Former Tulsa Skyride operator willing to operate again; auction still planned for October

TULSA, Okla. — The former operator of Expo Square’s Skyride tells FOX23 he would be willing to operate it again if it receives financial support through historic protection grants. Meanwhile, despite a possibility for historic status, Expo Square officials still plan to put the ride up for auction in mid-October.

FOX23 broke the news earlier this month when the Oklahoma Historic Preservation Office issued an opinion recommending the Skyride be considered for placement on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

Officials with the office told FOX23 that opinion could immediately make the ride eligible for certain funding grants. They said if it were to receive national status, it could qualify for even more grants, potentially giving Expo Square the ability to operate the ride at little or no cost to them or Tulsa County.

In their initial press release in response to FOX23′s questions in May, Expo Square officials cited a “lack of revenue” as their reason for planning to demolish the ride. They also said they had “exhausted all options to safely operate the ride.”

At that time, Expo Square announced they would add the ride to the county’s surplus auction and would “pursue demo preparations” to remove the ride.

With the application process to gain NRHP status now underway, FOX23 reached out to Expo Square’s COO Amanda Blair, who spoke to us in July, hoping for another interview in response to the news.

In an email response, Blair told FOX23:

“We were not aware of the historical office submission and do not have any additional information at this time for an interview. Our focus is on the upcoming Fair and we have provided the current plan with respect to the Sky Ride. Once the Fair is over we will notify the public of the additional details for the public auction in mid-October.”

That didn’t sit right with the people behind the push to save the ride.

“It’s very confusing,” said Scotty Martin with the group behind the push to get historic protection for the ride.

Martin told FOX23 he and his group want to know why—given the news of possible funding opportunities through grants—Expo Square would still plan to move ahead with the auction next month.

“I don’t see why the fairgrounds feels it is so important and time sensitive to get it onto the surplus at this time,” Martin said.

The process of officially gaining national historic status could likely take months, even up to a year.

“It feels like this could be an ‘oops, now we have to sell it to the highest bidder, it’s already committed,’” he said.

Martin told FOX23 he wants to know more about Expo Square’s initial claim that it had “exhausted all options to safely operate the ride.”

“We have been very confused as to their second talking point of ‘we can’t find an operator,’” Martin said. “We have not found any who have been reached out to.”

That includes Don McClure. His company, DMC-Tulsa, operated the ride from 2015 to 2019.

McClure, who spoke to FOX23 virtually from the similar Skyride he operates at the Minnesota State Fair, says he pulled out of his agreement to operate it in 2019 after he failed to make enough money for a profit.

“It’s a challenging fair,” McClure said. “But there are solutions to the challenges.”

He says he made it clear to Expo Square at that he would be willing to return if a better deal could be worked out. He sees that better deal in the form of potential historic grants.

“We have a good relationship with the staff at Expo Square,” McClure told Fox23 when asked if he’d be willing to operate the Tulsa ride again. “If they’re willing, we’re willing.”

After initially declining to answer FOX23′s questions until after next month’s fair, Blair provided some additional answers to questions over email.

FOX23 asked Blair:

“If it’s true that high operating costs are one of the main reasons Expo is looking to get rid of the ride, why wouldn’t Expo, in light of the opinion from the state historic protection office, delay the auction plans at this point until the historic status process plays out, knowing that the historic status could provide grants to operate the ride at reduced or no cost?”

In response, Blair wrote:

“At this time TCPFA has intent to put the Sky Ride on public auction; by doing this, many options will be proposed and/or considered, including but not limited to selling to an outside qualified operator, requesting proposals. This action will provide a baseline of interest and does not indicate any definitive action, it is simply gauging the interest for evaluation.

FOX23 asked Blair if Expo Square would be willing to work with McClure to operate it again. She said he would be welcome to bid on the ride as part of the upcoming surplus auction.