Tuesday, January 12, 2010


BOK Center

Tulsa might be the 45-largest city in the U.S. but, according to the latest reports from Tulsa Business Journal, our newest, largest event spot, the BOK Center, ranked eighth among top U.S. venues for ticket sales in 2009, and twentieth worldwide. In the world of event centers and arenas (yet another one of those places where size really does matter), that puts us in league with cities like New York, Dallas, Atlanta and Philadelphia. Ahead of Phillie, actually.

Precisely 729,814 fans showed up at BOK Center during its inaugural year, starting with the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Aug. 30, 2008.

BOK Center

No parking downtown, huh, guys? Heh. Just kidding. Please don't send hate mail. I'll tell my grandmother on you and she'll come paddle your bottom.

In its first year, 184 shows rolled through Tulsa's new arena. Here are just a few of them:

  • Super Flush. Remember when 150 of Tulsa's kids flushed all the toilets in the BOK Center simultaneously? A commemorative "I flushed it first" t-shirt was given to each child who did the honors.
  • The Eagles. Nearly 14,000 tickets (read: all of them) were sold to this show, which heralded opening night at the BOK Center, in less than 35 minutes. One word: Woah. Good thing the band came back in November for a kick-ass encore.
  • Tulsa Oilers Opening Night. Between the figure skating show, games, practices and other times the ice rink was used, a grand total of 68,000 gallons of water were used during this first Tulsa Oilers season in the BOK Center. Again with the toilets: I wonder, how many BOK Center commodes could one flush using that amount of water?
  • New Kids on the Block. They make the list because I was a child of the '80s. Don't ask too many questions or I'll lace up my high tops and come at you with a dozen slap bracelets.
  • Billy Joel and Elton John. Because, OMG, Billy Joel and Elton John.
  • Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. Thanks, BOK Center, for bringing The Bruce back to Oklahoma for the first time in 30 years.
  • Jonas Brothers. I swear I could hear the screams of thousands of Tulsa tweens from my house. Ten miles away.
  • Journey. I'm sure everyone brushed up on their karaoke repertoire while this band was in town.
  • Paul McCartney. This former Beatle helped Tulsa celebrate the one-year anniversary of the BOK Center last August, grossing $2.6 million for the facility. Thank you, Sir Paul.

Wait! I have more BOK Center facts to boggle your mind. Each sold-out performance at the arena goes through:

  • 2,000 hotdogs; a total of 21,478 were sold during BOK Center's first year.
  • 16,000 napkins
  • 150 kegs of beer; more than 209,000 draft beers were sold during the BOK's first year (beating soda by nearly 32,000 cups - take that, soda)
  • 2,000 margaritas (in true Oklahoma style, of course)
  • 1,000 gallons of soda - or, as we here in Tulsa like to say, pop. Or, Coke. Call it soda and you sell 32,000 fewer cups of it than draft beer.

The folks at BOK Center don't take being named to the top 10 event venues in the country as a permission slip to kick back and relax. Instead, they're bringing the likes of Eric Clapton, Bon Jovi and, who else, Elmo (The Jonas Brothers times 10 for my son and his posse of bad-ass toddlers) to the arena over the next couple of months. Plus, there's Skate Date, one of my very favorite BOK Center events from last year and on the calendar for Valentine's Day 2010.

Skate Date 2009

Word of advice: Don't dawdle en route to Skate Date. The key word here is punctuality. Why? It gets crowded.

Skate Date 2009

Skate Date 2009

Skate Date 2009

Just a little.

Skate Date 2009

While concerts are expensive these days (and that goes for everywhere, folks, not just for Tulsa with its big, new, fancy, tax payer-funded arena), I think the folks at BOK have done a good job of bringing a variety of acts through its doors (and to its front porch - remember the free concerts at ONEOK Plaza before spring, summer and fall events?) so that everyone, not just those who can afford a $100 ticket, can participate in the party at Second and Denver.

