Mayor is miffed over remarks by developer
BY BRIAN BARBER World Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
6/30/09 at 3:44 PM
But the developer says he stands by his e-mail regarding donors to a new baseball stadium.
Mayor Kathy Taylor has demanded that a developer retract allegations he made about her and the other donors to a proposed downtown ballpark.
Taylor said Will Wilkins of Novus Homes LLC indicated in an e-mail he circulated Friday to drum up support for his project that the donors stood to profit from the ballpark plan.
The mayor said she met privately Monday with Wilkins about the e-mail and that she had the impression that he was going to retract the statements.
"People have to be responsible for their actions," she said. "I feel like he has made broad statements, pretty serious accusations, without understanding the facts."
But Wilkins told the City Council during Tuesday's committee meetings that after reviewing the specific language of the e-mail with his attorney, he is standing behind it.
Novus entered into an exclusive negotiating period in January with the Tulsa Development Authority to pursue a mixed-use development on a half-block parcel owned by the authority, which is the real estate arm of the city.
Tulsa Development Authority officials approached Novus about the property, along the west side of Elgin Avenue between Brady and Archer streets, after previous development efforts fell through, Wilkins said.
Since then, he has spent about $15,000 putting together the project called 120 Brady Village, which includes commercial, residential and hotel components.
But once the proposed stadium site was moved nearby, all of the surrounding land fell into a master development area that ballpark backers want to control.
The George Kaiser Family Foundation is assisting in acquiring the land around the proposed stadium. It is expected to be transferred at acquisition cost to a public trust created to govern the ballpark.
All revenues the trust receives from selling or leasing the parcels for development will go toward retiring the debt on the stadium and future maintenance needs, officials have said.
Novus now has been notified by Development Authority officials that the negotiation period for the land will be terminated at a Thursday meeting.
In his e-mail, Wilkins said that "interference from the Mayor's administration and the $30 million donors have influenced the TDA to attempt to withdraw from our contract negotiations for the sole gain of the donors."
Half of the ballpark's $60 million cost has been pledged by 27 private donors. Included among them are Taylor and her husband, Bill Lobeck, through their Lobeck Taylor Foundation.
Wilkins drew a distinction for councilors that he used the word "gain," alluding to the land acquisition, not "profit."
Later in the e-mail, however, Wilkins said, "This action is a slap in the face to any developer that has a good idea in improving our downtown and Tulsa in general by saying 'you have a great idea, have spent the time and money to prove it's a great idea but now we're going to take it so we can profit from it.' "
Taylor has obtained a private attorney in the matter, Joel Wohlgemuth, but when asked by the Tulsa World whether she intends to pursue legal action against Wilkins, she said, "Not necessarily."
Taylor said it is important for everyone to realize that the way the stadium trust is structured under Oklahoma law allows for no personal benefit or profit to the donors.
She also said that she and members of her administration are not calling the shots with the Tulsa Development Authority, noting that she does not have a seat on the authority.
For their part, councilors said they weren't interested in getting involved in a "he said, she said debate."
Councilors Rick Westcott and G.T. Bynum said that what the council needs to focus on is whether the developer was treated fairly.
Councilors were frustrated that no one from the Development Authority came to their Tuesday meeting to discuss the situation.
Brian Barber 581-8322
Mayor Kathy Taylor: Wilkins "has made broad statements, pretty serious accusations, without understanding the facts."