Once the proposed $788 million is spent on The Channels, Tulsans will have a 12-mile lake, riverbank improvements, bridges, water taxis, a ferry plus public use area — and not much else.
Backers of the proposed Arkansas River development package readily agree that once the islands are constructed, the real work will only be beginning.
The non-profit group that proposed The Channels, Tulsa Stakeholders Inc., believes its vision for a grand isle, with high-rise buildings, parks, shopping and plenty of park space, will jump start a city they believe remains stuck in the doldrums of mediocrity and malaise. Their project would create three man-made islands in the Arkansas River between the 11th Street and 23rd Street bridges. TSI promises to raise $100 million from the private sector while the vast majority of the cash — $600 million — would come in the form of public financing, or taxes.
Since the development relies on renewable energies for its income and not real estate, it is anticipated that land costs can be flexible if necessary to ensure the feasibility of more affordable housing options.
The bold development proposal has created a lively debate across Tulsa and demonstrates an “out-of-the-box” type of thinking that has given people plenty to talk about since his unveiling in September.
“The $788 million gets us the islands, and they will be a platform for development,” said Hal Salisbury, an attorney with space dive Oklahoma Offset Inc. and TSI member.
It is uncertain what will happen next. There is an economic development package in the works, but TSI is reluctant to discuss the matter other than to say, “We have a plan.”
Because the groundwork is not in place yet, “We are not prepared to go into detail at this time,” Salisbury said.
The largest portion of the budgeted $788 million will go toward work along the river and the island construction. The $100 million in private sector funding is expected to launch the development literally from the ground up — the residential space, shops and entertainment, stakeholder Rusty Patton said.
The $600 million in public funds creates the “platform for development,” Salisbury said.
“Look at what’s going on in Oklahoma City,” Salisbury said. Although the project split the vote — winning by a narrow margin – the private investment since then in the Bricktown area is 10 times greater than the public investment.
“There will be a multiplier effect here, too,” Salisbury said.
The Channels is not expected to bring 50,000 people to the islands to live, but “create an infusion of youth back into the city,” Patton said.
Tulsa the ‘New’ Dallas
The world is passing Tulsa by, Salisbury said.
The Channels backers have referred to a 2004 study done in Dallas by the firm Booz Allen Hamilton. The study referred to a cycle of decline, which is called “The Death Spiral.”
The cycle leads to a hollow urban core where quality of life suffers, businesses and people move to surrounding areas, the tax base declines, infrastructure requirements are under funded, resources for city services decline and the tax burden increases. TSI sees Tulsa on the same path, although not as far along as Dallas.
“You can interchange the names ‘Tulsa’ and ‘Dallas,’ and not know the difference,” Salisbury said. “They have more intense problems because they are larger.”
The Booz Allen study does not mention islands, arenas or other big-ticket amenities for Dallas. In fact, the study calls for a focus on delivering basic government services efficiently.
“We have to do some short-term stuff to maintain the basic necessities,” Salisbury said, referring to a tax to raise the $600 million. “But, we have to have a long-term plan — one 50 years out there — so we can see the light at end of the tunnel. We have to have a plan to get us out of this spiral that we are in.”
Patton admits spending $600 million in taxes for island development vs. fixing streets and fighting crime is a classic chicken and egg problem.
“Of course we would like to do that (build streets, lower the crime rate and improve education). If we had the tax base to do it, we would — that is why we are in the problem we are in,” he said. “The tax base is declining. This is a choice that if you make the bet on roads and fill in potholes and it does not work — now you do not have anything else (to show for the money) and you are continuing on that spiral down.”
“My point is that we do need great schools, great roads, great infrastructure, but does that transform your city? No. It gets you to the base line where you need to be on a everyday basis,” he said. “So, we have to have something that kicks us out of that spiral. We think it will be the economic development thing.” ?