Why Tulsa Gets the Shaft

Anyone who has lived in Oklahoma for even the shortest amount of time knows all too well the bitter rivalry that exists between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. This rivalry has evolved into callous hatred of one another by some factions, but most people don’t understand why people from the two cities hate each other.

The rivalry began around the time of statehood and looks asthough it will continue indefinitely. The bitter division began somewhere between 1907 and 1910, with a funding issue for Tulsa being blocked by a voting bloc led by Oklahoma City’s leaders. In turn, Tulsans were urged to vote against the 1910 referendum to move the state capitol from Guthrie to Oklahoma City, and the affair has continued and escalated ever since. Oklahoma City gained its capitol status and immediately put it to use by giving Tulsa a disproportionally small amount of state funding for education, health and infrastructure. Even though its population and tax base has remained comparable to Oklahoma City’s, and produces 30% of the State’s GDP, Tulsa and its surrounding areas have received far fewer funds per capita than the Oklahoma City area for projects ranging from education to transportation.

To this day, Tulsa has to fight for what little state funds it gets, and is justified in feeling slighted by the state government in Oklahoma City. In 1953, the rivalry escalated to the point that a toll road—the Turner Turnpike—was built between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Some may argue that the road was built to improve transportation between the two cities, but many would agree that it was built to keep people from the two cities apart by charging them to get there.
It paid for itself many years ago but is still a toll-road thanks to some maneuvering by state authorities who chose a cross-pledging system for turnpike funding in Oklahoma. Cross-pledging means that funds raised by a certain turnpike go not to improve or maintain that turnpike; instead, the money collected from all turnpikes is pooled and then redistributed among all turnpikes. Cross-pledging also means that Oklahoma’s turnpikes will be tolled in perpetuity, as a particular road will never become “paid off”. For Tulsans to attend to state government business, they have to pay $8.00 round-trip on the Turner Turnpike.

For Tulsans to visit nearby cities to the southeast, east, northeast, west, southwest,or southwest, or to visit Arkansas, Texas or Missouri, they have no choice but to pay a toll. Whether it’s the Muskogee Turnpike, or the Cherokee, Will Rogers, Creek or Cimarron Turnpike, anyone wanting to get to Tulsa has to pay.

It did not happen by chance that seven of the state’s ten toll turnpikes lead to Tulsa. While drivers heading to Tulsa have no choice but to pay, Interstates 35 and 40, the major highways leading to Oklahoma City, are completely free from one end of the state to the other.This is a shot in the arm for Oklahoma City’s business environment, and a direct shot at Tulsa’s.

Oklahoma Turnpikes
As the map clearly indicates, a majority of the toll highways in Oklahoma are circled around Tulsa and travel to or from Tulsa in most directions is limited to toll highways.

While Tulsans pay to drive in nearly every direction out oftown, Tulsa has received disproportionally insignificant state funding to maintain the state highways and bridges that traverse Tulsa. This is because decisions on road projects are not made by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, but by the Oklahoma State Legislature. ODOT, the agency that knows best which roads and bridges need the most attention, has little to no control over which projects are funded. Those decisions, regrettably, are left to legislators with only the capitol area on the brain. Only after the legislators have decided to fund a certain transportation project is ODOT then in charge of making it happen.

To say that Tulsa has been given a negligible amount of state funds for roads and bridges is an understatement. While Oklahoma City widens and repaves perfectly fine roads like the Broadway Extension every few years, Tulsa has been fighting for more than three decades to widen a four-mile stretch of I-44 that is known as one of the most dangerous stretches of interstate highway in the nation, and that has remained basically unchanged since it was built in 1957, before the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System was even begun. In 1998, Oklahoma Congressmen Steve Largent and Tom Coburn rejected $30 million in federal funds initially earmarked for Tulsa and northeastern Oklahoma, and the funds were then diverted to the Interstate 40 project in Oklahoma City (source). The Interstate 44 project in Tulsa was finally awarded funding two years ago. Highway funding is not the only transport-related area in which Tulsa is regularly ignored or denied funding, though.

In 1993, the State Legislature enacted a law which stated that if State or Federal funds were used to build rail service to either Oklahoma City or Tulsa, funds must also be appropriated to the other city. In 1998, now ten years ago, the State Legislature wanted to fund an extension of Amtrak service to Oklahoma City from Fort Worth. In order to do this within the law and appear as though they were acting in the entire state’s best interest, the Legislature and Oklahoma City needed Tulsa’s support. In order to gain the support of Tulsa leaders, the State Legislature promised Tulsa leaders the next extension of Amtrak service would pass through Tulsa, within ten years. After passing through Tulsa, the line would eventually connect to Kansas City, thus creating a link from Oklahoma to Chicago and other major Midwestern and Eastern cities. Oklahoma City gained Tulsa’s support, and funding was subsequently provided by the Oklahoma State Legislature.

A decade later, Tulsa is still the fifth largest MSA in the country without passenger rail service. In May, 2008, the Oklahoma City City Council, part of the Northern Flyer Alliance, passed a resolution asking the Oklahoma State Legislature to bypass Tulsa altogether and instead, extend the line directly north through Wichita to Newton, Kansas.

USDOT Designated High Speed Rail Corridors

In a Tulsa World interview, Tulsa City Councilor Rick Westcott said of the passage of the Oklahoma City City Council’s Resolution, “An extension of Amtrak which leaves 1.1 million northeastern Oklahomans without service is unacceptable.” He went on to say, “It is unacceptable to expect Oklahomans who live in this part of the state to continue to subsidize alternative transportation which only serves Oklahoma City. It is an inefficient expenditure of the citizens’ money.”

Concerning the proposed routes, it is important to note that the Tulsa Metropolitan Statistical Area has a population 277,244 greater than the Wichita MSA. Kansas City’s MSA, the original route’s terminus, has a population 1.35 million greater than Wichita’s.Combined, and there are 2.45 million people that would be denied access to rail transportation if Oklahoma City gets its way. It simply does not make sense to leave out Tulsa, and the recent moves by the Oklahoma City City Council only further fortifies their disdain for anything outside of “Frontier Country”.

Route A Cities

MSA Population

Route B Cities

MSA Population

Oklahoma City

1,179,140

Oklahoma City

1,179,140

Tulsa

850,008

Wichita

572,564

Kansas City

1,922,865

Total A

3,952,013

Total B

1,751,704

A-B Difference

2,200,309

According to the Tulsa World, the Tulsa City Council, along with the Indian Nations Council of Governments and surrounding communities passed resolutions in 2006 asking the State Legislature to extend Amtrak service to northeastern Oklahoma.

Amtrak had also expressed a desire to connect to Tulsa, and in 2007, ODOT asked Amtrak to conduct a study on the Oklahoma City-Tulsa route.

In 1998, when the Oklahoma Legislature appropriated funding for Amtrak service from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth, “Tulsa was promised that we would soon have Amtrak service as well. Ten years later, we still don’t,” Councilor Westcott said.

“Tulsa and all of northeastern Oklahoma have been forgotten,” he said.

The State Legislature promised Tulsa an extension to win itssupport and now has had a change of heart. Oklahoma City expects support from Tulsa to get what it wants, but refuses to support anything in Tulsa.Amtrak service is a perfect example of the prevalent “your support is crucial to us, but don’t expect us to support you” mentality in Oklahoma City.

To this day, Tulsa remains the largest city in the United States without a public, four-year university. Thanks to legislators in Oklahoma City, small towns like Miami (population 13,704), Langston (1,670), Alva (5,288),Tahlequah (14,458), Weatherford (9,859), Durant (13,549) and Goodwell (1,192) gained state universities while Tulsa has been left with nothing. The closest four-year public university to Tulsa is Rogers State University in Claremore. Tulsa now has extension branches of the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, but they are not full universities; students wishing to complete a bachelor’s degree at either school have to travel at some point to either Norman or Stillwater, respectively, to complete their degrees.

