2016-03-05-sp-bassmasterian

A crowd of people wait in line to see the first weigh-in of the Bassmaster Classic at the BOK Center on Friday, March 4, 2016. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

The ongoing dispute between the city and a group of hoteliers over the Tourism Improvement District has cost Tulsa the chance to host the 2021 Bassmaster Classic, officials say, and other events may be threatened.

Mike Mears, CEO of Magellan Midstream Partners and chairman of the VisitTulsa Executive Board of Directors, said in a news release Tuesday that the delay in collecting a 3% assessment on hotel stays tied to the improvement district has hamstrung efforts to recruit events.

“In this case, time is money,” Mears said in the release. “The delay in available funding from the TID has cost Tulsa an estimated $50,000 each day in lost opportunity.

“After nearly a year, we have lost our chance to bring the Bassmaster Classic back to Tulsa. The $30 million economic impact could have been revenue for our city, for our hotels and restaurants, and for our event sponsors. This one example has set Tulsa back tremendously.”

The city estimates it has lost an estimated $292,500 each month it hasn’t collected revenue from the Tourism Improvement District. Revenue hasn’t been collected since June 25, when District Judge Linda Morrissey issued a temporary injunction in a lawsuit brought by a group of Tulsa hoteliers.

Money from the Tourism Improvement District was budgeted for bids for the Bassmaster Classic and the three-year contract for the IRONMAN triathlon, leading to the loss of the fishing tournament and a gap in funding for the IRONMAN. Businesses have filled the gap with private funding, but tourism board member and Matrix Service Co. CEO John Hewitt said the move is a “short-term solution.”

Ray Hoyt, president of VisitTulsa Regional Tourism, said the delay in funding “is having a negative multiplier effect across all the tourism industry. Our prospective event pipeline is full and all available budget is already allocated to other events.”

Other events, including NCAA Regional basketball, NCAA wrestling and major equine events are reportedly at risk, according to the news release.

The Tourism Improvement District includes 33 hotels, each with 110 rooms or more, that are subject to the 3% assessment on hotel stays used to fund marketing for tourism and participating hotels. Smaller hotels may also opt in to the TID to benefit from it.

Morrissey ordered a hearing scheduled for Thursday to be canceled and notified the Attorney General’s Office of the case, according to court filings. State law requires the Attorney General’s Office to be notified if a statute or ordinance’s constitutionality is questioned.

The plaintiffs, a group of hoteliers known as TOCH LLC, have questioned the constitutionality of the state statute that governs additional improvement districts like the Tourism Improvement District, according to court records.

Lee Levinson, an investor in TOCH LLC and an attorney with Levinson, Smith and Huffman PC, said his side contends the improvement district is unconstitutional because of how it determines which hotels are subject to the tax.

“If I have 109 rooms to rent, I don’t pay anything,” Levinson said. “If I have 110, I do, and there’s no way you can reasonably come up with 110 rooms other than trying to jockey around to try and get something passed because that’s the kind of category you can get.

“It makes no sense. It’s not a reasonable classification. It’s a special tax, and I think it’s a violation of the constitution.”

Kyden Creekpaum, an attorney representing the Hyatt Downtown Tulsa, an intervenor in the case, said the city disagrees and believes the law is on its side.

“We are very confident that the statute and the TID are constitutional,” Creekpaum said. “The allegations are frivolous.”

Both sides are at an impasse despite court-ordered mediation that began after a Sept. 5 hearing. At the time, an attorney for the plaintiffs expressed optimism that the dispute could be settled by October, but the case is nearing its first anniversary in December.

Alex Gerszewski, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said the notification, known as a certification, was routine and doesn’t necessarily mean the state will get involved.

“We will evaluate it and determine the appropriate time to intervene, if at all,” Gerszewski said in an email. “By intervene we mean provide the court with our views on why the statute is constitutional, either now at the district court level or as an amicus curiae at the Supreme Court.”

Thursday’s hearing was supposed to be on both parties’ joint motion for summary judgment, and the hearing will be rescheduled once it can be verified that the Attorney General’s Office is aware of the case.

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Stetson Payne

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Staff Writer

Stetson covers breaking news, general assignment and other stories. He previously worked at the Enterprise-Journal in Mississippi. He is from Broken Arrow and graduated with a journalism degree from Oklahoma State University. Phone: 918-581-8466

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