Downtown Tulsa is in a muted boomtown mode.
There is a bevy of new data, soon to be fully available on changes in the daytime/employment population of downtown Tulsa, retail velocity and an array of other signal statistics that highlight the character and extent of the recent upturn in the downtown/IDL space in Tulsa. I've sort of jumped the gun with this piece, but, over the course of the next three to four weeks-- -- early in the New Year -- UTW will highlight some of these data and what they portend. I'll try to use a strong visual approach to make the trends and their import evident.
Downtown Tulsa is not core city Hong Kong, or some other hyper growth enclave, but Tulsa's downtown is definably undergoing a growth spike that is remarkable. The uptick is amazing especially given the weight nationally, and in Oklahoma, of the still anemic recovery from the most toxic economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Massive investments in traffic generating assets like the BOK Arena, the baseball stadium and the expanded civic center facility are part of the forces in play. The BOK facility is an especially powerful vector that continues to break all expectations in terms of its revenue production and collateral impacts on downtown retail and other core businesses. Some design and development professionals call the impacts the "Gehry Effect" -- an allusion to the outsized impact that a large, highly innovative edifice can have on a city. The effect is named after totemic architect Frank Gehry, on the completion of his iconoclastic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
A second vector for downtown Tulsa is the continued flowering of retail, restaurant, art and entertainment ventures in Tulsa's downtown and in the midtown area -- including Eliot Nelson's ensemble of projects, and some really exciting mega-projects, including the just announced University of Oklahoma /University of Tulsa School of Community Medicine (SOCM) in the downtown/East Village site and the All Souls/Unitarian congregations fateful relocation to a new spot, again in Tulsa's so called East Village.
Another weighty driver: large dollars available for fueling a number of big projects in Tulsa via the George Kaiser Family Foundation and its strategic placements. SOCM is a big beneficiary of these dollars and will be a unique institution, in no small measure, because of the new path allowed by this bounty.
Tulsa's downtown is on a trajectory that looks likely to really improve, in the short term, our prospects for garnering additional employment, new economic opportunities and a higher quality of life for many of the folks who reside here.
In the last few months, nearly 200 additional apartment units in the downtown/ inner dispersal loop have been announced. This brings the count to nearly 1400 -- that is the number of downtown units that are, or will soon be available for housing. And while this number is a tiny fraction of the more than 230,000 housing units in the City proper, it is a significant advance over previous years and portents, in the opinion of several long time city observers. Epic change.
Part of the change on the housing front comes from dramatic shifts in the availability of mortgages and attitudes among a cadre of Tulsans--an outlook evident in a Tulsa downtown residential demand study completed earlier this year. But the Tulsa outlook is part and parcel of a larger national shift. Christianna McCausland, an urban scene writer for the Christian Science Monitor, said this past summer that the evidence suggested: "potential homebuyers are putting off of purchases... and renters are choosing to rent for longer periods of time. After reaching a high in 2004, the share of America who owe on their homes has fallen to the lowest level in 13 years -- and it's likely to slide more."
Richard Florida, the celebrated development planner/theorist, has written widely about this housing rethink for Atlantic Monthly magazine and in his new "Reset" book. And we can add the sea change in housing, housing preferences and types that will be brought about once Tulsa's newly minted comprehensive plan is in play.
And having sizable numbers of residents in downtown and, hopefully, a quantum leap in visitors--the result should have electric impacts on commute patterns, the character and pace of development in the downtown, our midtown and some near in parts of north Tulsa.
Already, ambient changes in traffic and emerging contention for some parking spaces in the downtown, has occasioned a new study of parking in the downtown core. There are many issues -- including the state of parking meters in the core: the existing pool of City-owned meters is a mix of very old and failing units, units that have expired, temporarily decommissioned meters and new machines -- meter repair practices and savvy use of newer, more flexible meters, according to some city workers, is chaotic and discontinuous. Also there is apparently a real need to redeploy some meters in light of new uses, contingent congestion and emerging circulation issues in the downtown.
Managing parking in the downtown is a "trim tab" challenge -- bad solutions have the potential to rob merchants, service-centric offices/commercial firms and other operations that need quick access to shops in the CBD (eateries, small retail operators, food delivery outfits etc) of the "flash" parking so central to their viability.
Bad practices and too much downtown parking are also wildly inconsistent with any effort, even ones with only modest yields, to encourage transit use, ride-sharing or drive/park/shuffle-systems that Tulsa ought to be examining. And while the dynamics of CBD daytime parking are not the same as after-hour play, there is an accelerating overlap that will require new strategies including looking at fresh ways of customizing parking and making it a better fit for merchants.
The often counter intuitive, but powerful ideas of UCLA's Donald Shoup, a renowned planning/traffic guru, are highly material here -- and merit heavy attention for Tulsa decision makers.
What we have amounts to a pretty powerful passel of new dynamics for our downtown -- a space that seems to be affixed with tiny pieces of magic -- and a place that is the engine of growth for the entire metropolitan area.
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