While downtown economic development has surged in Tulsa over the past decade, the city has room to improve.
That was among the messages delivered Thursday by Tulsa economic development chief Kian Kamas, who spoke at the 21st annual Greater Tulsa Commercial Market Update.
“When you think about downtown over the past 10 years, a billion dollars in capital investment is pretty darn good,” Kamas told a ballroom full at real estate professionals at the Renaissance Tulsa Hotel & Convention Center. “It’s exciting to have another billion dollars on the books. But if you look just down the turnpike, Oklahoma City has been doing just the same amount, if not a little bit better. They were a couple of years ahead of us on their investments through the MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects Plan) program.
“We’re very much convinced that we can just rest on your laurels. You can’t just assume that because you’ve had good things happen, good things will continue to happen. There’s very much a need to make sure we’re evaluating the tools and incentives that we offer and the things that we’re doing to help make sure that investment continues.”
Presented by the Commercial Real Estate Specialists of the Greater Tulsa Association of Realtors, the market update featured overviews from the office, retail, industrial and multifamily segments and a keynote address from Sean Kouplen, state secretary of commerce and workforce development and chair and CEO of Regent Bank in Tulsa.
The size of the economic development team has more than tripled since Kamas took her current position in 2017, adding that bolstering that department has been a priority of Mayor G.T. Bynum.
“In order to do the work of selling Tulsa, it takes resources,” Kamas said. “It takes time. It takes talent. So we really built out our team from when I came in was a team of about three people to what is now a team of 10 people.”
All the downtown development aside, the city is positioning itself for more.
It has budgeted $260 million for a 90-acre Downtown Master TIF, she said. At the end of last year, Tulsa also celebrated a master plan for the Arena District, a 30-block area bounded by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad to the north and west, Boulder Avenue to the east and 11th Street to the south.
“We see a lot of growth and potential for the Arena District,” Kamas said. “Obviously, there are a lot of people who have great visions for hotel development and entertainment development and convention development.”
Kamas also spoke about the need for additional retail and commercial development and the strides made under Downtown Coordinating Council Executive Director Brian Kurtz, who took the post last summer.
Kurtz helped spearhead the recent expansion of the Downtown Impact Team, which has increased the police presence in the area.
“Brian has much grander ambitions beyond public safety about the role that a downtown promotions organization can do in continuing the revitalization of downtown,” she said. “…We really foresee a big shift in how the DCC functions. We see it becoming much more impactful. We’re excited to have somebody as creative as Brian Kurtz leading that organization.”