May 9, 2008, the Daily Oklahoman, the Oklahoma City daily newspaper, ran an editorial called Proof Negative: Envy of city’s success resurfaces,in which Tulsa is described as being a sniveling, high-pitched, squeaky, frustrated and envious little sister, and ends with the following statement: “Envy is one of the seven deadly sins. In Tulsa, it’s a default setting.” It claims that an editorial in the Tulsa World marginalized Oklahoma City’s recent “Recession-proof” moniker by Forbes Magazine. It appears that Oklahoma City still has a huge inferiority complex, as demonstrated by this most recent example of making something out of nothing. Both articles, in full, read as follows:

Tulsa World article:

Recession-proof? Government payrolls a big help – 5/5/2008

Forbes Magazine, via its Web site, has dubbed Oklahoma City America’s most recession-proof big city. Local boosters are justifiably bursting with pride.

According to Forbes, Oklahoma City was top-ranked among the 50 largest metropolitan areas based on employment figures, housing prices and the impact of foreclosures on local productivity. Forbes also noted the city’s robust manufacturing sector and surging prices for agricultural crops and energy.

Unmentioned, however, was probably the single most recession-proofing factor: The fact that so many of the city’s jobs are government jobs.

Oklahoma City, of course, is the seat of its own local and county governments. And because it is the state’s capital, the dozens of state agencies there employ thousands. It is next door to Tinker Air Force Base, one of the largest, if not the largest, single employer in the state. And it is home to other major federal operations, including a big Federal Aviation Administration office.

These government jobs, by and large, are very stable and insulated from the vagaries of the private sector. The salaries they pay are very stable and the home loans of the people who hold the government jobs are not likely to fall into foreclosure.

A high number of safe and stable government jobs probably constitutes the best hedge against recession.

Oklahoma City has lots to be proud of. Its citizens’ willingness to tax themselves to radically improve their downtown — including manufacturing a now nationally recognized “river” out of a muddy trickle — really has the city rolling.

Now our neighbors at the other end of the turnpike can justifiably point with pride to the Forbes-bestowed honor as the nation’s most recession-proof city.

They just shouldn’t forget the advantage that makes that so.

http://www.tulsaworld.com/opinion/article.aspx?subjectID=61&articleID=20080505_7_A15_hGove14602

Daily Oklahoman editorial:

Proof negative: Envy of city’s success resurfaces
The Oklahoman Editorial

CAPITAL envy, which has been on the back burner in Tulsa since voters there passed a MAPS-style capital improvements program, boiled over last week after Forbes magazine named Oklahoma City the most recession-proof big city in the land.

A dismissive Tulsa newspaper editorial claims Oklahoma City topped the Forbes list “probably” because of its large government employee base. This is an oft-heard lament regarding the capital city, whose development is a decade ahead of Tulsa’s largely because of MAPS and the private investment it’s attracted.

Forbes doesn’t mention government employment. Were that “probably” the reason for a city’s recession-proof status, Washington, D.C., would lead the list every year and the rest of the list would be all be state capitals.

The conventional view is that Oklahoma City had an inferiority complex vis a vis Tulsa and Oklahoma had an inferiority complex vis a vis the nation. The latter has been assuaged by the success of OU football and Oklahomans who became famous. The former was obliterated by the rebirth of Oklahoma City in the wake of MAPS.

The relationship between Oklahoma City and Tulsa has evolved into a big brother-little sister equation, with the sister occasionally squeaking her high-pitched frustration with the older sibling. The headline on the Tulsa World editorial was “Recession proof?” The question mark speaks volumes, marginalizing the report and challenging Oklahoma City to put up or shut up.

We choose to put up with this sniveling because we think Tulsa’s accomplishments are mighty and beneficial to the entire state. We wish Tulsa’s opinion leaders shared our sentiments instead of retreating into petty provincialism.

The second-largest employer in Tulsa is a government entity — public schools — and the next two are nonprofit medical complexes. So profit-centered jobs don’t exactly dominate the employment picture in Tulsa.

Envy is one of the seven deadly sins. In Tulsa it’s a default setting.

http://newsok.com/proof-negative-envy-of-citys-success-resurfaces/article/3240939/?tm=1210295301

The Tulsa World gave a nod to Oklahoma City for its new-found title, saying that they have a right to be proud about what they have accomplished in the last few years, while reminding them that when it comes to job stability, there’s nothing like a government job—and we all know where the State government is located.

I find it hysterically laughable that The Oklahoman thinks that OU’s football team improves the entire nation’s view of Oklahoma. Like our female incarceration rate, child poverty rate, obesity rate, heart and lung disease rate, underfunded education system, underpaid teachers, poor roads and bridges and our other problems can all be solved with a Hail Mary from the OU football team.

The Tulsa MSA’s total non-farm employment in 2007 was 428,080. 54,480 were Federal, State, and Local government jobs, constituting 12.7% of Tulsa’s jobs. Compare that to Oklahoma City, whose employment in 2007 was 574,300. 115,820 of those were government. That’s 20.1%, four full percentage points above the national average of 16.1% and nearly eight points above Tulsa. This means that one in five jobs in Oklahoma City is a stable, government job, compared to one in 10 in Tulsa. Government jobs most certainly are a factor in making Oklahoma City so “recession-proof”.

The Daily Oklahoman‘s outright vicious attack on Tulsa was completely unjustified. It is ridiculous to claim that Tulsa has “capital envy”. Tulsa is a completely different kind of city, and it is doubtful that any Tulsan would want Tulsa to become anything like Oklahoma City. They’re apples; we’re imported Tangor: easy to peel, with a bright orange pulp that is sweet, full-flavored, and tart.

The statement that Vision 2025 is merely a product of “capital envy” is, as Veronica Corningstone in Anchorman says, “Grade-A Baloney.” Vision 2025 was passed in 2003, ten years after the first MAPS was passed, but it’s not the first initiative like it to be voted on in Tulsa. There were at least three previous initiatives similar to Vision2025 that failed at the hands of Tulsa County voters: a proposal in 1989 (four full years before MAPS), the 1997 “Tulsa Project”, and the 2000 “It’s Tulsa Time”, so to say that Tulsa only passed it to imitate what Oklahoma City was doing is preposterous.

Oklahoma City recently successfully courted an NBA franchise to town, and as was the case in the 1910 “stealing” of the state capital, it essentially stole the Supersonics from the city of Seattle. A group of Oklahoma City businessmen, led by Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon, bought the Supersonics in 2006 for $350 million, with every intention of moving the team to Oklahoma City. He (and the group of Oklahoma City wildcatters) demanded that the City of Seattle or the State of Washington build a new $500 million basketball arena or else. When the City of Seattle and Microsoft announced plans to build a new arena for the team, Bennett declared in November 2007 that the team would be leaving for Oklahoma City as quickly as they could cancel their lease with the Key Arena. After calling Seattle home for 40 years, the Supersonics were ripped out of the city by out-of-town renegade businessmen.

Bennett, with the help of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, then convinced Oklahoma City voters to spend $125 million on upgrades to the Ford Center (now the Chesapeake Energy Arena, named after the company over which McClendon presides) in order to sweeten the deal for the NBA. What happened next is even more appalling: the group led by Bennett and McClendon convinced the State Legislature to amend a state law known as the Oklahoma Quality Jobs Program, a program which gives tax breaks to companies which bring high-paying jobs to Oklahoma, to specifically include the basketball team.

More specifically, the measure would:

Expand Oklahoma’s Quality Jobs Program to includethe NBA, permit the Sonics to receive a rebate of a portion of payroll taxespaid by the team and places a reimbursement cap on the incentives not to exceedthe top income tax rate in Oklahoma, which is currently 5.5 percent.

