Tulsa Could See Added Rewards With Improved Gilcrease Museum

Thursday, March 10th 2016, 10:48 pm
By: News On 6

Next month, voters decide whether to extend the Vision 2025 tax, with $65 million earmarked to upgrade Tulsa's most valuable asset, the Gilcrease Museum.

What would taxpayers get in return? Supporters say a lot more than you might imagine.

Gilcrease Executive Director James Pepper Henry said, “We would almost be like a beacon on the hill, and people would see us from downtown.”

For him, the vision could not be any more clear - give the Gilcrease a building worthy of its collection, he said, and Tulsa will reap the rewards for decades to come.

“That will have a huge economic impact in Tulsa. As I said, people will be staying longer. They'll be staying in hotels. We'll attract more conventions to Tulsa,” Pepper Henry said. “We would pull people from Kansas City, from Wichita, even from Denver and Dallas.”

And, if that seems overly optimistic to you, Pepper Henry invites you to take a good, long look at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

“They're the model of how a museum can change a community,” he said.

As corporate headquarters for Walmart, Bentonville, Arkansas has long been a prime destination for business travelers; but since Crystal Bridges opened, it’s been a whole new ballgame.

“It’s put Bentonville on the map as far as arts are concerned,” said Dana Davis with the Bentonville Chamber of Commerce. “You see the change. You see the difference as a result of that.”

Crystal Bridges was spearheaded and largely paid for by Sam Walton's daughter, Alice, who hired a world famous architect to design the museum as a bridge over Crystal Springs.

“Crystal Bridges would not be what it is without the building, the architecture of the space,” said Rob Bigelow, with Crystal Bridges executive director.

It was the first major art museum built in the U.S. in almost 40 years. And when it opened in 2011, no one knew quite what to expect.

“We hoped to have 200,000 to 300,000 in our first year and we had 600,000,” Bigelow said.

And they just keep coming; two million and counting, many traveling to the area as a weekend getaway.

Diane Carroll with Crystal Bridges said, “From Chicago to the north, all the way down to San Antonio in the south; Denver in the west, all the way to Nashville in the east, but people come from the coasts as well.”

For the Chamber of Commerce, it’s been an art-fueled bonanza.

New restaurants and hotels have opened. Tax revenue jumped 30 percent from 2013 to 2015; but it also brought a new spirit to the community, one that the chamber is happy to cash in on.

“We're always looking at creating quality of life, and that's what Crystal Bridges has done for us. It’s allowing us to up the game as far as quality of life is concerned,” Davis said.

All of this with an art collection valued at a fraction of the Gilcrease's.

“I don't like to put numbers on things, but our collection alone is worth over $2 billion,” Pepper Henry said. “What they have, and we don't, is a world-class facility to house their collection.”

Which takes Pepper Henry back to his dreams of a beacon on the hill, “There's so much at stake - the worst thing we can do as citizens of Tulsa is nothing,” he said.

3/10/2016 Related Story: New Vision Proposal Would Benefit A Tulsa Asset

A big part of the Crystal Bridges experience is the grounds; Gilcrease actually has three times more land and there are plans for walking trails and bike paths.