City, county and business leaders took a step back in time Thursday as they pitched an $844 million initiative they believe will create a brighter future for the city and county of Tulsa.
Speaking in the grand foyer of the BOK Center — the crowning achievement of the Vision 2025 sales tax package — officials kicked off the public campaign for VisionTulsa, the proposed 15-year extension of Vision 2025.
VisionTulsa goes to voters April 5. The package would extend 0.55 percent of the existing 0.60 percent sales Vision tax. The proposal includes $272 million for public safety; $102 million for transit; and $510.6 million for economic development.
The public safety and transit portions of the sales tax would be permanent.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett said the public safety component of the package, which he has pushed for years, was the key piece of the proposal.
“If we don’t have a safe city, all of the other economic development ideas will fall flat on its face,” Bartlett said. “We must have a city that is not only safe, but the citizens must feel safe.”
City Councilor Blake Ewing stressed that the package has something for everyone, including those people who are sometimes left behind in the political process. The proposed permanent transportation tax, for example, would help fund a Bus Rapid Transit system along Peoria Avenue and Route 66 and also pay for a downtown circulator bus, Ewing said.
“Can we build a city for the future? Can we build a city that all Tulsans are proud to live in?” Ewing asked. “I’m hopeful we can; I believe that we can, and this is a great first step in that direction. This Vision program addresses all parts of the city.”
City Councilor G.T. Bynum reminded those in attendance that a spirit of cooperation between the city, county and area municipalities helped build the BOK Center as part of the 2003 Vision 2025 sales tax package.
“I love that we’re having this press conference here today,” he said.
The VisionTulsa proposal was put together with a similar spirit of cooperation, including historic partnerships with Tulsa Public Schools and the Air National Guard, Bynum said.
The Vision renewal proposal includes $14.5 million for a TPS Safety First Initiative and $10 million to help recruit, train and retain teachers.
The Air National Guard, meanwhile, would receive $9.4 million to build a Mission Training Center for F-16 pilots. The training center would house simulators that could be updated to provide training for pilots flying future models of the plane.
“It (the training center) puts us in a position to get the next generation of aircrafts located here in Tulsa,” Bynum said.
County Commissioner Karen Keith also praised the spirit of cooperation used to put the package together, saying councilors had worked tirelessly on the proposal.
Expo Square has been allocated $30 million for improvements in the VisionTulsa package. In addition, the county will have a separate vote on April 5 asking residents to approve a 15-year, 0.05 percent extension of the Vision 2025 sales tax to cover infrastructure, parks and road projects.
Like Vision 2025, VisionTulsa will be a huge boost to the local economy, Keith said.
“All I ask is you walk out of this building,” Keith said. “I don’t care if you walk east, you go north or you go west, you can’t help but see all the improvements that have happened here in our downtown. How the private dollars have followed our public investment.
“Vision 2025 made a difference, and we can do it again.”
Jeff Dunn, Tulsa Regional Chamber board of directors chairman, said after Thursday’s press conference that VisionTulsa is an investment in the city’s economic engine. He noted that the $55 million dedicated to upgrading the Cox Business Center and creating a master development plan for that area of downtown would lead to new business opportunities for the city.
“We make that investment, we will be able to attract businesses that want to have conventions and meeting spaces and activities,” Dunn said. “And with that investment we become much more attractive for the whole tourism and convention industry.
“When that happens, people come to Tulsa, and when they come to Tulsa, they spend money.”
The VisionTulsa vote on April 5 comes nearly four years after voters rejected a $748.8 million Vision 2025 renewal package called Vision2. Bartlett said after Thursday’s event that there is a major difference between the two proposals.
“There is one very huge difference,” Bartlett said. “This focuses on what the public wants, which is public safety.”
What’s in VisionTulsa?