Tulsa city councilors are expected to meet soon to discuss the legal dispute surrounding the proposed commercial development of 8.8 acres of Helmerich Park. KEVIN CANFIELD/The Frontier

The Tulsa City Council will likely meet soon to discuss the proposed REI development at 71st Street and Riverside Drive and to consider actions it could take to help resolve a legal dispute that has left the project in limbo for more than a year, City Councilor David Patrick said Monday.

“To my understanding, we are going to have this brought forward in the next couple of weeks to consider some new information and be able to move forward with this one way or another,” Patrick said.

News of the public meeting — which has yet to be scheduled — follows private discussions between councilors and Nick Doctor, the city’s chief of community development and policy, last week.

Doctor met councilors individually so as not to violate the state’s Open Meetings Act.

The City Council meeting would mark the first time councilors have publicly considered taking action on the project and would be the first public sign that Mayor G.T. Bynum plans to try to move forward with the development.

Doctor said Monday night that his discussions with councilors were part of an ongoing dialogue the Bynum administration is having with all parties involved in the project. The proposed development has been a priority for Bynum since before he was inaugurated, Doctor said.

“So part of our work over the past couple of months has been to try to identify what the key priorities and key issues are for everyone that is involved,” Doctor said. “The city councilors, the developer, the plaintiffs, and working to determine what the path forward is if there is one on this issue.”

Doctor said he could not confirm whether the council would meet to discuss proposed development.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “It all depends on whether or not we can get to a proposal.”

The developer, UCR Development of Dallas, is operating under a 60-day extension to the agreement that will expire in early March.

Patrick said he’s been led to believe time is of the essence.

“My understanding is the developer is getting antsy and wants to know one way or another, or if he’s got to move down the road,” the councilor said.

The project has been bogged down in legal wrangling since Aug. 11, 2015, when the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority voted 3-2 to sell 8.8 acres of Helmerich Park to UCR developer for $1.465 million.

As part of the agreement, the developer was required to secure an anchor tenant “specializing in the sale of high-end sporting goods and outdoor merchandise.” City officials and the developer have since acknowledged that the anchor tenant would be REI, assuming the sale of the property goes through.

This graphic created by UCR Development shows the relationship between the proposed development at the southwest corner of 71st Street and Riverside Drive and the remainder of Helmerich Park.

But the deal has remained far from certain. On the same day the agreement was signed, Tulsan Craig Immel filed a motion in Tulsa County District Court seeking to delay the vote to give Tulsans more time to examine the proposal. When that effort failed, the lawsuit was amended and joined by four other Tulsans, including former Mayor Terry Young, who claim the development should not be allowed to go forward.

The plaintiffs’ assert, among other things, that TPFA does not own the land in question and had no right to sell it for commercial purposes, nor did it follow proper procedures in attempting to do so.

Among those procedures, the plaintiffs claim, is for the City Council to make the land available for commercial development by declaring it no longer needed for public purposes — a process sometimes called “surplussing.”

“For this activity (sale of the land) to be authorized it must be expressly consented to by the governing body that created the trust, in this case the Tulsa City Council,” the lawsuit states.

Patrick did not say what actions the council might be asked to vote on, but sources who spoke to The Frontier on the condition of anonymity said surplussing the property and other pro-active steps would likely be considered in an attempt to address the plaintiffs’ claims.

The council may not be able to address all of them, however. For example, the lawsuit asserts that even if the City Council were to abandon the property and declare it no longer needed for public use, state law requires that the city provide a factual record supporting that claim.

The plaintiffs have repeatedly asserted that that cannot be done because volleyball courts on the property are used regularly by a large number of people.

The plaintiffs also claim that since the city used $2.25 million in 1985 sales tax revenue dedicated for park purposes to help purchase the property for TPFA, using the land for another purpose would be a “misappropriation of taxpayer funds.”

The city and the plaintiffs agreed early on in the dispute to try to settle their disagreements outside of the courtroom, but those talks have gone nowhere. The parties participated in a court-ordered mediation session in January but have said little about how that went.

Action by the council is seen as a first step in resetting the discussion and putting the city in a better position to defend itself in court, sources told The Frontier.

Former Mayor Young said Monday that he was not surprised to learn that the City Council may be taking up the issue.

“There was an effort by TPFA to take this action last year and at the last minute it was deleted from their agenda,” Young said. “We believed it was simply a matter of time.”

Recreational Equipment Inc., is a nationwide sporting goods and outdoor merchandise company with more than 140 stores but none in Oklahoma.

The other structures included in the original development plans are 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.

The proposed 8.8-acre development site is on the southwest corner of Riverside Drive and 71st Street. The land is part of an approximately 70-acre tract known as Helmerich Park.

Helmerich was established in 1991 after the city and private donors each paid $2.25 million to purchase the property. The city funds and private donations were transferred to TPFA, which purchased the land and is the title holder.

Thus the need for City Council action should any sale of the property be considered, the plaintiffs’ lawsuit claims. And thus the reason city councilors are expected to take up the issue soon.

“Assurances were given to the Council (in 1991) that the TPFA could not sell or transfer the property without the consent of the Council prior to the City Council appropriating the funds to purchase the park land,” the lawsuit claims. “The Council would not have appropriated the funds for the purchase of the park land if it thought the park land could be sold by defendant TPFA without the Council’s consent.”