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September 20, 2012

Mayor wants growth

Coburn urges city to change image, support events in State of City speech

Muskogee Mayor Bob Coburn’s 2012 State of the City address largely focused on growth of the economy and the population.

“Our population was about 40,000 when I moved here in 1960, about 40,000 when I left, about 40,000 when I came back,” Coburn said. “And it’s about 40,000 now. I think it’s about time we grow.”

Coburn gave reports on many aspects of city business and government, but also addressed several issues.

In particular, tourism and economic development appeared high on his list of priorities.

“We’ve got to have a community image change. We are our own worst enemy,” he said.

Coburn cited examples of major events at the Muskogee Civic Center that “surprisingly” saw low turnout.

“Shame on you Muskogee, including myself,” he said. “We need to support the events that come to Muskogee by buying tickets.”

And the community needs to make a decision about the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, he said.

“Are we going to support the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame or are we going to let another community steal it away from us?” Coburn said.

The city has begun working toward improving customer satisfaction at the Civic Center and Roxy Theater.

The city has three objectives — having the best facility, the best equipment, and the best customer satisfaction, he said.

“When people come to events at the Civic Center, it’s good for Muskogee,” Coburn said. “They spend money eating out. They spend money on hotels. And I’m asking the city to start coming to events, because we can’t have a great event without people sitting in the audience.”

Coburn praised the Greater Muskogee Area Chamber of Commerce for its work in the tourism industry and praised the decision to raise the hotel/motel tax to 8 percent.

“A one-day visitor is worth $45 to the city, if they stay overnight it’s three times that,” he said. “Raising the hotel/motel tax from 3 to 8 percent makes good sense in terms of return on investment for the city of Muskogee.”

Coburn said finding Muskogee’s identity is important as well and said the Chamber’s branding initiative has identified three potential areas to focus tourism on in the future: festivals, Renaissance Faire and veterans.

Coburn said the city should see some progress on the branding process in the next 90 days.

Stopping retail leakage is an important part of Muskogee’s economic development as well, Coburn said.

“Muskogee residents spend $687 million a year outside of Muskogee,” he said. “$140 million in groceries are spent outside of our community. Now there’s opportunity there, in every category.”

Coburn said there is a significant interest in the Shawnee Bypass corridor, with big business making inquiries about the area weekly.

Coburn gave a nod to former Mayor John Tyler Hammons as well.

“When you see him you give him a slap on the back,” Coburn said. “He says every time we speak, ‘What can I do to help?’”

Coburn said it would be interesting if Muskogee had more people as devoted to the city as Hammons.

“He said once that we are a light on a hill, and I agree,” Coburn said. “But what are we going to do with it? Let’s make a difference.”

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton@muskogeephoenix.com.

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