The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

23 July 2004

Razing awareness

Michael Bates has been all over the story that World Publishing Company, owner of the Tulsa World, plans to tear down the Skelly Building and the nearby Froug's Department Store building. The Skelly will become a parking lot for the World; Froug's will be replaced by a heating/cooling tower.

Says the World, this represents their commitment to downtown. Bates is not persuaded:

The Tulsa Whirled [Bates' standard nickname for the paper] strongly supported the reopening of Main Street to vehicular traffic. They told us that we had to reopen the Mall to traffic in order to encourage residential and commercial development. It is a shame and an outrage that fronting Main Street — newly reopened at great taxpayer expense — will be a big air conditioning system where a department store once was. Our city leaders need to take action now to prevent the Whirled from devaluing the taxpayer's investment in Main Street and downtown.

And what greater waste than to demolish tens of thousands of square feet that could be reused and redeveloped to create maybe a dozen parking spaces, just so the Whirled's executives don't have to cross the street. Don't believe it when they say it's for the customers. They could easily make arrangements with the lot across the street or the new city-funded structure a block away. They could validate parking.

The Whirled's publisher says this demolition represents the Whirled's commitment to downtown. The Whirled appears to be committed to the idea of downtown as just another suburban office park. As with [Tulsa Community College] and its parking land grabs, downtown would have a better chance of becoming a real downtown again if the Whirled packed up and moved rather than tearing down more buildings.

Here in Oklahoma City, The Oklahoman did exactly that when they ran out of room at Fourth and Broadway; that 1909 building is in use today, and OPUBCO donated the property just to its east to the Downtown YMCA, whose previous facilities had been destroyed in the 1995 bombing.

Let us not accuse OPUBCO of excessive altruism: they have their fingers in many pies, downtown and otherwise, and their legendary distrust for the public sector has seldom restrained them from tapping the taxpayers when the situation permitted. Did the Gaylords believe that what's good for OPUBCO is good for Oklahoma? Surely. And occasionally they turned out to be right.

What Tulsa doesn't need is to repeat the mistakes made in Oklahoma City during the "urban renewal" days, when the answer to every question was "bulldozer." We learned — the hard way, to be sure, but we learned. An example:

Situation: Not enough parking spaces in the Bricktown entertainment district.

Oldthink solution: Remove a vacant building or two, add parking lots.

Actual solution: Merchants lacking their own parking lots cut a deal with Metro Transit to run a free shuttle bus from an existing parking lot on the edge of Bricktown to their front doors during peak hours (4:30 pm to 2:30 am Thursday through Saturday plus special events).

There's nothing happening at this end of the Turner that can't be duplicated at the other. Let's hope Tulsa — and the Tulsa World — can learn from our experience.

Posted at 11:16 AM to Soonerland