The current Tulsa County Vision 2025 sales tax will expire at the end of 2016. Vision 2025 is an unprecedented and highly successful countywide program of community enrichment and economic development projects.
In late 2014, with the end of the Vision 2025 nearing, local officials began discussing the prospect of identifying new community projects for renewal of the program for an extended period. Instead of giving voters the opportunity to continue a coordinated, countywide program, several of the county’s municipalities, including Tulsa, decided to develop their own lists of new projects and to go it alone.
The Tulsa Mayor and City Council have developed what is called Vision Tulsa. It is a three-pronged program that will appear on an April 5th ballot as separate items: Proposition 1 – a permanent sales tax for public safety, Proposition 2 – a permanent sales tax for transportation and streets, and Proposition 3 – a 15-year sales tax for economic development.
The 15-year economic development package includes a sales tax to begin this coming January 1st, at a rate of 0.305 percent until July 1, 2021, and then, as other sales taxes expire, the rate will increase to 0.805 percent and finally, it will drop to 0.305 percent on July 1, 2025.
If it passes, the economic development program will provide funding for re-investments in a number of city and county owned properties, including Expo Square (Tulsa Fairgrounds) improvements, the Thomas Gilcrease Museum of Western History and American Art, the Cox Business Center, the Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum, and Arkansas River infrastructure and amenities. The river projects include the rebuilding of the Zink Dam, and the construction of a new south Tulsa/Jenks low-water dam. The measure would also fund the relocation of the National BMX headquarters and Olympic training facilities, and provide for teacher retention, recruitment and training for local public school systems serving Tulsa families.
Proposition 3 – Economic Development Package Details
Here are some individual project details on the $510 million, 15-year Economic Development Package, including the rationale which prompted the mayor and council to include them in the final draft.
Arkansas River Corridor Infrastructure and Improvements ($144.8 million):
- Lakes and Improvements ($127.2 million): Creates two lakes in the Arkansas River, including shoreline improvements and parks. Improvements include replacing the unsafe and structurally deficient Zink Dam, including a recreational whitewater flume and a new iconic pedestrian bridge, and constructing a new dam and pedestrian bridge in south Tulsa and Jenks. Funding for the South Tulsa dam will only be allocated if Jenks and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation contribute proportionally to the overall project, including to a long-term operating and maintenance endowment. For more details on the “what if” others don’t contribute, check out this great piece by The Frontier’s Kevin Canfield.
- Turkey Mountain ($7.6 million): Expands Turkey Mountain park land and implements a new Master Plan, including more trails and camping sites.
- River Corridor Trails ($4 million): Provides design and matching funds to construct a new trail from the east bank at 101st St. to Cousins Park.
- Levee District #12 Rehabilitation ($5 million): Provides local matching funds to repair damaged and structurally deficient levees along the Arkansas River that are key to protecting homes and businesses from flooding.
- 23rd & Jackson Redevelopment Site ($1 million): Provides the planning and design work and some acquisition funding to relocate public works facilities currently at this site to a new location, which will open up much of the west bank of the Arkansas River to large-scale private development that will benefit west Tulsa and generate revenue for the city.
The long awaited Arkansas River Low Water Dams Impact Study was released within the past few weeks. It was prepared for the Tulsa Regional Chamber by Robert Dauffenbach, Ph.D. of the University of Oklahoma Center for Economic & Management Research and peer reviewed by faculty members at both the University of Tulsa and Oklahoma State University. Click the link above to read the: “Economics of Place” and Potential Impacts of Arkansas River Development Project. Click here to view a 5-minute promotional concept video of what the river improvements might look like, produced by advocates of the proposal.
Gilcrease Museum Expansion ($65 million):
Provides an extensive remodel and expansion of the Gilcrease Museum, creating a world class facility to put the City of Tulsa’s greatest asset to work in generating an economic return for its citizens. The expansion would provide needed space to display the museum’s incredible collections, bring internationally significant shows to Tulsa, and attract an estimated 500,000 visitors to our restaurants and hotels each year.
Cox Business Center ($55 million):
Renovates the current convention center, adding 62,800 square feet of exhibit space — allowing Tulsa to remain competitive with other regional convention centers. It further provides for creating a master plan for the redevelopment and growth of Tulsa’s Arena District, maximizing the economic potential of the BOK Center.
Tulsa Fairgrounds ($30 million):
Funds infrastructure and building enhancements at Expo Square, allowing Tulsa to retain and recruit large-scale, national and international events that bring additional sales tax revenue to the city.
