Downtown Revitalization: Tulsa

November 28, 2012 4 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a trip to Tornado Alley to visit the downtown of Oklahoma's second largest city: Tulsa.

About Tulsa

Tulsa and Jacksonville share a common trait as early 20th century boom cities. Jacksonville rapidly grew into a southern metropolis with its population rising to 129,549 between the Great Fire of 1901 and 1930.  Across the country, Tulsa came to life after the area's first oil well was established in 1901. Known as the "Oil Capital of the World," Tulsa's population swelled to 141,258 between 1901 and 1930. The city's success in the energy industry promoted construction booms in the Art Deco style during the 1920s and 1930s.

Tale of the Tape:

Tulsa City Population 2011: 396,466 (City); 946,962 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1898)

Jacksonville Pop. 2011: 827,908 (City); 1,360,251 (Metro-2011) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Tulsa (182,740)

City Land Area

Tulsa: 192.7 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2010-2011)

Tulsa: +1.01%
Jacksonville: +1.09%

Urban Area Population (2010 census)

Tulsa: 655,479 (ranked 62 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 1,065,219 (ranked 40 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2010 census)
Tulsa: 1,951.3 people per square mile
Jacksonville: 2,008.5 people per square mile

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2011

Tulsa: +3,417
Jacksonville: +92,405

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Tulsa: Tulsa Convention Center (1964) - 102,600 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1985) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to or across the street from Convention Center:

Tulsa: Downtown Doubletree - 370 rooms
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Tulsa: BOK Tower - 667 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies 2012 (City limits only):

Tulsa: Oneok (175), Williams (325)
Jacksonville: CSX (226), Winn-Dixie Stores (363), Fidelity National Information Services (425), Fidelity National Financial (472)

Urban infill obstacles:

Tulsa: Downtown Tulsa is isolated from the surrounding city by four expressways circling the core.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

Tulsa: Brady Arts District
Jacksonville: East Bay Street

Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Tulsa: 74 out of 100, according to
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to

Downtown Tulsa Sights and Scenes

Tulsa includes many structures built during the Oil Boom in the 1920s and 1930s, including Art Deco buildings such as the Mid-Continent Tower, Boston Avenue Methodist Church, and the Exchange Bank Building (today known as the 320 South Boston Building). Oilman Waite Phillips, left a significant architectural impact on downtown Tulsa through the Philtower and Philcade buildings. Other notable Tulsa buildings include the Atlas Life Building, Holy Family Cathedral, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, and the Mayo Hotel, the former of which once served as home to J. Paul Getty. Known for a time as "Terra Cotta City", Tulsa hosted the International Sixth Congress on Art Deco in 2001.

Downtown Tulsa is in the northwest quadrant of the city and is ringed by an expressway system called the inner dispersal loop. Downtown's buildings include many large office towers. At 667 ft, the BOK Tower (formerly One Williams Center) was the tallest building in any of the 5 "plains states" (Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota) until the Devon Tower in Oklahoma City was completed. The BOK Tower was designed in 1975 by Minoru Yamasaki & Associates, the same architect who designed the World Trade Center in New York.

The Tulsa Performing Arts Center occupies a half city block in Tulsa's historical downtown. The PAC is also the design of Minoru Yamasaki. It houses five theatres and a reception hall. More than a quarter of a million people visit the Center each year to attend a performance from one of Tulsa's seven acclaimed musical and dramatic companies including the Tulsa Ballet, Tulsa Symphony Orchestra, Tulsa Opera, and a variety of symphonic groups. The PAC hosts a multitude of cultural events through the fall, winter and spring.

In 2005 the City of Tulsa broke ground on a 19,199 seat regional events center designed by architect CÚsar Pelli. The arena was named the BOK Center (or Bank of Oklahoma Center) and opened on August 30, 2008.

The Tulsa Performing Arts Center.

Hyatt Regency Tulsa

Oil Capital Historic District

The Oil Capital Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. It is bounded by Third Street on the north, Seventh Street on the South, Cincinnati Avenue on the east and Cheyenne Avenue on the west. This area contains many of the historic Downtown office buildings constructed during the 1920s and 1930s.

First Place Tower (originally the First National BanCorporation Tower) was completed in 1973 and has 40 stories. At 516 feet in height, it is the third tallest building in Tulsa behind BOK Tower and Cityplex Towers, and the fourth tallest in Oklahoma.

BOK Tower
The 52-story BOK Tower, formerly One Williams Center, is the tallest skyscraper in Tulsa. It was built in 1975 and designed by Minoru Yamasaki & Associates, the same architect who designed the World Trade Center in New York. This structure is very similar to the WTC towers in appearance and construction.

The 36' floor, 513' tall Mid-Continent Tower is the fourth-tallest building in Tulsa and in Oklahoma. Faced with bright white terra cotta and crowned with a distinctive copper roof, it is one of the city's most recognizable buildings.  It started out as the 16-story Cosden Building, which was built for oil baron Joshua Cosden in 1918.  In 1980, the building was restored and a new 20-story tower was cantilevered over it, bringing the floor count to 36.

