Editorial: Old Drillers stadium runs dry

In 2016, Tulsa voters passed the Vision Tulsa plan that included a proposal to establish USA BMX’s team training facility and headquarters at the former Drillers baseball stadium.

These plans have now been put on hold due to a failed concession negotiation between the stadium and Great Plains Coca Cola Bottling Company.

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The deal went flat due to Great Plains’ sponsorship agreement with Expo Square that calls for Coca Cola to be the sole provider of soft drinks at the facility. Mayor of Tulsa, G.T. Bynum, reassured Tulsans that the BMX headquarters would be built in Tulsa. In July Bynum announced that 22-acre site on North Lansing Avenue, near downtown, will be the future site of USA BMX headquarters.

Which begs another question many soccer fans in Tulsa have asked, why did the Tulsa Athletic have to leave its home stadium in the first place?

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The old Tulsa Drillers stadium sits at 15th and Yale unused and unkempt. The Tulsa Athletic soccer team played in the stadium from 2013 to 2016. In 2016 the Vision Tulsa proposal pushed the team out of the stadium.

From 1981 to 2009 the old Drillers’ stadium that stands at 15th Street and Yale housed the city’s AA baseball team. The stadium was an attraction for the city that showcased Hall of Fame baseball players, like catcher Ivan Rodriguez and was a popular concert venue for acts like Garth Brooks.

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The field that housed upcoming MLB players like Matt Holiday, Troy Tulowitzki, and Ivan Rodriguez is now covered in six-foot tall weeds. The Vision Tulsa plan to bring USA’s BMX national team to town, fell through due to concession providers.

In 2010, plans to move the Drillers to the new ONEOk field downtown left the old Drillers’ Stadium sitting unused for three years. In May of 2013, the Tulsa Athletic soccer team took over as the home team and at the time, the only soccer team in Tulsa.

With a few renovations to the new Athletic stadium, the new football club moved in and fans began filling the seats. The green, white, and yellow colors replaced the Drillers’ colors and gave new light to the stadium.

Converting a baseball field into a regulation soccer pitch is not an easy task. Athletic General Manager Matt Boullt talked about what went into renovating the stadium for soccer.

“It was just a vacant plot of neglected equipment until we came in and fixed everything, painted everything,” Boullt said. “Tommy and Sunny spent their own money, like tens of thousands of dollars, to demolish a whole section so we could have a proper pitch that was right next to the fans.”

Owners Sunny Dealesandro and Dr. Tommy Kern renovated the field to fit soccer regulations. This project involved removing a section of seating and bringing the field up to NPSL standards.

The Athletics play in the National Premier Soccer League (NSPL), which is the fourth tier in the relative scheme of professional soccer in the U.S.

In the first three seasons, the club finished in the top two in the Southeastern Conference in 2013 & 2014, and top four in 2016. This season, now a year removed from Athletics stadium, the Athletics have been playing in LaFortune Stadium, a field that is shared with many surrounding high schools.

“There has been a drop [in attendance]. But we still try to gather the best game experience that we can,” Boullt said.

Playing at LaFortune is not the worst situation, but when the fans of the Athletic come to the soccer match, they like to enjoy refreshments like beer. Since the stadium is actually on the campus of Memorial High School, the Athletic is not allowed to offer alcohol to its attendees.

This minor setback is just one of the cons of playing at a stadium also used by Tulsa Public Schools.

When asked about the team’s chances to return to the old Athletic stadium, Boullt was optimistic about the future.

“It is certainly a conversation we would like to be a part of. I would be surprised if the county did not want to, at least, have a conversation about it,” said Boullt. “They have already started tearing it down, it is just the bones of the stadium, and right now it is just extra parking for the [Tulsa State] Fair for a few weekends.”

The team is still contending in the NPSL while playing at LaFortune, but since the USA BMX deal has fizzled, Expo Square and Tulsa County need to find a way to get the Athletic back into its stadium.

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