The city of Tulsa is searching for a new site to build a BMX Olympic training facility after negotiations to construct it on the old Drillers Stadium property at Expo Square broke down over concession sales, Expo Square and city officials said Tuesday.
Tulsans approved $15 million for the project as part of last year’s Vision Tulsa sales tax package. Expo Square was also to have served as the new national headquarters for USA BMX.
BA Anderson, CEO of American Bicycle Association, emailed Expo Square President and CEO Mark Andrus and Ray Hoyt with Visit Tulsa last month to inform them that the fairgrounds would not be home to the new USA BMX facilities.
“Respectfully, I think we have come to the deal breaking point. I simply cannot give away pouring rights for 24 years,” Anderson wrote.
A statement released by Expo Square on Tuesday confirmed Anderson’s email: “The corner of 15th Street and Yale Avenue is no longer being considered as an option for the USA BMX headquarters. The decision was made due to terms dictated by a pouring rights agreement.”
Expo Square President and CEO Mark Andrus told The Frontier that the fairgrounds’ sponsorship agreement with Great Plains Coca Cola Bottling Company calls for the company to be the sole provider of non-alcoholic drinks on the property.
“We have a very restrictive agreement,” Andrus said. “We don’t have any flexibility.”
In a statement issued Wednesday, Anderson said he’s confident the USA BMX facilities will be built in Tulsa.
“While we hit a number of challenges with the Expo Square location, we are working closely with the city of Tulsa, Visit Tulsa, and the Tulsa Sports Commission to identify new options for our headquarters,” Anderson said. “We look forward to being part of the Tulsa community in the near future and are committed to our home being in Tulsa.”
Mayor G.T. Bynum said he believes there is still a chance Expo Square could be home to the BMX facility but acknowledged that the city is working with USA BMX to find other possible locations for the training center and headquarters. He also expressed confidence the facilities would be built in Tulsa.
“Every speech I have given since I have been mayor, I’ve pointed out that Tulsa is going to be home to an Olympic sport,” Bynum said. “I haven’t said the fairgrounds is going to be home to an Olympic sport.
“I think the important thing for Tulsans is that we have an Olympic sport here in our city, and so that is our focus. …The city continues to have a great working relationship with USA BMX and both of us are very committed to finding the perfect location for them in Tulsa.”
During last year’s Vision Tulsa campaign, officials said the BMX Olympic training facility would be built on the old Drillers Stadium site on the northeast corner of the fairgrounds and that the old Tulsa County Health Department building just west of the stadium would be refurbished and serve as USA BMX’s new headquarters.
But neither the city nor Expo Square ever entered into an agreement with USA BMX spelling out that arrangement before Tulsans voted on Vision Tulsa on April 5, 2016.
Bynum was a city councilor — not the mayor — at the time of the vote. Asked why such an agreement had not been nailed down before the idea was promoted to the public as part of Vision Tulsa campaign, Bynum said it was always the city’s expectation that the facility would be built at Expo Square.
“We were as surprised as anyone when that agreement didn’t go through,” the mayor said.
The USA BMX facilities are one of 37 economic development projects totaling $510.6 million included in the $884.1 million Vision Tulsa package. The 15-year sales tax progran, which took effect Jan. 1, also includes permanent funding to hire more police officers and firefighters.
The new BMX facility will be home to 100 events and generate more than $11 million in economic activity over the first five years of operation, according to a summary of Vision Tulsa projects on the city’s website.
The USA BMX facilities were scheduled to be completely funded by 2020, according to the city’s Vision Tulsa timeline.
The BMX Grand Nationals have been held inside the River Spirit Expo Center at Expo Square for several years. Officials from USA BMX announced last year that they had agreed to move their headquarters from Gilbert, Ariz., to Tulsa as part of a deal to build the training facility at Expo Square.
In their statement Tuesday, Expo Square officials said they look forward to playing host to more USA BMX events.
“Although the land-use partnership did not come to fruition, Expo Square is a proud host of USA BMX events throughout the year and looks forward to providing event facilities and services in the future,” the statement says.
If the BMX project does not materialize and the $15 million is not needed for that purpose, the City Council could end the Vision Tulsa sales tax earlier than expected or allocate the funds to another voter-approved project.