The measure will also permit the company to receive rebates on the taxable payroll paid by players from opposing teams when they play in the city. The rebate will be about $4 million a year and $60 million over its 15-year life.

The State Legislature passed the $60 million tax break swiftly and handily. Meanwhile, funding for crucial upkeep on critical roads and bridges across Oklahoma was going to be denied because the state’s revenue didn’t meet a growth benchmark. The State Legislature didn’t include transportation funding in the Fiscal Year 2009 Budget, and had to resort to creating a massive bond issue to provide that critical funding.

After having successfully lobbied the Mayor and citizens of Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma State Legislature, Bennett then approached the NBA Relocation Committee and got them to sign off on the deal. Described as a major coup for the entire state, it was revealed early on that Oklahoma City’s close proximity to Tulsa was a key, integral factor in the committee’s approval of the move. Without Tulsa’s large population such a relatively short distance away, it would have been a no-deal, yet when NBA Commissioner David Stern suggested that the team should be named for the state since it would be a statewide franchise, not just an Oklahoma City one, Oklahoma City’s Mayor Mick Cornett threw a fit and called the matter non-negotiable:

Yahoo! Finance article:

…Her presence [Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor] — and the role Tulsa-area residents could play in supporting an Oklahoma City franchise — was noted by NBA Commissioner David Stern. During a press conference following last Friday’s vote, Stern mentioned Tulsa a half-dozen times.

Stern said the owners learned “how close Tulsa is” to Oklahoma City “and how many citizens of Tulsa will consider the team to be, and did consider the (New Orleans) Hornets when they were there …a state franchise.”

[Oklahoma City Mayor Mick] Cornett said 10 to 20 percent of the Sonics’ ticket sales in Oklahoma City will come from the Tulsa area, and Taylor noted that it’s “90 minutes door-to-door” from Tulsa to Oklahoma City.Those numbers are why Cornett said it only made sense to include Tulsa leaders as part of Oklahoma City’s presentation to the NBA.

“When you talk to NBA owners, the idea of people driving 1½ hours to an NBA game is something they’re comfortable with,” Cornett said. Including Tulsa as part of the team’s sphere of influence meant the owners would “see a larger metropolitan area that they’re more comfortable with.”

But just because the team will be marketed throughout Oklahoma does not mean that Oklahoma City officials aren’t somewhat territorial, at least when it comes to how the team will be identified. Stern said Friday the team might consider using “Oklahoma” as its name, noting that “you really see a much larger market than just the Oklahoma City market.”

Cornett quickly squashed such a notion, pointing out that Oklahoma City’s signed lease with the Sonics stipulates that the team name be Oklahoma City.” Cornett called that matter nonnegotiable.

http://biz.yahoo.com/ap/080423/bkn_supersonics_oklahoma.html?.v=1

This means that Tulsa’s citizens are subsidizing the team and played an enormous, make-or-break role in obtaining it, but Oklahoma City gets its name. This also means that in the State of Oklahoma, people pay unfair taxes on the most basic of needs, groceries, while tickets to the NBA game are essentially tax-free.

This brings us to another editorial by the Daily Oklahoman on May 27,2008, this time in video form and from the Editor, Ed Kelly:

If perception is indeed reality, downtown Oklahoma City has taken another leap forward. What would have been unthinkable a few years ago is now happening: the city is being mentioned as a peer of some of the nation’s great communities.

Such validation comes from the Kansas City Star, one of the best regional papers in this part of the country. The Star published a series this week, comparing its downtown to similar-sized communities with reputations of vibrant downtowns. Look at the list of 13 cities the star chose for its comparison and you’ll find cities bigger than Oklahoma City with, in some cases, international reputations, like Denver, Indianapolis and Nashville. Each of those three have iconic institutions, from the Rocky Mountains to the world’s most famous speed race, to the home of country music.

Of these 13 cities being compared to Kansas City, 11 of them have at least one major sports franchise. Add Oklahoma City to the list when the NBA comes to town. And how do we fare on the Kansas City paper’s comparison? Pretty good, actually. As my colleague Steve Lackmeyer noted in his column this week, Oklahoma City and Kansas City were the only cities on the list not to experience a loss in businesses downtown, and Oklahoma City had one of the largest increases in the number of hotel room bookings downtown.

This, folks, is big news. For years, Oklahoma City was a so-called Tier III, even Tier IV city, with comparisons to the likes of Wichita, Amarillo, Little Rock and Tulsa. Now, thanks to the Kansas City survey, Oklahoma City has made the leap to the tier II market. Nothing but good will come from this, from increased tourism, business relocation prospects and more positive publicity.

There’s still plenty to do if the city is to continue to run with the bigger dogs: we need more convention space, more medium-priced housing, a downtown school or two, and less vacant office space. But the momentum is significant and others are taking notice. Quite simply, downtown Oklahoma City’s image hasn’t been this good in a very long time.

http://www.newsok.tv/?titleID=1569139354

He obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about: Firstly, Tulsa is a Tier II city. Secondly, using a newspaper survey to declare one’s self “second tier” while calling Tulsa “fourth tier” without any other kind of source or evidence is just plain nonsense. Tulsa wasn’t mentioned once in the surveys, so what is this Blokelahoman basing his judgment on? Nothing except his malice toward Tulsa.

Why don’t we use the same techniques and criteria as the Star’s survey and compare just Oklahoma City and Tulsa? It’s nonsensical to try to compare two cities when one isn’t even included in the all-mighty newspaper survey.

According to the following article, Tulsa and Oklahoma City are both already second-tier cities, right alongside the “big dogs”, as Kelly puts it: Kansas City, Indianapolis, Nashville, Sacremento, Austin, Dayton, et cetera.


Second-Tier Cities: TheRight Size at the Right Cost
By Mark M. Sweeney, Senior Principal
McCallum Sweeney Consulting, Greenville, SC

http://www.businessfacilities.com/bf_04_02_cover.asp

…Meeting Planners International offers a more practical definition, in which a second tier city is a city with a population of more than 300,000 and less than one million. This statement highlights that STCs are not just defined as “smaller” but also as “larger.” STCs have a significant presence of their own that distinguishes them from small cities, micropolitan areas, and rural towns. So, STCs have a ceiling (“no bigger than”) and a floor (“no less than”).

… An alternative working definition for STCs may be those locations with populations less than two million and greater than 350,000…STCs will have the characteristics that meet the needs of such projects while offering a mix of advantages that make them highly competitive with the largest locations. The STC will have what the large cities have, and have more of it (responsive government, labor growth), enough of it (transportation infrastructure, financial services), and less of it (congestion, housing costs) in a mix that makes them especially attractive. The fundamental value proposition of STCs for locating companies is the right size at the right cost.

Population — STCs have a substantial enough population to meet the expectations of location decision makers. There is such a range of potential STCs that even those firms seeking cities with a minimum of one million population have 30 STCs from which to choose, ranging from Sacramento-Yolo CA CMSA (25th, 1.8 million) to Oklahoma City OK MSA (49th, 1.08 million).

Road Transportation (Congestion and Commuting) — A key driver in projects seeking out STCs is to find a location where workers do not face long commutes. Such commutes may arise from long distance (evidence of a housing cost and availability problem – see below) or inadequate infrastructure. Corpus Christi TX MSA (109th, 381,000) consistently ranks at the top of the list as Most Drivable (Sperling’s Best Places) and Least Congested (Texas Transportation Institute). Tulsa OK MSA (59th, 803,000) also scores well on this factor and offers relocating companies a low congestion location.


I feel obligated to indicate the level of seriousness one should consider anything from the Daily Oklahoman. As an indication of how the Daily Oklahoman is viewed among newspapers and publications nationally, it has been named the worst newspaper in America by the Columbia Journalism Review. In a five-part series, the Review explains that through a powerful family with an openly-admitted partisan, conservative Christian agenda, its minority-, gay- and Democrat-demonizing has caused Oklahoma Citians to dub it the Daily Disappointment.

