Rendering of proposed development at 71st Street and Riverside Drive. Courtesy

Rendering of proposed development at 71st Street and Riverside Drive. Courtesy

Correction: An earlier version of this story included a comment from City Councilor Connie Dodson incorrectly stating Helmerich Park had never been listed on the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority’s list of properties. The property is listed on the TPFA list of properties. Dodson’s comment has been removed.


City Councilors Jeannie Cue and Connie Dodson have asked City Council staff to examine whether the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority has the legal right to sell public property along Riverside Drive for commercial development.

“It is our opinion that it is city property, and any sale or acquisition of city property has to go through City Council,” Dodson said.

Dodson was speaking for only Cue and herself.

Meanwhile, City Councilor G.T. Bynum has asked City Attorney David O’Meilia to appear before the council in two weeks to answer questions about the deal.

The Public Facilities Authority in August agreed to sell 12.3 acres of land on the southwest corner of 71st Street and Riverside Drive to Dallas developer North Point Property Co. LLC for $1.465 million. The agreement is contingent on the developer’s securing a “high-end sporting goods and outdoor merchandiser” — identified in public meetings as REI — as the anchor tenant.

Recreational Equipment Inc. has more than 130 stores nationwide but none in Oklahoma.

Opponents of the deal argue that the property was purchased by the Public Facilities Authority in 1991 to create Helmerich Park. Selling the property for commercial development would break the city’s pledge to its residents as well as violate the terms of the 1985 third-penny sales tax package that helped fund the purchase of the land, they argue.

Because the property is part of a city park, the sale of the property must be approved by the City Council, opponents of the deal say.

Dodson noted that the city has maintained Helmerich Park since it was established and that the property — nearly 70 acres in all — is not listed on the Public Facilities Authority’s list of assets.

“How can the city sell property that is city property without going through the proper channels?” Dodson said.

Cue and Dodson said they are concerned about the use of park space for commercial development.

“I have a concern when you talk about building on green space because of the (high) vacancy rate on buildings we already have,” Cue said.

The Public Facilities Authority last month went to court to clarify the matter. In a petition for declaratory judgment, the authority 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 the authority has the right to sell the property in question, but whether the City Council must declare the property is no longer needed for public use before such a sale can take place.

The City Council has not made such a declaration.

The authority’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.”


This site plan shows the proposed development areas 71st Street and Riverside Drive. Courtesy

This site plan shows the proposed development areas 71st Street and Riverside Drive. Courtesy

A group of more than 60 Tulsans, including former Mayor Terry Young, sent a letter to city councilors last week expressing their concerns about the deal and asking the the council to stop it.

Bynum said he asked O’Meilia to appear before the council after reading the letter.

The correspondence raises concerns that “are serious ones that deserve an answer,” Bynum said.

“The people that sent that letter, a tremendous number of them dedicated years of their lives to make the city better,” Bynum said.

It’s particularly important that the council understand its role in the process, Bynum said.

“I think all of us have the responsibility to know that,” he said.

Councilor Phil Lakin said it is important for the city to examine the claims made in the letter to determine which are valid and which aren’t. Councilors and city staff can then proceed as appropriate, Lakin said.

Councilors David Patrick and Jack Henderson said they would support clarifying any legal questions surrounding the sale of the property.

“It’s always been the council’s responsibility to sell any kind of property the city controls,” Henderson said.

Clay Bird, director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, said Wednesday that he believes TPFA had the authority to sell the property for commercial uses.

“Now it is in the courts and they will make a decision, and we’ll see how it goes,” Bird said.

Bird has said previously that the developer had hoped to break ground by the end of the year.

Cue was among the councilors who expressed concerns about the outlet mall that was proposed at 61st Street and Highway 75. The developer, Simon Property Group, eventually decided to build the mall in Jenks.

Cue said that her concerns regarding the 71st Street and Riverside Drive project pertain to the council’s role in the approval process and development on green space, not the project itself.

“We want to make sure that anything we build in the city is the right thing,” she said.

Highlights of Letter to City Councilors

The letter outlines  several reasons why some residents believe the sale is not legal and should not be allowed to move forward:

A March 1991 announcement by then-Mayor Rodger Randle, city councilors and Walter Helmerich that the city and private citizens would raise $4.5 million to purchase the land for use as a park;

The Park Board’s decision in June 1991 to name the property Helmerich Park;

Then-City Councilor Dewey Bartlett’s May 1991 public statement supporting the inclusion of covenants in the sale of the land to TPFA that would prohibit the authority from selling the property to a private developer:

“I would want to make certain that does occur, because I don’t want to have that, to have the authority take away the, the rights of the citizens of Tulsa to use that as a park, which is our intent at this point in time. I assume that will be part of the package. We don’t want to give someone the opportunity to take that right away from us.”

► The 1985 Third-Penny sales tax approved by voters states that funds can only be used for express purposes, including acquisition of 72 acres of park land between 71st and 81st streets along Riverside Drive.

In May 1991, the City Council — including Bartlett — approves two ordinance amendments that appropriate $2.25 million in private funds from the Parks Acquisition Fund and $2.25 million in 1985 sales tax funds from the Parks Acquisition Fund to TPFA to fund the purchase of Helmerich Park.