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Local
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Elon Musk chooses Austin for next Tesla plant

The cynics — some might call them the realists — said Tulsa never had a shot at landing Tesla’s CyberTruck Gigafactory.

We’ll never know. But this much they got right: The electronic vehicle maker will build its latest production facility in Austin, Texas.

Or, as Elon Musk called the Austin site, an “ecological paradise.”

“We are going to make a factory that is going to be stunning,” Musk said during a meeting with investors and analysts Wednesday afternoon. ”It is right on the Colorado River, so we’re actually going to have a boardwalk where there will be a hiking, biking trail.

“It is going to basically be an ecological paradise. Birds in the trees, butterflies, fish in the stream, and it will be open to the public, as well.”

The news brings to an end for now Tulsa’s dream of partnering with the visionary entrepreneur to advance the promise of electric vehicles and, in so doing, reimagine the city itself.

Musk made clear Wednesday that he was impressed with what Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma had to offer, and he hinted that the parties might talk again some day.

“Thank you very much to the Tulsa team, the economic development team and the governor,” Musk said. “Really, I was super impressed — the whole team was super impressed — and we will for sure strongly consider Tulsa for future expansions … down the road.”

Minutes after the announcement, Gov. Kevin Stitt and other elected officials and business leaders released statements praising Tulsa’s efforts and congratulating Austin.

“Over the past few months, Tulsans and Oklahomans as a whole showed the nation and the world that our state is worthy of being one of two finalists for an innovative, cutting-edge company like Tesla,” Stitt said.

The state will continue to recruit Tesla suppliers to Oklahoma, Stitt said, and he wished the company the best.

“In fact, I wish them so much success they are forced to expand again, because I know just the place,” he said.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum offered his congratulations to Austin and thanked those who had been part of the push to bring Tesla to Tulsa.

“When you compete at the highest levels, you can’t always win,” Bynum said. “We congratulate the city of Austin on landing this incredible facility. Tesla is just a remarkable organization — remarkable products, remarkable mission, remarkable leader, and a remarkable team.

“Tulsa was honored to be considered for this opportunity, and we are eager to find other ways down the road that we can help the team at Tesla succeed.

“I can’t properly convey my gratitude for all the Tulsans who rallied around this opportunity because they wanted the best for our city.”

The Austin assembly plant will build the Cybertruck pickup, the Tesla Semi truck and the Model Y SUV, Musk said. The plant is expected to employ at least 5,000 people.

Oklahoma state and local officials, joined by a groundswell of grass-roots supporters, had been lobbying hard for the factory since it became public in mid-May that Tulsa was a finalist for the assembly plant.

Tulsa was sold as an innovative and surging city that would make a perfect fit for Musk’s visionary company.

Multiple sites were considered for the project, with the likeliest one thought to be just southeast of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, near the interchange of Interstate 44, U.S. 412 and the Creek Turnpike.

The local effort to lure Tesla included a sustained social media blitz and the painting of Musk’s image on Tulsa’s iconic Golden Driller.

The campaign caught Musk’s attention.

He visited Tulsa on July 3 for a brief meeting with Stitt and Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce Sean Kouplen at the proposed site of the project, the exact location of which was never announced.

Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, said in a prepared statement that the publicity surrounding the competition to land the Tesla manufacturing center has raised Tulsa’s profile substantially.

“Individuals and organizations that previously might not have given us a serious look now see our advantages — including a low cost of living and short commute times, as well as an eager, well-trained workforce, access to top engineering talent and a centralized location,” Neal said.

Neal praised the George Kaiser Family Foundation and GKFF Chief Operating Officer Jeff Stava for their efforts to showcase the city and region.

No one was more involved in trying to deliver Tesla to Tulsa than Kouplen. Tulsa, he acknowledged again Wednesday, was always the underdog.

Next time, who knows?

“Tesla will continue to grow and, when it is ready to reconsider Oklahoma for a future location, they will be welcomed with open arms,” Kouplen said.