Airport Infrastructure ($27.3 million):
Provides funding to maintain and renovate city-owned infrastructure; replaces the electrical switch gears at Air Force Plant 3; provides for structural improvements to the plating facility at the maintenance center; and upgrades the electrical substation that services the maintenance center.
Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum ($25 million):
Takes the next step in the Tulsa Zoo’s 20-year Master Plan to increase visitors through continual improvement; expands the front entry to accommodate more daily visitors and develops a new “Lost Kingdom Elephants” exhibit.
Langston University ($16.3 million):
Constructs a new complex to house and expand Langston’s healthcare training courses, including nursing, public health, physical therapy and rehab services.
Olympic Training Center and BMX USA National Headquarters ($15 million):
In partnership with Tulsa County, funds construction of an Olympic training center for Bicycle Motocross (BMX) athletes and national headquarters for BMX USA at the former Drillers Stadium, projected to generate more than $11 million and 100 events over five years.
South Mingo Corridor ($15 million):
Widens Mingo Road between 71st and 81st Streets and provides funding for design and right-of-way acquisition on other segments, including Mingo Road between 81st and 91st Streets and 91st Street between Mingo Road and Memorial Drive, to accommodate significant traffic increases and current and future economic development.
Public Schools – Safety First Initiative (14.5 million):
Funds target safety improvements around TPS, Union and Jenks school sites to ensure safe crossings for students and their parents; it also provides equipment for increased communications between schools and emergency responders.
Capital Equipment – Non-Public Safety ($12 million):
Maintains, repairs and replaces much- needed city equipment over the 15-year term of the tax.
Citywide & Route 66 Beautification and Reinvestment Fund ($11 million):
Creates a fund for annual beautification of Tulsa’s residential neighborhoods, deteriorating commercial shopping areas, and major thoroughfares and entryways into downtown and other areas of the city.
Peoria-Mohawk Business Park ($10 million):
Prepares a site at 36th St. North and Peoria Ave. for highly-skilled, primary jobs, focused on hiring Tulsans from the surrounding north Tulsa community.
Public Schools – Teacher Retention and Recruitment ($10 million):
Provides incentives to support teacher recruitment and retention at Tulsa, Jenks and Union public schools within the City of Tulsa.
Community Health Connection Facility ($10 million):
Constructs a larger facility in east Tulsa for this federally-qualified health center allowing it to meet growing demand and replace dilapidated facilities.
Air National Guard F-35 Simulator Training Center ($9.4 million):
Provides a local match for the construction of a Mission Training Center at the Tulsa Air National Guard base, a key component in securing operational duties for the next generation aircraft—the F-35—and protecting the base from future base closings.
Discovery Lab ($8 million):
Provides matching funds to the Tulsa Children’s Museum for a science center in the Gathering Place, with private funding covering the remainder. Activities will focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and healthy living, benefiting Tulsa’s children and attracting visitors from across the region.
Peoria Connection ($7 million):
Acquires and prepares land, including streetscaping and infrastructure improvements, along North Peoria Ave. for future economic development from 56th St. North to Mohawk Blvd.
Tulsa Community College Career Placement ($5.3 million):
Renovates areas used for student advisement, admissions and enrollment services, creating a new Career Placement and Student Success Center, to increase graduation rates and connect graduates to Tulsa employers.
OSU-Tulsa Innovation Center (University Center at Tulsa Authority) ($3.6 million):
Provides partial funding for site acquisition and preparation for the OSU-Tulsa Innovation Center, which will allow private companies to work with OSU researchers to develop projects in highly technical fields like aerospace and advanced manufacturing. The Innovation Center will be a part of a larger commercial development just north of downtown.
McCullough Park ($3.6 million):
Enhances McCullough Park located at 11534 E. 25th St., with a new playground, water playground, two new shelters, and a half-mile trail; creates a BMX track and spectator area, a lighted multi-use sports court and upgrades to the existing parking lot.
Mohawk Sports Complex ($3.5 million):
Improves parking and access to the City of Tulsa’s Mohawk Sports Complex, maximizing the potential for high-economic-impact sports tournaments.
GO Plan ($3.1 million):
Funds key projects on the publicly-developed Bicycle/Pedestrian Master Plan, including sidewalks, bike lanes and corridors, trail expansions and improvements, and other pedestrian improvements along commercial corridors.
Route 66 Train Depot ($3 million):
The project would expand this iconic Route 66 stop along Southwest Boulevard, to include a train depot building, parking, security, and better access.
Tulsa Arts Commission ($2.3 million):
Provides annual support for the arts in the City of Tulsa.
Performing Arts Center Renovation ($1 million):
Provides funds for the planning and design to modernize and make renovations to the Tulsa PAC.
