By KEVIN CANFIELD
To be fair to Clay Bird, he never said a deal to bring “REI” to town is just a few weeks off.
He and other city officials never say those three letters out loud. Not in that order, anyway.
But the director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development did tell the city’s Park and Recreation Board on Tuesday that a deal to develop 12.3 acres of city-owned land at 71st Street and Riverside Drive could be finalized within the next two weeks.
And, yes, the latest worst-kept secret in Tulsa is that the anchor tenant of the development will be Recreational Equipment Inc. City officials may not be mentioning the sporting goods giant by name, but planning officials and the attorney representing the developer have.
The other structures included in the development plans are a 12,000-square-foot retail/restaurant space; a restaurant with a 6,000-square-foot patio facing the river; and a 6,250-square-foot restaurant and retail space at the north end of of the property.
So, on to the real news Bird made Tuesday: The Tulsa Public Facilities Authority, which owns the 12.3-acre lot, has agreed in principle to use a portion of the proceeds of the property sale to replace and upgrade the sand volleyball courts that would have to be removed for the project.
One possible site to relocate the courts would be Fred Johnson Park, 6002 S. Riverside Drive, Bird said. He spoke Tuesday to the park board to keep members updated on the REI development.
Although the park board has no say regarding what goes on at the proposed REI site, it does oversee Johnson Park.
Park Board Chairwoman Dale McNamara expressed support for moving the volleyball courts to Johnson Park as long as the Public Facilities Authority could foot the bill for the move.
Parks Director Lucy Dolman said Wednesday that if the deal does happen, “Johnson Park is certainly under consideration for the relocation of the volleyball courts. It makes sense.”
Bird told park board members that the timeline for construction of the project calls for a 30- to 60-day period late this year or early next in which the volleyball courts would not be accessible.
“I have committed that whatever we do, we would do our very best to make sure they there would be no down time,” he said.
Now all that’s left is for the City Council to get on board with the REI deal. Without naming the company, councilors last month rejected a change to the city’s development policies that would have effectively given their blessing to the REI project.
Councilor Jeannie Cue, who led the opposition to the policy change, said she was unhappy with the city’s failure to keep councilors informed on the details of the deal.
Councilors are expected to take up the issue again Thursday. Though their blessing is not necessary for the project to move forward, Bird and other city officials would like to see councilors support it as a sign to the developer and to REI that the city is behind the project.
Chances are, the council will lend its support to the project. But don’t think that means they are happy with how the city has handled the negotiations.
Councilors on Thursday also will consider rezoning the city-owned property adjacent to the proposed RIE site, which was once Helmerich Park, so that when the Public Facilities Authority decides to develop the property, councilors would have a say in what is built.