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GREENWOOD Dist.–PartnerTulsa employees had a tall task ahead of them on Wednesday: explaining to a room of frustrated Black residents why it ended negotiations on what would’ve become the largest construction project going to a Black developer in perhaps the history of Tulsa.
Since the announcement on June 8, PartnerTulsa, one of the city’s economic development agencies, tried to make it clear that while they were supportive of Team Alchemy’s plans to turn the long-neglected Evans-Fintube industrial site into a thriving $250+ million mixed-use destination for North Tulsans, the master developer, Franchell Abdalla of Be Good Development, failed to meet the material requirements to move forward.
That hasn’t simmered the frustration many residents feel about the decision in a city with a long history of depriving Black residents of economic opportunity and leadership.
“We want to make sure you get information that is necessary,” PartnerTulsa Senior Vice President for Community Development Jonathan Butler told the nearly 100 people in attendance.
Offering a presentation and question and answer format, PartnerTulsa executive director Kian Kamas said Franchell Abdalla failed to meet the requirements of the initial request for proposal (RFP) after co-development partners “withdrew” from the project in February.
While Franchell wasn’t in attendance to offer her perspective, frustrated residents who supported her weren’t shy about expressing their distrust.
“Will the site now go to a sports complex,” and “Will the project still go to a Black developer or the good ole’ boys,” were a few of the many questions residents asked on note cards passed around at the event.
PartnerTulsa left the door open for the potential for Franchell or other Black developers to come back into the project if and when a new request for proposals is made, but no timeline was given.
Franchell Abdalla “fails to meet requirements”; PartnerTulsa fails to simmer tensions
While PartnerTulsa provided data and a detailed timeline showing their reasoning for cutting negotiations with Abdalla, their approach to Wednesday’s meeting irked attendees from the start.
Beginning at roughly 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Greenwood Cultural Center, Butler began by illustrating how being a Black man with experience in racial equity work makes him keenly aware of how the community feels about the decision. Yet many residents who were eager to get answers groaned and voiced complaints at his introduction.
PartnerTulsa’s decision to force residents to submit questions via note cards or online instead of simply raising their hands was meant to facilitate a more efficient discussion, they said, but it didn’t help to ease distrust amid a community that has been used and discarded for nearly a century.
Ultimately, Kamas explained, the decision by J.E. Dunn Capital and Greyson Capital to “withdraw” from the projection in February dealt a death blow to their faith in the viability of the project.
“That was really the crux of us taking a pause and going back to our decision-making framework,” Kamas explained.
Oklahoma law hinders Black developers
PartnerTulsa says Abdalla’s Be Good Development failed to demonstrate experience developing projects of $40 million or more in value and that they failed to show a detailed plan of equity and debt sourcing.
While Franchell Abdalla disputed those facts in a previous interview with The Black Wall Street Times, it wasn’t clear that PartnerTulsa understood the context behind the anger from Black residents.
Oklahoma voters banned affirmative action in 2012, including for Black contractors. It limited both the number of Black contractors operating in the state and limited the ability for Black contractors to gain experience with large projects.
“I’ve run into instances in work when dealing with a city, and we’re asking questions about consultants or contractors, and a lot of times they [can’t give the] answer because of the anti-affirmative action ban,” Tulsa consultant Charity Marcus told Fast Company in an article published on Wednesday.
After three community meetings with feedback from nearly 600 residents over the last year, Kamas said PartnerTulsa plans to listen to the community’s concerns as they move forward in seeking development of the site.
Can a compromise be achieved?
Towards the end of the brief one-hour meeting, communication between PartnerTulsa employees and residents broke down into shouting after it was made clear that the decision was final.
Meanwhile, Black Tech Street founder and Greenwood community leader Tyrance Billingsley II tried to offer a compromise when he stood up and asked if there was any way for PartnerTulsa and Be Good Development to come back to the table.
PartnerTulsa didn’t directly answer the question but left the door open for the possibility of future opportunities.
“As we reissue the RFP there’s an opportunity for Be Good Development” and other interested developers to resubmit proposals, Kamas said.
Ultimately, regardless of the data and the timeline, residents in the community feel betrayed by the process after being told it would be community-led from beginning to finish.
For their part, PartnerTulsa appeared to hint at the desire to support smaller, Black-led developments.
“The city of Tulsa and PartnerTulsa remain committed to redevelopment of the site and are evaluating development options that involve community input, brings economic opportunity to North Tulsa, and supports the capacity building efforts for new, small, and Black development firms,” a PartnerTulsa flyer stated.
With little open land left in Tulsa to develop, various competing parties remain interested in developing the Evans-Fintube site. Whether a Black developer ultimately gains the opportunity remains to be seen.