OSU-Tulsa's plan to build a Technology Innovation Park and related commercial district has some people questioning why developers where only given 30 days to come up with plans for the commercial section of the development. KEVIN CANFIELD/The Frontier

OSU-Tulsa and Langston University are the only institutions of higher education that have campuses on 200 acres of land just north of downtown that was donated for educational purposes. The property was once blighted but today is among the most valuable in the city. KEVIN CANFIELD/The Frontier

The future of 200 acres of prime real estate just north of downtown is up for discussion again after north Tulsa residents, Tulsa Development Authority trustees and others began questioning why the land was never developed as proposed three decades ago, officials said this week.

Clay Bird, director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, said TDA trustees began scrutinizing the issue when OSU-Tulsa presented a development proposal to the city during the recent Vision Tulsa process.

“I think once they started looking over and going through the actual redevelopment agreement, they were like, ‘There are things in here that have not been fulfilled and we kind of need to get a handle on it,’” Bird said.

Bird said he hopes to have a meeting with all of the interested parties within the next 10 days to begin discussing whether and how the redevelopment agreement should be changed.

The development authority — previously known as Tulsa Urban Renewal Authority — is the city’s real estate arm. In 1986, it conveyed the land to the University Center at Tulsa Authority to help create a higher education campus, called University Center at Tulsa.

The University Center originally included four universities — Langston, the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and Northeastern State University — that contracted to provide academic offerings on campus.

Thirty years and several incarnations later, OSU-Tulsa is charged by law with providing a comprehensive public university for Tulsa and the surrounding area. Only two universities operate on the campus today: OSU and Langston.

The question some TDA trustees are asking is whether the development on the site — or the lack thereof — constitutes a breach of the redevelopment agreement, Bird said.

Ron Bussert, vice president of OSU-Tulsa and the UCT Authority’s operations manager, doesn’t think so.

“We did a thorough review of the history of UCT and of the development of this campus,” Bussert said. “Frankly, we don’t think we are in default in any way whatsoever, technically or substantively.”

The 25-page contract sets out a timeline for development that Bussert believes the UCT Authority has met. He noted that the authority met its original obligation under the agreement when it built OSU-Tulsa’s Main Hall within two years of signing the contract.

Since then, Bussert said, the UCT Authority has built at least one OSU-Tulsa facility on the property each decade. Those projects include North Hall, the auditorium, the bookstore and Helmerich Research Center.

“It was expected that a public higher education campus would be developed here, and there was a timeline in the agreement for the first facility, known as Main Hall, to be built, and that expectation was met,” Bussert said. “And since that time further construction and development has occurred.”

The redevelopment agreement is clear that future development on the site would be subject to funding availability, Bussert said.

“Unless there is funding and there is interest, things don’t get developed,” Bussert said. “Every time there was a funding opportunity, we grabbed it.”

Bussert acknowledged that the process of updating the agreement could create angst among the interested parties because each comes to the table with different legal obligations and responsibilities.

However, Bussert — and others who spoke to The Frontier about the issue — said he is confident the agreement can be amended in such a way as to address the needs of all parties involved.

“I believe that the UCT Authority and the mayor and the Planning Commission and TDA, we all want a meaningful development with these parcels,” Bussert said. “And we are going to come up with a project that is beneficial to higher education as well as the neighborhood and the community.”

The rendering above was created by Oklahoma State University-Tulsa to show how the university might grow at its campus in north Tulsa. The plans are conceptual. RENDERING PROVIDED

This conceptual rendering was created by Oklahoma State University-Tulsa to show how the university might grow its campus in north Tulsa. Courtesy

Authority Chairman Roy Peters said the issue came up awhile ago when north Tulsa residents questioned trustees about the donated land during public meetings on the city’s effort to update its sector plan for the area. A sector plan is a development plan for a low-to moderate-income area that cities create as one way to become eligible for federal funding.

“Since TDA acquired the property for the city and essentially donated it to UCT (Authority), we felt a general responsibility to talk to OSU and Langston and UCT (Authority) about what are your plans,” Peters said. “And they have some plans, but frankly, they are pretty vague in terms of specifics.”

That’s why TDA is sitting down with OSU-Tulsa, UCAT, Langston and the city of Tulsa, Peters said.

“We are all trying to do right by the taxpayers,” Peters said. “But also we want to do right by OSU-Tulsa, Langston and UCT (Authority). We don’t want to do anything to harm” them.

When asked what provision of the redevelopment agreement the University Center Authority at Tulsa had not fulfilled, Peters said TDA’s concerns about the contract have less to do with whether specific provisions have been met but rather with whether the agreement reflects the times.

He noted, for example, that two of the four universities included in the original University Center — OU and Northeastern — have opened campuses elsewhere to serve students in northeast Oklahoma.

Still, Peters acknowledged, the development agreement should have been reviewed earlier.

“Do I wish we had done that five years ago? Yes, we should have,” he said.

But Peters believes there is a practical reason why the land hasn’t been developed sooner.

“I’m not sure that land would have been developed to its highest and best use 10 years ago,” before the Brady Arts District and other bordering neighborhoods began to boom, Peters said.

This time around TDA will ensure that promised development takes place on the 200-acre site by following the same procedures it used with the One Place project downtown and other properties it sells or leases for development, Peters said.

