Tulsa could learn from Oklahoma City
BY MIKE JONES Associate Editor
Sunday, January 06, 2013
1/06/13 at 8:00 AM
A short news item in last week's Tulsa World noted that Oklahoma City was prepared to begin building a white-water park along what they call the Oklahoma River. Good for Oklahoma City.
In the early 1990s, leaders in our capital city had the vision to understand that to attract businesses and people they had to offer more than the geography of being in the middle of the country. They understood that businesses also look for amenities and a city that is prepared to move forward and not accept the status quo.
Then, they went about putting together an ambitious plan called MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects) and selling it to the public. Back then, lots of us over here in Tulsa scoffed at the notion that Oklahoma City, considered a cow town and a city full of people who hated taxes, could pass such a plan.
No more cow town
Then, in 1993 the first MAPS tax, a temporary 1-cent sales tax, was approved by voters. In 66 months - it was extended for six months - the tax raised more than $300 million and earned $54 million in interest.
There were nine elements to MAPS: a new downtown baseball park; renovation of the convention center; fairgrounds improvements; the Bricktown Canal; a new civic music hall; river improvements; a new library; new trolleys, and construction of the Ford Center, where the Oklahoma City Thunder now play.
The scoffing in Tulsa turned to amazement and envy. Tulsa tried twice in the 1990s to pass such a package and both were defeated. It wasn't until 2003 that Tulsa successfully passed a countywide tax - Vision 2025 - that the city even began to try to play catchup with Oklahoma City. The results of that sales tax are seen every day throughout the county.
Still, Oklahoma City had a 10-year head start and it has not relinquished its lead, but extended it.
What soon followed in 2001 was MAPS for Kids, a $700 million program that included 100 construction projects as well as transportation and technology elements - all for Oklahoma City public schools and some suburban schools.
Then, MAPS 3 was passed by a 54 percent to 46 percent margin in December 2009. The 10-year program, expected to raise $777 million, is designed to improve the quality of life in Oklahoma City.
That gets us back to that white-water park. The city is dedicating $60 million to building a white-water park worthy of being used for Olympics training. The park also will have white-water sections for experienced and inexperienced kayak enthusiasts.
Of the $60 million total, $35 million will be used to expand grandstands along the river, add a new sound system, scoreboard and floating stage, along with river beautification and permanent sports venue lighting.
Any of this sound familiar? Tulsa has been trying to fund improvements along the Arkansas River for decades. The old low-water dam is in dire need of improvements and at least two more dams are needed to ensure that water stays in the river.
Thanks to private groups such as the George Kaiser Family Foundation, QuikTrip and Nature Works, among others, the banks of the river and the River Parks remain viable. Soon work will begin on a grand new park addition in the 31st Street and Riverside Drive area, funded by Kaiser's foundation, that will transform the park.
Unfortunately, Tulsans now seem reluctant, if not unwilling, to upgrade the old dam and fund new ones. The recent Vision2 package was soundly defeated at the polls. That might not have been a mandate on the river as much as it was a rejection of a plan that most felt was too rushed and too laden with money for private industry.
Nevertheless, here we sit with a river that too often is dry. Oklahoma City took the North Canadian River (a river about as dry year-round as any), renamed it the Oklahoma River, put water in it and turned it into a first-class water sports facility. On the books are plans for a riverfront community. They have a good start.
Tulsa has many things on its plate. A contest with Oklahoma City is not one of them. Upcoming is a vote to extend the funding to continue our street repairs that again could include extending the third penny sales tax within the street package. The third penny has funded various needed projects for more than 30 years. Together or separate, these are vital issues to upgrade and maintain Tulsa's infrastructure.
Companies and young people don't care to live in a city with bad streets and failing water lines. Neither do they want to live in a city that refuses to address quality of life issues.
Tulsa and Tulsans ought not be jealous of Oklahoma City but willing to learn from what it has done.
We have the same elements and the same qualities. We need to have the wherewithal and the courage to move forward. We need a good, well thought-out proposal that Tulsans can embrace.
There will always be the naysayers. Tulsa has made wonderful progress since Vision 2025. Let's take a page from our sister city and continue the work.
Original Print Headline: Making a splash
Mike Jones, 918-581-8332
Aerial photo of river redevelopment in Oklahoma City. Courtesy