Creek Nation plans Oklahoma toll bridge, development

Tribal authority sees bridge as $1 billion boon.

Up to $1 billion in development would accompany a new bridge being planned by the Creek Nation which would span the Arkansas River. The Creek Nation Trade and Commerce Authority unveiled plans to build a toll bridge spanning the Arkansas River between Jenks and south Tulsa, Okla., spurring an estimated $1 billion in investment in the region. The authority's chief executive, Michael Wisner, confirmed that the tribe has plans for commercial development around the bridge.

The CEO of a tribal business that hopes to build a toll bridge across the Arkansas River said he expects a $1 billion investment in the area by the time the project is finished.

Michael Wisner, CEO of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Trade and Commerce Authority, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that in addition to the bridge, the tribe has plans for major commercial development around the bridge, which would span the Arkansas River from 131st Street in Jenks to south Tulsa near 121st Street and Yale Avenue.

It was the first time Wisner has publicly confirmed plans for the toll bridge, the development of which has been headed by the Creek Nation's Trade and Commerce Authority.

The tribe has already purchased about 42.5 acres for the bridge project and has submitted an application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to put the land in trust with the federal government.

Last year, Tulsa City Councilor Bill Christiansen obtained a copy of the tribe's plans for the location, which include a town square, retail stores, a hotel, offices, multifamily and single-family dwellings, an outdoor theater, a park, trails and a large water feature.

The plan to build a toll bridge in the area has already met with resistance from an area citizens group. In addition, Christiansen is concerned that the bridge would create traffic hazards in the area.

Christiansen also is concerned that the project would not be subject to Tulsa's zoning codes or sales tax or to the county property tax, while the city would be required to provide the needed infrastructure.

Wisner said the project would end up raising the property values of residents in the area and would create hundreds if not thousands of jobs.

"It's not going to create a health or safety hazard. It will increase their property values," Wisner said. "The (projected) development costs alone are approaching $1 billion. What city in Oklahoma or Texas or Arkansas or anywhere in the Southwest would pass up an opportunity for a $1 billion mixed-use development, and how many jobs would $1 billion bring into this area?"

It is too early to say who would manage the proposed toll bridge or what companies would possibly be located in the development area.

"Generically speaking, we're waiting for this process (to put the land into trust) to run its course," Wisner said. "To guess one way or another how this property is going to shake out from a site plan or development standpoint is a little premature right now. I would imagine parallel with the construction of the bridge we would be breaking ground and developing the property."The proposed development near 121st and Yale is just one of several investments of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Trade and Commerce Authority.

According to a forensic audit ordered by Principal Chief A.D. Ellis in September and completed in late February, other investments include:

$500,000 in a company providing advertising banner space on the Internet concentrated in the Chinese market. The company has also seen a $50 million investment by NewsCorp.

$300,000 in a company, 9100 Garnett Associates LLC, planning to build four two-story office buildings for doctors practicing at St. Francis Hospital South.

A 90-day $300,000 loan to the Landrun Corp., owned by Remy Co., which was seeking funds on a new apartment complex in Bixby until the renters made their first rent payments. The loan was paid back with interest.

Meanwhile, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Trade and Commerce Authority was also looking for investments outside the United States.

In 2008, Wisner attended the Iraqi Security & Defense Summit in Washington to discuss tribal opportunities in Iraq.

Options include hotel and casino operations and cigarette exports from the Trade and Commerce Authority, which obtains and distributes cigarettes for the tribe's smoke shops, to Iraq, according to the audit.

Some of the cigarettes sold by the tribe are at the center of a dispute and lawsuits between the state of Oklahoma and the tribe, with the state claiming that the tribe is selling non-taxed contraband cigarettes.

Wisner confirmed to the Tulsa World that he was at the conference, but he wouldn't say whether the Trade and Commerce Authority had obtained a contract to provide goods or services in Iraq.

The audit, which reviewed information including credit card expenditures, salary information, investment information and travel expenses, found that a risk of fraud existed at the authority.

It recommended that the tribe and Trade and Commerce implement several internal control policies, including better expense documentation and board approval for large expenses, to protect members and reduce the risk.

Wisner said the $55 million authority has around 70 employees and has gone from losing money before he became CEO in 2008 to making a profit of around $2.5 million in the last fiscal year. 

Source: Tulsa World (Okla.), By CLIFTON ADCOCK World Staff Writer