Bartlesville chamber rips Houston


Monday, December 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



BARTLESVILLE, Okla. (AP) _ Some Bartlesville residents, still shocked by last month's announcement that Phillips Petroleum Co. is moving south of the Red River, don't find Houston that appealing.

``It takes forever to drive anywhere in Houston,'' said Pam Dunlap, Bartlesville Area Chamber of Commerce president. ``It's dirty. Every stoplight you drive up to somebody jumps out and comes up to your car needing a handout.''

Phillips employees have been wondering the last few weeks whether they will have to move to Houston as the oil company merges with Conoco Inc. Company officials announced the $15.4 billion merger Nov. 18.

The top executives of the two companies have said Houston would be a better place for attracting and retaining employees.

Conoco Chairman Archie Dunham said the decision to base headquarters in Houston is partly due to the air travel, entertainment, cultural and educational opportunities available in Texas. Dunham is president of Houston Grand Opera and is a Houston symphony trustee.

But Bartlesville residents brag that their town, population 35,000, combines a rich cultural life with a community that is clean, has low crime rates, affordable housing and a public school system that has produced more National Merit Scholars than any other district in Oklahoma.

Bartlesville is home to Oklahoma Wesleyan University, a four-year liberal arts institution with a growing campus population and a new Fine Arts Center and Chapel.

``I would put our school system against the Houston school system any day and I am confident that we would come out head and shoulders above them,'' Dunlap told the Tulsa World.

It was not clear to which school district Dunlap was referring. Many workers at Conoco's west-side headquarters live in suburban school districts, and there are dozens of school systems in the Houston area.

Becky Wieder, Bartlesville Allied Arts and Humanities Council director, says the level of cultural activities available in Phillips' hometown rival the availability in larger communities.

Bartlesville has its own symphony, civic ballet, theater guild, community concert association and choral society.

``I don't think you can find another community of this size that has as much as we have going on in the arts,'' Wieder said.

Houston is one of five U.S. cities that offer year-round performing and visual arts in the forms of a symphony, opera, major dramatic theater (the Tony-winning Alley Theatre) and ballet. More than 200 institutions in Houston are dedicated to arts, science and history, and the city also has major-league teams in baseball, basketball and football, none of which exist in Oklahoma.

Jim Kollaer, who heads the Greater Houston Partnership, said he is confident workers moving to the nation's fourth-largest city from small-town Oklahoma can create a suitable lifestyle in Houston.

``We have such a wide variety available for individuals, whether it be lifestyle, business, medical or recreational,'' said Kollaer, who planned to call Dunlap about her diatribe about Houston. ``Those can pretty much be assembled to meet the needs of anyone who moves here from outside the city.''

Jim Mulva, Phillips chief executive officer, told employees last week that Bartlesville might have trouble attracting those who are not looking to raise a family in the community.

``It's a great place to have a family,'' Mulva said. ``But there are also issues of, you know, younger people or older people ... it has become to some extent an issue in terms of attraction and retention of employees, particularly as we've grown the company, made acquisitions and done ventures.''

Many employees have questioned Mulva about the housing prices in Houston.

The average price of a new 2,400-square-foot home in Houston is $174,070, according to the Greater Houston Partnership. In Bartlesville, the average price for a 3-bedroom, 2-bath 2,000-square-foot home ranges between $60,000 and $80,000.

They're also concerned about the climate change. The average annual temperature in Bartlesville is 60 degrees. In Houston, it's 10 degrees higher.

``We have a better climate than Houston,'' Dunlap said. ``It's very hot and muggy there.''

However, where snow is common in Oklahoma during winter, the average temperature in Houston typically ranges in the 50s and 60s.