Tesla + Tulsa promotional video


Gallery: Tesla in Tulsa? Tulsans, local officials make their pitch

Gallery: Tesla in Tulsa? Tulsans, local officials make their pitch

Racemassacre
topical
Watch Now: Mass graves search halted at Oaklawn: 'This is not the location we are looking for'

The search for burials from Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre was suspended Wednesday morning after researchers ruled out the current test excavation as a possible site.

“Unfortunately, things did not transpire the way that we hoped they would,” said Kary Stackelbeck, state archaeologist. “We are able to confirm this is not the location we are looking for.”

Stackelbeck and Mayor G.T. Bynum indicated that the search will resume this fall, probably elsewhere in Oaklawn. At least two other areas of interest are within the cemetery grounds.

The current test spot on the west side of the cemetery was identified by a combination of geophysical and historical research. More than a week into a test excavation, however, researchers concluded that no burials had occurred on the site.

Subsurface anomalies detected by geophysical scanning turned out to be an unusual amount of fill material dumped at the north end of the site and the curbing from a buried road at the south end.

A pair of shoes found earlier this week caused researchers to briefly think they might have found a burial spot, but further excavation Tuesday afternoon hit bedrock without uncovering human remains.

With that, and analysis of core samples taken a few yards east of the excavation site, researchers concluded that it was time to move on.

“We knew this was a possibility,” said Stackelbeck. “We wish we had a different result, but we remain totally optimistic.”

Bynum and others involved in the project insisted on looking forward.

“Of course there is disappointment,” said historian Scott Ellsworth, a Tulsa native who has researched the massacre since the mid-1970s. “But we have good evidence on some other sites, and we’re prepared to go forward. Nothing is ever easy when it comes to this.”

“First and foremost in our minds are the victims and their families,” said Bynum. “We want them to know we will continue to work as hard as we can.”

For nearly 100 years, stories have persisted that bodies were disposed of irregularly after the May 31-June 1, 1921, outbreak of racial violence. The test excavation that began July 13 is the first attempt to physically uncover a potential burial site.

“I still have the hope that I began this process with — that this is a long-term search for the truth,” said Brenda Alford, chairwoman of the citizens’ committee overseeing the investigation.

“I want you to understand,” Alford said, “we are just beginning. We are not finished.”

Within Oaklawn, researchers are interested in what is known as the Clyde Eddy site and the area around two headstones bearing the names of two Black men killed in the massacre.

Eddy, now dead, told investigators in the late 1990s that as a boy in 1921 he had seen bodies in what appeared to be packing crates along the cemetery’s 11th Street boundary.

Eddy was unable to give a precise location, but researchers at that time identified a likely area for a test excavation. For various reasons, that excavation never occurred.

The data from that search in the late 1990s has been lost, but new scanning has come up with possibilities.

One area of interest is near the southwest corner of the cemetery. According to burial records and newspaper reports, at least 18 African Americans killed in the massacre were buried somewhere in Oaklawn, and researchers think it plausible that they would be near the two existing markers.

It is unclear, however, when the markers were placed or if they actually mark the graves of the two men, Ed Lockard and Reuben Everett.

Other sites of interest outside of Oaklawn include Rolling Oaks Cemetery in far south Tulsa and an area along the Arkansas River just west of downtown.


Gallery: Oaklawn Cemetery considered as possible Race Massacre grave site

Gallery: Oaklawn Cemetery considered as possible Race Massacre grave site


Local
topical
Authorities now considering whether charges are warranted against pickup driver who drove through protesters on highway

State and federal prosecutors are considering whether charges are warranted in the case of a man who earlier this year drove a pickup towing a horse trailer through Black Lives Matter demonstrators on Interstate 244 near downtown.

Sarah Stewart, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety, confirmed that the agency had turned over the results of its investigation to officials with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s and Tulsa U.S. Attorney’s offices.

