FF12 goes to Tulsa to see how baseball and parking works there

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TULSA, Okla. (KWCH) It's nearing 6:00 p.m. on a Tuesday evening in downtown Tulsa. Fans are starting to file in to grab a drink, get some dinner and make the short walk to Oneok Field.

"This stadium is like home," Tulsa Drillers fan Jason Totty says as he makes his way into the stadium. "There's something for everybody here."

The line moves quickly as excited fans enter the sold out game.

"It's very family friendly," Chris Young says as he waits with his wife and kids. "We already went and had dinner down the road."

That was a common theme among fans making their way into the stadium for the 7:05 p.m. game. The game wasn't the only thing they were doing that evening.

"We go to the bakery," one Tulsa mom says as he holds her young child.

"I think it would be fun to go to Fat Guys and grab a burger and a drink and then maybe come down here with the kids and play and head home after that. If I didn't have the kids, I would stay out," Tulsa mom Ashley Ryan added.

Fans say it's more than a baseball game. It's an experience and an atmosphere.

"The economy loves me because I'm going to eat here and buy gas here and come to the game and everything else so it's a lot of fun," Totty said.

Standing outside of Oneok Field, you won't see a lot of parking spaces. There are a few close by but you'll have to walk several blocks and pay roughly $5.00 to park in the area of the stadium. It's a situation similar to Wichita's plan for a "walkable" city and ball park.

Fans say it works.

"It's only a couple blocks and it's a nice area and it's a beautiful day," Young said.

"When it's scenic around here, it's fun. You get to explore and I think that's what makes it fun," another woman said who walked the couple blocks carrying her young child.

When we told them about some Wichitans concerns with parking at the new stadium, fans told us it wasn't a worry.

Former Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett agreed and said, in fact, it is a blessing.

"It really has worked out very well," Bartlett said.

Bartlett explained he became mayor when the ball park was just beginning to host games so he saw the expansion of downtown. He said during the planning phases, Tulsa was on the cusp of determining whether it would go in a positive or negative direction. He said the ball park made it positive.

"The original ballpark was in very poor shape and it needed a lot of improvement just to make it comfortable," Bartlett said.

He remembers the old stadium as having a large parking lot right next to it. But he says that didn't help people go to games.

"It was at our fairgrounds and there was a huge parking lot of asphalt. And it was about as attractive as a huge parking lot of asphalt can be and that was it and that was right next to the ball park," Bartlett said. "The attendance has increased dramatically. The first year that it was in business, it was a huge increase in attendance."

Bartlett said building a new stadium has transformed the downtown area which now boasts more than 100 restaurants and bars with new hotels moving in and competing in pricing for out of town guests or players. Because fans are walking a few blocks, he says they tend to stop by enticing shops or restaurants along the way.

"It has been very good for the retail side of the restaurant and entertainment and bar business. It really has had a very positive effect upon that," he said.

As with any major change, Bartlett said it did come with some push back as Wichita has seen too. He said the major concern in Tulsa wasn't parking, but instead was financing. Downtown property owners had to pay a new tax to help fund the stadium with the idea that the stadium would then, in turn, help their business.

Bartlett said property owners fought back against the tax and even filed a lawsuit over it, which they lost. He said that's the way it is with new things - some people will complain.

"There will always be somebody that doesn't like the concept. That's just part of the deal. That's okay. They have a right to say what they feel. That's okay. They don't have to go to the games," Bartlett said.

Regarding naysayers in Wichita, he said, "I guarantee you, you will see them at the games, rooting Wichita on. I bet so."

We asked Bartlett what advice he has for Wichita as we build our new stadium and work out all the details. He said he'd encourage the city to reach out to as many locals as possible to get their input. In Tulsa, he said the city appointed a group to make some of the big decisions.

"A trust authority was set aside and they had the ability to charge, set rates, buy land, develop land, sell land so they had a lot of ability to make it work or to expand it, expand the operations. They could make improvements to the ball park. They could charge a fee and that so it got it out of the political environment which I think is always a good move."

To Wichitans who may have questions about how the new plans will work in Wichita, Bartlett said, "If they want to experience the significance of having a beautiful ball park in downtown Wichita, come down to Tulsa. It's very similar. It's a very similar area and if they just spend a weekend here, they can see what it's all about."