The 22-story, 320 South Boston Building was originally constructed as a ten-story headquarters building for the Exchange National Bank of Tulsa in 1917 and expanded to its present dimensions in 1929. Like the Empire State Building, the pinnacle of 320 South Boston was designed as a Zeppelin mooring. This was used at least once when a U.S. Navy Zeppelin moored there in the 1930s. The top of the building was illuminated for weather alerts, with flashing red lights in the event of an approaching storm.

Completed in 1925, the Mayo Hotel is a historic hotel that has hosted many of Tulsa's most notable 20th century visitors, including President John F. Kennedy, Bob Hope, Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, and Charlie Chaplin.  After being abandoned for over 20 years, the Chicago School (Sullivanesque) structure was renovated in 2008 into a mixed use residential/hotel tower.  There are 70 loft apartments on the upper seven floors, while the lower floors were converted back into a hotel. The restored Mayo Hotel privately opened early for their first guest, Britney Spears who booked 80 rooms for her tour stop in Tulsa on September 15th, 2009.

The 215' tall Thompson Building was completed in 1923 as a 10-story structure. Five additional floors were added in 1929, bringing it to its current height.

Civic Center

Denver Avenue Station is Tulsa Transit's main bus station. Tulsa Transit operates regular fixed service Monday through Saturday from early mornings to early evenings. After daytime service ceases at about 6:30pm, the service operates nighttime service on its "Nightlines" until midnight. Bus frequencies are generally about every 45 minutes during peak times and every 90 minutes during middays and on Saturday. No Sunday service is provided; this gives Tulsa a distinction of being one of the largest American cities not providing public transit seven days a week.

The 18-story One Place Tower will house Cimarex Energy when it is completed in early 2013.

The BOK Center, or Bank of Oklahoma Center, is a 19,199-seat multi-purpose arena designed to accommodate arena football, hockey, basketball, concerts, and similar events. The facility was built at a cost of $178 million in public funds and an additional $18 million in privately-funded upgrades. Designed by CÚsar Pelli, the architect of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, the BOK Center is the flagship project of Tulsa County's Vision 2025 long-range development initiative. The arena is managed and operated by SMG and named for the Bank of Oklahoma, which purchased naming rights for $11 million. Current permanent tenants are the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League and the Tulsa Shock of the Women's National Basketball Association.

With a 102,600-square-foot exhibit hall, 23 meeting rooms, an 8,900-seat arena and an executive conference room, the Tulsa Convention Center contains a total of 227,000 square feet of meeting space all under one roof.

The YMCA Building was vacated in January 2010, after the YMCA relocated to the Mayo Building at 5th and Main Streets.  Current plans call for the YMCA Building to be renovated into residential uses.

Greenwood District

The John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park

In the early 20th century, Tulsa was home to the "Black Wall Street", one of the most prosperous African American communities in the United States at the time. Located in the Greenwood neighborhood, it was the site of the Tulsa Race Riot, one of the nation's worst acts of racial violence and civil disorder. Sixteen hours of rioting on May 31 and June 1, 1921, was only ended when National Guardsmen were brought in by the Governor. An official report later claimed that 23 black and 16 white citizens were killed, but other estimates suggest as many as 300, mostly black people, died. Over 800 people were admitted to local hospitals with injuries, and an estimated 10,000 people were left homeless as 35 city blocks composed of 1,256 residences were destroyed by fire. Property damage was estimated at $1.8 million. Efforts to obtain reparations for survivors of the violence have been unsuccessful.[//quote],_Oklahoma


Brady District

The Brady Arts District is located north across the Sante Fe Railroad tracks from the central business district and centered at Main Street & Brady Avenue. The Brady District is one of Tulsa's oldest areas, characterized by two-story brick warehouses.

The Brady Theater, built between 1912 and 1914, was originally designed to serve as the city's municipal auditorium and was simply called "Convention Hall" for the first forty years of its life and was one of three internment camps where African Americans were detained after the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. In 1952, major additions were added and the building was renamed Tulsa Municipal Theater. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Supplanted as the city auditorium in 1979 by construction of the Performing Arts Center in downtown, "the Old Lady on Brady" continues to be used today for a wide variety of concerts and theatrical productions.

North of the Brady on Main Street is the Cain's Ballroom, formerly the garage of the Brady family[9] and the home of Bob Wills and his band, the Texas Playboys. The district is also the location of many local artists' galleries, restaurants with late night hours, bars and dance clubs. It is also an emerging gay neighborhood, with several gay or gay-friendly bars and numerous supportive shops and restaurants.

Today, The Brady Arts District is one of the most diverse areas in all of Tulsa. It hosts restaurants, clubs, museums, and businesses and is a prime example of urban living. There is presently construction which will more than double the number of permanent residents in this artistic conclave. On its present path, the area will continue to develop as a hub of the community welcoming all people as it acknowledges its past while looking to a vibrant and inclusive future.,_Oklahoma#Brady_Arts_District

Now complete, Guthrie Green is an urban garden and performance space in The Brady Arts District. Accommodating visitors looking for a peaceful escape or family activities, the park features a stage, The Dock pavilion, tree-lined paths, shade structures, water features and a large lawn.

Like Jacksonville, Tulsa is an interesting community with some major positives and negatives.  Despite being a smaller community, it has a larger convention center and has preserved more of its historic downtown building fabric.  On the other hand, it carries the dubious distinction of being one of the largest American cities not providing public transit seven days a week.

Images by Russell Conner