In Its Shadow

You've been to an event at the BOK Center, right? I bet you've been to even more than one. Which was your favorite? Which did you think were totally lame? If you were in the shoes of John Bolton, the main man at BOK Center, who would you be calling with an invitation to Tulsa?

BOK Center facts and stats from 365 book(ed), a publication/collaboration of BOK Center, Cubic Creative and scads of other imaginative, creative T-Towners.


Anonymous said...

I haven't been to the arena yet. Still hard to support such a ridiculous use of taxpayer money, despite it's success. It could have been privately funded. Will the taxpayers get paid back? No.

Anonymous said...

I went to one event and I doubt I'll go back. I was not overly impressed with the building, food, traffic flow... Everyone brags about how good it is, but I just don't see it. The place isn't a dump, but let's be real. I've been to similar venues in almost a dozen states, so yes, I have something to compare it too. In a few short years, when the building is not shiny and new, how will it rate? Most shows will book there at least once, but how many years before they come back? And how long before the taxpayers are asked to fund a parking garage or building renovations? Some argue that it was an investment in Tulsa, well if this investment is turning a profit, how about paying the investors, aka the taxpayers, back? Maybe even send some of those profits over to the Police and Fire Departments?

Tasha said...

Anonymous No. 2, I have to agree with you for the most part when it comes to the building and traffic flow. Blogger Michael Bates used to talk about an arena that would better complement the architectural heritage of downtown Tulsa that would also feature retail, restaurants and other features to human scale on the street-facing parts of the structure. I liked those ideas. Neither of those aspects are satisfied by the current solution, but with the number of people I hear from who are asked by their out-of-town guests to take them to see the BOK Center, the building itself, I have to be consoled somewhat. Plus, it's shiny. I can dig shiny. And it's certainly interesting to behold.

I've been on both sides of whether or not citizens should be taxed to fund entertainment venues. I see both sides. I think I come out somewhere in the middle. I don't think the free market would have seen a group of private investors step forward and start building the BOK Center. A lot of folks think that if the free market wouldn't support a project, then it shouldn't go forward. But I think projects like the BOK Center give some evidence to the notion that government policy can create an environment conducive to economic development, and I think that's where we are with our tax payer-funded arena. This thing created a $53.7 million economic impact in its first year in a part of town that is so rich with history and so very Tulsa, but couldn't attract private investment because it doesn't fit that strip mall, homogenized, suburban model so popular south and far north of town.

The BOK Center payed $1 million into government coffers during the first quarter of this fiscal year - compare that to $2.8 million over the course of its entire first fiscal year (per a Tulsa World report). So, that's good news. Whether or not that money is being used to fund public safety, I don't know - not exactly my area of expertise. Ed? Michael? If either of you (or someone who knows how the city budget is allocated) know the answer to this, feel free to chime in.

I kind of like the idea of taxpayers being paid back if a public investment turns a profit. What would be the cons of that scenario? Where there's a pro, there's a con.

Anonymous said...

I shared some of my favorite memories with my daughter in 2009 at the BOK center. I plan on many more!

Ed said...

The sales tax money goes into the general fund, which funds public safety and other operating expenses.

My 2 cents - arenas and other entertainment facilities are perfectly acceptable uses of public money IF the public approves the project. It's the citizens' money. If they want it invested in an entertainment facility, so be it.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #2 here. I'm not a fan of the strip mall homogenized look, either. Tulsa's rich history is something to build on, it's what makes parts of the city unique. It pains me to see our citizens and local government try so hard to make us in the image of other cities. We should be proud of what we have and not envious of others. This is Tulsa, we should have our own look and culture.

To answer your question about a con. The money would not be spent wisely by our leaders.

And finally, back on topic. More events that could be used to bring focus on Tulsa and Oklahoma. Not just held at the BOK Center, but if there was a way to incorporate more of downtown... Let's show off more of the city than just its shiny parts.

Territory Mom said...

