Mayor Dewey Bartlett on Friday explained his change of heart regarding using parts of Helmerich Park for private commercial development.

In 1991, he opposed such a use. Today, under the right circumstances, he supports it.

So what’s changed? His job.

Bartlett was a city councilor in 1991 when the city agreed to sell the 67-acre park at 71st Street and Riverside Drive to the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority. In fact, he represented the district in which the park is located.

Today, he’s mayor. And that, Bartlett said, makes a difference.

“At the time I obviously had a concern about it. I wanted to make certain what the use of the land was at that point in time,” Bartlett told The Frontier late Friday. “That was the area of town that I represent and that was my concern.

“Right now, I am mayor, and I represent the entirety of the city, not just District 9, so my perspective is a bit different.”

Earlier in the day, speaking after a Tulsa Public Facilities Authority meeting, Bartlett told a group of reporters that he would like to see the 12.3 acres “used in a very positive way as a retail space.”

The Helmerich family has made it clear that Walter Helmerich, for whom the park is named, would have no problem with a portion of the park being used for commercial development, Bartlett said.

“They, the family, said that Mr. Helmerich was very supportive of development and saw it as a good option of acquiring funds to develop the land further and maybe better,” Bartlett said. “I’m OK with that.”

TPFA met in part to take comments from people regarding the board’s decision to sell a portion of the park to a Dallas developer. The commercial project that will occupy that space is widely expected to be anchored by national sporting goods and outdoor merchandise retailer REI.

Not everyone is pleased with the decision. A group of 68 people signed a letter asking city councilors to stop the deal, and several councilors have called for further review of the matter.
Opponents of the deal argue that TPFA had no legal authority to sell the property and that the sale must go through the City Council.

People like Dobie Langenkamp, who spoke at Friday’s meeting, say history is on their side.

Langenkamp noted that in 1991 then-Mayor Roger Randle hailed the public-private partnership, led by Helmerich, to raise $4.5 million to purchase the property. It was made clear then that the land would remain as park space, Langenkamp said.

In fact, the Park Board declared it so soon after the purchase was made.

Randle hailed the new park as one that “was going to rival Mohawk Park,” Langenkamp said.

The TPFA’s sale of the 12.3 acres was “a shocking breach of trust,” Langenkamp said.

After hearing from a handful of other speakers, TPFA board members met in executive session.

When they came out, TPFA board member Marcia MacLeod thanked the speakers for their input. She then said the board had voted to continue with its legal effort to clarify the issue.

In other words, a judge will have the final say.

TPFA has filed a petition in Tulsa District Court seeking a declaratory judgment finding that TPFA has the authority to sell the property in question and does not need the City Council’s blessing to do so.

And so it goes.

No court date has been set in the case, but at least we know where the mayor stands.