Here is the article, written by Bruce Selcraig, a former U.S. Senate investigator and staff writer for Sports Illustrated:


The Worst Newspaper in America
by Bruce Selcraig
http://backissues.cjrarchives.org/year/99/1/worst.asp

One Sunday morning many months ago the Rev.Robin Meyers stood before some five-hundred members of his eclectic flock at Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City and ruminated about what he might do if he ever won a lottery jackpot. “I said I would give a lot of money to education, children, the homeless, that sort of thing,” he recalls. “Then I mentioned that if there were any money left over I would start what this city really needs — a competing daily newspaper to The Daily Oklahoman… Well, everyone just started applauding. The place went wild. And this is not a wild church. Even the Republicans were clapping.”

That same Sunday, like every day in Oklahoma City, a group of news-starved citizens ranging between five thousand and ten thousand, depending upon the quality of the football season, bought what many here call the most respected daily newspaper in town — a paper produced two-hundred miles away, The Dallas Morning News.

“I simply won’t subscribe to TheDaily Oklahoman. They skew the news,” says one of the local defectors, junior college professor Frank Silovsky.

“I’m always encouraging my students to read newspapers,” says former Oklahoman city editor Randy Splaingard, a journalism professor at Oklahoma City University,”but I never require that they read the Oklahoman. The Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment.”

“I have to read it,” says Oklahoma Democratic political consultant and former Oklahoma City reporter Mike Carrier, “but it is without question the worst metropolitan newspaper in America.”

Maybe you could find critics like these in any American city where an influential newspaper and billionaire publisher reign, but it’s doubtful they could match the fervor of these aggrieved Oklahomans, these Democrats and Republicans of all colors and classes, ranchers, teachers, oil executives. They live with a civic wound that’s been festering for twenty-five years, a newspaper whose unflattering nickname has become so ingrained in the state lexicon that from Muskogee to Guymon hardly a literate soul doesn’t know of “The Daily Disappointment.”

What other major newspaper in a metro area of one million people, and with a newsroom of 145 full-time reporters and editors, has only three African-Americans on its news staff?

Where else can you find a big-city editorial page — run by a Christian Coalition devotee plucked from Washington D.C.’s right-wing Free Congress Foundation — that not only demonizes unions, environmentalists, feminists, Planned Parenthood, and public education, but also seems obsessed with lecturing gays? From an Oklahoman editorial titled, sin no more?: “There’s no solid proof that anyone is born a homosexual … Homosexuality is a sin … But to deny that a sin is a sin and wallow in it is the first step toward damnation. To recognize bad behavior as a sin, repent of it and ‘go and sin no more’ is the first step toward salvation.”

Want lots of enterprising, in-depth stories with plenty of world and national news in your newspaper’s front section? How about praline recipes instead?

At the Oklahoman, which runs a front-page prayer every day, the news-lite front section is larded with cooking contests, horoscopes, Dear Abby, Billy Graham, Zig Ziglar, and women’s fashion tips. Need a good chuckle? Try the six-day-a-week column on page two by “clean, keen, and topical” stand-up comedian Argus Hamilton, the son of an Oklahoma City Methodist minister. Hold on to your funny bone:
A whale is dead after a whale-watching boat hit it Monday off Boston Harbor… no wonder Monica Lewinsky won’t come out of her apartment…

By design or neglect, all this filler and flotsam crowds out a remarkable amount of real news, especially world and national events and news analysis. What’s left over is an assortment of stories dominated by the staple of every tired newspaper — “official” event-based news taken from police reports, government hearings, meetings,studies, legislative action, and news conferences, as well as lots of feel-good features. While some of this “paper of record” reporting is essential, the Oklahoman rarely balances it with the more inconvenient, incisive journalism one finds at papers where creative editors and reporters captivate their readers.

But then again, this is not just any normal newspaper. Reporters learn quickly that things are done differently here, like when the Oklahoman ignored reports by The Washington Post and The New York Times in June 1986 that Sen. William Armstrong, R-Colorado, and Sen. David Boren, D-Oklahoma, had sponsored “a one-of-a-kind, multimillion-dollar” tax break that would benefit only eight wealthy investors — one of whom was publisher Ed Gaylord.

But that’s not to suggest Gaylord is shy of publicity. A sampling of headlines since 1984: Oklahoma Christian Dedicates Gaylord Center; Gaylord stock a hit in first week trading; Gaylord building on state’s future; Opryland extravaganza to honor Gaylord; State fair honors Gaylord; Olympic committee to honor Gaylord; College forum area to be named for Thelma Gaylord; Oklahomans hold lively tribute for Edward L. Gaylord; Gaylord named top horseman. (Oops, that’s his son.)

Reporters cringe when they have to attach their bylines to F.O.D.s (“front office deals”) — comically inflated stories involving Gaylord’s business, religious, or social interests. Reporters must also fill those cheesy special supplements on, say, the health care or petroleum industries, with what former Oklahoman business reporter Stacy Martin calls “fawning, nauseous” puff pieces.

With news judgment like this, many journalists weren’t surprised that when faced with the greatest reporting challenge of its life — the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City’s federal building — the paper seemed to operate without a clear strategy. While the entire staff worked heroic hours, earning the paper a national award for deadline reporting fromthe Society of Professional Journalists, its quantity-over-quality approach and predictable story angles failed to impress the Pulitzer judges. (The paper has won the award once, for editorial cartooning, in 1939.)

“The greenness of their reporters and lack of initiative showed through,” says Mike Carrier, who worked for Gaylord’s now-defunct Oklahoma City Times. “I know it was deeply hurtful that they didn’t win the Pulitzer. Maybe their reputation cost them the biggest prize of their lifetime.”

In an earlier day the Oklahoman‘s reputation actually might have helped.

Edward King Gaylord, son of a farmer and patriarch of the family whose multi-billion-dollar empire now includes radio, cable, TV stations, and Nashville’s Opryland Hotel, was regarded as a fine journalist during the seventy-one years he ran the paper until his death in1974 at the age of 101. Once Gaylord printed an “extra” about the sensational murder of a Fort Sill soldier, despite the efforts of a chamber of commerce president to suppress the story. Although astrident opponent of unions, welfare, and socialists, Gaylord vowed that his newspaper would never become “offensively” partisan. “We shall strive,” he wrote in a 1916 editorial, “to be a people’s paper in the best sense of the term.”

After E. K. Gaylord’s death these lofty wordswere trashed, as control of the paper and its parent, the Oklahoma Publishing Company (OPUBCO), fell to his son, Edward Lewis Gaylord, then fifty-five, who turned the Oklahoman into a partisan bully. His paper’s front-page editorials eviscerating political enemies and its prudish scolding tone became an embarrassment to many Oklahomans.

Paraphrasing Mencken, a local journalist once said, “Gaylord is the classic Puritan. He’s haunted by the fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

“Gaylord wants to destroy the Democratic party in Oklahoma,”wrote Frosty Troy, editor of the alternative biweekly Oklahoma Observer.”He deplores all political philosophies except his own and is determined to bend the state to his will.”

A businessman-before-journalist, Ed Gaylord was so resentful of his domineering father’s stranglehold on power at the paper that on the day after E.K.’s death he fired his father’s secretary of over fifty years. In 1997 readers of Oklahoma City’s alternative weekly, the Gazette, voted Gaylord second place as “Best Local Villain.” Bomber Tim McVeigh won first.

A former student at Harvard Business School and a Forbes billionaire since 1982, Gaylord has built his fortune on everything from Colorado land to California thoroughbreds, cable’s The Nashville Network, and the Oklahoma City Redhawks minor league baseball team. Now seventy-nine and feisty as ever, Gaylord has given millions to hospitals, universities, and charities over the years, and has provided the paper with state-of-the-art printing facilities. But he’s legendary for squeezing profits. Over the years dozens of his reporters havebeen classified as part-time, thirty-nine-hour-a-week workers, to avoid paying them benefits.

