POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 29, 2010:
If downtown continues to come back, so will people who bring refuse
As Tulsa's focus continues to be centered on revamping the city's midsection and in particular, downtown, a group of city leaders, property owners and central business district enthusiasts on the Downtown Coordinating Council are beginning to polish the apple's core.
"It took us a few months to figure out where the budget needs to be spent," said Tom Wallace, who represents the Brady Arts District on the Downtown Coordinating Council. "We're finally getting organized, and now we have plans."
City officials created the Downtown Coordinating Council to take the place of a long dysfunctional Downtown Tulsa Unlimited, a 52-year-old nonprofit organization that handled some downtown maintenance services and sponsored events downtown in an effort to revamp the area of the city.
As the results of a recent KPMG study revealed a couple weeks ago, Tulsa has a lot of redundant services, one of which was DTU, which was formed to somehow turn the tide of growing suburbia of the late '50s back to downtown.
So, starting fresh, as a result of the creation of the Tulsa Stadium Improvement District, the DCC was formed and the city's contract with DTU at long last expired June 2009.
Now, with an almost $1.1 million annual budget created from the assessment tax on all properties within the Inner Dispersal Loop, the DCC has picked up its pace in managing the Tulsa Stadium Improvement District, said Clint Baranowski, a volunteer for the council.
First on the DCC's list to a better downtown was the cleanup and maintenance processes in the area. Prior to the Downtown Coordinating Council being created, DTU concentrated on cleaning up the area surrounding the core of downtown near the Main Mall at Fifth and Main Streets.
Wallace said the area around his business, Wallace Engineering at 200 E. Brady St., rarely had trash picked up and sidewalks swept. Once the new cleaning company began its services downtown, the DCC made sure cleaning services were spread throughout the entire area within the IDL because all the properties owners were paying the same assessment tax.
"We're trying to provide service on an equal basis," said Paul Strizek, the city of Tulsa's downtown maintenance manager. "I think we're doing an equal amount of service within the district as they were in the core area."
The almost $300,000 contract awarded to Unlimited Sweepers and Cleaners of Oklahoma City calls for the company to carry out daily street sweeping, litter pickup and unload almost 110 trash cans. Crews also keep up with landscaping around the Tulsa Convention Center and various flower beds and planters throughout downtown.
"We're working with the city of Tulsa because they provide some of those services as well," Baranowski said. "The DCC augments what the city of Tulsa was providing previously."
Some who live and work downtown might feel like fewer people work to clean their district, Strizek said. But while DTU did most of its cleaning of downtown manually, Unlimited Sweepers and Cleaners uses mechanized cleaning processes, which calls for fewer employees.
"Downtown Tulsa Unlimited had more people involved in cleaning downtown, but they were basically hand crews," Strizek said.
However, some views of downtown are out of DCC's hands. One perception the public has of downtown is that the area is unclean and unsafe due to the homeless population in the district, Strizek said. Some homeless will litter or sift through trash cans, creating a mess in the surrounding area.
"But there's a long-range plan to try to help the homeless get out of the cycle they're in," he said. "There are entities that are trying to get the chronic homeless ... into permanent housing. Hopefully, if those programs are successful, they can help them get out of that cycle."
A clean downtown is only part of the DCC's focus for the area, but deciding what the rest of that focus was took some time, Wallace said.
"If there is any complaint, it's that it took the DCC a little while to get their arms around what to do with the rest of the budget," he said. "Now I think it's getting better."
Wallace said part of the plan to better downtown is to add some green within the IDL. The landscape architect company Howell & Vancuren was recently hired to assist in following the Downtown Area Master Plan's guidelines in landscaping downtown. To further develop more green space, the DCC has agreed to put part of its budget toward watering newly planted trees for property owners if those owners provide an irrigation system, Wallace said.
The DCC also chose the local company Walsh Branding to assist in marketing downtown and creating a web page about the area, Baranowski said.
Another idea the DCC has been looking into is a banner campaign for the downtown area. Banners could be draped on the decorative "acorn" lights during events and holidays. Baranowski said the DCC plans to have a working banner campaign by the upcoming holiday season.
With the recent changes made and with plans to move forward, Wallace said he his confident Tulsa's downtown will only continue to grow and become more appealing.
"Tulsa's downtown is coming back," he said.
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