MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

January 15, 2014

Officials hope to finalize renewal plan

Authority members receive draft plan Wednesday

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— City officials hope to finalize a plan next month that would spark revitalization for an area in northwest Muskogee.

Urban Renewal Authority members will be reviewing during the next few weeks a draft plan they received Wednesday. Commissioners will bring back next month any concerns, criticisms and amendments they might have.

The draft plan outlines objectives and goals that address property acquisition, redevelopers’ obligations, project financing and infrastructure. Assistant City Planner Tish Callahan described the document as “an intense plan” that addresses many issues, some of which might prove costly and controversial — land acquisition and resident relocation among them.

Commissioners have been addressing those elements during the past several months, leading up to the compilation of the draft plan. The plan’s primary goal is to promote private development to help spur job creation and sales tax revenue by creating “vital and vibrant commercial districts.”

Interim City Manager Roy Tucker said one “overarching theme of this plan” is to foster “cooperation between public entities and private entities.” That cooperation, Tucker said, is hoped to facilitate the sharing of costs associated with redevelopment.

“This is so the authority and the taxpayers aren’t shouldering the entire burden of economic development,” Tucker said. “As we learned from the blight study ... development in this area will not occur naturally without some ... push from the city.”

The area designated for urban renewal is bounded by Chicago and 11th streets on the east and west and Shawnee Bypass and Talladega Street on the north and south. The area has been divided into three project areas that would allow for big-box retail development and infill commercial growth along with some residential construction to support “employment generation goals.”

There was some discussion Wednesday about the need for developing public green spaces within the urban renewal area that could be used for public gatherings. Callahan said such an area would be developed with connectivity to the city’s trail system in mind.

Rickey Hayes, a consultant who specializes in retail development, said green-space considerations must be made in the planning stages before development begins.

“If you don’t do it, you look up 20 years from now and you don’t have any green space,” Hayes said. “You’ve got a concrete jungle and signs everywhere ... It’s a quality-of-life issue.”

To date, commissioners have completed a blight study to determine if the area targeted for urban development meets requirements established by state law. The findings of that study must be presented to city councilors for approval before the urban renewal plan moves forward.

The draft plan includes financing components, including capital improvement bonds, city appropriations, project revenues and tax increment financing. The latter is a method by which future tax gains projected as a result of redevelopment can be used to raise money for present development.

The Muskogee Urban Renewal Authority regularly meets at 10 a.m. on the third Wednesday of each month in the second-floor conference room at City Hall.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.