City Authority Overseeing BOK Center Concludes It Can't Cancel Trump Rally Contract

Jun 18, 2020

Credit Odell Architecture

Updated June 18, 6:55 p.m. to include a statement from the mayor's office.  

The authority that oversees City of Tulsa–owned venues does not believe it can move Saturday’s Trump campaign rally.

Despite concerns about filling a 19,000-seat arena in the middle of a spike in COVID-19 cases, members of the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority concluded they don’t have power to cancel contracts entered into by ASM Global, the company that manages the BOK Center.

Chair Marcia MacLeod said, however, TPFA does not have a dedicated attorney and the city legal department has declined to offer them representation.

BOK Center General Manager Casey Sparks and ASM Global Executive Vice President Doug Thornton said when they received the request from the Trump campaign last Tuesday, they ran it by state and local officials before signing a contract because of the potential public safety and health impacts, pointing out it was intended to be a "full capacity" event.

"The mayor’s office response was that we support the event to the greatest extent the state and the president will allow based on the [Open Up and Recover Safely] plan," Sparks said.

"Could he have said no?" said TPFA Chair Marcia MacLeod.

"If he’d had said no, we would have said no too," Thornton said.

The mayor's office said at the time, executives were referring only to the city's police capacity to address anything outside the BOK Center.

TPFA member Kathy Taylor proposed the authority pass a resolution requiring the strictest possible coronavirus guidelines at the BOK Center and Cox Business Convention Center until state and local health officials can develop firm guidelines for mass gatherings. TPFA staff determined that would need to be taken up in a different special meeting, which would require 24 hours notice.

As of 3:15 p.m. Thursday, no notice had been posted.

Thornton said ASM is taking several safety measures for the Trump rally. Everyone entering the BOK Center on Saturday will have their temperature checked and be given a mask. Attendees will be encouraged and employees will be required to wear them. There will be hundreds of hand sanitizing stations throughout the facility, concessions will involve mostly prepackaged items and all BOK Center staff will get an antibody test.

ASM has also requested a written coronavirus safety plan from the Trump campaign. That did not impress Tulsa Public Facilities Authority member George Sartain.

"To me, that’s not enough. I mean, my business is still not open. My fiancee’s business is not open ’til September. And what about asymptomatic transmission? Your test is not going to cover that," Sartain said.

Oklahoma Health Commissioner Doctor Lance Frye told TPFA members officials must stress mask wearing, physical distancing and frequent hand washing to those attending.

"Quite frankly, I don’t know if the population that’s attending this is a population that’s going to listen to us, but we have to keep that message going," Frye said.

Sparks and Thornton said any BOK Center employee who was not comfortable coming to work the rally could refuse. About half of the workers called for the event have declined, Sparks said, forcing ASM to turn to an outside staffing partner.

Thornton said there are no plans for the Trump campaign to use the Cox Business Center in addition to the BOK Center on Saturday. Gov. Kevin Stitt said earlier in the week the convention center may be used for up to 8,000 overflow seats.