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GREENWOOD Dist.–Dozens of residents will enter the Greenwood Cultural Center at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday with a single question burning in their minds like a flame from the 1921 Tulsa Massacre: Why did PartnerTulsa end plans with a Black developer who’d already been granted the go-ahead to redevelop land on Greenwood?
“I’m investigating a potential theft,” Greenwood community leader and formal mayoral candidate Greg Robinson II told Greenwood’s KBOB radio station on Wednesday ahead of the evening meeting.
“Why wouldn’t you as a city entity support the developer that was community-driven? Why is that developer saying they feel like they had their hands tied behind their back,” Robinson said. “If somebody asks you for a half a million dollars on a million dollar project, and you don’t have control of the site, would you sign on to that?”
“We won that.”
While representatives of PartnerTulsa, an independent economic authority of the city, claimed Franchell Abdalla of Be Good Development failed to follow through on her end of the deal in their June 8 announcement, the move to end negotiations has sparked outrage in a community accustomed to facing the detrimental whims of white Tulsans.
“After a year of both internal and external evaluation, all of our qualifications being vetted, money being vetted, and community selection. We won that. The community made it loud and clear they were selecting our team,” Abdalla told The Black Wall Street Times.
Normally after being awarded a project, Abdalla says, it would follow with a letter of intent and an offer to purchase, necessary steps that would lead to a document referred to as a redevelopment agreement. Similar to closing on a house, the document gives the master developer site control, proving they have the authority to engage with capital partners.
Instead, Abdalla says she was asked to negotiate a draft of the redevelopment agreement before even being granted a letter of intent or offer to purchase, leading to potential partners withdrawing their support.
Reneging on deal sets back trust in Greenwood
Over 102 years after the city of Tulsa deputized a white mob to destroy the nation’s most prosperous Black community, looting and burning their way through more than 36 square blocks of property and human lives, the city of Tulsa and various private entities continue to own much of the land that belongs to Black descendants of survivors.
In an effort to rebuild trust and economic prosperity in the community, the city underwent a community-driven process to ensure a developer trusted by Greenwood residents would lead redevelopment efforts of one of the few remaining areas of open land in Tulsa.
Franchell Abdalla was awarded the opportunity on May 10, 2022 to become master developer for a potentially $250 million development on Greenwood’s long-neglected Evans-Fintube site, with the first phase totally $68 million.
The project would include a 64-key hotel with a social club, a locally-owned brewery, retail outlets on the ground floor, a makerspace and hybrid offices for artists and entrepreneurs, along with an art park and community greenspace.
So, when PartnerTulsa announced on June 8 that it was ending plans with Abdalla after a year of delays, it represented yet another shock into the collective system of Greenwood residents in a city with a long history of stealing from Black people.
The distrust between Greenwood residents and city entities burst into public view when Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell made a comment in February 2022 about the possibility of turning the Greenwood site into a sports stadium.
“There will be some future announcements,” Pinnell assured. “We have an amazing soccer club that wants to be in downtown Tulsa.”
Yet PartnerTulsa had promised to ensure the process for redeveloping the area would be community-driven, leading many to wonder what kind of private discussions were being held without public input.
Why did negotiations with Black developer abruptly end?
While PartnerTulsa claims that key capital partners withdrew, causing concern for the viability of the project, Abdalla argues PartnerTulsa refused to provide her site control, a crucial factor in securing buy-in for any construction project.
“I want, as the master developer, the right to follow the standard process. I need either an offer to purchase or a redevelopment agreement that establishes site control so I can secure capital partners and equity contributions,” Abdalla told The Black Wall Street Times on Wednesday.
Yet Partner Tulsa claims it is standard for projects to not have a redevelopment agreement for months after being awarded.
“PartnerTulsa staff conducted a review of the past seven major Redevelopment Agreements which have been negotiated and found that from delivery of a term sheet to signing of the contract, the average timeline is 13.5 months from initiation to completion, PartnerTulsa executive director Kian Kamas told The Black Wall Street Times on Wednesday.
