DALLAS - The Tulsa City Council on Thursday night approved extension of a special improvement district that will help finance a proposed $60 million minor league baseball stadium in downtown Tulsa.

The Downtown Tulsa Improvement District will increase its annual assessment to 6.5 cents per square foot for property within the district to support $25 million in bonds for the new ballpark.

Other financing will include $5 million from the stadium lease with the Tulsa Drillers, a Class AA team in the Texas League, and $30 million in private contributions.

The downtown improvement district was set to expire June 30, 2009. It was created in 1981.

The district currently levies an annual assessment that ranges from a high of 3.5 cents per square foot to a low of 0.01 cents per square foot. The original assessments were based on a property's distance to a downtown mall. The new assessment will be the same across the district.

A new entity, Tulsa Stadium Trust, will be established to own and oversee the ballpark.

The city said 4.3 cents of the new assessment of 6.5 cents per square foot would be dedicated to debt service on the 30-year stadium bonds. The remaining 2.2 cents are expected to generate the $1.1 million currently produced by the existing assessment for downtown services.

Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor and Drillers president Chuck Lamson announced in late January that the city and the team had entered into an exclusive four-month agreement to develop a plan to bring the baseball team downtown. The agreement has been extended, but it is due to expire tomorrow.

After the 6-to-3 vote authorizing the district's extension and the higher assessments, Taylor said the council's approval was essential to reaching an agreement with the baseball team.

"This is the tipping point for Tulsa's downtown," said Taylor. "This will anchor our entertainment districts and bring even more energy and people to Tulsa's revitalized downtown."

Taylor said more than 20 private donors have pledged a total of $30 million for the stadium's construction. Individual contributions ranged from $100,000 to $7.5 million.

District 5 Councilor Bill Martinson said he voted against the stadium proposal because he felt the assessment system was flawed.

"My concern is the flat, across-the-board 6.5 cents per square foot," he said. "Some of these businesses are a half-mile away, and they are paying the same fee as properties across the street from the site."

"A number of the businesses in the district, such as bars and restaurants, will benefit greatly from the stadium," Martinson said. "Others, like a small warehouse, won't get any benefit at all. But they all pay the same rate."

The stadium will be located in northwest Tulsa, inside interstate highways I-244 and I-44 in the historic Greenwood District. The area was the site of a devastating race riot in 1921, in which a thriving black business community was burned to the ground and dozens of residents were killed.

The stadium site is adjacent to the proposed John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, which will memorialize the riot victims.

The proposed stadium will have 6,200 permanent seats. The tentative schedule calls for the facility to be open by April 2010.

The city expects the new ballpark to attract more than 400,000 visitors a year to downtown. The Drillers will play 70 home games a year with an average expected attendance of 5,000 fans. The stadium will also be available for concerts, events, and youth soccer tournaments during the off season.

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