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Will Tesla come to Tulsa? Officials react to report that city is a finalist for new U.S. factory

Tesla has picked Austin, Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, as finalists for its new U.S. assembly plant, a person briefed on the matter said Friday.

The person says company officials visited Tulsa in the past week and were shown two sites.

It wasn’t clear if any other finalists were in the mix. The person didn’t want to be identified because the site selection process is secret.

The Palo Alto, California-based electric-car maker has said it wants the factory to be in the center of the country and closer to East Coast markets.

Both Mayor G.T. Bynum and Gov. Kevin Stitt issued statements pushing Tulsa as a potential factory site for Tesla.

“While I cannot comment on potential projects, it is clear that Tesla and Tulsa were forged in the same spirit,” Bynum said in his statement. “Both founded by pioneers who dreamt big and made it happen. Both trying to change the world with a new kind of energy. Both investing big in what matters most: people. Tulsa is a city that doesn’t stifle entrepreneurs — we revere them. And as Tesla continues to rapidly change transportation all around the world, I can’t imagine a better place for them to further that important work than Green Country.”

The governor’s statement followed a similar welcoming tone.

“To the press, we can’t comment on any pending proposals,” Stitt said. “To (Tesla CEO) Elon Musk and Tesla, the people of Oklahoma love our trucks, we love our rockets and we would love to partner with you here in our great state. As a Tulsan myself, I can tell you that confusing the names Tulsa and Tesla has happened more than once, so it would only be appropriate to have a Tesla factory right here.

“Oklahoma is open for business and our world-class workforce, business-friendly policies and caring people make us an excellent choice for companies worldwide. When you consider our state’s central location — providing access to a wide customer base — and Tulsa’s nationally-recognized quality of life and strong manufacturing workforce, we would make a great long-term partner for a world-class company like Tesla.

“When you factor in our state’s automotive engineer workforce tax credit, it makes even more financial sense for Tesla to set up shop in Tulsa.”

The stakes are high for state and local governments. Tesla has said the plant will be larger than its factory in Fremont, California, which employs 10,000 workers.

Companies typically play finalists against each other in order to get the best package of tax breaks and other incentives.

Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, issued a statement expressing confidence that Tulsa could be a “tremendous home” for Tesla.

“We at the Tulsa Regional Chamber are always thrilled at the prospect of a major new employer coming to northeast Oklahoma,” Neal said. “Companies like Google and Amazon have already seen how much our region has to offer in terms of innovation and attitude. We have the land, infrastructure and workforce that could support a Gigafactory. Elon Musk has said he wants a Cybertruck facility based in the center of the country. We can go one better than that: Google ‘Center of the Universe’ and you’ll find it’s Tulsa. We are a region of dreamers and doers, and we are home to people with unabashedly big ideas.”

Q&A: What Tulsans need to know about Tesla and Elon Musk

Q&A: What Tulsans need to know about Tesla and Elon Musk

Watch Now: Osage Nation casino fills to new occupancy limit less than two hours after opening

The Osage Casino in Tulsa was open for less than two hours Friday before reaching its new occupancy limit, bringing more than 1,200 people to play slots after the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a nearly two-month shutdown.

Entrance to the gaming floor, the sole portion fully open for customers, was permitted through the parking garage on West 36th Street North until the casino reached the 25% occupancy threshold about 11:20 a.m. But neither that nor the rainy weather stopped the roughly 400 people lined up ahead of the 10 a.m. reopening from cheering loudly once they heard the all-clear for slot game play.

“We normally go to Winstar, which is right across the border from Texas (in) Oklahoma, and they’re not open yet,” said Ron Meyer of Fort Worth, Texas, who was at the casino with his wife. “She likes to play the slot machines, so she found this place. We drove up last night after I got off work, got in here about midnight and then we came here this morning so she could get her little fix on the slot machine.”

The Tulsa location was one of six Osage Nation casino properties to reopen on Friday, including Bartlesville, Hominy, Pawhuska, Skiatook and Sand Springs. Osage Nation’s Ponca City casino opened May 8.

