MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

October 21, 2013

Goal: Renewal plan by year-end

Financial component approved

Muskogee’s urban renewal commissioners hope to have a plan ready for consideration by the end of the year, officials said after the authority approved its financial component.

The five-member panel has been plugging away for almost two years, paving the way for the presentation of its proposals. Commissioners have conducted the requisite blight study, designated three phases of development, and authorized “feasible methods of financing.”

Interim City Manager Roy Tucker said he anticipates the Urban Renewal Authority’s blight study will be presented to the City Council for review and adoption by the end of the year. The urban renewal plan is expected to be presented by the end of the year for review by planning commissioners, who have 60 days to act before it is forwarded to city councilors.

The financing component approved includes designating the urban renewal zone as a tax increment financing — or TIF — district, which would allow the authority to issue general obligation bonds. The finance portion of the urban renewal plan also would authorize the authority to raise money through public and private gifts, grants and the sale of property.

Funding from these sources would be used to acquire property within the urban renewal zone and assist in relocation for those who might be displaced. It also could be tapped for infrastructural improvements and to provide incentives for private developers.

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 the development of affordable housing, big-box retail development and infill commercial growth.

“The Urban Renewal Authority has no money, so what we will be relying on includes several things,” Tucker said. “The goal is to get as much private funding as we can to ease the burden on taxpayers.”

There was some discussion Wednesday about the possibility of securing grant funding and the possibility of supplementing the authority’s efforts with money from the city’s general fund. But most of the attention was focused on the creation of a TIF district.

Tax increment financing is a method by which future tax gains projected as a result of redevelopment can be used to raise money for present construction. Commissioner Robert Goolsby described the funding mechanism, which the city used for past urban renewal projects that included the construction of Arrowhead Mall and rehabilitation of the Severs Hotel Building, as “borrowing it forward.”

In response to concerns expressed by Commissioner Rick Poslick, Tucker said tax increment financing is not a new tax. It authorizes the issuance of bonds based upon the difference of current property and sales tax revenue and anticipated growth.

Tucker also put to rest concerns expressed by Goolsby, who raised questions about the prospect of the authority’s inability to repay those bonds once they are issued. Tucker offered assurances that any bonds issued would be retired unconditionally.

In addition to approving the financing component of an urban renewal plan, commissioners also discussed the need to identify what type of commercial development would be desirable for the district. Goolsby said commissioners cannot “lose focus on the payout” of the urban renewal project, which includes better paying jobs and increased tax revenue.

In order to further that discussion, commissioners hope to hear during their November meeting comments from a retail consultant under contract with the Greater Muskogee Area Chamber of Commerce. From that discussion, commissioners hope to be able to ascertain what kind of jobs will be created and the anticipated income they will generate.

The Muskogee Urban Renewal Authority regularly meets at 10 a.m. on the third Wednesday of each month.

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

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