An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Terry Young, the former Tulsa mayor opposed to developing public property at 71st Street and Riverside Drive. The story has been corrected.
An REI store on the southwest corner of 71st Street and Riverside Drive would be a great addition to the city of Tulsa and fit well along the banks of the Arkansas River, said Jono Helmerich, whose family helped acquire the land on which the store would be built.
“The setting is probably as ideal as REI has had in any of its stores,” Helmerich told The Frontier on Thursday.
The Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority is close to reaching an agreement with UCR Development of Dallas to develop 12.3 acres on the northern edge of the property.
A special meeting of the TPFA will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall to discuss the contract.
The anchor tenant of the project is widely expected to be Recreational Equipment Inc., a sporting goods and outdoor equipment retailer.
The Helmerich family has no legal claim to the property, according to court records.
“We have said we think— and it would be in the best interests of the city— to have attractions to enhance the property,” Helmerich said. “I think a responsible commercial layout is a good thing for that property.”
Helmerich said he is not advocating for wall-to-wall commercial development along the river but does believe the city needs to pursue targeted development that would draw people to the river and enhance their experience once they get there.
The REI store, along with the retail and restaurant projects expected to be part of the development, would do just that, Helmerich said.
“My attitude is this city has probably been overly sensitive about using the river as a draw,” Helmerich said.
Helmerich said he understands Tulsans’ desire to preserve its green space but that he disagrees with those who object to the proposed development at 71st Street and Riverside Drive.
“The preliminary one (plan for the site) that I have seen been impressed and encouraged by,” Helmerich said. “I think it is laid out pretty well.”
Helmerich’s statement came on the same day that the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission voted to approve a detailed site plan for the development.
Bill Leighty, founder of Smart Growth Tulsa, asked commissioners to table their vote to give him and others concerned about the project more time to examine it.
Commissioners also heard from former Tulsa County Commissioner and Tulsa Mayor Terry Young, who said he was involved in the donation of the land.
Young said the property was never intended for commercial use.
“The proposed commercial development on the southwest corner of 71st and Riverside should not be allowed,” Young said.
Another speaker said the deed to the property required that the land be restricted to recreational uses.
But Lou Reynolds, the attorney for the developer, told commissioners the restrictions do not apply to the proposed development site.
Jono Helmerich is an executive at Midfirst Bank. He is the son of Walter Helmerich, whom the park was named after.
Helmerich said that, as a courtesy, city officials have kept him informed about the their intention to develop the site and sought his input.
The Tulsa Park and Recreation Board voted in 1991 to name the development site – and approximately 55 acres to the site – Walter H. Helmerich III Park.
The resolution notes Helmerich’s contributions to “causing the acquisition of the new park” and his devotion of considerable influence “as well his personal resources toward the acquisition of the public park.”
One issue Helmerich does not see eye-to-eye with the city on is the future of the 10 volleyball courts on the park property. City officials have said they are considering moving the courts to Fred Johnson Park, 6002 S. Riverside Drive, where they would be upgraded.
Helmerich said he would like to see the courts moved south of the development site.
Clay Bird, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, said no final decision has been made on the volleyball courts and that the city would do what it can to respect Helmerich’s wishes.
“I don’t think there is going to be heartburn at all on the part of the Parks Board or the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority, if that is what the family wants,” Bird said. “I think that is appropriate and I think everyone will support that.”
Bird has said previously that the Public Facilities Authority is open to using some of the proceeds of the sale or lease of the land to relocate the volleyball courts to Fred Johnson Park, 6002 Riverside Drive.
But on Wednesday he noted that moving the courts south on the property “was the intent when we issued the RFP.”
Bird said he was grateful for Helmerich’s support of the project.
“I think it is fantastic,” Bird said, “I have been saying that he was supportive all along.”
Opponents of the development say it would destroy valuable green space and is not an appropriate project for the site.
They have also questioned whether the development process has been a transparent one, saying many Tulsans are just learning of it.