But that’s pocket change compared with the Oklahoman‘s ad revenue. Although its weekday circulation of about 205,000 ranks it fifty-fourth nationally — and despite an unremarkable percentage of homes (41.8 percent) it reaches in its own hometown — the monopoly operation has more expensive ad rates than all but a few of the country’s 100 largest papers. Using the standard accepted throughout the advertising industry — cost per thousands of circulation, or CPM — a full-page, one-time, black-and-white ad costs about $78 per thousand in The New York Times, $80 in The Dallas Morning News, $72 in the rival Tulsa World, and a budget-busting $145 in the Oklahoman. (Figures are based on circulation and inch-rates listed in the 1998 Editor & Publisher Yearbook.) Consequently, the Oklahoman makes profits that far exceed the 20 percent industry average, says the paper’s general manager, Edmund Martin.

Those profits are evident in the gleaming, twelve-story, black tower that houses the Oklahoman several miles north of downtown, which it abandoned physically in 1991, and spiritually decades ago. The elegant glass and granite structure houses an auditorium and fitness center, and stands tall over the stark Oklahoma prairie, whose small towns like Guthrie, Perry, and Seminole have sent some of their brightest to the Oklahoman. “I’d say more than 90 percent of the staff was born here, schooled here, or spent most of their lives here,” says Ed Kelley, a Perry native who was promoted to managing editor in 1990. “I like to think of Oklahoma as one giant small town.”

But Oklahoma City isn’t. Its metro area of one million has a minority population of roughly 25 percent, yet Kelley’s newsroom has only seven full-time editors and reporters who are members of minority groups and, according to an informal survey done for this story, that’s fewer than any paper in the country with a circulation of 200,000 or more, as well as many papers much smaller. Says Kelley: “We’ve not done as good of a job as we need to do.”

There is a widely held perception among Oklahoma City’s blacks, says Lecia Swain, publisher of the city’s weekly Ebony Tribune, that Ed Gaylord doesn’t encourage the hiring of black reporters. Says Clytie Bunyan, a black business writer at the Oklahoman: “I think that’s why young black journalists in Oklahoma look elsewhere.”

Former staffers say it wasn’t long ago that the complexion of the front page, not just the newsroom, was influenced by race. “When I was on the city desk in the late seventies,” says former city editor Splaingard, “the rule was you didn’t run pictures of blacks on the front page.” And while everyone says the “rule” is long dead, it’s not always easy to tell.

In two months selected at random, January and August 1998, the paper ran 187 front-page photos, featuring nearly 200 individuals. Only ten photos had blacks identified in the cutline, and only four of those actually accompanied stories featuring blacks. Even more recently, says former Oklahoman reporter Charolette Aiken, “the Oklahoman put black faces on the front only if they were athletes, a black Republican, or a bad guy.” Observer editor Troy once wrote of the paper’s plantation mentality: “The paper has been quietly and effectively racist in all its long history.” Gaylord refused requests from CJR for an interview, but in a brief phone conversation from his home the publisher reacted testily when asked if putting blacks on the front page ever displeased him: “Oh, come on, you’re crazy,” he drawled.”Quit bothering me. Go on home.” Then he hung up.

What many find so remarkable about The Daily Oklahoman is that despite its cutting-edge printing technology and lavish headquarters, the newspaper itself seems trapped in a pre-seventies timewarp. “Don’t make me say how bad the design of that paper is,”pleaded a newspaper design expert from the University of Missouri School of Journalism who claims the Oklahoman is, shall we say, widely known throughout the trade.

“They just haven’t changed graphically,” says David Housh, graphics editor for the Tulsa World, a handsome family-owned paper ninety miles away that has twelve graphic artists and designers on staff, compared with the Oklahoman‘s four. “They have this strange nine-column layout and this small-town snapshot look where they tend to use photos the same size.” He could have also mentioned the sleepy headline type style, the stingy use of white space, the lack of a state or local news section front, and a headline policy that litters inside pages with one-word “jump” heads yelling Flood, Funeral, Poverty, Questions.

“It’s not a cookie-cutter paper,” says Ed Kelley. “Is it handsome? Uhm, I think it has a unique look.”

Unique might also describe a major newspaper that has a hefty sports section (now there you can find some black faces) that often goes months without a staff-written story about a female athlete. “Their paper is driven by the football program at OU and Oklahoma State, and the Dallas Cowboys,” says Mike Prusinski, media relations director for sports at the University of Oklahoma. “It’s sad because we’ve got some terrific women athletes who don’t ever see their names in print.”

More troublesome is the obvious bias that infects the Oklahoman‘s news pages.

Democrats claim they are investigated by the paper’s bloodhounds with a zeal unknown to any Republican in the state. Editors and reporters say that’s a tired, baseless charge, point to a few Republicans they’ve skewered, and suggest that since Oklahoma has historically been dominated by Democrats, they would logically get more scrutiny.

Persecution would be a more accurate word, says former Democratic Governor David Walters, who was the target of relentlessly critical coverage by the newspaper from 1991 to 1994, coverage one Oklahoman reporter describes as “a lot of smoke and not much fire.” In 1993, two Oklahoman reporters went to the floor of the state-run hospital where Walters’s seventy-three-year-old mother was being treated for terminal pancreatic cancer and asked nurses if she had been given preferential treatment. She hadn’t, but the newspaper defended its actions.

Vindictive former Walters aides always found a receptive ear at the Oklahoman, which based stories in 1991 on the word of a fired state tourism director who “found” Walters’s personal checkbook, photocopied the contents, and showed them to the FBI and reporters. Reporter Robby Trammell’s story began: “The FBI has been told that David Walters’ personal checkbook contained several deposits labeled ‘bonus’ that may have been illegal cash contributions to his successful gubernatorial campaign, the Oklahoman has learned.”

FBI has been told? May have been illegal? The FBI dropped its investigation after seven months, finding nothing to warrant charges. The newspaper justifies its treatment of Walters by pointing out that he later pleaded guilty to a minor violation of campaign contribution limits.

The Oklahoman has an entirely different standard for covering the current Republican governor, Frank Keating. His misuse of a state plane and appointment of big contributors to state posts, while reluctantly noted, have hardly nudged the paper’s outrage meter. Says assistant managing editor Mike Shannon: “We don’t have any evidence of anything to go after Keating on. Basically we think the guy is pretty clean.”

“I think the Oklahoman is precluded from delving into certain areas they believe the publisher would not want them to look into,” says Andy Rieger, managing editor of The Norman Transcript and former section editor at the Oklahoman. “I don’t think they take a critical look at Governor Keating.”

An explanation might be found in Keating’s 1998 campaign contribution records: the governor received $5,000 — the most allowed by Oklahoma law — from Mr. and Mrs. Edward L. Gaylord.

The Oklahoman‘s bias transcends mere party politics. A local reaction story last year about the defeat of a minimum wage bill before Congress typically quoted Oklahoma business interests saying the bill’s demise was great news. But it found no room for unions, workers, or social agencies that might disagree. Such an omission is hardly surprising for a newspaper that in recent editorials has associated unions with “brutality, selfishness, fraud, corruption, and intimidation,” called Clinton cabinet member Robert Reich the “socialist-in-charge at the U.S. Labor Department,” and titled another screed that called for his firing Robert Reich’s Amerika.

And despite some fine reporting last year on pollution from corporate hog farms, the Oklahoman is nearly alone among major papers in not having a full-time environmental reporter. “They’ll cover [a congressman’s] speech when he rips the EPA,” says Sierra Club legislative coordinator Mark Derichsweiler. “But the Tulsa World is always more fair and evenhanded.”

