Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum announced Friday the launch of 10 programs designed to energize the city's commercial development and retail markets in 2020 and beyond.
The programs are geared to provide investors operating in these spaces financial assistance, some type of leveraged resources or other incentives.
“The commercial revitalization strategy will help lead our efforts in supporting retail entrepreneurship and the revitalization of our commercial corridors while supporting a diverse scale of retailers,” Bynum said. “As an example, Mother Road Market anchored the revitalization of Route 66 through Tulsa, and in 2020 we are providing more tools to local dreamers who can continue the trend in building a globally competitive, world-class entrepreneurship ecosystem.”
Kian Kamas, the city's chief of economic development, said when city councilors were debating what programs would receive Vision Tulsa funds, "all of them collectively recognized that across all of their districts, there are commercial areas that are not what they used to be, and we, as a city, need to be thinking about how we can reinvigorate, or re-envision in some cases, what these kind of commercial areas look like."
Approved by voters in 2016, Vision Tulsa made available $3.45 million over a three-year period for economic development particularly focused on small business and new retail outlets, from small local shops to franchises to national big-box chain stores.
Currently, more than $2 million of the funds have been allocated to create tools and incentives for business development. Kamas said the remaining funds will be allocated based on needs and successes resulting from the first year of disbursements. Most of the program funds will be released in one year increments for three years.
A recent Retail Market Study and Strategy addressed retail sales in Tulsa, which, adjusted for inflation, have declined over the past two decades. It examined 13 commercial areas within the City of Tulsa, analyzing each for its strengths and weaknesses to provide a bench-marking document they can use to measure the success of the commercial development in those areas going forward.
Bynum's new programs have a four-fold foundation. They will focus redevelopment of existing assets and the development of new assets where appropriate, encourage development of Transit Oriented Development (TOD), provide benefits to retailers of all sizes, including big box retailers and local entrepreneurs, and support proliferation of local entrepreneurship and small businesses.
The specific action steps and programs for commercial revitalization are expand Tulsa's retail recruitment and support efforts, align retail incentive policy with commercial revitalization goals, make available a retail development and development fund, develop a fee reimbursement program, work with INCOG to analyze zoning patterns in commercial areas, fund Destination Districts, develop start-up guides, support retail business development programs at the Tulsa Economic Development Corporation (TEDC), encourage the use of pop-up shops in vacant, commercial buildings and partner with KIVA to assisted with crowd-funded micro loans.
During a recent interview, Kamas amplified the importance of Transit Oriented Development, one of the mayor's objectives. The city’s Aero Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) debuted this month along Peoria Avenue. The municipality put it there because one in seven Tulsans live within a mile of Peoria and one in five work within a mile of it.
"We would love for more Tulsans to have more access to businesses…along the BRT line," she said. "We envision making sure these strategies and these programs kind of help make that investment even more valuable."
The main retail areas that drive commercial spending in the city remain Tulsa Hills, 71st Street and Memorial Drive and 71st Street and U.S. 169. One of the missions of the new programs is to find out how to better stimulate areas limited by zoning codes.
"We as a city have these older commercial and retail centers that we need to re-invest in," Kamas said. "We really need to focus on in-fill development and redevelopment opportunities. Seventy-first and Memorial and Tulsa Hills, the retail study really showed this, those are our powerhouses and we need to make sure they stay that way.
"But we have a lot of areas throughout the city that support strong neighborhoods that we want to make sure we have the ability to preserve."
With these programs, the city wants to create a set of tools applicable to all sizes of business at any point of their life cycle and create an enhanced ability to fund ventures.
"Access to capital is oftentimes prohibitive in peoples' ability to launch their business," Kamas said. "…We really want to make sure that we're helping to fill gaps. We really want to target Tulsans who otherwise would not be able to start their own business because they don't have access to those traditional forms of capital from normal lending institutions."
Paramount, too, to these objectives is spurring local small business, she said. Among the examples Kamas cited were Mary Beth Babcock, who this year erected a 21-foot statue of Buck Atom outside her curios shop along Route 66, and Venita Cooper, who this month launched her Silhouette & Art shop at 10 N. Greenwood Ave.
"If you look around downtown or Cherry Street or think about Greenwood with the opening of Silhouette, businesses that bring vibrancy to local commercial areas, they are launched by Tulsans, themselves, who care passionately about the neighborhoods they live in," Kamas said.
"If you think about what Mary Beth Babcock is doing along Route 66, we want to make sure that we can help Mary Beths and more women like the one who launched Silhouette start their own businesses and launch the revitalization of commercial centers and commercials corridors."