REI renderings 2016-02-26 at 2.27.18 PM

These conceptual renderings show the proposed development on the southwest corner of 71st Street and Riverside Drive. The anchor tenant is expected to be REI.

The city of Tulsa has decided to try to accommodate, rather than fight, opponents of the planned development at 71st Street and Riverside Drive, fearing a protracted legal battle could jeopardize the project.

Opponents of the project, however, don’t appear interested in making peace just yet.

“We believe the park should not be sold for private development,” said former Mayor Terry Young, one of five plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed to stop the project.

The city’s first step in addressing plaintiffs’ concerns is set to come Thursday, when the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority is expected to ask the City Council to pass a resolution abandoning the property and declaring it no longer needed for park purposes. The city’s failure to go through that process originally is one of several arguments opponents of the project have made in their lawsuit.

TPFA is also expected to ask that the council include in its resolution language supporting and consenting to TPFA’s sale of the property, said Clay Bird with the Mayor’s Office.

“We can go through these steps and have it (the project) approved in a much more expeditious manner and still have a chance to make this project happen,” Bird said. “It eliminates the argument.”

But Young indicated that the plaintiffs in the case hold the trump card.

“Even if the City Council were to approve it (abandoning the property), as long as this lawsuit is pending, that creates a cloud over the title of that property and it cannot be sold without the permission of the judge in the case,” Young said. “Well, it is continuing and it is going to go on and on and on. … It is not going to be resolved soon under any circumstance.”

TPFA on Aug. 11, 2015, agreed to sell a roughly nine-acre portion of Helmerich Park to North Point Property Cos. of Dallas for $1.465 million. The agreement includes a requirement that the developer deliver a specific anchor tenant, which has since been confirmed as Recreational Equipment Inc.

REI, as it is commonly known, is a sporting goods and outdoor merchandise retailer with more than 130 stores nationwide. The Tulsa store would be the first in Oklahoma.

The other businesses proposed for the development include 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.

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.

Tulsan Craig Immel filed a lawsuit seeking to postpone TPFA’s vote in August but the petition was deemed invalid and the vote proceeded. The lawsuit was later amended and other Tulsans, including Young, added their names to the list of plaintiffs.

The amended lawsuit alleges, among other things, that TPFA does not own the land and has no right to sell it; that the land cannot be sold to a private developer for commercial use; and that TPFA and the City Council must abandon the property before it can be sold.

TPFA has filed a petition in Tulsa District Court seeking a declaratory judgment finding that TPFA has the authority to sell the property in question and does not need the City Council’s blessing to do so.

The developer had hoped to break ground on the project in December. Instead, city officials and the developer have spent the last several months meeting privately with the plaintiffs to try to resolve their differences out of court.

Young said the developer of the project has resisted efforts to build a project more in line with what is envisioned for the property in the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan. The plan, according to Young, calls for a much smaller-scale development near the park’s playground that would include recreation-oriented retail space and a restaurant.

“There was no willingness on the part of the developer or their attorney to consider anything along those lines,” Young said.

Bird, director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, said the developer has made changes to the original project in response to critics’ concerns. Bird also noted that the city had initially sent out requests for proposals to develop more than 60 acres of the property

The fact that TPFA is attempting to address plaintiffs’ concerns is not an admission by the authority or the city of Tulsa that they have not followed proper procedures, Bird said.

“Our position is that we did everything appropriately,” Bird said. “ (But) by the time we got a ruling, I think there is a very strong possibility it would be too long and this project wouldn’t happen.

“If we don’t do something, we’re going to send one more great project to Jenks, more than likely.”

Related stories from The Frontier:

City councilors love REI, but some aren’t thrilled with city’s negotiations

Now that Tulsa has a Trader Joe’s, what’s up with REI plans?