REI’s top-secret rollout

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City leaders are getting ready to ask Tulsans to pay a big chunk of the $300 million it would cost to build four dams in the Arkansas River, but they won’t tell Tulsans what they plan to build on city-owned property along the river.

I’m talking about REI.

If you haven’t heard that the Washington state-based sporting goods giant is coming to town, there’s a good reason. No one is talking. Certainly not the city officials negotiating the deal on behalf of the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority, which owns the land.

So let me say it: A Recreational Equipment Inc. store will anchor a 12-acre commercial development on the southwest corner of 71st Street and Riverside Drive.

Riverfront Sports
These renderings show the proposed development at 71st Street and Riverside Drive that is expected to include an REI store.

The Tulsa World reported months ago that the city was negotiating to bring the company to town.

Here’s how I know for sure: Attorney Lou Reynolds, representing the developer of the property, named REI in his presentation to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission on May 20. You can watch it on TGOV.

Then word slipped out again Thursday during a City Council committee meeting. This time, it was Susan Miller from the Indian Nations Council of Governments who mentioned the company by name, several times, during a discussion of the development project.

Clay Bird, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, sat next to Miller during the meeting but never mentioned the company by name.

When the meeting was over, I reminded Bird of what Miller had said and asked him whether he could confirm that REI is coming to town.

“It has just been referred to (by some) as the REI development, but there has been no confirmation of that,” he said.

Bethany Hawley, communications and public affairs manager for REI, said in an email Friday that the company has “no announcements to share in your area.”

I get it. The developer, UCR Development of Dallas, is likely under strict orders from REI not to speak its name until the deal is done. And Bird and his folks have surely been told the same.

But here’s where it goes from silly to troubling: After the developer’s lawyer mentioned REI by name at the Planning Commission meeting, one commissioner promised not to name the store by name — then went on to say how much his sons, who live in the Pacific Northwest, love it.

Site plan for proposed development at 71st Street and Riverside Drive.
Site plan for proposed development at 71st Street and Riverside Drive.

The Planning Commission then agreed to a zoning change that the developer needed for the project to move forward. Bird told The Frontier on Thursday that the city hopes to have a deal in place within a couple of weeks.

City councilors, meanwhile, have had no practical say in the matter and have never been told by the Mayor’s Office how much the developer would pay the city for the land, or who the tenants would be.

All of this has transpired independent of the work of the City Council’s Arkansas River Infrastructure Task Force, which for the last year and a half has been very publicly developing a proposal to put water in the Arkansas River.

A task force has been examining the potential for keeping the Arkansas River full of water as a potential spur to economic development.
A task force has been examining the potential for keeping the Arkansas River full of water as a potential spur to economic development.

The current plan calls for building and maintaining low-water dam dams in Sand Springs, Tulsa, south Tulsa/Jenks and Bixby at cost of $298 million.

Build the dams, the thinking goes, and development will follow.

And who knows? Maybe Tulsa will get an REI, or something cool like that.

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