A conversation with Amy Huntley, vice president, VisitTulsa
What is distinctive about Tulsa?
Many of Tulsa’s greatest treasures are found in majestic buildings, homes and manors that reflect the time when Tulsa was the oil capital of the world. Tulsa has the third-highest concentration of art-deco buildings in the United States, behind New York and Miami.
The nostalgic beauty of this architectural style can be seen in one of Tulsa’s most iconic buildings, the Boston Avenue Methodist Church, a national historic landmark not to be missed on a city tour.
From Broadway performances at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center to a world-renowned ballet company and nationally recognized opera company, Tulsa is blessed with an abundance of traditional arts. Tulsa has also become a creative nexus for modern artists and musicians, who even have their own, unique sound, known as the “Tulsa Sound.”
Bank groups love to hear that sound and more in one of Tulsa’s several entertainment districts, which include the following.
• The Brady Arts District is home to art galleries, shops, restaurants and nightclubs, among them the famous entertainment venue the Brady Theater and the home to Western swing, Cain’s Ballroom. Iconic acts from Bob Wills and Patsy Cline to Van Halen and the Police have graced their stages, and today, the theater and grand ballroom continue to attract concertgoers as diverse as the music that attracts them.
• The Blue Dome District is a center for downtown nightlife. Named after a 1920s gas station that features an art-deco blue dome, the district today serves a crowd attracted to pubs, restaurants and a live music scene.
• Once called Black Wall Street, Tulsa’s historic Greenwood District houses artifacts from the district’s past at the Greenwood Cultural Center and the Mabel B. Little Heritage Center. The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in the Jazz Depot, also plays a role in preserving this pivotal time in history.
• Cherry Street houses the Cherry Street Farmers Market during growing season and a collection of shops, bistros and cafes year round. In the evening, groups will find restaurants with bars catering to those seeking a trendy and upscale nightlife.
• Brookside is another popular nightlife venue. This eclectic district boasts sushi bars near biker bars and indie coffee shops near martini lounges. At its center is the upscale international shopping and dining experience named Center One.
What are the main group attractions in Tulsa?
Oilman Waite Phillips gifted his 72-room mansion and surrounding 23 acres of grounds to the city as an art center. This Italian Renaissance villa, Villa Philbrook, opened in 1939 as the Philbrook Museum of Art, and today it is one of only 286 art museums accredited by the American Association of Museums.
A glimpse into our country’s history can be found at Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum with one of the world’s largest, most comprehensive collections of art and artifacts of the American West. Beyond the extensive collections and exhibits are beautiful facilities and themed gardens developed on 23 of the museum’s 460 acres.
The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art contains the Southwest’s finest collection of Judaica, including priceless items nearly 4,000 years old. An extraordinary Holocaust collection emphasizes the experiences of survivors who came to live in Oklahoma, as well as Oklahomans who participated in the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.
A rocking art collection can be found at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tulsa, owned by the Cherokee Nation. The seventh Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in the world opened two years ago in Tulsa, and the new resort features 350 luxury hotel rooms and suites, more than 125,000 square feet of gaming space, five dining venues, six nightclubs and entertainment venues such as the newly opened amphitheater-style the Joint. Baby boomers and all music-lovers croon over the $2 million, rock-inspired music memorabilia collection.
The Creek Nation also expanded its location on the Arkansas River with the grand opening of the River Spirit Casino. The casino boasts more than 300,000 square feet of gaming space, 2,750 high-tech machines, 24 table games and 15 poker tables, along with the event center and the Mystic River Lounge, which features local bands and live entertainment acts. Dining options there include a sports bar, a cafe, a buffet and a steakhouse.
The Osage Nation’s Million Dollar Elm Casino is the closest gaming facility to downtown Tulsa, with more than 1,000 state-of-the-art electronic gaming devices, 11 table games, an eight-table poker room, a players club, a grill and an entertainment lounge with a bar. The Osage Event Center is also housed at the Tulsa casino and keeps a full schedule of national entertainers.
