|Updated: 12/06/2012 5:26 pm
||Published: 12/06/2012 11:31 am
The Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority unanimously approved an agreement with the Muscogee Creek Nation, granting the tribe naming rights.
As part of the agreement the Expo Center on the Fairgrounds will now be called the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Center and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation has first rights to propose new plans for the former Driller Stadium.
As part of the agreement horse racing at Fair Meadows, a track on the fairgrounds, will end, causing quite a bit of controversy.
At a public meeting of the authority on Thursday morning, many who oppose the agreement, including various members of Oklahoma's horse breeding and horse racing communities one by one demanded the authority offer proof that Fair Meadows was losing money.
"We would like for you to explain where the losing was, because it didn't lose financially, it didn't lose economically, it created jobs, it created commerce in your community," one woman said.
"I just don't see how you can meet your fiduciary responsibilities if you don't have an economic impact study done by an outside agency," another man said.
But in the end the authority disregarded the comments and concerns to unanimously vote against Fair Meadows and the horse industry, and in favor of an agreement with the Creek Nation worth more than $1.4 million a year through 2019.
"We no longer are going to see that continual increase in costs associated with live racing," John Smaligo, Tulsa County Commissioner and member of the Public Facilities Authority, said. "And so our overall revenues are going to remain the same instead of dropping off as they have over the previous several years."
But it's not just horse folks affected by the decision.
Since day one of horse racing at Fair Meadows Alan Stroup's company, MediaLink, Inc., has provided all the video services for the track.
"I'm probably the only person that's seen every single race that's ever run at Fair Meadows," Stroup said.
Stroup admits attendance isn't what it used to be.
In the '90s the stands were filled with thousands of people every night. But according to authority members, last season those crowds had dwindled to an average of about 200 people per night. The races run at Fair Meadows Thursday through Sunday nights for seven weeks each summer. That low attendance for the summer of 2012 was no different than the past few years.
But shutting down the track means Stroup will be out of business.
"All things considered, we've just decided to liquidate," he said. "It doesn't make financial sense to continue."
Stroup says the damage from the closure reaches far beyond just the horse industry to other vendors like himself, and to all the hotels and restaurants in town that make money when the horse industry folks are around for the races in the summer.
"You're replacing an event that brings a lot of people to town with a check [from the Creek Nation]," Stroup said.
Stroup called the shift a sideways move that hurts some Tulsans and doesn't really benefit anyone but the tribe.
But Smaligo said revenue will eventually go up with the agreement with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
"The opportunity that we have to redevelop that land will provide for economic development opportunities for the Tulsa region," he said.
At this point Smaligo says he has no idea how the Fair Meadows site might be redeveloped or when.
As for the future of the old Drillers Stadium and its role in the agreement, Smaligo said the tribe will have two years to come up with a plan to redevelop the site. Whatever the tribe comes up with will be subject to approval by the authority.
A new casino is not an option for either the Drillers Stadium site or the Fair Meadows site.
The other controversy over the agreement stems from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation announcing it will no longer pay its share into a $2 million purse for races at Fair Meadows, arguing it's unnecessary since there won't be racing there anymore.
Those payments were part of the tribe's compact with the State of Oklahoma when Indian gaming was approved, but it's unclear what the legal implications of the tribe's decision not to pay could be. The Cherokee and Osage Nations also pay into the racing prize purse.