Some Pros and Cons we’ve heard
What proponents say:
The Vision development process was unprecedented in its public engagement and transparency, which included five citizen-led and three Council-led task forces, more than 100 televised public fact-finding meetings and nearly 30 town hall meetings across the city. If approved, the program will be overseen by the Citizen Sales Tax Overview Committee.
What opponents say:
While there was a lot of public engagement, most of the package was not finalized until the very end of the process, in a rushed, late January schedule, leaving very little time for public consumption and feedback before the ballot language was set by the mayor and council.
What proponents say:
The economic development package is a temporary tax to fund projects that will create jobs, and stimulate the economy, without raising taxes.
What opponents say:
The 15-year term is too long and will make it difficult if not impossible to ask taxpayers to approve other discretionary funding for new opportunities that may arise between now its expiration in 2031. While Vision Tulsa will not technically raise taxes it diverts funding to core services that were traditionally used for visionary projects and infrastructure construction and maintenance. By capturing a one half of what would likely have been an extension of Improve our Tulsa, for four years, a $160 million loss in Improve our Tulsa revenue (a part of which included the well-established third penny sales tax exclusively for capital improvements); for infrastructure maintenance will have to be made up somehow, likely a tax increase if efforts to improve the city’s Pavement Condition Index are to be continued.
What proponents say:
The economic development package is supported unanimously by the Mayor and all City Councilors and will benefit all parts of the city.
What opponents say:
In the end, councilors did agree with the mayor to support all of the Vision Tulsa proposals. However, it is also clear that many, if not most councilors favored a separate, tax increase to fund core services, while preserving Vision funds for visionary projects. So, their solidarity only came about after they became convinced the mayor would oppose everything unless the new permanent dedicated public safety funding came from the Vision Tulsa tax, not a separate tax increase.
What proponents say:
River development is overdue, and the two lakes which will be created by new dams provide both recreational and economic development opportunities, and preserve some areas for parks, trails and recreational areas like Turkey Mountain.
What opponents say:
Some say Tulsa will still pay a disproportionate amount of the cost of the south Tulsa dam in particular, compared to the potential economic benefits. Others maintain that the dams have questionable economic value and could cause irreparable environmental harm. Long time river advocates also cite the increasing risks of climate change and catastrophic weather events make damning of the river ill-advised and potentially dangerous. Others are concerned that current efforts to sell off and commercialize established city parks along the river, such as Helmerich Park, are a direct contradiction to stated river preservation goals.
What proponents say:
The economic development projects, including the river corridor improvements will help attract employers and the creative class, diversify the economy, and provide leverage for future public and private investments.
What opponents say:
Because public safety will capture such a significant portion of Vision 2025 funding, most of the $2.5 billion in economic development proposals failed to make to make the cut, including what was arguably the most visionary of all, the Raw Space concept, the brainchild of Scott Phillips, who described it as “an industrial-scale innovation and creativity hub to create new businesses, new jobs and new innovative endeavors for heavy industry,” that would have been unique to Tulsa and likely garnered national attention.
Editor’s Note: Smart Growth Tulsa, Incorporated convened a Special Meeting of its Advisory Board on February 19th, 2016 to consider the four Vision Tulsa sales tax proposals. City Councilor’s Ewing and Bynum were our guests and answered questions from advisory board members about the proposals.
After the councilors left our meeting, Advisory Board members had a lengthy discussion about all four of the ballot questions, which were considered individually, and in depth, to determine what recommendations the board wished to make to our Trustees in regard to the organization taking an official position on each.
SGT’s adopted Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws clearly define our organization’s option to advocate for or against tax proposals and candidates for local office. That said, it is clear from our discussions that the sentiments to exercise that option will be used judiciously, and only in cases where very compelling reasons exist to do so.
Primarily we seek to help people evaluate specific proposals, line by line, as to how they relate to smart growth principles. We want to deepen the discussion of smart growth principles as they apply to Tulsa when it comes to advocating and shaping smart public policies.
In an era of headlines and sound bites, we want to be careful not to conflate SGT support of any given political proposal with the wholesale alignment of that proposal with smart growth principles – or to unintentionally short change the depth of a more nuanced view of the issues at stake in the process.
Grounding all of our recommendations in a clear principle-based approach will lend credence to our positions and prevent them from coming across as the outcome of a subjective vote by a group with a political agenda.
With those ideas in mind, the Advisory Board voted to publicly support the transportation tax proposal, and to not take an official position on the others, favoring instead, the publication of a series of articles helping voters fully understand both the pros and cons of the issues.