Downtown ballpark financing in jeopardy
BY RANDY KREHBIEL, P.J. LASSEK & KEVIN CANFIELD World Staff Writers
Thursday, April 16, 2009
4/16/09 at 10:47 PM
View a live feed of the construction of ONEOK, read previous stories, see renderings of the proposed stadium and view related documents.
OKLAHOMA CITY — A piece of legislation passed without comment by the state Senate on Thursday might jeopardize the financing for the baseball stadium under construction in downtown Tulsa.
Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, amended House Bill 1424 with language that would exempt state, county and nonprofit properties from the type of business development district being counted on to help pay off a $25 million bond held by the Tulsa Community Foundation. It apparently does not apply to city property.
The exemption would cut at least $200,000 a year from the debt service revenue stream for the construction of ONEOK Field.
Brogdon explained the amendment to his colleagues as a measure to make government property exempt from all taxes. The bill passed 45-1 with only Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, in opposition.
Brogdon later confirmed his amendment is intended, at least in part, to aid Tulsa County in its dispute with the city over new assessments for the ballpark development district.
Tulsa’s entire Senate delegation voted in favor of the measure; most if not all — aside from Brogdon — were unaware of the amended version’s potential impact on the ballpark project.
Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, said he voted for the bill because of its original intent, which was to require more advance notification of proposed zoning changes. Adelson said he did not realize the extent to which the bill had been changed.
Governor’s desk or conference committee: Mayor Kathy Taylor said Thursday that business improvement districts have been a development tool used by municipalities for three decades and Brogdon’s legislation would “definitely impact the use of it (improvement district) by municipalities in the future.”
“But more importantly,” Taylor said about the actions of the Senate, “it is a process issue.”
She hopes the state House will put the legislation into committee so that there can be at least a few days for discussion on the impact of the law.
Whether the bill goes to the governor or to a conference committee is now up to HB 1424’s author, Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa. Proctor said he did not know of Brogdon’s intention to insert the development district language.
The bill is an important one for Proctor, because it provides for additional neighborhood notification of certain zoning changes. The measure stems from a controversial housing project planned in Proctor’s district.
Proctor said securing that notification remains his first priority.
If Proctor accepts the Senate amendments, the bill goes to the governor for his signature. If he refuses to accept the amended version, it goes to a conference committee from which it might not emerge.
County’s position: County Commission Chairman John Smaligo said he has spoken to Brogdon about the assessment district but has not been involved in crafting the legislation, nor has he lobbied for it.
“I did have a discussion with Senator Brogdon about the issue in general and made him aware that state and local governments were not exempt,” he said.
Under the new assessment, which takes effect July 1, the county’s annual bill jumps from $14,811 to $154,660. The Tulsa Jail’s assessment accounts for $101,102 of that total.
The county has argued that it should not be required to pay the ballpark portion of the assessment — about $102,000 a year — because the 11 county properties being assessed would receive no direct benefit from the ballpark.
The county has not objected to paying the downtown improvement portion of the assessment, which amounts to about $53,000 a year.
County Commissioner Karen Keith said she was unaware of the proposal. County Commissioner Fred Perry said the only talk of such legislation he was aware of related to state structures being exempted.
“We didn’t really try to have it expanded to include the county because we were just going to try to reason with the City Council,” Perry said.
Council tackles assessment roll: Taylor said she was unaware of the amendment and declined to comment on its timing as the City Council wrestles with approving an assessment roll for the district.
The council has delayed action twice on certifying the roll after objections to it were raised by the county, state, nonprofits and some property owners.
Councilors on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution, joining with Tulsa County officials, to request that Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris seek an opinion from the Oklahoma Attorney general on whether state and county property were properly included on the roll.
Councilor Bill Martinson said Harris has already agreed to do so.
“Hopefully, this will help resolve some the uncertainty and questions that are out there,” Martinson said.
World staff writer Brian Barber contributed to this story.
Construction of the new Drillers Ballpark continues in downtown Tulsa. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World