The Oklahoma City Renaissance: Building a Consensus for Local Investment
May 24, 2010
In the late 1980s, downtown Oklahoma City was a victim of suburban flight and a failed effort at revitalization. The surrounding area included a dilapidated warehouse district and a river that had slowed to a trickle through flood prevention engineering. The area was completely deserted by 5 p.m., with a lack of cultural and entertainment options. No one spent time downtown.
Over the past 20 years, an amazing renaissance has taken place. Construction of a mile-long canal, a premiere ballpark, and the attraction of billions in private investment has transformed downtown. That deserted warehouse district has become one of the premier entertainment districts in the Southwest, with countless nightlife and entertainment options. The river that once had to be mowed every six months is now home to world-class water events and an Olympic U.S. Canoe/Kayak training and development center.
The journey for Oklahoma City to get where it is today was not easy, and it took many years and the support of the entire city. The transformation began with a failed economic development deal.
In the early 1990s, Oklahoma City was reeling from the oil bust of the previous decade. It had just lost a bid for a United Airlines maintenance facility, which promised to change the area<0x2019>s economic fortunes. When then-Mayor Ron Norick asked United Airlines executives why his city was passed over, he was delivered a harsh message. They just didn<0x2019>t feel like Oklahoma City had the quality of life expected by their employees. Clearly, Oklahoma City was at a crossroads, and faced with a simple decision: it was time to start competing, or watch the city<0x2019>s decline increase.
The business, civic and elected leaders of Oklahoma City stood up and made the decision to compete, and a visionary project was launched. This project changed the face of Oklahoma City forever. That visionary plan was Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS), an ambitious program that has been heralded as one of the most successful public-private partnerships in our country<0x2019>s history.
On December 14, 1993, the citizens of Oklahoma City went to the polls and passed a temporary, one-cent sales tax to build nine projects: renovations to the city<0x2019>s convention center, performing arts center and fairgrounds; construction of a 15,000'seat ballpark for the city<0x2019>s AAA baseball club, a mile-long canal through the entertainment district, a 20,000 seat sports arena, a state-of-the-art downtown library, a downtown trolley system; and dams on the dry river, to transform it into a busting recreational area.
By funding the projects with a temporary sales-tax, the projects were built debt-free. Using a <0x201C>pay as you go<0x201D> structure allowed Oklahoma City to build world-class facilities without the burden of debt for future generations and city leaders. Oklahoma City citizens had made the historic decision to invest their own money in the city they called home.
Even the most optimistic of city leaders could not have foreseen the level of success MAPS would bring to the city. To date, nearly $5 billion in economic impact can be directly attributed to the original MAPs program. This represents a nearly ten-fold return on the city<0x2019>s original investment.
MAPS also had a significant impact on the population downtown, growing it to more than 11,000 residents. Arguably, hotels represent the segment most strongly impacted by the MAPS investments. Nearly $200 million of capital investment has occurred in the hotel sector. Property values in Bricktown have grown dramatically as have rental costs. The aggregate values of 23 Bricktown sites grew from $10.8 million in 1999 to $41.4 million in 2008. Additional downtown developments include the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma History Center, American Banjo Museum, and more than $1 billion in investment in the Oklahoma Health Center and the Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park.
Most notably, however, may be Oklahoma City<0x2019>s acquisition of an NBA team. Oklahoma City is home to the NBA<0x2019>s Thunder, who are coming off a playoff appearance in only their second year. The team plays in front of sold-out crowds nearly every night and ranks seventh in the NBA for attendance.
The citizens of Oklahoma City witnessed how quickly MAPS helped turn the city around and decided to place that same attention on the city<0x2019>s schools. Under the leadership of Mayor Kirk Humphreys, they went back to the polls in 2001 and approved MAPs for Kids giving a much needed shot in the arm to the infrastructure of Oklahoma City Public Schools.
This $700 million program means that when construction is complete, every child in the Oklahoma City School District will attend class in a new or fully renovated school. The program also added enhanced technology and transportation.
Not willing to rest on the accomplishments of the past two MAPS initiatives, under the vision of Mayor Mick Cornett, a MAPS 3 initiative was born after months of input from the community. When MAPS 3 went to the polls last December, a record number of Oklahoma City voters went to the polls to vote <0x201C>yes<0x201D> to the initiative. MAPS 3 will fund further improvements to the Oklahoma River, a new convention center, a 70-acre downtown destination park, a modern downtown streetcar, 57 miles of new walking and biking trails, improvements to State Fair Park, sidewalks near major public facilities, and senior health and wellness aquatic centers.
With this continued downtown revitalization, Oklahoma City<0x2019>s business community is stepping up to do their part and make downtown Oklahoma City a desirable place to be.
Devon Energy is currently constructing a new headquarters downtown. The new-50 story skyscraper will be one of the tallest buildings in the U.S. upon completion. Project 180, which will be funded by the tax increment financing district created from the construction of the Devon Tower, is a three-year, $140 million project to renovate 180 acres of downtown streets and sidewalks that will make Oklahoma City more pedestrian friendly. SandRidge Energy has committed to reconstructing a six-block area downtown for its headquarters.
Also, in one of the biggest transportation projects currently under construction anywhere, Interstate 40 is being moved five blocks south, which will open up more land in the heart of downtown and connect the new park with the shore of the Oklahoma River.
Just twenty years ago, Oklahoma City was faced with a decaying downtown and low morale. With a common vision and focus, in just a short time this city has seen a dramatic turnaround.