She said she did not know any details of the report, including whether any recommendations were made to prosecutors.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol began investigating the incident after the pickup driver traveling east on I-244 near Detroit Avenue encountered the crowd of demonstrators, who had stopped traffic on the highway. Witnesses said the truck struck at least two people during the encounter, and authorities said two people suffered minor injuries.

A third person was critically injured when he fell from an overpass. A spokeswoman for the Highway Patrol said in June that troopers were unsure whether the man fell as a result of people trying to avoid the moving truck or for another reason.

Numerous videos depicting the incident circulated online.

The protest in downtown Tulsa on May 31 had been part of a surge in demonstrations nationwide in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis six days earlier.

On the day of the incident, demonstrators had been marching near John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park downtown. A group of protesters at one point peeled off toward I-244, stopping traffic on the highway, according to prior World coverage.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said Wednesday that his office is still in the process of reviewing reports from the OHP. He did not say what, if any, recommendations OHP investigators may have made about how to proceed.

Kunzweiler said previously that the OHP’s investigation into the incident could be lengthy due to the volume of videos and photos available from possible witnesses.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Trent Shores’ office confirmed that it had received the OHP report, but she declined to comment on any pending decisions.

Attorney Jonathan Nation said he represents a demonstrator who suffered a broken leg and two sprained ankles when struck by the pickup.

Nation said he believed a “reckless endangerment” charge at the least is warranted against the driver, who has not been identified.

Samantha Vicent contributed to this story.


Featured video


Gallery: Protests in Tulsa in May, June

Updated gallery: Protests in Tulsa end with tear gas, pepper balls after truck drove through crowd

Government-and-politics
Tulsa police officers' overtime during Trump rally and protests costs $450,000

Tulsa police officers were paid more than $450,000 in overtime and earned more than 2,000 hours in comp time for their work at recent protests and at President Donald Trump’s June 20 campaign rally at the BOK Center.

The overtime and compensatory time figures cover the period from May 25 through June 30, according to data provided by the city of Tulsa and Tulsa Police Department.

The Police Department said information on how many officers worked overtime at the protests and at the Trump rally was not readily available.

But officers worked 3,359 overtime hours for the Trump rally at an estimated hourly rate of $51, bringing the estimated total cost to $171,309. In addition, officers earned 731 hours of comp time.

The rally overtime numbers include hours worked by police the day before the event, the day of the event and the day after the event, according to the Police Department.

Officers providing security at protests earned 5,469 hours of overtime pay at the estimated hourly rate of $51, bringing the estimated total to $278,919. Officers also earned 1,316 hours of comp time working the protests.

Michelle Brooks, spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office, said the Trump campaign paid in advance to rent the BOK Center but that the city expected to incur expenses in coordinating street closures and coordinating with the Secret Service, “as we did on a smaller scale when the Vice President (Mike Pence) visited Tulsa after our historic flood last year and when then-Vice President (Joe) Biden was in town in 2015.”

The city incurred similar expenses when presidential candidates Trump and Hillary Clinton visited in 2016, Brooks said.

“We also expected to incur expenses coordinating and responding to anything that happened outside of the controlled event space, as we did during the protests the weeks before the rally and the protests during the rally,” she said.

According to New York Times reporting on campaign finance reporting for June, the Trump campaign paid about $537,000 to the BOK Center in rental fees.

Tulsa residents joined communities across the country in taking to the streets to protest in the aftermath of the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The 46-year-old unarmed Black man died after an officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was being arrested for allegedly using a fake $20 bill to make a purchase at a convenience store.

Tulsa has had several large rallies since the incident, including a Black Lives Matter rally on the afternoon of May 31 that drew thousands downtown, and several smaller, unaffiliated protests that night. Smaller protests continued throughout the next week, including one near Woodland Hills Mall.


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Gallery: Supporters gather in Tulsa ahead of Trump rally June 20

Photos from the scene as more Trump supporters gather in Tulsa