At the center of the dispute is the Request for Proposal (RFP), a document that stipulated the requirements for moving forward. The master developer must be able to show a lead or co-lead development partner has successfully completed at least two projects of greater than $40M in value.
Additionally, the RFP required that respondents must have secured at least 60% of their capital stack for their proposed Phase I, or commitments of at least $18M.
Dispute over co-development partners
Abdalla claims she proved she met the requirements a year ago. Yet after being awarded, Abdalla says PartnerTulsa introduced new requirements that weren’t previously discussed, including a need for predevelopment financing.
In February, the Tulsa World reported that two key partners had pulled out of the project, Grayson Capital’s Michael Collins and J.E. Dunn Capital.
PartnerTulsa says that decision became a major factor in their reneging on negotiations.
“During the interview and selection process, and throughout negotiation processes from May to December 2022, J.E. Dunn Capital Partners and Grayson Capital were considered co-development partners to Be Good Development Partners. Their presence on the team was critical to Team Alchemy meeting the minimum requirements of the RFP related to experience, qualifications, and financial capability,” Kamas said.
Meanwhile, Abdalla rejected that claim, arguing they were never meant to come into that phase of the project.
“They’re not co-development partners. They’re build partners. Once construction was at the point of being financed they would come back into the deal,” Abdalla said.
Potential partner sites “political risk” for Black developer in Tulsa
Ultimately, Abdalla is accusing PartnerTulsa of establishing new sets of criteria for her to follow in an effort to drag out the process until it failed.
In a previous interview with The Black Wall Street Times following a May 25 presentation in front of the Tulsa Authority for Economic Opportunity (TAEO) Board, Abdalla shared emails from potential partners who backed away from joining the project due to “political risk.”
“As we’ve completed our initial analysis, we’ve concluded this project is far more speculative than we typically pursue. Given our robust pipeline and existing commitments, we are going to pass at this time,” Joseph Weatherly of McCormack Baron said in an email to Abdalla on May 19. Among other things, Weatherly sited “political risk on approvals and support” as a major factor for backing away from the project.
Meanwhile, Abdalla and supporters of her plan to bring prosperity and opportunity to Black Tulsans in Greenwood say that since the city owns the land, city leaders have an opportunity to bypass Partner Tulsa, step in and take over negotiations.
“We don’t actually need PartnerTulsa because they’ve complicated this process. The city of Tulsa and the mayor could give site control,” Abdalla said, suggesting city mayor G.T. Bynum could pass a resolution through Tulsa City Council giving her a lease or an opportunity to purchase the land to begin construction.
“Either way a lease will allow me to go to a bank, secure financing and talk to equity and capital partners to secure relationships,” she said.
Interest convergence: If it ain’t white it ain’t right?
Dr. View, a scholar, hip-hop historian and community leader, joined Robinson on Wednesday’s KBOB radio show. He spoke about a term coined by Derrick Bell called “interest convergence.” Essentially, it asserts that Black people only achieve success when it’s in the interest of white people. The producer of Fire in Little Africa, an Oklahoma collective of artists who produced an album commemorating the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, detailed how philanthropic and industry support for the project dried up once artists announced plans to make a music video about reparations.
“Same thing is happening right now. They knew they wanted this land. They knew they had to have a Black face to do that. But they had in their mind all the time what they wanted to do,” Dr. View said.
For their part, PartnerTulsa says its committed to building up marginalized communities.
“PartnerTulsa’s mission is focused on creating economic opportunity and resolving racial disparities. We commit ourselves each and every day to taking steps necessary to resolve disparities and advance opportunity for all Tulsans,” Kamas said. “Our staff represents the diversity of this city and is currently 44% Black, 6% Latinx, and 50% White, and led by a woman. Our results paint a clear picture of our commitment to opportunity and speak for themselves.”
As tensions remain high and trust at an all-time low, local leaders are urging residents to attend Wednesday’s meeting at the Greenwood Cultural Center, where PartnerTulsa representatives will gain feedback from the community.
“We may not be able to change the white supremacist structure, but we can convict them. We need to pull up,” Dr. View said.