I will probably go there someday. I'm don't really go to concerts, but I think the ice skating would be fun. I don't live in Tulsa so I can't comment about traffic or taxes, but I do think it is pretty.
As the wife of an ironworker who worked on it I appreciate the fact that it kept him employed during some lean months. Also, he enjoyed working on such an interesting piece of architecture. To me it looks like a museum. Tulsans and Oklahomans can be proud of it.

Anonymous said...

I think the BOK Center is great! I manage a restaurant nearby and I must say it has brought us a ton of business! People forget about all the greatness that downtown has to offer.
I work most event nights so unfortunately I haven't had the joy of attending any of the big deal concerts, but we did share two wonderful Sunday afternoons with my stepdaughter. I'm from a larger city and wasn't expecting much, but I must say I was impressed.
I think it is great for Tulsa and hope that it continues to bring people downtown. (Once baseball season starts, hopefully the Driller's will add to it!) It kind of follows your recent blog about Tulsans moving South. People don't know or are forgetting what they are missing!

SheezKrafty said...

I remember when they did the great flush and they interviewed some of the kids on the news. When asked if he was nervous, one child replied something to the effect of, "No, I know how to flush a toilet!" Made me chuckle for a long time :)

I've only been there twice and neither of those times was for anything massive although I must say, I was impressed with the building! Go Tulsa!

Michael said...

To say that the BOK center isn't architecturally relevant doesn't hold water for me. It's 2010, the building is designed in a contemporary architectural style by a world renowned architect. What should we have done, built an Art Deco building? Art Deco is a historical style. When it was popular in the 1930s, it was as modern, as contemporary, as things got. So why shouldn't Tulsa ALWAYS be thinking progressively? Building forward-thinking architecture IS "complimenting Tulsa's architectural heritage".

There are also planned shopping / eating / living / lodging developments near the BOK, funded by private investors (as these things should be). You build the arena and you reap the benefits (sales taxes) of the development that comes along with that.

ambientchatter said...

I will laugh out loud if, when in 2010, Art Deco is all the rage.

Stephen said...

Regardless of whether you like the aesthetics of the building, there's no denying we have had many great events at the BOK Center that would not have taken place if the venue was not built. The real story about the BOK Center is not the building itself, but what takes place inside and what it is doing for our city.

The venue is an investment in our city's quality-of-life. When viewed from this perspective, return on this investment cannot solely be measured in dollars. Rather, return on this investment also includes the happiness and lasting memories created by the events held there, the number of young people who decide to stay in Tulsa and start their careers and families instead of moving away to a more exciting city, and the success of businesses and restaurants downtown who can employ more people and provide even more memorable experiences as downtown activity increases, all providing a better overall quality-of-life for those who call Tulsa home.

The BOK Center is just one investment in our city. We definitely still need to invest in other aspects of our city. But to say that the taxpayers will not get paid back by the BOK Center is false. We are already getting paid back and will continue to see return on this investment for many years to come.

Tasha said...

Michael, though I don't think anyone said the BOK is architecturally irrelevant - if it's anything, it's certainly not that - you make some really good points, especially what you said about how the BOK reflects Tulsans' penchant for riding the edge of built design innovation. Thanks for chiming in.

SheezKrafty: "I know how to flush a toilet." As in, duh! Classic!

Thanks for commenting, Stephen. There's no doubt about it, the BOK Center has indeed changed the quality of life in this city for the better. What it has added to the feel of downtown is just as good. Whether everyone in this town feels that's a sufficient return on investment, especially those who can't spare groceries or clothes for the kids to attend some of the higher-end concerts at the BOK, is something else. There are residual benefits to having something like the BOK Center in the heart of our city, though. Those are tough to quantify. I think they're tough to get on the balance sheet in the mind of the public because of that.

I'm still intrigued by this concept of being paid back monetarily for public investments that turn a profit. I have to think some society somewhere in the world, somewhere in history has tried this. Sorry. The thought of getting an ROI check in the mail from my government, as if I were some kind of shark investor, makes me grin.

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