No one has heard a peep out of the city of Tulsa, the developer or REI since the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority signed a deal in August to bring the outdoor merchandise and sporting goods retailer to town.
TPFA filed a petition in Tulsa County District Court last week asking the court to rule that the authority has the legal right to sell 8.8 acres of land on the southwest corner of 71st Street and Riverside Drive to a private developer for construction of the store.
TPFA on Aug. 11 agreed to sell the property, which it owns, to North Point Property Co. LLC, of Dallas for $1.465 million.
The agreement comes with the condition that the developer deliver a “high-end sporting goods and outdoor merchandiser” as the anchor tenant.
Although city officials have never publicly confirmed that Recreational Equipment Inc. is the anchor tenant, the attorney for the developer and others have mentioned the company by name in public meetings.
Hours before the Public Facilities Authority met to vote on REI deal, Tulsa resident Craig Immel filed a lawsuit “on behalf of hundreds of Tulsans” seeking a temporary injunction to give the public 90 days to inspect documents related to the development site.
The petition argues that the Riverside Drive property was purchased by the city to enhance public parks, prevent inappropriate commercial development and improve Tulsans’ quality of life.
“The development proposed for the property disrespects the legacy of the generous donors that donated time, money and land to acquire the land for recreational use only,” Immel’s lawsuit states.
The Public Facilities Authority never received formal notice of the lawsuit.
In its petition for declaratory judgment, TPFA argues that while the land in question is identified on city parks maps as Helmerich Park, “no portion of the property has been dedicated as a park in any written instrument.”
The distinction is important because the parties disagree not only about whether TPFA has the right to sell the property in question, but whether the City Council must declare the property no longer needed for public use before such a sale can take place.
The City Council has yet to make such a declaration.
TPFA’s request for declaratory judgment notes that the authority was created in part to assist and provide for the development of property, “including the express purpose to dispose of properties no longer needful for trust purposes.”
The petition goes on to say that TPFA is a separate legal entity from the city and as such its “affairs are separate and independent from the city of Tulsa.”
TPFA acquired the proposed development site — and approximately 58.5 acres south of the site— in 1991.
That same year, the Tulsa Park and Recreation Board named the entire 67.3 acre tract Walter H. Helmerich III Park.
Clay Bird, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, said the developer had hoped to break ground on the project in December but could not do so until the legal questions surrounding the property were resolved.
“The timeline and all that could be in question,” Bird said. “It depends on the court proceedings.”
Still, he added, the developer’s “plans are to still move forward” with the project.
Recreational Equipment, Inc. has more than 130 stores nationwide but has no stores in Oklahoma.
According to the developer’s agreement with TPFA, the development property — which will include a restaurant and other facilities — is expected to bring in $20 million a year in gross retail sales and create 385 jobs.
Critics of the proposed project oppose putting commercial development on city-owned green space and question the projected economic benefits of the project.