Fair board reverses course on Creek naming rights deal
BY KEVIN CANFIELD World Staff Writer
Thursday, December 13, 2012
12/13/12 at 7:53 AM
The Tulsa County fair board deferred action Wednesday on a new naming rights agreement with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and took steps to return live horse racing to Fair Meadows racetrack in 2013.
After rescinding its previous two votes approving naming rights agreements with the tribe - which included provisions that would end live horse racing at the racetrack, which is at the fairgrounds - the board deferred a decision on a new agreement at the request of Creek Nation Principal Chief George Tiger.
"Having sat where you sit, I would like to ask if we (will) be allowed the opportunity for any negotiations," Tiger told the board, adding that "we have to go back to our legislature ... about some of the particulars."
Tiger said after the meeting that he would have to present the latest proposal to the tribe's National Council to "see whether or not we want to move forward with it."
According to the proposed three-year naming rights agreement, the Creek Nation would pay the fairgrounds - known as Expo Square - $140,000 a year, one-tenth of what the fairgrounds was to receive under its original agreement with the tribe.
The $11,666-a-month payment also is substantially less than the $20,000 a month Expo Square has been receiving from QuikTrip for naming rights on the QuikTrip Center, the main exhibition building at the fairgrounds. Under the proposal, the 448,400-square-foot building would be renamed the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Center.
The Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission approved two licenses earlier this year allowing Fair Meadows to hold live races in 2013. However, Fair Meadows did not sign and return the documents.
On Wednesday, the fair board voted to sign the licenses and provide them to the commission.
"We will be having a special meeting next Monday, the 17th, at 3 p.m. to accept the signed licenses under the 10-day window they were issued under," Becky Goumaz, chairwoman of the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission, said after the meeting.
Goumaz said she was confident that the signed licenses would be accepted by the commission. The licenses also permit Fair Meadows to operate its simulcast facility.
Wednesday's special meeting was called after the fair board learned that a Fair Meadows official had signed agreements with the state's quarter horse and thoroughbred associations stating that the racetrack would hold live races in 2013.
County Commissioner and fair board Chairman Fred Perry has said previously that fair board trustees did not know of the agreements until an attorney for the state's horsemen associations mentioned them during a fair board meeting last week.
That meeting was called to vote on an amended naming rights agreement that clarified in which court legal disputes between the fair board and the Creek Nation could be resolved. At the meeting, the fair board took comments - but no questions - and posted an agenda that included the live horse racing provision.
The public brouhaha over live horse racing at Fair Meadows began on Nov. 1 when the fair board voted without comment to approve the original $1.44 million a year naming rights deal with the Creek Nation.
The agenda for the meeting made no mention of live horse racing, nor did a news release provided after the meeting.
Horsemen across the state criticized the board for its handling of the matter and claimed that they had not been included in discussions leading up to the vote.
Without a license to hold live races, Fair Meadows would not have received the $2 million a year it was getting from the Creek, Osage and Cherokee tribes in lieu of having gaming machines.
The horsemen, meanwhile, were concerned that the tribes would not continue paying into a fund that went to horse racing purses statewide. The purse fund averaged $6.8 million a year between 2007 and 2011.
The tribes will be obligated to pay into the funds should Fair Meadows run live races in 2013.
Debbie Schauf, executive director of the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association, said after Wednesday's meeting that she would like to sit down with Fair Meadows officials to discuss the sport's future in Tulsa.
"We would like an opportunity to show them that maybe their perception that they were losing money was not an accurate perception," Schauf said.
"I would like to work with them to show them how this could be a bird's nest on the ground and they can make a lot of money off this race meet and do good for all of Oklahoma."
But Mark Andrus, Expo Square's president and CEO, would not comment on what the future holds for Fair Meadows beyond 2013.
"After the board meeting, it is our intent to race in 2013," Andrus said after Wednesday's meeting. "I don't know what will happen after that."
The fair board has consistently defended its decision to end live horse racing, saying the 34-day meet had become too expensive and that the new naming rights agreement would provide a steady, reliable stream of income to the fairgrounds without the costs associated with live horse racing.
Perry has also said that whatever replaces horse racing at the fairgrounds would more than offset the economic loss caused by ending live horse racing.
The new proposal
Here are the highlights of the Tulsa County fair board's latest proposal for a naming rights agreement with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
Term: 3 years
Compensation: $11,666.67 a month, or $140,000 a year
Original Print Headline: Fair board reverses course
- The Creek Nation shall be entitled to private use of the exposition center, now named the QuikTrip Center, for six days a year at preferential rent. Use of the facility for private or public fundraising and/or promotional events sponsored or jointly sponsored by the Creek Nation is also allowed.
- The agreement does not include a key provision found in the earlier deals approved by the fair board. That provision gave the Creek Nation the exclusive right, for two years, to propose a plan for development of the land now occupied by the old Drillers Stadium that was mutually agreed to by the parties.
Kevin Canfield 918-581-8313
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief George Tiger addresses the Tulsa County fair board during Wednesday's meeting. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
County Commissioner and fair board Chairman Fred Perry is seen from the audience at a special meeting at Expo Square on Wednesday. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World