Sometimes the paper’s cranky bias is simply bizarre, like when it placed a thirty-column-inch story last September headlined Health Stores Hard to Swallow immediately under its front page banner. The article, written by an education writer, focused on a small-town Oklahoma college professor who says the use of herbs, vitamins, and dietary supplements, or homeopathic medicine, is “pure quackery,” yet the story never established his credibility in medical, legal, or education circles or even gave a hint — a new book? a recent speech? — as to why his opinions suddenly dominated the front page.

Other Oklahoman stories are equally out of place in a good newspaper, but at least their reason for being is transparent. The Oklahoman‘s online search engine shows that in the last four years the paper has run some forty articles mentioning a development north of town it describes as “the city’s most prestigious gated community.” When its golf course opened last July, there was a story and photos. Ditto for the first residents moving in, the naming of new officers in the development firm, and several other non-stories. The name of this new upscale retreat? Gaillardia, owned by OPUBCO Development, whose president is E.K. Gaylord II, the publisher’s son.

But the Oklahoman‘s news pages are an intellectual oasis of free thought compared with its editorial page.

Patrick McGuigan, head of the Oklahoman‘s five-person editorial board, which added its first female only in August, had no newspaper background when he was hired in 1990. He was a well-known conservative activist in Washington who fought against the Supreme Court nomination of David Souter (too moderate) and for his friends Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork. More ideologue than editor, McGuigan, who declined to be interviewed for this article, told journalist James Risser in the June 1998 American Journalism Review:”We’re trying to change the political culture; we’re trying to make Oklahoma a conservative bastion.”

Some might argue that McGuigan’s goal has already been met — all eight members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation received 100 percent ratings from the Christian Coalition — but he’s leaving little to chance. McGuigan force-feeds his readers a constant right-wing lineup of columnists such as Pat Buchanan, Phyllis Schlafly, Joseph Sobran, Cal Thomas, Mona Charen, Jeff Jacoby, Thomas Sowell, Linda Bowles, and Tony Snow. No liberal columnists, zero, none, are regularly featured.

Want some solid impartial research with your editorials? Sorry, about the only “research” you’ll find here comes filtered through the anti-regulation, anti-labor, anti-abortion zealotry of the Family Research Council, Christian Coalition, Eagle Forum, American Family Association,The Washington Times, Moral Majority, and the Free Congress Foundation. Critics could tolerate the extremism, they say, if McGuigan simply allowed articulate opponents the same amount of space that, say, Cal Thomas got for ‘Did Liberalism Produce Unabomber’? Typically, dissenters are confined to the letters to the editor ghetto, where they vie for space with ‘Punish All Adulterers!’ and ‘Good-bye to Socialists’.

Not surprisingly, Clinton’s self-destruction unleashed McGuiganat his finest. In October alone he ran fifty-seven anti-Clinton editorials or opinion pieces, often three or more on the same page. But he was in rare formon September 24, when all five op-ed pieces (one titled “A Nation’s Disgrace,” another, “Clinton’s Disgrace”), plus an editorial cartoon, bashed Clinton. The Oklahoman called for Clinton’s resignation in January 1998 — that’s right, January.

McGuigan, who called Ed Meese the finest attorney general of his lifetime, casts a wrathful eye on government intrusion into our private lives, unless, of course, we are engaged in sin. In June 1997,Oklahoma City police, at the instigation of a local anti-porn brigade that McGuigan fancies, went to the home of an ACLU executive to seize a video of the Oscar-winning German film, The Tin Drum, which he had rented from the city’s library and which the local D.A., an Oklahoman endorsee, believed to be obscene. Dismissing howls of local protest and ignoring the national embarrassment to Oklahoma City after what a federal judge later ruled was an unconstitutional seizure of the film, the Oklahoman, mocking “alleged guardians of free speech,” found the local cops and D.A. blameless in the whole affair.

But this all seems rational compared with the editorial page’s treatment of gays. Former congressional candidate Paul Barby, a sixty-three-year-old rancher who is gay, tells the story of when he and a lesbian activist came to the Oklahoman to discuss the “hateful tone” of an editorial with editorial writer J.E. McReynolds. After a brief hello in a conference room, Barby says, McReynolds excused himself and returned with two members of First Stone Ministries, an Oklahoma-based group that wants to “save” homosexuals by converting them to heterosexuals. “I’d like you to talk with these people,” Barby quotes McReynolds as saying.”I’ll just listen.”

McReynolds defends his handling of the meeting, which preceded an editorial that printed First Stone Ministries’s phone number and urged people to attend its rallies.

But, for countless readers, the editorial page’s scripture-based scoldings and McReynolds’s valiant effort to save homosexuals reflects their own values. Leonard Sullivan, a Republican state representative from an upper middle class district, speaks for many: “Mos tof my life I’ve read The Daily Oklahoman. I can hardly think of an instance where I would disagree with them. I like the articles that attack Clinton and the liberals. Without Rush Limbaugh, it’d be about the only place I could get any news at all. [As for the religious tone of the editorial page], it reflects the mood of Oklahoma. I don’t think they’re extremist. McGuigan just happens to be a very religious person. I would think all the people of The Daily Oklahoman are very religious, highly moral people.”

Many reporters and editors say they enjoy working there. Twenty-year veterans abound. Several note that Oklahoma is a marvelous place to raise children, and that their modest salaries (averaging $30,000 to $40,000) go along way in the state ranked forty-second in per capita income. Some are embarrassed by the editorial page, while others, much like stockyard workers,no longer notice the smell.

Quite a few reporters say the paper has flown them around the country to valuable seminars, and that editors are working especially hard to improve the staff’s writing, which generally lacks the style, depth, and maturity you’d expect in a major market. The paper has done worthy investigations over the years, including a courageous series in the seventies about abuses in the University of Oklahoma football program, which cost the newspaper 17,000 subscribers.

Is there hope for change at the Oklahoman? Being a fat, incurious monopoly has bred both a management and newsroom culture that ridicules critics and rewards mediocrity. There are, however, some talented journalists at the Oklahoman, not the least of whom is Ed Kelley. Every critic I interviewed said Kelley was capable of turning the Oklahoman into a respectable newspaper. “I have nothing but the highest respect for Ed,” says former Oklahoman staffer Rieger. “I think he honestly wants to make a great paper.”

All that stands in his way is one grumpy publisher.

“The paper is exactly how Mr. Gaylord wants it,” says one insider. “It will not change as long as he is alive.”

That’s a shame, for under Ed Gaylord’s watchful eye the Oklahoman has effectively become a newspaper in reverse– a virulent, compromised beast that sucks intelligence from its readers and replaces it with intolerance, triviality, and false scandal. So inured to”The Daily Disappointment” are many Oklahomans that they simply ignore it, having long ago abandoned hope that the newspaper could ever make them proud.

“In many parts of Oklahoma,” says Rev. Meyers, “The Daily Oklahoman is the window to the world, yet it tries to keep us fearful and bigoted. You hear a lot about that Oklahoma pride and spirit, but actually this state has a deep inferiority complex. Still, there is nothing wrong with Oklahoma that a great newspaper couldn’t solve.”

And nowhere in America is one more desperately needed.


Considering all of this, I guess it’s no wonder Tulsa is the target of somany attacks by the Oklahoman. Oklahoma Citians call it the Daily Disappointment; Tulsans call it the Jokelahoman. There’s a reason.
And there’s a reason Tulsa feels like the Capitol owes it something: it does.  After years of being a donor city, contributing to the state’s revenue and getting nothing in return for it–no highway funds, no bridge funds, no higher education funds, toll roads at every entrance to the city–it’s time Tulsa is given what it has given to the whole state, and to Oklahoma City, for so long.

