One philanthropy trend that we’ve noticed in 2016, especially in the South and Southwest, is buying up real estate for charitable purposes. For example, after Hertz layoffs, the Tulsa-based Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation bought the Tulsa Service Center for $5.9 million with plans to let local nonprofit organizations move in.
The George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) is certainly no stranger to supporting local parks. But the funder just made a bold move to expand a local public wilderness area. The logistics and application are a bit different from purchasing a high-rise city building, but the philanthropic parallels are significant.
GKFF just purchased a 60-acre piece of land that was slated to become the next outlet mall just last year. The foundation kicked in $2.95 million for the land, which is located in the Turkey Mountain area. This is a region of urban wilderness that spans 300 acres of undeveloped land between I-44 to 71st Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s a popular local spot for hikers with trails and ample green space.
There are still some details to work out in this natural land preservation effort, as a loan is contingent upon voters approving a “vision renewal proposition” to enable the River Parks Authority to use $7.6 million to expand Turkey Mountain. However, GKFF’s land purchase emphasizes that this particular land should be included in the Turkey Mountain expansion and protection efforts.
But this isn’t the first time that GKFF has shown its support for the local River Parks Authority. Along with a few other private and corporate donors, GKFF contributed to the massive “A Gathering Place for Tulsa” effort, which is a $350 million park along Riverside Drive.
According to Tulsa World, “GKFF owns outright, or has a partial interest in, several undeveloped land parcels totaling more than 200 acres immediately north and west of Turkey Mountain.” But despite this big win for Tulsa's natural environment, not everyone is 100 percent convinced that GKFF’s purchase was the best idea.
“…. Everybody to some degree wins. But the fact of the matter is, they took 60 acres out of what could have been really high-value, ad valorem taxes, not to mention the sales that could have been generated,” commented said Bob Parker, president of NAI Petrous, which brokered the deal on January 8. Parker’s father-in-law purchased the land in the 1980s.
There’s a big push in Tulsa and other cities to place a higher value on parks and green spaces than commercial development. Perhaps the trend signals improvements in the local economy, because the environment tends to take a backseat to commercial growth when times get tough.