Casino staff had disposable masks available for guests once they made it past the garage entrance doors, and there were multiple hand sanitizer stations placed around the gaming floor. A hand sanitizer station was available at the parking garage entrance before guests got on the gaming floor, though not everyone chose to use it.

Many of those gambling Friday said they welcomed any sign, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, of life as it was before the spread of COVID-19 led to widespread business shutdowns.

“I think people are eager to get out, and I think it’s good for us to get out,” Charlotte Prince of Broken Arrow said of the situation. “A lot of us need to be, whether people believe it or not, sociable.”

Numerous slot machines are inactive in order to facilitate requirements for maintaining at least 6 feet of space between people, and groups of guests cannot be larger than 10. Table games were not open.

Employees wearing masks and gloves could also be seen periodically wiping down chairs and slot machines, as well as cleaning ashtrays, between guests.

Prince said she lined up in the parking garage around 8:30 a.m. Friday after completing an overnight shift at work. She said she and her colleagues have largely only been traveling to and from work, the grocery store or restaurants offering takeout service since closures in Tulsa started the week of March 16.

“At first it was OK, but it gets very hard, and I think the frustration and anxiety was building in people. It’s human nature,” Prince said. “I come here and do my own thing. It’s my own little world. I don’t have to worry about anything else going on outside. This is my entertainment.”

Locally, the Creek Nation’s River Spirit Casino Resort in Tulsa is still closed through May. The Cherokee Nation’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa and its other properties in the state will also stay closed until at least June 1.

Although Meyer said he and his wife were excited to spend the day at the Osage Casino, he said it was important for them to wear proper protective gear and keep their distance from others while doing so.

“I’m 70. I’m pretty healthy. I don’t have any health issues, but you don’t want to take a chance,” he said. “I think we’re worried about this like everybody else, ... but, you know, you feel like you need to get out and do something that’s normal.”

The Osage Nation’s Tulsa, Ponca City, Sand Springs and Skiatook properties are open from 10 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Osage Nation casinos in Bartlesville, Hominy and Pawhuska are open from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. every day.

Photo gallery: Hundreds wait in line hoping for luck at Osage Casino reopening

Photo gallery: Hundreds wait in line hoping for luck at Osage Casino reopening

'Still pretty gun-shy': Some Tulsa bars reopen while others wait to see if COVID-19 numbers spike

After eight weeks of darkness, quiet and uncertainty across Tulsa’s night life, some of the city’s bars turned the neon signs back on Friday and welcomed patrons for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic’s onset.

Friday was far from a normal night on the town, and despite the beginning of the state’s Phase 2 of business reopenings, several bars remain shuttered as owners look to the weeks ahead.

By late afternoon, Reds Bar, on Second Street in the Blue Dome District, saw signs of life slowly but surely return. At Ripley’s Bar and Grill around the corner on Elgin Avenue, patrons took drinks from masked bartenders.

Next door, The Max Retropub stayed dark. No machines flashing “insert coin,” no skee-ball rattling into the corner pocket or ’80s movies playing on 14-inch TVs. Owner and General Manager Majda Al-Amoudi said the bar and arcade likely will remain closed until sometime in June.

As much as Al-Amoudi said she wants to see people back in the bar, she said it will need a new layout and a system to keep the games clean.

“Our whole thing is we have a lot of touchable surfaces,” Al-Amoudi said. “All of our video games and stuff like that, we’re having to go in and rewrite all of our policies and cleaning procedures. We’ll have to redo our whole floor plan, getting games out and making sure everything’s safe.

“We just don’t feel comfortable jumping right into it. We want to have time to make sure everything is ready to go and staff is trained.”

Apart from the logistical hurdles, Al-Amoudi said she’s equally apprehensive about other aspects of rushing into a reopening. With Phase 1 coming only two weeks earlier, she said she thinks it’s “too premature” to open the doors just yet.

