Normally, Tulsa's George Kaiser is a very private man. He does not seek the spotlight, but recently the chairman of the Kaiser-Francis Oil Company sat down with News On 6 anchor Scott Thompson to talk about the Arkansas River tax development issue. Scott Thompson reports George Kaiser feels very strongly about the river tax and has decided to speak out on the issue.
"I find that the river development plan and downtown rejuvenation are very, very, important to restore the luster that Tulsa once had. It is not my primary focus charitably as you say, I'm uncomfortable with the public exposure but this is a fairly critical time in Tulsa," says George Kaiser.
Critical enough to publicity-shy George Kaiser that he has decided to step forward and match private donations, at least $58.5 million on his part, to the cause of Arkansas River development.
Kaiser, whose fortune has been made in oil and banking, says the Arkansas River offers the chance to restore the region's pride.
"It is the one spot in which people from all over the metropolitan area, from all geographic areas, from all different economic backgrounds, can gather together and rebuild this sense of community which I think we've lost to some degree," says George Kaiser.
Kaiser insists that neither his face nor his name be attached to his philanthropy. Yet tens-of-thousands of children in Tulsa and northeastern Oklahoma have benefited from the George Kaiser Family Foundation. The latest available federal tax statements, from 2005, show Kaiser's foundation handed out almost $18 million to Oklahoma social service organizations that year. Its focus is alleviating childhood poverty and its accompanying triggers, and it has built programs like the Kendall-Whittier early-childhood Educare center.
That is why paying for things like parks, picnic areas and fishing piers along the Arkansas is such a change for George Kaiser.
"The reason I came around to it is that I think we need some more significant transformative event to really reboost the economic potential of Tulsa. We can do all that we are doing with respect to helping people in very disadvantaged circumstances but unless we can draw good jobs to Tulsa and give an opportunity for our young people to stay here and prosper here then Tulsa can't recover," says George Kaiser.
Kaiser maintains opponents of the Arkansas River tax are shortsighted. He says Tulsa is the economic engine of the entire region. If the city of Tulsa languishes, the same holds true for Tulsa's suburbs. Moreover, George Kaiser insists the Arkansas River has the potential to lift all economic boats.
"And most of the cities that are showing a lot of economic progress in our part of the country have recently improved their water fronts, certainly Ft. Worth, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Memphis, Wichita, all have done so, we've fallen a bit behind. So I think this plan could allow us to catch up and surpass those cities and regain the position that Tulsa had during most of the time I've lived here," says George Kaiser.
Kaiser maintains the private donor's oversight committee will make sure projects like these will be built on time and on budget. He says business people expect that kind of efficiency with their money.
George Kaiser says outlying Tulsa County communities will also benefit from passage of the river tax funding plan.
Concerning money, George Kaiser says he looks back at one over-riding lesson in his life. In 1939, the city of Tulsa welcomed Kaiser's parents after they fled Nazi Germany. George Kaiser says he remembers that welcome with every check he signs.
"I don't want to be on this earth exclusively to accumulate resources but to make something happen that otherwise would not have happened that helps the lives of somebody else," says George Kaiser.
The vote on river development is set for October 9. For complete coverage of the River Vote, click here.
Watch the video: Oilman And Philanthropist George Kaiser Talks About The River Tax