It wasn't City Councilor Jack Henderson's most eloquent public statement, but standing in an empty North Tulsa field and screaming into a microphone, it was one of his most heartfelt.
"They tell me that when you're excited, you're supposed to show it, and I'm excited!" he told dozens of North Tulsa residents and community leaders Nov. 19. "Since I've been on the City Council, I've wanted to raise property values in North Tulsa, and I guarantee that with projects like this, we're on our way."
The program that got Henderson so excited is called Franchising Opportunities Reinforced With Assistance Rewards, or FORWARD.
Crafted by the North Tulsa Economic Development Initiative, or nTEDI, which was created by Mayor Kathy Taylor last year, FORWARD is offering business loans and coaching for 10 North Tulsa residents who are interested in owning a franchise business. Lana Turner-Addison, director of human rights for the city, said nTEDI decided to focus on franchise establishments because those businesses have proven business models and high likelihoods of success. The Tulsa Economic Development Commission has raised almost $1 million for the project so far.
The 10 businesses will operate under one roof to be built near the corner of Peoria Avenue and E. Reading Street, just across the street from a shopping center with a vacant storefront that has been emblematic of the need for revitalization in North Tulsa since the Albertson's grocery store pulled out in 2007. Though North Tulsa once had several grocery stores, it now has none, forcing many residents to drive to Owasso, Turley or Sand Springs for essentials.
Katie Plohocky, chair of nTEDI's retail development committee and a real estate agent with Walman Commercial Real Estate Services, said North Tulsans spend $210 million each year on goods and services outside of North Tulsa. For comparison, she said a dollar changed hands 15 times within the North Tulsa community before being spent elsewhere back in the days of old Greenwood and Black Wall Street.
"There was already frustration within the community because of the lack of retail and places to sit down and eat," Turner-Addison said. "When Albertson's closed, people really felt like, now more than ever before, that Tulsa was continually depriving areas North of Pine Street of the development that was needed to sustain the neighborhoods."
City Councilor David Patrick, whose district includes the old Albertson's shopping center, however, said he expects a deal to bring a grocery store to that site will be completed by Jan. 1. He said the grocery store and the 10 franchises established through FORWARD will improve the quality of life for North Tulsans and draw new residents to the area.
"There's a lot of land with beautiful scenery, but to get people to move to North Tulsa and utilize an area that's not been developed, you need gas stations and grocery stores and other things to provide services to people so they don't have to drive 30 miles to get them," Plohocky said. "It is our intention to provide more of a mixed-housing atmosphere."
Attracting people to North Tulsa, however, also requires some work on the community's image, which Risha Grant of Xposure Public Relations said is tainted by widely held but false impressions.
"Part of the issue is that there are so many misconceptions, so many fears about North Tulsa, [such as] safety and if it's a place where people would like to come and eat dinner and so forth," she said. "We want to show people the humanity of North Tulsa, that North Tulsa is the most beautiful part of the city, and people here are not anybody to be scared of. ... And as these misconceptions are laid to rest, developers will begin to see North Tulsa as a viable place for investment."
Xposure is working with nTEDI on a campaign for North Tulsa that will include a Web site and a slogan for the community, though Grant stressed that the campaign will aim to unify North Tulsa with the rest of the city, not divide it.
"North Tulsa's often looked at like a city within a city," she said. "We want to come up with a slogan that will help make it a destination spot, but make sure it's an inclusive slogan."
Xposure is raising funds for its campaign by pitching it to area businesses and educational institutions. It has raised $185,000 so far and hopes to bring in $300,000 for a three-year marketing campaign.
"This is a beautiful part of the city with great treasures, but we've got to get the word out," Mayor Taylor said. "I hope [nTEDI] will forever lay to rest the myth that North Tulsa is not a good place to do business."
NTEDI is also crafting initiatives to improve the housing, appearance, job market, health care and education in North Tulsa, and it plans to use the money earned from leasing the 10 spaces on Peoria Avenue to expand the FORWARD program to other locations in North Tulsa.
"Things are starting to look up and come around for the North Tulsa community," Patrick said. "I'm going to be excited in the next couple of years about how it's going to be changing."
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