Someone moving to Oklahoma recently asked which city–Tulsa or Oklahoma City–they should move to. Here was my response to them:

I choose Tulsa, hands down, no questions asked. As a disclaimer, I’ve lived in both cities, and Tulsa is mycity of choice. Here’s why:

It’s been mentioned before, but Tulsa has been undergoing a renaissance, especially in downtown, Brookside and Cherry Street areas. Here’s a quick rundown of some things Tulsa has to offer:

Downtown:

Lofts are going up in historic, beautiful art deco buildings such as Philtower.

The BOk Center, a beautiful 18,041 seat arena (this design proves that yes, an arena can be beautiful) designed by famed architect Cesar Pelli, is set to open in September.

Cain’s Ballroom, one of the top venues in the world (ranked 42), hosts dozens upon dozens upon dozens of concerts in every genre.

Brady Theater, another famed Tulsa venue, is also host to several big-name and up-and-coming acts.

The Brady District has a good number of galleries, restaurants, apartments, lofts, Cain’s and the Brady, a couple GLBT clubs, some straight bars, will be the new home of KOTV, the new Philbrook Museum galleries and artist studios, and a large, new mixed-use development is soon-to-be-announced to the public.

The Mayo Hotel, an 18-story historic building whose ballroom stage Elvis once graced, is in the early stages of being converted into a mix of apartments, a hotel, and retail/offices.

The Atlas Life Building, another wonderful piece of architecture, will begin its transformation into a boutique hotel under the Marriott brand.

The East End is a growing area on the east side of downtown, and is home to some funky galleries like Living Arts of Tulsa, lofts, Tiny Lounge, a wine bar and other retail. The Tulsa Drillers, Tulsa’s minor-league baseball team, might be moving into the East End, bringing with it a slew of other activity and development, including another possible hotel, restaurants and retail.

The Blue Dome District is home to several bars and restaurants, including El Guapo’s Cantina, McNellie’s Public House, Tsunami Sushi, 1974, Arnie’s, Capella’s and others, and is the future home of Joe Momma’s Pizza; retail stores like the modern-eclectic DwellingSpaces; the First Street Lofts; and the Blue Dome Arts Festival.

SoBo (18th & Boston) has its share of clubs, a wine bar, restaurants and coffee shops, art galleries, design studios, etc.

The Greenwood District has purchased land to add 40+ brownstones, retail, restaurants and a hotel, all in an urban manner. The John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Memorial and Museum will also be planted in Greenwood sometime soon (if the State legislature will free up the last bit of remaining needed funds).

OSU-Tulsa lies just beyond Greenwood and is planning to add student housing, which will help create an even denser, more vibrant area connecting to the rest of downtown’s districts.

Tulsa Community College is adding a new Creativity Center at its downtown campus and will be a great asset to the area. With OSU and TCC occupying the North and South ends of downtown respectively, much synergy and activity between the two will only create better things in the area between the two.

Downtown is also home to the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, home of the Tulsa Opera, Tulsa Ballet and the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra. The PAC also hosts several large events ranging from Broadway shows to concerts and plays.

Downtown is the location of Oklahoma’s largest arts festival (Mayfest) and music festival (D-Fest). Mayfest brings thousands of people downtown to experience local and regional artists, food, fun, and dozens of free concerts. Mayfest 2007 had attendance of over 375,000. D-Fest (which stands for ‘Diversafest’), in its 7th year, is similar to Austin’s SXSW and hosts over a hundred concerts in several venues around the Blue Dome District featuring local, regional and national acts. Attendance is expected tobe more than 60,000 this year.

Downtown (and Tulsa in general) is known across the nation for its outstanding, nearly-unmatched collection of art deco buildings.

Midtown:
Tulsa’s Midtown is a very large, largely affluent area and includes Utica Square, Brookside, Cascia Hall Preparatory School, the University of Tulsa, etc. and homes ranging from opulent mansions to charming bungalows, a Frank Lloyd Wright home, Woodward Park, Tulsa Historical Society, Tulsa Rose Garden (one of the largest in the nation), and the Philbrook Museum, among many more parks and wooded, established neighborhoods, and abuts the Arkansas River and the River Parks on the west.

Cherry Street (which has a great view of downtown), is full of an eclectic, funky mix of restaurants (from Irish to Mexican, Italian, American and Cajun), bars, galleries, lofts, coffee shops, funky furniture shops, and even a high-end cheese and chocolate store, among its other qualities. Young, highly-educated people have been flocking to the area in droves, and new lofts and infill projects are going up all the time, including N.I.N.E., which are the most eco-friendly dwellings in Oklahoma. Cherry Street Farmer’s Market is one of the best in the city.

While Cherry Street revels in its funky eclecticism, Brookside revels in its unique blend of high-end, trendy shops and restaurants like Keo, S.R. Hughes, KoKoa, Black Optical, Ermenegildo Zegna, Aberson’s, Garlic Rose, La Bella Vita, Lava, the Brasserie, Sonoma, Oliver’s Twist, In the Raw, etc. with the local-organic indoor Center One Market; with the clubs and bars like Jewel, Brookside Bar & Grill, Sharky’s, Crow Creek Tavern and Hops & Grains; with the tattoo parlors, breakfast places, the historic Brook Restaurant, Yoga studios, salons, the Vespa store, fitness centers, lofts, charming residences and Whole Foods; with its coffee shops and a plethora of other places of interest.

The T-Town Trolley takes bar and restaurant patrons between Brookside, Cherry Street, SoBo (18th & Boston) and the Blue Dome District.

Utica Square is a well-known, outdoor, upscale shopping center in Midtown, set in a garden of tree-lined walks, spring tulips, summer concerts, and its many antique clocks. It is home to Oklahoma’s only Saks Fifth Avenue and a mix of several locally-owned and national-brand stores like Restoration Hardware, Williams-Sonoma, Crabtree & Evelyn, Tulsa’s own Miss Jackson’s, Petty’s Fine Foods, Anne Taylor, Coach, Pottery Barn, Banana Republic, Harold’s, Stonehorse Cafe, the Wild Fork, Moody’s Jewelry, White House | Black Market, JoS. A. Banks, Ihloff Salon & Spa, P.F. Chang’s, Polo Grill (Oklahoma’s top-rated restaurant), Pier 1, and more.

Philbrook Museum of Art is a very well-known, classic Tulsa attraction and is recognized as one of America’s finest museums. It is ranked in the top 50, and is only one of five in the U.S. with a combination of historical home, art collections and gardens. The museum is housed in an opulent, 1927 Italian villa modeled after the Villa Lante (north of Rome), and is surrounded by 23 acres of lush, formal gardens. It houses exhibitions from around the world, including one of the finest permanent collections of Renaissance and Baroque art and sculpture in the United States.

Gilcrease Museum of Art is one of the country’s best facilities for the preservation and study of American art and history. The museum’s charm, beauty and art collections draw thousands of visitors from around the world to the hills just northwest of downtown Tulsa for a glimpse into the past. Gilcrease Museum houses the world’s largest, most comprehensive collection of art and artifacts of the American West, with more than 10,000 works. The Museum also offers an unparalleled collection of Native American art and artifacts, as well as historical manuscripts, documents and maps. The shelves of its library accommodate some 100,000 rare books, manuscripts and other archival material, much of it unique, and its galleries and vaults display and store over a quarter million extraordinary artifacts related to the aboriginal people of the Americas. Beyond the extensive Gilcrease collections and exhibits are its beautiful facilities and gardens. Themed gardens have been developed on 23 of the museum’s 460 acres. Gilcrease has recently partnered with the University of Tulsa.

