For Tulsa to take the next step in becoming a convention and travel destination, it may have to think big and invest in itself.
Downtown Tulsa has seen a building boom for smaller boutique hotels in recent years. Many have opened in the central business district, and even more in the Blue Dome District and the Arts District.
But to become a bigger player in the tourism economy, Tulsa will need more than the 2,200 hotel rooms it currently has downtown. And we will have to think big.
Tourism officials say what’s needed is another large, convention-style hotel with 450 or more rooms. Ideally, it would be built a few blocks from the Cox Business Center.
Conventions often prefer to book hundreds of rooms at a time, and most downtown hotels aren’t big enough to accommodate those needs. Only two hotels — the downtown Hyatt Regency and the Doubletree — each have more than 400 rooms.
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A third hotel near the convention center could help Tulsa better compete with similarly sized cities, including Oklahoma City.
This is where Tulsa can pull a page from Oklahoma City’s playbook. When Oklahoma City built its new convention center, it used $85 million of its own money to cover part of the construction costs for the 605-room Omni Hotel. The hotel is adjacent to the convention center and a short distance from the arena, baseball stadium and this city’s entertainment district.
These types of public-private partnerships represent the kind of innovative thinking that can help a city better compete for tourism dollars. Tulsa management would be wise to study how this was accomplished in Oklahoma City and how Tulsa could emulate this plan.
There are hurdles Tulsa faces that Oklahoma City has not faced, namely the lack of available land around its convention center. It’s likely that one of three downtown amenities — the Page Belcher Federal Building, the Tulsa Police Courts Building, or the Downtown Bus Station — would have to give way to a hotel near downtown. Cox cases.
These contingencies have been addressed in the city’s Arena District Master Plan. Relocating one of them would be a substantial effort.
But there is an incentive to try. Tulsa has proven to be an attractive location for major events, including the annual FFA convention, which attracts up to 15,000 visitors. College sports tournaments, high-profile concerts, and other events have also made Tulsa a popular destination.
The city has an increasing number of places that people want to see and experience. What he could use now is the type of tourism infrastructure that can accommodate more visitors.
Tulsa was built on a vision in which people bet on themselves to succeed. Now may be the time to continue this tradition towards its tourism goals.