So much for “cheap seats”

Noting that Tulsa wants $60 million to build a new park for the Class AA Drillers, Michael Bates asks: “How much should a ballpark cost?”

The answer appears to be “Not that much”:

As of 2004, 62% of National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues-affiliated minor league ballparks in Classes AAA, AA, High A, and Low A were built after 1990. Of those post-1990 parks, AA stadium construction averaged $1806 per seat in 1990 dollars.

Adjusted for inflation, this works out to about $3000 a seat. Tulsa wants 6000 seats; divide that into sixty million and you get $10,000 a seat. What gives? Taxpayers, apparently:

You’ve been told that $60 million is needed to build a new downtown ballpark. The truth is that nearly half that money will be used by a public trust, controlled by the major donors to the ballpark, to buy up and control the land around the ballpark, using the City’s power of condemnation if necessary.

Should anyone be curious, the AT&T Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City was completed in 1998 for $34 million, or about $45 million in 2008 dollars. It seats 13,066 ($3400 a seat).


  1. Doug Dawg »

    7 August 2008 · 7:45 pm

    Please, don’t get me wrong by what I’m saying here … I’m a strong admirer of Michael Bates’ blog. That, said, it should be acknowledged that his perspective (which apparently carries great weight in Tulsa) is much much different than the perspective that has developed in Oklahoma City since and after the success of the initial and successive MAPS votes in Oklahoma City. I wouldn’t go so far to say that Michael is a close cousin of David Glover (a strong lobbiest opposing the March 4 vote), but he is not all that far removed.

    I’m not saying that Michael is right or that OKC’s lately-found-preference for going along with their city’s leadership is right. I am saying that I’m glad that OKC has taken that course instead of a protest-course against their city leaders. Can you imagine what would have happened in Tulsa over the next 10-20 years had the Tulsa River Tax vote carried the county? It boggles the mind. But, in Tulsa County, the (by analogy) “Maps for Millionaires” won the day last October.

    It’s Tulsas’ business for Tulsa to make their own choices, and I’ll leave it at that. But, as much as I enjoy Michael’s blog, his viewpoint truly does represent a different and diametrically opposite approach than what has occurred and prevailed in Oklahoma City since MAPS (1). Since then, we’ve had what I’ll call MAPS 2 (the tax extension which made it possible for us to have the Ford Center), MAPS for Kids (MAPS 3), and, most recently, MAPS 4 (Ford Center & NBA practice facility). In the near future, we’ll be looking at MAPS 5 (Core to Shore).

    Each municipality (and in the case of Tulsa’s River project, county) makes their choices, and that’s the way it should be.

    But, I’m proud of my own city’s choices, and, as an outsider, I wish that Tulsans would have approved the River Tax. But, again, that’s not my business. Truth is, approval of that vote could have blown OKC away, long term, given the natural resource that the Arkansas River presents as it flows through Tulsa County.

    Each city (and or county) gets to call its own shots. You already know that I’m proud of the shots my taxpaying Okie Citians have done. I’d have been proud of Tulsans, too, had they not been persuaded by a “Maps For Millionaires” approach in the River Vote campaign. But, again, that ain’t any of my “buidness.”

  2. CGHill »

    7 August 2008 · 7:55 pm

    The situations in Oklahoma City and Tulsa are not strictly comparable, for one very specific reason: after the success of the original MAPS projects, OKC leadership’s credibility shot up markedly. This is not to say we don’t have a fair amount of one-hand-washes-the-other good ol’ boy malarkey, but there’s a general belief in the city that new proposals actually might have some positive benefits. Tulsans believe they’ve been burned, and not just once or twice either; as a result, it’s become difficult to sell projects in Tulsa. (It doesn’t help, of course, when the projects include a 50-to-100-percent overrun for graft.)

    And Tulsa makes one other mistake: they tend to run these things through the county, which has to answer not only to the Borg Cube but also to Broken Arrow and Bixby and places like that. If we’d done that here, we’d still be trying to scrape up the bucks for the ballpark.

  3. Doug Dawg »

    7 August 2008 · 8:08 pm

    Chaz, you may be right, and I wouldn’t know (being totally ignorant of Tulsa politics).

    There may have been no “Ron Noricks” in Tulsa’s farily recent leadership. But I am sooo glad that we had one of him here, plus his successors who have followed his lead.

  4. Tatyana »

    8 August 2008 · 6:55 am

    Was just watching, at work, an old Discovery film on construction of Beijing National Stadium, a so called Bird’s Nest.
    A magnificent structure and construction work of a truly immense proportion. The tag (and the film is at least 3 years old) was estimated at $400 billion. We all know how the final construction cost tends to come a bit over the budget…

  5. Michael Bates »

    8 August 2008 · 11:11 am

    Doug, OKC has managed to do all of the above with a lower overall sales tax and property tax rate than Tulsa.

    The problem here is that even when Tulsans cough up the big bucks, as we did in 2003 with $535 million for Vision 2025, our leaders make poor strategic decisions, such as placing the arena in a landlocked government services area away from existing clusters of bars and restaurants. (Imagine if the Ford Center had been built near the Oklahoma County Jail instead of next to Bricktown.)

    Tulsa also hasn’t followed through with urban design requirements for downtown, despite hundreds of millions of dollars of public investment in downtown — the arena and convention center, streetscaping and street rebuilding, and residential development subsidies. I recall asking Kirk Humphreys whether OKC developers fought against establishing design review districts around Bricktown and downtown. He told me that he pointed out how many millions of dollars the city had invested in the area, and that it was reasonable for the city to protect its investment. In Tulsa, when a set of mere recommendations that included a historic building survey, design review, and demolition review for downtown came up a couple of years ago, a few downtown property owners complained. Instead of pushing back, Mayor Taylor’s administration had the recommendations shelved.

    So things are different here. The problem with the ballpark is that the extra $25 million or so, funded by a mandatory assessment on downtown property owners, is apparently going to pay for land acquisition for private development by certain privileged players.

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