A Dallas developer has proposed building a commercial development on Helmerich Park land, shown above, that could include an REI store. KEVIN CANFIELD/The Frontier

Tulsa city councilors are scheduled to vote Tuesday on a proposal to abandon nearly nine acres of park land on the southwest corner of 71st Street and Riverside Drive and to endorse a proposed commercial development on the site that could include the state’s first REI store.

The council will also be asked to allocate up to $570,000 for public infrastructure work on the site.

The council meeting will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Council Chamber of City Hall, Second Street and Cincinnati Avenue.

The agenda, posted on the City Council’s website Thursday afternoon, states that councilors will receive a presentation from Mayor G.T. Bynum before being asked to vote on two action items:

  • Consider declaring a resolution that an 8.8-acre tract owned by Tulsa Public Facilities Authority located at the southwest corner of 71st and Riverside is not necessary for public use, abandoning public use of the property, endorsing the proposed sale of such property by TPFA to be developed for retail and restaurant purposes, and agreeing to receive sales proceeds and committing such proceeds to improvement and maintenance of Helmerich Park. 
  • Consider a resolution approving the allocation of economic development funds  in an amount not to exceed $570,000, to assist in construction of public infrastructure improvements related to the development of the 8.8-acre tract subject to the conditions and restrictions of a proposed infrastructure development agreement between the city and the developer, North Point Property Co. 

The meeting will be the first opportunity councilors have had to play a role in determining the fate of the project since the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority sold the land to a Dallas developer on August 11, 2015, for $1.465 million.

A legal challenge to the deal filed by five Tulsans has left the project in limbo ever since. The plaintiffs, who include former Mayor Terry Young, claim the project should not be allowed to go forward as planned because, among other things, TPFA is not the legal owner of the property and had no right to sell it.

The plaintiffs also claim TPFA did not follow the proper procedures in selling the property. Among the procedures not followed, the plaintiffs argue, is for the City Council to make the land available for commercial development by declaring it no longer needed for public purposes and “abandoning” the property for that purpose.

“For this activity (sale of the land) to be authorized it must be expressly consented to by the governing body that created the trust, in this case the Tulsa City Council,” the lawsuit states.

Tulsa city councilors will meet Tuesday to discuss the legal issues surrounding the proposed development of 8.8 acres of Helmerich Park. KEVIN CANFIELD/The Frontier

Tuesday’s meeting is intended to give councilors a chance to address that issue, and in so doing, put the city on better legal footing as it moves forward to resolve the lawsuit.

As part of the agreement, the developer, UCR Development, was required to secure an anchor tenant “specializing in the sale of high-end sporting goods and outdoor merchandise.” City officials and the developer have since acknowledged that the anchor tenant would be REI, assuming the sale of the property goes through.

The plaintiffs’ lawsuit also claims that even if the City Council vacates the property and declares it no longer needed for public use, state law requires that the city provide a factual record supporting that claim.

The plaintiffs have repeatedly asserted that that cannot be done because volleyball courts on the property are used regularly by a large number of people.

The plaintiffs also claim that since the city used $2.25 million in 1985 sales tax revenue dedicated for park purposes to help purchase the property for TPFA, using the land for another purpose would be a “misappropriation of taxpayer funds.”

The city and the plaintiffs agreed early on in the dispute to try to settle their disagreements outside of the courtroom, but those talks have gone nowhere. The parties participated in a court-ordered mediation session in January but have said little about how that went.

Recreational Equipment Inc., is a nationwide sporting goods and outdoor merchandise company with more than 140 stores but none in Oklahoma.

The other structures included in the original 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 7,000-square-foot restaurant and retail space at the north end of of the property.

The proposed 8.8-acre development site is on the southwest corner of Riverside Drive and 71st Street. The land is part of an approximately 70-acre tract known as Helmerich Park.

Helmerich was established in 1991 after the city and private donors each paid $2.25 million to purchase the property. The city funds and private donations were transferred to TPFA, which purchased the land and is the title holder.

Thus the need for City Council action should any sale of the property be considered, the plaintiffs’ lawsuit claims. And thus the reason city councilors are being asked to take up the issue.

“Assurances were given to the Council (in 1991) that the TPFA could not sell or transfer the property without the consent of the Council prior to the City Council appropriating the funds to purchase the park land,” the lawsuit claims. “The Council would not have appropriated the funds for the purchase of the park land if it thought the park land could be sold by defendant TPFA without the Council’s consent.”