I had to check back with the mayor on this one.
Because here is what he said Thursday morning during a discussion with city councilors about whether River Parks should receive $5.6 million in Vision 2025 renewal funds to buy and preserve land on Turkey Mountain:
“My suggestion … would be that certain portions of the land in the area be set aside for purposes that would generate sales tax for the city of Tulsa. In other words, right on top of Turkey Mountain have an area set aside for a restaurant, beautiful views of the city, a place for people when they go walking, they could go see it. …
“The community, the taxpayers, not all are interested in walking through the woods at Turkey Mountain, but they will be very interested in going up to a restaurant or going up to a facility where they could sit and watch, look, experience nature, whatever that might be.”
The mayor prefaced his remarks by saying that efforts to put together a deal to purchase and preserve private property on and around Turkey Mountain have yet to yield results and that the city of Tulsa shouldn’t assume they will.
Until the city knows whether those discussions will bear any fruit, Bartlett said, it should hold off on allocating Vision funds for buying land near Turkey mountain and work to identify property it does own for potential commercial development.
This will obviously get some people’s blood boiling, which is why I put a call in to the Mayor’s Office. Jarred Brejcha, the mayor’s chief of staff, called me back.
His main point: the mayor is not hell-bent on building a restaurant on Turkey Mountain.
Bartlett does, however, believe it would serve the city well to keep open the possibility of commercial development in the area, Brejcha said.
“The same process that River Parks went through to get the Blue Rose, that is a very good example,” Brejcha said.
The Blue Rose Cafe, built along the Arkansas River at approximately 19th Street and Riverside Drive, was proposed in response to a request for proposals from River Parks Authority.
Even if Turkey Mountain and the surrounding area are preserved, funds will be needed to maintain the area and provide programing, Brejcha said.
That’s where sales tax collections from restaurant or other commercial venue could help defray costs and provide a place to rest or something to eat.
“It could really be something that complements the area,” Brejcha said.
River Parks has asked the council to consider allocating $5.6 million from the Vision 2025 sales tax renewal to expand Turkey Mountain’s footprint.
River Parks’ intent, according to a handout provided to city councilors, is to acquire enough land to “secure contiguous recreational properties from the (Arkansas) river to Highway 75, north of 61st Street.”
That would include the 52-plus acres on the northeast corner of 61st Street and Highway 75 where Simon Properties’ Premium Outlet Mall was to have been built, River Parks Executive Director Matt Meyer told councilors.
Councilor Phil Lakin expressed strong support for keeping Turkey Mountain a wilderness area.
Councilor Blake Ewing called Bartlett’s proposal a “land mine waiting to happen” and cautioned councilors that they must be clear with voters about how land purchased with Vision funds would be used.
Bartlett made his remarks during a four-hour-plus meeting with city councilors held to determine what economic-development projects should be included in the Vision renewal.
That was not enough time to get the job done. More meetings are scheduled before Dec. 18, when councilors and the mayor plan to have the Vision renewal package completed, but progress was made.
The city council is still waiting to hear how much a proposal to put low-water dams in the Arkansas River will cost. They must also decide whether to use Vision 2025 fund to hire more police officers, firefighters and street maintenance crews.
Current projections are that the Vision tax renewal would raise $226 million if it runs five years; $470 million if it runs 10 years; and $732 million if it runs 15 years.
The public vote on the renewal package is scheduled for April 5.
Councilors and the mayor began the day with a list of 43 projects totaling $1.1 billion. By the end of the meeting, they’d gone through 22 proposals totaling $550 million and trimmed and tweaked the proposals down to $336 million.
That leaves them with about half of the list to review.
The list discussed Thursday was based on an earlier polling of councilors regarding which projects they would likely support. The Airport Initiative, including the National Guard simulator program, topped the list, followed by the Gilcrease Museum expansion and Interstate 244 and Oklahoma 11 landscape enhancements.
One project that did not make the list was OSU-Tulsa’s request for $15 million to build a technology center.
To complement that project, OSU-Tulsa officials recently issued a request for proposals to build a commercial/residential district next to the technology center.
The RFP drew criticism from some developers and architects who said the 40 days the school gave them to respond was not enough.
On Thursday, the university announced that Ross Group Development, LLC, of Tulsa was the only company to respond. The RFP was sent to at about a dozen companies and advertised in publications.
Sean Kennedy, communications manager for OSU-Tulsa, told The Frontier on Thursday that the university will move forward with the project even if it does not receive Vision funding.
“We intend to move forward, but will need to raise the funding from other sources,” Kennedy said. “As a result, it could impact the timing for the project.”
A complete list of the proposed Vision 2025 renewal proposals can be found on the City Council website.