A Dallas developer says that after he spent more than half a million dollars trying to get a high-profile project off the ground in Tulsa, the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority pulled out of the deal without ever explaining why.
“I would never have carried it forward had I expected to be treated that way,” said Don Bouvier, president of UCR Development. “It’s very disappointing. It’s not the way you handle business.”
Bouvier signed an agreement with the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority in 2015 to purchase nearly nine acres of Helmerich Park on the southwest corner of 71st Street and Riverside Drive for commercial development.
The project created a buzz from the start because it was expected to include what would have been the state’s first REI store. It also drew immediate opposition from a small but determined group of Tulsans that was willing to go all the way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to stop it.
With the opposition in Tulsa, Recreational Equipment Inc. opened its first Oklahoma store in Oklahoma City in 2019.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court reversed a Tulsa County District Court ruling granting the city and TPFA summary judgment in the case. The justices sent the case back to district court to address two material facts that remained disputed and to ultimately render a decision on the case.
Mayor G.T. Bynum said last week that the court’s order was a deciding factor in the city’s decision not to move forward with the project.
“Our legal department reviewed that ruling and in particular the concerns that were raised within it and felt that those were fair concerns and did not feel that they were in a position to argue against them in district court,” Bynum said. “And therefore TPFA could not legally extend that agreement.”
Bouvier said he expected to hear from the city after the court order to plan how UCR and the city would respond, but he never did.
“I just wished the city would have reached out to us and got our advice,” Bouvier said. “There is a likelihood (there) would have been a different outcome.”
He said he later sent an email to TPFA asking the authority to extend the inspection period for the sale of the land — a formality that had been granted multiple times before — but got no definitive response from either TPFA or the city.
Bouvier said he suspected that the city decided not to continue pursuing the development because of the court order but that he was never told so by TPFA, Bynum or any member of his administration despite his having reached out to them multiple times for answers.
“It’s not required, but it would have been nice, and tactfully so, to tell me, to pick up the phone,” Bouvier said.
When it became clear that TPFA was not going to respond to his inquiries or extend the inspection period, Bouvier said, he had no choice but to terminate the contract.
“No one was responding on the other end. How else was I supposed to take that?” Bouvier said. “If you ask for something and there is no response, then no response is construed as a no. Certainly not a yes.”
The city on Monday provided an email it says was sent by TPFA board member Anna America to Bouvier. America is also the city’s parks director.
The email states in part that “since there has been some legal movement since the last go-around, we are referring all discussion of this to our legal team.”
“Through this email I am connecting you with Gerald Bender on our Legal staff who can let you know how to proceed,” America wrote.
TPFA was not required to take a public vote on Bouvier’s request for an extension of the inspection period, and neither the authority nor the city announced publicly an intent not to move forward with the project.
The Tulsa Public Facilities Authority is a public trust charged with the acquisition and construction of certain public facilities. Helmerich Park is among the properties for which the trust is responsible.
In response to questions from the Tulsa World, the TPFA board last week issued a statement through the city explaining its side of the story.
“On advice of attorneys, after the Supreme Court decision in the case, the TPFA took no action regarding the continuation of the litigation or the extension of the inspection period, and the inspection period in the Amended and Restated Purchase and Sale Contract expired by its terms at the end of September,” TPFA said. “Thereupon, the Buyer terminated the Amended and Restated Purchase and Sale Contract pursuant to its terms.”
Bynum said he would like to see Helmerich Park transferred to the Parks Department, though the city has no concrete plans on how the property will be used in the future.
The lawsuit challenging the development was brought by Craig Immel, Herb Beattie, Ray Pearcey and former Mayor Terry Young.
The plaintiffs argued in part that the city did not have the authority to sell the property for commercial use and that it had not followed proper procedures in doing so. They also contended that the city’s sale price for the property, $1.456 million, was substantially less than its actual market value.
Young said Monday that he was not surprised by the city’s decision, given the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“It seemed to me that it would have been pretty much a stretch for them to succeed with the project,” Young said.
Bouvier thinks differently. He believes the city could have prevailed in the lawsuit and that the project ultimately would have been a great success for the city.
“At the end of the day, it is a huge support for the trail system, and I don’t think that people realize what it would have done for the outdoor community in Tulsa,” Bouvier said.
The other structures included in the original development plans were a 12,000-square-foot retail/restaurant space, a restaurant with a 6,000-square-foot patio facing the Arkansas River and a 7,000-square-foot restaurant and retail space at the north end of the property.