Private fundraising for an effort to make the Kendall-Whittier area a member of the state's Main Street program is going well, but the effort could be stalled by a lack of funds from the city.
Any community applying for membership in the state Department of Commerce program, which provides training and technical assistance for preservation-based commercial district revitalization, must raise $50,000 in private funds to help fund its operation, as well as secure a commitment for another $50,000 from the city in which it is located. That total includes funding for a director, who oversees the local program.
Teresa O'Rourke, a local real estate agent who is serving as the chairperson for the neighborhood's Main Street application committee, said a private fundraising effort has netted close to $45,000 so far--just a shade less than the $50,000 required by Department of Commerce.
She couldn't be happier about that success. But O'Rourke is worried that the unwillingness of the city--which is in the midst of a financial crisis--to kick in the other half of the money will sink Kendall-Whittier's chances.
"There was a resolution passed by the City Council," O'Rourke said. "But the mayor changed the verbiage on the application to say the city supported it but not with funding at this time, which is required by the Main Street program."
Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. indicated he would like to be able to help fund the program, but with the personnel and salary cuts the city is facing, he doesn't think it's possible.
"It's something we can't do," he said. "We just don't have it. So we have to rely on people's ingenuity and generosity to help out."
O'Rourke said she would be in contact with Commerce officials to see if the lack of a matching commitment from the city would disqualify Kendall-Whittier from membership or if funding from other sources could be substituted.
The Kendall-Whittier group submitted its application to the program earlier in January after several months of community meetings. O'Rourke and others believe membership in the program would help revitalize the struggling neighborhood, which is anchored by Whittier Square, located at Admiral and Lewis and often cited as the hub of what was the first urban shopping district outside of downtown Tulsa.
That area dates to 1916 and features many historically and architecturally significant buildings, according to O'Rourke. She said there is plenty of free parking in the area, adding that several revitalization projects there have been a success.
But the area targeted for membership in the Main Street program would be much larger. O'Rourke said it would extend north on Lewis to Independence and south on Lewis to 11th Street. It also would extend east and west on Admiral to 3rd Street and 6th Street.
O'Rourke understands the city is in a difficult position, but she believes Kendall-Whittier's membership in the Main Street program would provide the city with numerous benefits.
"We've got letters of support from some very prominent community people and organizations," she said, including former Tulsa Police Chief Ron Palmer. "The police get it. They understand that an active neighborhood is an eyes-on neighborhood. And all the business owners get it, that it's important to the tax base."
O'Rourke had targeted this year for Kendall-Whittier's application to the program because the Commerce Department had indicated it would be granting membership to two communities instead of just one, as it typically does. She said the list of potential members already has been pared down to a handful from the 11 communities that initially expressed an interest, so she likes Kendall-Whittier's odds, despite the lack of participation by the city.
"There's a lot of stuff up in the air, but we don't know how the judges are viewing it," she said.
Bartlett said the city was not able to present any alternatives to Kendall-Whittier boosters that might have replaced the $50,000 commitment.
"No, other than approaching the foundations that have been so inclined to help," he said. "There are several. I think they're in the process of doing that. So there's that possibility. If it doesn't work out, we'll still be here to help. Red Fork in west Tulsa has (a Main Street program), and they've gone through this process. They've been able to identify funding by other means. It's not easy."
O'Rourke said the response of small business owners and residents in the area to the fundraising campaign was gratifying and demonstrates their depth of commitment.
"We've had residents who make less than $20,000 a year who pledged $100 a year," she said. "Nobody wants to lose that momentum, even if we don't get the Main Street program. But, obviously, the Main Street program would be our first choice. If we don't get it, we'll find another way to make it happen."
According to Commerce Department figures, the Main Street programs located around the state have had considerable success at spurring economic development in the nearly two decades since the program was established. Commerce officials report that more than $467 million in private investment has occurred in its 42 member communities, along with a net gain of more than 3,900 business openings and more than 12,300 new jobs.
O'Rourke said she is hoping to receive word from Commerce officials about Kendall-Whittier's application by the middle of February.
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