For your cool travelers that need a cool treat, a tour of the Blue Bell Creamery will satisfy their sweet tooth.
And what is a trip to Oklahoma without catching a performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!”? Performed at Discoveryland!, a beautiful, 1,500-seat outdoor amphitheater 10 miles west of Tulsa, this is a group travel favorite.
What are the major annual events in Tulsa?
Recognized nationally by USA Today as one of the top 10 North American places to celebrate Oktoberfest, this Tulsa festival, held the third weekend in October, is a delightful surprise for groups visiting in the fall.
Springtime in Tulsa means colorful flowers in bloom and impressive arts on display at Tulsa’s International Mayfest, held annually in downtown Tulsa the third week of May. Visitors are treated to beautiful works of art, live entertainment and the best in fair food.
In winter, downtown is transformed into a winter wonderland with an outdoor ice-skating rink and a 44-foot-tall tree with more than 37,500 lights. Winterfest opens the weekend after Thanksgiving and lasts through New Year’s Day.
Check www.bokcenter.com for a complete list of events.
What’s new in Tulsa?
With nearly $1 billion invested in downtown Tulsa, the landscape has been transformed: A new arena; a baseball stadium; renovated hotels; restored attractions; and numerous venues, nightlife and entertainment options make downtown Tulsa a classy destination.
Opened in 2008, the Bok Center attracts the world’s greatest entertainers, like Elton John and Leon Russell. This Tulsa venue tops the national and world charts for highest number of ticket sales.
Baseball enthusiasts share the Tulsa pride and spirit upon visiting downtown Tulsa’s most recent jewel – ONEOK Field. Home to the Tulsa Drillers, the $39.2 million stadium is a bank group home run April through August.
Where are some great places to get a taste of Tulsa?
Each of Tulsa’s entertainment districts offers unique dining options, like local favorite Irish pub McNellie’s; but Tulsa is also home to original 1950s diners like Tally’s, located along historic Route 66.
For prime outdoor seating, Wild Fork, in the outdoor shopping center Utica Square, is the perfect spot to relax before or after a day of shopping and sightseeing.
When seafood is a preference on your cuisine itinerary, a trip to White River Fish Market and Restaurant offers not only delicious bites from the sea but an atmosphere to match. Tulsa’s central location allows seafood to be flown in direct from coastal suppliers in North America and South America.
What is one souvenir everyone should bring back from Tulsa?
It’s easy and it’s free. Grab your camera, gather your group, and stand back to take a picture in front of the world’s largest freestanding statue, the 76-foot-tall “Golden Driller,” standing proudly in front of Expo Square.
Is there an annual event or time of year that a bank group should consider in planning a trip to Tulsa?
Anytime is a great time to visit Tulsa, but for the most scenic drives along Route 66 and Riverside Drive, autumn offers spectacular shades of green, orange, brown and red along the tree-lined routes.
In the spring, the city’s amazing gardens at Philbrook, Gilcrease and the Tulsa Garden Center at Woodward Park are in full bloom and offer exceptional showcases of nature’s abilities.
What is your website address, and what on the site would be particularly helpful to a bank travel planner?
Our website, www.visittulsa.com, is a one-stop shop for dining, shopping, entertainment and accommodation options. A complete listing of the VisitTulsa staff is also available to assist bank directors with all their planning and booking needs.
Are there any special programs and services for groups in Tulsa?
Members of the VisitTulsa staff are well connected with the hospitality industry in Tulsa and can assist with any special planning needs or services for groups.
Tell us your favorite story about Tulsa.
As conflicts leading up to World War II heightened, the manufacture of military supplies quickly became a major industry in the United States. In December 1940, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that a bomber production plant expected to employ 14,000 to 17,000 people would be built in Tulsa. With the men going off to war, women played a key role in staffing the plant and building bomber planes used in the war.
When the fighting ended, Tulsa inherited a 10,000-foot runway, which later attracted one of Tulsa’s largest employers, American Airlines, and helped make Tulsa a major player in the aerospace and aviation fields.
The Tulsa Air and Space Museum tells Tulsa’s aviation story best.