Downtown Tulsa Development Propelled By Momentum Of Investments

Thursday, November 15th 2012, 9:57 pm
By: News On 6

News On 6 is moving in a couple of months, but we're still staying downtown.

And thousands of you are coming down to join us, whether to eat, play or live. Once again, downtown has become the place to be.

Over the past ten years, somewhere well north of half a billion dollars has been invested in downtown Tulsa, in buildings and infrastructure, all in an effort to lure Brooke Nelson and her friends to dine, shop and live there.

And it's worked.

Three years ago, because she felt it was safer than a suburban house, Brooke leased a downtown apartment and couldn't be happier with the decision.

"I fall in love with Tulsa every time I'm out, because I see something that I haven't seen before and other people that are also falling in love with downtown Tulsa," Nelson said.

She joins at least 4,000 others who live downtown, and if there were more places to live, those 4,000 would have a lot more neighbors.

"We're only limited by the complexity of putting projects together," said Steve Ganzkow.

Ganzkow's American Residential Group took a gamble 13 years ago and built the Renaissance Uptown apartments on the south side of downtown.

The same year, they renovated the old Tulsa Tribune building into lofts.

Last year, next door, after five years of work putting together the financing, they finished the Metro at Brady apartments. They're sold out, with a six-month waiting list for an opening.

8/31/2011 Related Story: Downtown Tulsa Development Hopes To Fill Affordable Housing Need

"And if we had a perfect world we think we would start a 200-unit project as fast as we could, if we could find the land and put the financing together in order to do that," Ganzkow said.

Delise Tomlinson is in charge of selling downtown for the Metro Tulsa Chamber of Commerce. She says companies considering a move to Tulsa are aware of downtown's comeback and want to know more.

"People are interested in being here, because of quality of life issues for their employees. And I believe that is what's behind that trend to be downtown," Tomlinson said.

That's why Elliot Nelson opened an Irish pub eight years ago, after his senior year in college.

He said he wanted something like the kind of place he'd visited in Dublin. So, he created McNellie's Pub.

"Yeah, I think, ultimately, it was just kind of the right place at the right time. Maybe chalk it up to a little gut instinct, I guess," Nelson said.

Nelson now has seven downtown restaurants and a bowling alley.

4/7/2011 Related Story: Tulsa Man Hopes To Throw A Strike With Downtown 'Dust Bowl'

But that gut instinct became heartburn when his Mexican entry, El Guapo's, opened in the teeth of a recession and, after big construction cost overruns, became a drag on the entire group.

"For all intents and purposes, we probably should have closed it, but the flip side of that was I knew if I let it close then downtown would be sent reeling back ten years," Nelson said.

The private investors, like Nelson, needed to see a shot of confidence from the public. And that came to pass on what had been a down-in-the-dumps block in a down-in-the-mouth city center.

"We had to get some energy. We had to get some momentum," said former Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune.

Six months after taking office as Mayor in 2002, LaFortune began the push for a new arena, which would be the first major public improvement project downtown since the Performing Arts Center, 30 years before.

Tulsa County taxpayers voted to pay for it with a .60 cent sales tax called Vision 2025.

Despite all the naysayers who said the arena would become a white elephant, color the BOK green.

Since its 2008 opening, it's generated over ten million dollars in sales tax revenue by itself, and consistently ranks as one of the world's top venues for ticket sales and industry awards.

11/5/2012 Related Story: Tulsa Winterfest Means 45 Days Of Family Fun

"I felt very strongly, given the population base of this entire region, that we could support an arena this size and we could get the kinds of events that Tulsans wanted to have," LaFortune said.

The next Mayor, Kathy Taylor, got the arena finished, then turned her sights eight blocks east, and spearheaded the deal that brought the Drillers to the Greenwood neighborhood, paid for with a controversial tax on downtown businesses, which Taylor says will be recouped with increased property values.

Again, the new stadium's location was no accident.

"We had lots of bars and places for adults but we needed, we needed to bring families downtown," Taylor said.

There's still a lot of empty downtown office space and acres of sterile surface parking lots. There are projects that have stalled in an economy that still presents many challenges.

But the ballpark and the BOK Center bookend a turnaround that's got too much momentum to turn back.

And when our Griffin Communications Media Center opens in January in the Brady District, making KOTV the largest employer there, it will be one more signal that downtown Tulsa is the vital heart of the entire region.

See what else is going on in Tulsa's Brady Arts District

"Tulsa's got lots of momentum right now and I think by having our television stations here, and having parks, bars, restaurants, activities for people to come and enjoy downtown Tulsa, I think there's nothing but huge momentum for the whole city of Tulsa," said Griffin Communications President and CEO David Griffin.

This week, for the third consecutive year, the BOK Center was nominated for "Arena of the Year" by a trade industry magazine.

For the second year, the newly remodeled Tulsa Convention Center has won a national award for customer service.

And your favorite TV station begins HD broadcasting from our new downtown home in January.

8/29/2012 Related Story: Broadcasting Equipment Arrives At New Griffin Communications Building