Broken Arrow Mayor J. Wade McCaleb attributes his city's growth to the Broken Arrow Expressway. But now it is up to McCaleb and other city leaders to keep that growth going.
The highway was constructed in the late 1960s to connect Broken Arrow AND areas of South Tulsa to Downtown Tulsa. The highway project helped the sleepy little city to grow its population. In 1970, Broken Arrow's population stood at 11,787. Today, officials estimate the population is more than 100,000 people.
While Tulsa lost more than 10,000 population from 2000 to 2006, Broken Arrow gained more than 20,000.
And the city is still growing. Just last year, the city issued 1,000 residential building permits, said Keith Sterling, director of communications for the City of Broken Arrow.
Was it just a highway that made a town grow? Yes and no. Many believe that the Broken Arrow Expressway opened South Tulsa and Broken Arrow up for growth. While the BA E-way provided access to what was then a little town out in the country, the city grew by maximizing what it had to offer--open spaces, country-style living, cheaper land and bigger homes for growing families.
And Broken Arrow is a fairly safe place to live, McCaleb said, pointing to the city's low crime rate. The Tulsa suburb is in the Morgan Quinto Press's Top 20 safest cities. The research looks at 371 cities in the U.S. Tulsa ranks at 335, just above Stockton, Calif.
The city, along with Edmond, Owasso and Lawton, initiated Senate Bill 920, which Gov. Brad Henry signed the bill into law on June 6. It allows cities with populations more than 65,000 to provide basic training academies. The law also changes the composition of the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) board, increases the number of training and continuing education hours as well as redefines CLEET director qualifications.
With the new law, Broken Arrow plans to start its own basic training academy.
Broken Arrow is one of the more affordable communities to live in. Business Week recently ranked the Tulsa suburb one of the 25 most affordable cities to live in. Broken Arrow's median house price is $194,900. Cost of living in Broken Arrow is 18.10 percent less than the national average.
Broken Arrow's public schools system ranks high marks and the city benefits as well from the growth of Northeastern State University's Broken Arrow campus.
The university decided to begin offering classes in Broken Arrow in the late 1990s.
NSU Associate Vice President Ed Huckeby said the university first offered courses in office space they rented. They quickly outgrew it.
After citizens voted the approval of an initial $16 million bond issue to provide larger facilities for the school, the community got behind BA leaders who lobbied for NSU's inclusion in the massive, county-wide Vision 2025 sales tax program. Through Vision 2025, NSU-Broken Arrow received $26 million for classroom facilities.
Even though the Tulsa suburb saw steady increases in population and some quality-of-life improvements like the NSU campus, the city didn't experience the retail growth that it would have liked.
Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Mickey Thompson said that Broken Arrow's proximity to the Woodland Hills shopping corridor along 71st Street and Memorial Drive put some limits on the city's retail growth.
Retailers were not interested in Broken Arrow since its corporate boundary is just two miles from the shopping corridor, he said.
With little retail development happening, it meant people spent their money outside of Broken Arrow. City leaders wanted to change that. McCaleb said the city began looking at ways to bring more businesses to Broken Arrow.
To achieve a more "business friendly" environment, in 2005, the city created the Development Services Department that features a one-stop shop for permitting, information and plans review.
Broken Arrow also put together an incentive package to bring a Bass Pro Outdoor World shop. The package is reported to include the city paying some of the $20 million construction fee, spending $3.5 million in water, sewer and utility improvements, as well donating about 19.15 acres of land for the 130,000 square-feet store.
The decision to offer incentives was controversial and is still viewed with close scrutiny, but it was an eye-opening and certain a tourist magnet.
Efforts to re-energize the retail business community seem to be paying off. Broken Arrow has seen a lot of growth in retail with stores like Lowe's and a number of restaurants being open inside the city's corporate boundaries. Sterling said there are discussions for a new Wal-Mart Super Center on 71st Street near the Creek Turnpike and new health care facilities.
In a joint effort, recently, the chamber of commerce, the Broken Arrow School District and the city raised $120,000 to contract with Angelou Economics to develop a strategic economic development plan.
The idea was to hire the consultant, not to tell city what to do, but help the city see what needs to be done, Thompson said.
Angelou Economics recommended a variety of things for Broken Arrow to do, including starting a young professionals group, creating a beautification committee to improve the city's appearance, developing an angel network for venture capital financing, and establishing an economic development corporation.
Thompson hopes the community can act on all of the suggestions. Work has already begun on some. For instance, work has already begun to establish the Broken Arrow Economic Development Corporation.
He said funding will come from the city, the school district and the private sector. The city of Broken Arrow allocated about $340,000 for the corporation out of its budget for fiscal year 2008.
The chamber of commerce will act as the administrator hiring the staff and providing other administrative support for the corporation, Thompson said.
City officials are taking initiative to change first impressions as it changes the city's seal--its brand--seen on city communications and on city signs. Sterling the current mark, simply the state seal with a broken arrow over top, is outmoded.
A new brand is important as a statement and a first impression, Sterling said.
Leaders also want to work with existing businesses and plan to make site visits.
"This isn't a tea visit," Thompson said. With the visit, leaders can identify businesses ready to expand and how city organizations can help with expansion plans.
As a city, Broken Arrow needs to become a bigger player in the metropolitan area, the region and the state, he said. It means the city and its leaders need to lobby the legislature and get involved with regional groups such as the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce.
"We cannot be isolated. We need to be part of the Greater Tulsa area and be a big player in Oklahoma," Thompson said.
In the past, the city has been successful in lobbing and playing a regional role. McCaleb points to the late 1990s when city leaders lobbied the legislature for the NSU-Broken Arrow campus.
Then there is Vision 2025 -- an omnibus series of county-wide sales tax increases to fund various projects throughout Tulsa County, including the BOK Events Center, river development proposals and neighborhood improvements.
The sales tax program succeeded in part because Tulsa leaders reached out to Broken Arrow, said Jan Gordon, a Broken Arrow realtor and resident. She pointed out that the city of Tulsa attempted to pass similar programs but failed -- twice.
Like Tulsa has only recently come to appreciate, Broken Arrow leaders recognize now that they need to provide something for young people to do. McCaleb said many Broken Arrow young people go to Tulsa in search of activities.
But they would prefer not to because they feel safer in Broken Arrow, he said.
Sustaining growth in Broken Arrow may rely on simply planning. The city maintains a five-year master plan that is regularly updated to respond to changes in the community, McCaleb said.
Broken Arrow kept plans for another highway loop in their planning documents, he said, while other communities like Tulsa took the loop out. Today the highway loop -- the Creek Turnpike -- has been built.
Now it is new place for Broken Arrow to grow.
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