Published first on the Progress News, September 12, 2022

One of the best things about visiting other areas undergoing redevelopment is the opportunity to learn from the successes and challenges of projects in those areas – being able to analyze our own community’s similarities and differences and figure out our most practical next steps. We never want to reinvent the wheel, if we can at all avoid it!

In terms of the experiences of Oklahoma City, there are some obvious differences but some surprising similarities, too. First and foremost, it’s a city of roughly 650,000 people, with slow but steady population growth in recent years. That’s quite a bit different than our regional hamlets with a few hundred to a few thousand residents, many of whom trickle away from our region each year. So, things like a 1-cent sales tax would generate far less revenue in our municipalities. At the same time, the services expected of our communities are fewer, and cost less to build and maintain, than they would in any city. And when you look at it as apples to apples – average per capita investment – what Oklahoma City achieved in public investment would be the same as Emlenton attracting $1.2M in funding or Oil City attracting a little less than $20M. Those are big numbers, sure, but not unachievable, especially considering that our local municipalities and community groups are able to attract hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants in any given year. It’s all about the overarching strategy behind the push for funding, and the ability to bring private investment into the mix.

Strategy, as it happens, is where Oklahoma City both shines and shows room for improvement. Looking over the different phases of redevelopment, it’s pretty apparent that the early days had less strategic planning, and latter projects had more. The parts of Bricktown that were renovated and reopened the earliest currently have the greatest number of vacancies. Many of the vacant spaces were once restaurants, hinting that the local market was oversaturated with eating establishments. In-depth market research and planning before the creation of a master strategic plan can avoid such pitfalls, and later Bricktown redevelopment phases show the introduction of such planning. The later phases include a robust mix of eating and drinking establishments as well as a plethora of diverse activities to appeal to multiple audiences, all strategically placed around each other and the canal for maximum impact and enjoyment. For example, a family-fun center with arcade, mini-golf, climbing walls, bungee trampolines, and canal boat rides is tucked in at a major bend in the canal, directly across the street from the ballpark and surrounded by a host of restaurants. Every time we visited Bricktown, day or night, weekday or weekend, that section was always bustling and filled with smiles and laughter.

I can’t stress enough that the “fun” developments were not completed with public funding alone, and required significant private investment. So, having a strategy and a big pot of money are only two pieces of the puzzle. Attracting the interest of entrepreneurs who share the vision of a resilient community is key, as well. Oklahoma City estimates that the $1.3 billion in public redevelopment funding so far has spurred the injection of nearly $7 billion in private investment. That is where we currently find ourselves in our regional redevelopment initiative – reaching out to potential investors who have ties to our communities and believe in the strength and potential of the Oil Heritage Region. If you’d like to discuss more, please feel free to join us any Friday from 1-3 down in Foxburg!

Cover photo from Oklahoma City Free Press