“They have to come back and show us plans,” Peters said. “That is really the process that is being undertaken now with the UCT (Authority) land. We need to hear what the real practical use of this remaining land is.”

Of the 200 acres donated by TDA nearly 30 years ago, the UCT Authority has conveyed 19 acres to the OSU/A&M Board of Regents for use by Langston University. The property includes about 9 acres for the administration and classroom building and 10 acres across the street where the healthcare professions complex approved by voters as part of Vision Tulsa will be built.

The UCT Authority, meanwhile, conveyed about 10 acres of land to the OSU/A&M Board of Regents for OSU-Tulsa’s Helmerich Research Center and North Hall.

OETA leases space from the UCT Authority as well.

The remaining property on the campus belongs to UCT Authority.

That includes the site of the proposed 8-acre commercial development and 6 acres for the OSU-Tulsa Technology Innovation Park that were part of OSU-Tulsa’s pitch for Vision Tulsa funding.

Two of the central questions to be addressed in the redevelopment agreement talks are whether to allow construction on the property that is not for education or to support education, and what entities will be responsible for administering, implementing and overseeing the development on the land under the amended agreement.

Under the existing contract, UCT Authority holds title to the land and oversees development of it. TDA reviews proposed projects to ensure they are in accordance with the redevelopment agreement.

Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s Chief of Staff, Jarred Brejcha, said the mayor is reviewing the agreement to better understand how it is administered and would be open to whatever changes might be needed to best ensure that future development on the site proceeds expeditiously.

The mayor is not in favor of changing the intended purpose of the land conveyance, Brejcha said.

“Basically, he doesn’t want to see commercial development that has no connection to education,” Brejcha said. “It needs to have a cooperative, collaborative or supportive role to education.”

The mayor would ideally like to see the property used as a kind of research and development hub that would not only provide an educated and trained workforce but stimulate economic development and job creation, Brejcha said.

“If it has an education (component), then I think it would be on the table,” Brejcha said.

Authority Executive Director O.C. Walker said he’s open to discussing other uses for the site.

“Keep in mind that agreement was written 30 years ago,” Walker said. “Tulsa was a lot different 30 years ago. The future may encapsulate education, but there may be other uses” that are deemed appropriate.

City Councilor Jack Henderson, who represents the district in which the 200 acres is located, declined to comment Wednesday on the possible changes to the redevelopment agreement.

But he has said previously that he would like to see 50 acres allocated to Langston because Langston was one of the four schools that made up the original University Center at Tulsa.

City Planning Director Dawn Warrick said her department has been asked to work with TDA and the other interested parties to help develop plans for the site.

Part of the problem, Warrick said, is that there are four development plans for the property — two that date back to the 1980s or earlier — and two fairly recent ones.

The goal is to ensure that whatever is proposed is in alignment with the city’s recent development plans — the Downtown Master Plan and the comprehensive plan, commonly known PlaniTulsa.

“We’re at a point now where everybody is taking a fresh look at it and wants to get on the same page,” Warrick said. “It’s a matter of freshening things up.”

One type of development she does not expect to see on the property is single-family homes.

When the 200 were set aside for educational purposes “neighborhoods were wiped out, a significant number of people relocated,” Warrick said. “People expected something to happen because their families were uprooted and moved.”

Warrick said she does not believe it will be difficult for TDA, the UCT Authority and the city to agree on what types of development should be allowed on the site because the existing redevelopment agreement provides broad leeway.

For example, the contract allows for student housing, restaurants, healthcare and research facilities, and “commercial, business and industrial enterprises necessary to and reasonably related to the operation of the University Center at Tulsa.”

“We want to see an outcome that is good for the city but also good for the University Center as well,” Warrick said.

This is the view from OSU-Tulsa Gateway monument in north Tulsa. The university is one of two institutions of higher education that have campuses on 200 acres of land just north of downtown. The land was once blighted but today is among the most valuable in the city. KEVIN CANFIELD/The Frontier

Downtown Tulsa as viewed from the OSU-Tulsa Gateway monument. The university is one of two institutions of higher education with a campus on 200 acres of land just north of downtown. The land was once blighted but today is among the most valuable in the city. KEVIN CANFIELD/The Frontier

OSU-Tulsa, meanwhile, is moving forward with its latest plans for the property.

The university, on behalf of the UCT Authority, last year asked city councilors to include $15 million in the Vision renewal package to build the initial building in the Technology Innovation Park and make infrastructure changes.

The authority ended up receiving $3.6 million, which will be used lay the groundwork for the project by relocating the Salvation Army facility that is on the property.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think it will be about who controls what,” Bussert said of the redevelopment agreement talks. “I think that at the end of the day we’ll come together on an agreement on some development that works.

“Now is the time to really have meaningful discussion.”


History of UCT Authority

Mid-1980s: UCT Authority established in the mid-1980s to maintain land for a campus of higher education in Tulsa.

1986: TDA donates approximately 200 acres of land to UCT Authority to help create the higher education campus, called University Center at Tulsa. The group originally included four universities — Langston, the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and Northeastern State University — that contracted to provide academic offerings on campus.

1996: University Center at Tulsa merges with Rogers State University in Claremore to form Rogers University. The joint administration takes over operation of the UCT campus, which continued to include the four original schools.

1999: Consortium is dissolved and the Legislature passes a law designating OSU-Tulsa as the entity to provide a comprehensive public university for Tulsa and the Tulsa area.