Innovation District Proposal for New Increment Financing

As part of an ongoing discussion to create an innovation district near Oklahoma City, proposals have been made to create a new tax increment financing district. This proposed district would be located east of Interstate 235 between NE 13 and NE4, and would be composed of two smaller sub-districts. The Chaparral apartments, which are a section 8 public housing project, would be included in these sub-districts.

The presentation of the proposal of this new district to the Oklahoma City Council overlapped with an announcement from a representative of the Brookings Institution. This institution is in coordination with the Project for Public Spaces on how to create opportunity for new talent and potential investments within the group of research organizations, bio-tech and technology firms, and hospitals located east of downtown. The proposed location – interchangeably known as the Oklahoma Health Center, the OU medical Center, or the Health Sciences Center – currently employs 17,900 throughout its 823 acres.

Cathy O’Connor, president of the Alliance for economic Development of Oklahoma City, informed the city council about “how can we better advance high tech, companies and entrepreneurship in Oklahoma City” and the ways in which the existing TIF district helped fund infrastructure as part of the GE Global Oil and Gas Research Center.

Financially speaking, the budget for the proposed TIF district would start around $52 million, and would be allocated as follows: $18 million for enhanced education, $17 million towards commercialization of research and technology, $9 million for place-making, $5 million for supporting development, and $3 million for implementation. Specific goals for this project, according to O’Connor, will include working with Oklahoma City Public Schools and Metro Technology Centers to endorse new training and chances for education around the community.

Although the vote for this proposal is not due until December 20th, responses from city council members were in agreement about the importance of creating a competitive advantage in the innovation district.  Councilman David Greenwell stated that “cities are becoming more competitive day by day” and that in order to keep up, they must join other cities in “investing large amounts of money in tech to make [the city] more livable.” Councilman Ed Shadid agreed, and emphasized that the Biotech industry was “not going anywhere” and was a “smart investment to make.”

Consultants for the innovation district suggest something called Automobile Alley, which includes restaurants, stores, housing, and mixed-use developments that are currently unavailable east of the interstate. On the topic of economic and racial inequalities with the nearby east-side neighborhoods, Jennifer Vey with the Brookings Institution noted the number of well-paying jobs that require associates degrees within the area. She said that these jobs could provide new opportunities to the lesser-off neighboring areas. These bar for these jobs “isn’t very high,” according to Vey.

Discussions of attempts to diversify the district have been reported by David Harlow, president of BancFirst, and Stephen Prescott, president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. These discussions suggest inclusion of the aerospace industry, and OU’s energy research facility, as well as others.

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