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Talk of improved convention facilities continues, despite 'No' vote

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Maybe the third time's a charm.

That's apparently what Tulsa Mayor Susan Savage hopes after city voters on Tuesday rejected for the second time in three years a proposal to spend millions on convention and tourism improvements.

Despite the loss, Savage said the state's second largest city should continue to discuss the future of its convention and tourism facilities.

``I truly believe, based on my travels around the community, people understand this is an economic development discussion,'' Savage said. ``And it has to continue because we're talking about preserving and trying to expand a very important economic base in our community.''

A proposal dubbed ``It's Tulsa's Time'' would have raised $263 million from a half-cent sales tax over 7 1/2 years. But about 52 percent of Tulsa's voters said no to the sales tax. Voters also rejected a development plan in 1997.

Officials hoped to expand and renovate the convention center, build a 20,000-seat sports arena, construct a downtown parking garage and install a landscaped walkway from the convention center to the city's scenic parks system along the Arkansas River.

Opponents said the package called for too much and didn't allow for more limited improvements, such as convention center renovations without other projects attached.

Jim Hewgley, treasurer of the opposition group, Total Tulsa Coalition, said the city should consider upgrading the convention center but said voters rejected the idea of a coliseum.

Hewgley insisted the coliseum would have cost more because of higher maintenance costs. Voters also didn't want the parking garage, he said.

Tulsa finds itself outdone by turnpike rival Oklahoma City, which has spent millions on a new downtown baseball park, sports arena, convention center improvements and canal with passenger boats.

Tulsa competes with Oklahoma, Dallas, St. Louis and other cities for convention business, Savage has said.

But nightly hotel room bookings dropped by 50 percent in the past three years, said Jim Norton, president of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited, which maintains the downtown area through a contract with the city.

Tourism generates about $30 million a year in sales tax revenue for Tulsa, Norton said.

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