City, county leaders call Margaritaville, 'A Gathering Place' the catalyst for water in the Arkansas

TULSA - Elected officials from Tulsa County and the City of Tulsa say the combined investments of two major riverfront developments could trigger support for dams in the Arkansas River to raise water levels.

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation broke ground Tuesday on its latest riverfront development, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. The total investment is an estimated $335 million.
As city and county leaders praised its positive long term economic impacts for the Tulsa area, Margaritaville's CEO said the gaming resort was missing one thing: water in the river.
"I would say, Mr. Mayor, that we bring the palm trees and the sand, so we are missing one ingredient, and that would be the water," said John Cohlan, CEO of Margaritaville.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation, city, county officials break ground on Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville

The other major development, A Gathering Place for Tulsa, is planned for a 55-acre plot of land where the Blair Mansion is located near 29th and Riverside Drive. The cost of that project is estimated to be $200 million.

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Tulsans like David Michaels, who rides his bike along the River Parks Trails, says he could support a measure to make higher water levels a fixture if it can benefit the city.

"As long as the business is there and people want to attend these places, and it's beneficial for Tulsa and jobs in Tulsa -- at least jobs that'll increase the marketability of Tulsa and bring other jobs to the area -- I'd support that completely," he said.

District 2 County Commissioner Karen Keith says that she expects public support for a dam system to raise water levels to grow once Tulsans see the potential in the two major developments.

"We've got these private, other groups willing to invest. So there's a side of it that says, you know, as a public, 'Yeah we care about this too. We can invest a little bit to do our part.'"

Last year, the public voted down Vision 2, which would have funneled $71 million into Zink Dam improvements and the creation of a new dam in south Tulsa to raise water levels.

Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett echoes Keith's belief that the key to a full Arkansas River has arrived. He says a public-private partnership can turn the river into an area where further development can continue. He also says a stand-alone vote could be the best way to getting this accomplished.

"We as a group will come to the public and say, 'Here's what we think needs to be done.' But we want to ask the public, what do they feel would be in the best interest, knowing darn full and well what is going to be built on the river," he said.

Former mayor and current mayoral candidate Kathy Taylor addressed the issue as well. She says that while Tulsa waits to find a solution for the water level in the river, Oklahoma City is using its resources to build a canal, a river and has connected the two as a transportation and entertainment venue.

"We need to build upon what's already been done and work together with all of the stakeholders from the city council, area cities, the tribes, environmental groups and the Army Corps of Engineers to create a specific action plan with a timeline for attainable goals before we determine how to fund the plan," she said in a statement.

Right now, neither the city nor the county could say whether a specific plan is being formed for a vote in a future election.

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