It’s a feeling shared by Noah Bush, co-owner of Saturn Room, Open Container, Hodge’s Bend and Lowood downtown.

The tiki torches at Saturn Room won’t be lit for at least another week, when Bush said he hopes to open outdoor patio areas, provided there isn’t a spike in cases. A gradual return to indoor operations at those locations would come in June, he said.

“We’re just taking everything in phases,” Bush said. “We’re going to be safe and smart. Staff safety and customer safety are our priorities. We want to focus on doing it right first before doing anything else. … We’re still pretty gun-shy about what’s going to happen in the next two weeks as we’re opening up.”

Concern about a second wave of cases isn’t the only thing keeping some bars closed.

In a Facebook message, Soundpony owner and operating partner Joshua Gifford said the North Main Street bar is finishing interior work before a planned reopening June 1. When Soundpony does return, it will be with a 50-person capacity, masks encouraged and social distancing in place, Gifford said.

“If you come down to our home for the past 14 years, you will notice a lot of construction all around us,” Gifford said. “We decided to take this time to clean up and do some remodel/redecorating ourselves, and we are not quite done.

“We look forward to serving the public in June and beyond.”

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Oklahoma lawmakers end one of the most bizarre legislative sessions on the books

OKLAHOMA CITY — One of the most bizarre legislative sessions in state history ended — maybe — Friday night as lawmakers adjourned but left open the possibility of returning if something (such as more vetoes by Gov. Kevin Stitt) comes up.

“It has been a very unusual session, and thank you all for working as hard as you had even when we have been at home,” said Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

The session that began Feb. 3 and was interrupted for more than a month by the COVID-19 pandemic has included a highly publicized fight between the state’s gaming tribes and Stitt over compact renewal and fees and a budget spat between the Republican governor and GOP-controlled Legislature.

The latter resulted in lawmakers’ overriding of Stitt’s vetoes on four budget-related bills.

Two lawmakers and some staff members were sickened during the COVID-19 outbreak. The epidemic caused legislators to give Gov. Kevin Stitt unprecedented powers under the little-known and never-before-invoked Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act.

Also unprecedented were legislative proxy voting and a change in the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act so public bodies could meet by video or conference call.

Amid all of that, the Republican legislative leaders sued the executive branch to force Stitt to declare a revenue failure for fiscal year 2020 so reserve funds could be tapped to plug budget holes.

But the most action came earlier this week when Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed a $7.7 billion fiscal year 2020 budget bill and three supporting bills, only to have lawmakers override those vetoes within hours, showing cracks in the relationship between the two branches of government.

Lawmakers sailed a few darts in Stitt’s direction on the way out the door but also sent him some legislation he wanted. Most notably, they approved an array of mechanisms to fund his proposed SoonerCare 2.0, a form of Medicaid expansion set to begin on July 1.

One piece of that puzzle — tapping into the annual tobacco settlement payments — would require a vote of the people.

The same funding streams could be used for the expanded Medicaid proposed by State Question 802, but that would require separate legislative action.

Stitt might not be as pleased with the cost of living increases for state pensioners that was given final approval by the Legislature on Friday. He also might not be keen on one of the Legislature’s final acts.

Rather than adjourning “sine die” — a Latin phrase meaning final adjournment — lawmakers adopted a resolution that would allow them to come back any time before the May 29 constitutional deadline for adjournment. That forces Stitt to either sign or veto all legislation presented to him with time remaining for lawmakers to return for another override.

In fact, House Majority Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, advised House members to be ready to return next Friday for just such an occasion.

Friday was eventful in the House and Senate but not overly dramatic. Besides the SoonerCare 2.0 measures, the House spent two hours passing and sending to the governor a bill that would allow a woman who has received an abortion and her close relatives to sue the abortion provider if they decide, after the fact, that the woman was not provided sufficient informed consent.

Also passed was legislation barring so-called red flag laws, which allow preemptive action to confiscate the guns of people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

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