Workers spent more than a month this winter and spring fixing up a Tulsa Arts District block on Main Street just south of Cain’s Ballroom.
Sidewalks were almost completely blocked off, the street was occasionally shut down, and parking was non-existent.
The end goal, though, was going to be worth it: One of downtown’s most vibrant blocks (Antoinette Baking Company, Ida Red and Chimera Cafe, among other businesses, line the street) would be freshened up.
But as the work neared completion, a question arose.
What about the street?
(First, a spoiler alert: City of Tulsa Communications Director Kim Macleod told The Frontier Thursday afternoon that despite the fact that the completed work was a private development project, the City of Tulsa would “fix it with a mill and overlay.” There is no time estimate for the street work.)
The sidewalk, which previously had a bunch of character — and a bunch of broken edges and cracks — is completely fresh. The lamp poles are brand new. Even most of the parking spots have had new asphalt laid and fresh striping.
But the street is as it always was: old and busted. And now, contrasted with the new sidewalks and parking spots, it looks even worse.
It turns out, the work was done by the Tulsa Development Authority using Tulsa Arts District Tax Increment Financing funds.
That money, known as TIF funds, is tax revenue generated within a district, in this case The Tulsa Arts District, that doesn’t go to the city’s general fund. The agencies that would normally benefit from tax money generated within the city’s districts in this case agreed to forgo that money from the Tulsa Arts District for a set amount of time. That allows the tax money generated there to flow back into the area for as long as the agreement lasts.
Given the traffic in the district is high, that can be a significant amount of money. City Councilor Blake Ewing, whose district includes the Tulsa Arts District, said the TIF money was specifically set aside for improvements suchs sidewalks, lights and street scraping.
“Basically it’s used for the pedestrian parts of the district,” Ewing said. “The city is responsible for the roads.”
Bob Fleischman, with the Tulsa Arts District Business Association, told The Frontier that before the Main Street project was started, the city of Tulsa was approached about coming in around the same time and fixing the road.
“They said, ‘No thank you,’” Fleischman said.
Asked if the TIF funds could have been used for streets as well as the sidewalks and parking, Fleischman said: “I’m sure it could be, but that’s really a city general fund responsibility.”
Macleod said the city had been offered the option of paying the contractor to complete the road work, but said that’s not standard city practice, leaving them with the option to “come in behind them and do it later.”