Tribal development questioned
BY P.J. LASSEK World Staff Writer
Thursday, September 03, 2009
9/03/09 at 3:30 AM
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation's conceptual site plan for a proposed south Tulsa development and Arkansas River bridge will be divulged at the City Council meeting Thursday.
Councilor Bill Christiansen said Wednesday that he obtained a copy of the plan from a source who is concerned about the development.
"I'm not against the tribe developing land in Tulsa, but it must be done fairly, where everyone is competing on the same playing field," he said. "We have to protect the city and small businesses."
The development is proposed for a large tract of land on the northeast edge of the Arkansas River east of Yale Avenue and south of 121st Street.
It would include a bridge connecting 121st Street just east of Yale in Tulsa to 131st Street in Jenks.
Michael Wisner, CEO of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Trade and Commerce Authority, said Wednesday that he doesn't know what Christiansen has, but "what we've produced is all proprietary."
"We haven't released that to anyone other than our own government officials and federal officials," he said. "So first off, the fact that he has proprietary information is troubling at best."
While the tribe doesn't own all of the land in the proposed site, it is in the process of trying to acquire it, Christiansen claims. Wisner would neither confirm nor deny the tribe's activities.
The tribe has publicly stated that it has begun the process of getting the land it does own there placed into trust.
In addition to the bridge, which would direct traffic through the middle of the tribe's proposed development, the plan obtained by Christiansen calls for a town square, retail stores, a hotel, offices, multifamily and single-family dwellings, an outdoor theater, a park, trails and a large water feature.
Christiansen pointed out that tribal trust land is not subject to the city's zoning codes and sales tax or county property tax.
"Besides not having the proper infrastructure to support the influx of traffic there, if they are successful, the city's tax base would diminish," he said.
"Money spent on this sovereign commercial development would not generate sales tax for the city as other developments do or property tax that funds schools," he said.
"There is a real threat that it would cannibalize sales taxes that would normally be spent in other development sites like Tulsa Hills," he said.
That project, at 71st Street and U.S. 75, is part of a tax-increment financing district where advance funding is being repaid with the sales taxes generated there.
Christiansen asked: "What other areas is the tribe looking at putting into trust and developing? Where does it stop? What's to stop them from jumping across 121st Street and turning it into sovereign land, and then they can build whatever they want with total disregard to the surroundings?"
The councilor said he recently explained the city's concerns to the regional director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Muskogee.
"She just looked at me with a blank stare and then said it was their right to do this," he said.
Christiansen said the city should consider hiring an attorney who is knowledgeable in tribal law to fight the trust issue.
Wisner said this is all a ploy by Christiansen to win votes in next week's council election.
The tribe's goal, he said, is to diversify its long-term revenue stream away from gaming and tobacco.
All of the tribe's developments are "first class because we have the capital to do it," he added.
The proposed development would "drive up the property values for those that are fighting us fiercely," he said.
P.J. Lassek 581-8382
Bill Christiansen: The councilor is worried that sovereign tribal developments could erode the city's tax base.