A River Parks Authority trustee Thursday encouraged the city of Tulsa to consider protecting the land it owns at Turkey Mountain in perpetuity by donating the property to the authority rather than leasing it.
“Is there a concern that the city might actually want the land back?” Phil Frohlich said during the authority’s monthly meeting. “Is there a concern that River Parks would not be a good steward of the land? Because for my mind, I think the time has come that we need for Turkey Mountain users (to have) protection into perpetuity.”
Frohlich’s remarks were directed at Nick Doctor, the city’s chief of community development and policy, and came less than a week after Mayor G.T. Bynum announced a proposed long-term master lease with River Parks covering more than 900 acres of city-owned land at Turkey Mountain and along the Arkansas River.
Bynum touted the proposal as a way to ensure that the property is preserved as park and wilderness areas while leaving open the possibility for development along the river in places the city has previously identified for that purpose. The proposed master lease would also consolidate and simplify the multiple property leases in place and provide the city’s philanthropic community with confidence that the land would be used for park purposes for the next 50 years, Bynum said.
But Frohlich questioned the need for even that level of uncertainty when it comes to the 180 acres of city land at Turkey Mountain, noting that most Turkey Mountain users aren’t going to read the proposed agreement and could be confused about what the actual terms are.
An executive summary of the proposed master lease presented to River Parks trustees Thursday states that it would include an initial 10-year term followed by four, 10-year options, “effectively creating a 50-year agreement.”
Attorney Margaret Kobos, representing River Parks Authority, told trustees that although there has been a lot of publicity about the proposed lease being for 50 years, “it’s really 10.”
Frohlich sits on the board of directors of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, where he has spent more than a decade and a half working on behalf of the foundation to purchase property near Turkey Mountain with the intent of preserving it as a wilderness area.
He told board members that he expects that the foundation will someday hand over the land to River Parks, and “my expectation is that River Parks would not want us to lease” it to them.
“If we (GKFF) were to say, ‘Well, we’re going to lease it to you for 10 years with renewal options, people would say, what do you have going on?’” Frohlich said.
River Parks Authority presented a proposed master lease to the city nearly a year and a half ago, Kobos said, but never heard back from the city. The proposed master lease presented by Bynum is “substantially different” on some critical issues from what River Parks proposed, she said.
Doctor said Bynum felt a need to begin the discussion anew because of the recent approval of two “ground shifting” policy and funding initiatives related to the river: Vision Tulsa, which will fund improvements to Zink Dam and other river projects; and the adoption of a River Design Overlay that provides development regulations.
Doctor said the lease proposal is intended to give Turkey Mountain users the of peace of mind Frohlich is looking for and stressed that Bynum’s proposal is just that.
“We knew it was just a start to the conversation,” Doctor said.
Frohlich said there may well be a good reason the city is proposing a lease for the Turkey Mountain property but that he would like to see the idea of gifting the property to River Parks be part of the discussion.
Frohlich, Kobos and River Parks Executive Director Matt Meyer each thanked Doctor for the city’s efforts to address the issue.
Speaking after the meeting, Frohlich said the city and River Parks Authority have the same goal in mind, “but with all the different things that could happen along the river, it’s not something that is just like, ‘OK, thanks mayor. Where do we sign?’”
Asked after the meeting whether the city would consider donating its Turkey Mountain property to River Parks, Doctor said the city presented the proposed master lease at the request of River Parks.
“This morning was the first time that a process outside of a lease had been discussed, which introduces a new series of legal issues that we will need to carefully review,” Doctor said.
Doctor added that the city and River Parks share the goal of preserving Turkey Mountain as an urban wilderness area.
“So we’re happy to discuss this option further with River Parks as we consider the broader master lease,” he said.
Proposed city of Tulsa/River Parks Authority Master Lease
The proposed lease agreement would not guarantee that park space will remain park space for the term of the lease but would put that decision in the hands of the River Parks Authority.
Here are the three classes of land and the process for removing land from the lease:
Class 1 (Teal) 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 Sunday.
Class 2 (Green) 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.
Class 3 (Purple) 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.