The University of Tulsa is the finest institution of higher learning in the state. Its students have earned more nationally competitive scholarships than every other university in the state combined. Since 1995 alone, TU students have won: 41 Goldwaters, 27 National Science Foundation, 8 Trumans, 7 Dept. of Defense, 5 Udalls, 6 Fulbrights, 4 British Marshalls (including the first received by an Oklahoma student in 27 years), and 6 Phi Kappa Phi. In 2005, TU was named a Truman Honor Institution. TU students won the first international contest for model cars powered only by a chemical reaction. It is the highest-ranked university in Oklahoma, and is the only in the top 100. It has been ranked 6th nationally for having the happiest students, 5th nationally for good relationships with its community, 9th nationally in quality of life and 11th nationally for race and class interaction. Its Petroleum Engineering program is ranked 3rd in the world, and its business school is one of the top-ranked in the nation. In the past 6 years, TU has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on campus improvements, including 700+ apartments, a top-notch fitness center, one of the top-ranked tennis facilities in the nation, a new administration, admissions and financial aid building, an 8,355 seat arena, a new law library, a legal clinic, one of the only on-campus mosques in the nation, extensive renovations and additions are being made to the library and football stadium, construction on an ambitious, new performing arts center is set to begin this summer, and new engineering buildings are to follow.

Spread along miles of the Arkansas River, as it flows through Tulsa, River Parks provides some of the metropolitan area’s finest outdoor recreation. More than 20 miles of asphalt-surfaced recreation trails weave past picnic areas, playgrounds, fountains and sculptures. The park’s landscape ranges from manicured lawns to the rugged terrain of the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area. Recreation in River Parks includes fishing, rowing, kayaking, frisbee golf, hiking, biking, rugby and horseback riding. During warm weather months, a variety of outdoor events are offered. Entertainment opportunities include concerts, including symphony concerts on a floating amphitheater in the Arkansas River, festivals like Oktoberfest (named by USA Today as one ofthe top 10 Oktoberfests worldwide) and Tulsa Salutes Freedom, the state’s largest free fireworks display on the Fourth of July.

Southern Hills Country Club is a prestigious golf and country club. The course is ranked No. 15 among Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses”. Southern Hills has hosted the U.S. Open three times (1958, 1977, 2001) and the PGA Championship four times (1970, 1982, 1994, 2007). It is the first course ever to host four PGA Championships. It has also hosted several other prestigious tournaments. Southern Hills also has the rare honor of being the inaugural host of a USGA championship, hosting the first-ever U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur in 1987.

Tulsa has a population of nearly 400,000 in 186.8 sq. mi., (Density: 2,152 people per sq. mi.) making it a much more compact, denser (therefore more interesting) city than Oklahoma City (Oklahoma City has a populationof nearly 540,000 in 621.2 sq. mi. Density: 871.5 people per square mile), and has a plethora of natural beauty and cultural and historical assets that Oklahoma City just doesn’t have. Climb Turkey Mountain, go rappelling at Chandler Park, jog or ride the River Parks Trails, go fishing at nearby Skiatook Lake, Keystone Lake, Oologah Lake or on the Arkansas River, kayak on the Arkansas River, take in the natural beauty of Mohawk Park (one of the nation’s largest urban parks), home to Tulsa Zoo, named in 2005 as the nation’sfavorite zoo, the Oxley Nature Center and a public golf course. Catch a show at the PAC, tour the galleries of Philbrook, Gilcrease or the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, which houses the largest collection of Judaica in the Southwest, stroll through azalea-filled Woodward Park or the Tulsa Rose Garden, the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, or catch a documentary or independent film at the Circle Cinema.

As far as entertainment, Oklahoma City’s Bricktown is nice, but as has been mentioned before, that’s just about all Oklahoma City has to offer. Tulsa has Blue Dome, Brady, Brookside, Cherry Street, the developing Arena District, SoBo, etc.,all in a more compact, denser, architecturally and naturally beautiful setting.

Tulsa has the arts, the culture, the natural beauty, the entertainment, the shopping, the music scene, the more urban environment (as urban as it gets in Oklahoma, anyway), the state’s best university, the state’s wealthiest population, the state’s most affluent population, the state’s best public schools (Washington H.S. and Eisenhower International Elementary), and the state’s best neighborhoods.

If you’re looking for an affluent, beautiful, urban, interesting and fun placeto live in Oklahoma, Tulsa is the place.

Then again, if you plan on visiting the National Cowboy Hall of Fame or Toby Keith’s restaurant on a daily basis, you’ve always got Oklahoma City.

3 thoughts on “Why Tulsa Gets the Shaft”

  1. Just a few corrections off the top of my head:

    OKC’s population is 40 percent larger than Tulsa. Not exactly “comparable” in size.

    Turnpike tolls fund turnpikes, as you said. And Tulsa has them all, as you said. So nonsensical to say that Tulsa doesn’t get enough road money to compensate for the tolls they pay.

    Oklahoma City does not have a four-year public university either.

    Oklahoma City has endorsed an Amtrak line to Tulsa, but the difference in cost to upgrade the tracks (Tulsa vs. Wichita) is $200 million. Just one of those things.

    The state Sonics incentive is funded through Thunder income taxes. The money doesn’t come from other priorities, and the money wouldn’t exist if the NBA hadn’t come.

    Tulsa is not a Tier II city. Those are convention designations, not subjective feelings. Tulsa is Tier III.

    Most of your information about the Oklahoman is about 10 years out of date.

    Certainly entitled to your opinions, but you probably want to get your facts straight.

  2. Steve,
    Just because you work for the Oklahoman doesn’t make you more knowledgeable than anyone on the matter. You’re part of that Oklahoma City cloud of distortion that refuses to accept any kind of actual reality. Is Oklahoma City’s population larger than Tulsa’s? You bet. Is a city of 550,000 that much bigger than a city of 400,000? Especially in a state that has only 3,600,000 residents? Not really, Steve. The two cities (independent of their MSAs) account for nearly 30% of the state’s population. Most of the rest of the country lumps Oklahoma City and Tulsa together with other similar-sized cities. Whether you want to admit it or not, we are similar in size.

    Your argument about turnpikes tolls would be laughable if it wasn’t so incredibly insulting. A turnpike is not the same thing as a freeway, Steve. Do you really think it is a coincidence that I-40 and I-35, which pass directly through Oklahoma City, are completely free all the way throughout the state, which nearly every highway leaving Tulsa is one that people have to pay to use? Your sense of reality is disturbing to say the least.

    Furthermore, if you want to continue a discussion of highway funds, you have to examine the difference between highways built and funded by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and those built by the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. ODOT funds are not OTA funds. Who exactly is being nonsensical, Steve?

    You’re correct that Oklahoma City doesn’t have a public, four-year university either. However, two of Oklahoma City’s suburbs contain two of the largest public universities in the state, UCO and OU, and the behemoth OU Medical Center is in the middle of Oklahoma City.

    It’s funny that you say that Oklahoma City has endorsed rail to Tulsa, yet the City Council has officially aligned themselves with the Newton, KS alliance. There is a difference in cost, but who does the Oklahoma State Legislature serve—Oklahoma citizens or Kansas citizens? The State has now given more money to a project for the State of Kansas than they’ve given to any kind of rail effort in Tulsa. Connecting the state’s two largest cities and centers of commerce, to me, is more important than reaching passengers in Newton, Kansas.
    I’m not arguing about the funding of the Sonics incentive, Steve. It’s the fact that because the robber barons wanted the team, they successfully altered the law that allows only for certain types of businesses to benefit from the tax credit. What other exceptions have been made since its inception? If it had been a team Tulsa was trying to win, that same exception or alteration would not have been made.

    And Steve, if you would have actually read my post, you would see that I included links to substantive articles that mention that Tulsa is a Tier II City. Just like Oklahoma City. You make false, unasserted statements and then say that I’m wrong when I’m the person with sources? Please.

    Perhaps the information on the Oklahoman is out of date, but the majority of the things the article mentions still stand.

    I’m not the one that needs to get my facts straight, Steve. I would challenge you to an intelligent discussion on these topics, Steve, but since it appears you only skimmed my post, disregarding any facts, information or sources, and proceeded to make false, unsupported, self-serving, nocuous statements in an effort to save face. It would be amusing if it wasn’t so nauseating.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *