Tulsa North neighborhoods,” Lybarger said.
The ballpark would trigger additional development, Lybarger said.
Bower agreed, adding that he’d seen retail, hotels, offices and residential development follow such projects.
All said the $60 million project would provide a key attraction to draw greater numbers of Tulsa residents and visitors to the district while enhancing Brady Village, OSU-Tulsa, Blue Dome and Central Park and spurring development of a downtown entertainment district.
Lybarger admitted the proposed assessment is a significant increase.
“But the property owners will benefit materially from the ballpark,” Lybarger said. “It really is an investment in Tulsa’s future.”
He also admitted voters are focused on fixing the streets first.
”What we have here is an opportunity to generate significant momentum for the downtown area,” Lybarger said.
City officials “looked at every other conceivable funding source to fund the ballpark,” he said.
Officials examined TIFs, sales/lodging taxes and other economic development sources.
“We came to the conclusion there were only two practical ways to do it,” he said. They were private donations and extending the business improvement district assessment. Half of the money, $30 million, has been raised from private sources, Taylor said.
Another $25 million will come from the assessment — $5 million of those monies coming from city, county and state property owners. The ballpark itself would contribute an additional $5 million. Some speculate that the $5 million from the ballpark would be the naming rights to the stadium.
Property owners are expected to pass through their costs to tenants, Lybarger said.
Bottom line, Taylor’s administration wants to make the area between the BOk Center and the new ballpark a real destination.
“For me, it is about getting out-of-town people to come and spend their money so we can run the city without having to raise taxes,” she said.
The phenomenon in minor league baseball is moving to central business districts, creating a fan friendly environment with smaller venues, club seating, party platforms and decks. The overall effect is a standing-room-only, party atmosphere, Bower said.
“Professional baseball has been in Tulsa 100 years,” Lamson said. “Drillers Stadium has served us since 1981, but it no longer has the hospitality amenities or team amenities which is a factor to us, because we affiliated with the Colorado Rockies.”
Since 2000, six of the eight teams in the Texas League have built new facilities — Springfield, Mo.; Springdale; Corpus Christi; Frisco and Midland, Texas, and Little Rock.
“Our current location is inadequate,” Lamson said.
At its 15th Street and Yale Avenue location, the Drillers are locked in, he said. The stadium sits on 5.5 acres with the racetrack on the south and west and the street intersection on the north and east.
“Our future growth and opportunity of business resides in keeping current,” Lamson said. ?