Here Comes the Neighborhood
When downtowns go downhill, some retailers fight back with massive
Most large U.S. cities in the past 20 years have watched their vibrant
downtown pulses surrender to serene suburban scenes from a shopping mall.
In Oklahoma City, however, retailers and community members such as Jim Clark
are fighting back with a multimillion-dollar revitalization project aimed
at restoring life to the city limits.
Clark is president of B.C. Clark, a jeweler with a flagship store in
downtown Oklahoma City and branches in the suburbs. Several years ago, Clark
and other community members offered money and support to Metro Area Projects
(MAPS), an organization created to support an aggressive redevelopment project.
Through MAPS' outreach, the city's residents voted to support a 1¢
sales tax over five years, a period which will end this spring.
The tax raised about $300 million. The money has been channeled into
a variety of construction projects, including a brand new baseball stadium,
the expansion and renovation of a convention center, the building up of
a warehouse district into a trendy neighborhood of bars and restaurants,
a new hotel and a canal and walkway to attract tourists and locals alike.
The change has been astounding, says Clark. "This is the first time
I've seen young people coming to downtown," he says. "Young couples
don't usually think about coming downtown to shop for their engagement rings,
and it's taken literally decades to overcome those feelings. Now they're
seeing the heart and soul of the city is here. The city has an identity
again. It helps us communicate our identity too."
Clark says retail stores still have not developed to their potential
in the revitalized area, but the influx of new visitors and professionals
who work in nearby office buildings comprise a "captive audience"
for his business.
To expand on MAPS' achievements, Clark and some neighboring business
owners have formed a Business Improvement District. The district will implement
a self-imposed tax for neighborhood property owners to use for streetscape
and beautification projects. "Security is a big issue, though this
is actually a safer area statistically than some of the suburban malls,"
says Clark. "It's just a matter of changing the perception to make
people feel safer."
by Stacey King
Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.