A proposed master lease agreement between the city of Tulsa and River Parks Authority would protect Turkey Mountain and park space along the Arkansas River for generations while leaving open the possibility for commercial development at previously identified locations along the river, said Mayor G.T. Bynum.
Bynum will unveil the proposed lease agreement at a Monday afternoon press conference with River Parks Authority Chairwoman Robin Flint Ballenger.
The mayor stressed that the master lease is only a proposal and has not been reviewed by the River Parks Authority Board of Trustees.
The city of Tulsa leases hundreds of acres of land to River Parks Authority under more than 10 leases, all of which have slightly different terms. A common provision in each of the contracts, however, is that the city can take back the land with a simple 30-day notice.
The proposed master lease covers the same city-owned properties but calls for River Parks Authority to lease the land for 10 years, with four 10-year options for renewal, Bynum said.
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“The protection is that the land will be with River Parks and under River Parks’ direction for the next half century,” Bynum said. “You will not have a position where a mayor can come in and take the land away from River Parks with 30 days’ notice and start developing it.”
Bynum said the leased property has been broken into three categories with slightly different contract provisions.
Category 1 includes city land leased to River Parks on Turkey Mountain. Under the proposed master lease, the property could “only be removed (from the lease) if both the city and the River Parks board believes that it should be,” Bynum said.
Category 2 covers city land leased to River Parks along the east bank of the Arkansas River. The criteria for removal of that land is identical to the criteria for Category 1 land, but the city retains the right to use the property for utilities, streets and other public infrastructure.
Category 3 includes property on the west bank of the river such as the Zink Dam, the pedestrian bridge and areas along the river bank that the city’s planning process has already identified as possible development sites.
“The city would reserve the right to withdraw those from the lease,” Bynum said. “They would have to give River Parks Authority at least 120 days notice.”
River Parks Authority has been trying to negotiate a master lease with the city for several years, but talks stalled when former Mayor Dewey Bartlett objected to the city’s losing control of the land.
Bynum said he learned of the talks just prior to his inauguration in December and has been working with the city’s legal staff on a proposal ever since.
“I just assumed it was in River Parks to stay and was safe and secure,” Bynum said. “This land could be taken away from them in 30 days.
“The need to address that came became very clear to me.”
Ballenger said Sunday that while the proposed contract is still open to negotiation, she is optimistic an agreement will be reached soon.
“This lease agreement, when signed, will safeguard Turkey Mountain from commercial development. And with a lease in place, River Parks can begin a master planning process for Turkey Mountain, giving citizens the chance to give input,” Ballenger said. ” Second, this lease agreement will give our wonderful donors the security of knowing that the Park will be safeguarded so that they can count on their investment in the Park enduring for many generations.”
The proposed master lease is not a guarantee that none of the land covered in the agreement will be used for something other than its current purpose, Bynum said, but it does put the decision clearly in the hands of River Parks Authority.
“It’s just like River Parks did with the Blue Rose,” Bynum said. “They found that they could do that development in a way that wouldn’t be intrusive for the park if they believe as a parks system that there are other places where they could do something like that.”
Bynum said he believes the proposed master lease will also help developers.
“We want to make sure those (properties) are protected not just from a preservation standpoint, but also we think it makes the land around the parks more valuable from an economic development standpoint if someone knows they will have an unobstructed view of the parks and the river,” Bynum said.
Having an agreement in place, the mayor added, “gives a much clearer survey of the options for the development community then they might have if it was just up to whoever happened to be the mayor at any given time as to whether or not you can just turn River Parks into a bunch of condos and restaurants.”