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September 27, 2013

Mayor: New city under construction

Coburn: There is opportunity on every corner

Donning a hard hat and flanked by construction signs, Mayor Bob Coburn painted a picture Thursday of a “new city ... under construction” during his second State of the City address.

The first-term mayor who served two years as Ward I representative before taking over as mayor in 2012, said the annual event provides him with a chance to “reflect on what’s going on in Muskogee.

“I think we get caught up in doing our own thing, so to speak, but we miss what’s going on in the larger community,” Coburn said. “This address gives me a way to look and kind of evaluate every year, and I’m excited to present that to you today.”

Coburn set three goals for himself in his State of the City address. First, he wanted to identify where Muskogee is today then show where the city is headed. His aim was to wrap that up by outlining for the community a path toward that point.

To achieve his first goal, Coburn laid out a laundry list of city projects and development projects that are getting started, already under way and just beginning. He described what his predecessor referred to as a shining city on a hill as “a city under construction.”

“Things are changing, things are changing quickly,” Coburn said, noting later there were 448 building permits issued during the past year representing a $50 million investment in the city. “There is opportunity — there is opportunity on every corner — and people are seeing that ... and are becoming a part of it, and that is exciting to see.”

Some of the opportunities cited by Coburn included the recent completion of Armstrong Bank, which recently was recognized for excellence in construction, the new La Quinta Inn and a number of other commercial projects. Coburn also cited QuikTrip’s planned expansion into the Muskogee market and the city’s efforts to open up the remaining three corners of the U.S. 69 and Shawnee Bypass intersection for commercial development.

“QuikTrip had a significant interest in that intersection. That is exactly where they wanted to be, on one of those corners on the west,” Coburn said of the deal that was struck with the Tulsa-based company earlier this year. “If QuikTrip is interested in that intersection, I will guarantee there are other people in the retail business that are interested in the other three corners of the intersection.”

In addition to commercial development, Coburn also cited public-sector projects that include improvements to city streets, its sewer and water infrastructure and at Davis Field, where a new terminal was recently completed. Other projects completed by the city or in the works now included improvements at city parks and stormwater drainage projects designed to solve flooding problems on the city’s east side.

Laying out a map toward where he would like to see the city be, Coburn cited efforts that are being made to improve labor relations and develop “a better team effort than we have in the past.” Part of that includes a concentrated focus on human resources.

“It is something we haven’t done extremely well in the recent past — I’m not throwing this back at anybody, I’m just saying we have to do a better job today,” Coburn said, acknowledging the efforts of his City Council colleagues, administrators and the rank and file workers. “We have to care about the 450 people we have that work for us.”

Coburn said there will be a greater emphasis on employee safety. He also said a wage and benefit study that has been ongoing for more than a year will help administrators see how Muskogee compares as an employer with peer cities.

Other areas targeted for improvement include finding ways to plug the $672 million leak in annual retail sales that robs the city of an estimated $26.8 million in sales tax revenue, clean up the city and spur new residential construction.

While Coburn was able to achieve his first two goals rather easily — identifying where Muskogee is and where it is going — the third task of how to get there proved a bit more elusive. He advocated a new mentality of shopping locally to address declining sales tax revenues and the cultivation of community pride to make the city more appealing.

Coburn said the city’s Bridges Out of Poverty program is showing signs of success. And cooperative efforts with the county to stimulate economic development appear promising.

But as far as a master plan, Coburn left attendants hanging until November, when the Action in Muskogee master plan will be rolled out. The AIM visioning process began more than a year ago with input from a thousand residents.

“You are going to want to have your ticket and reservation in advance,” Coburn said about the announcement planned for 5:30 p.m. Nov. 12 at the Roxy Theater. “It is going to be the biggest difference maker that you have seen in the last 30 years in Muskogee. . ... Don’t miss it.”

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

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