Here Comes the Neighborhood


Here Comes the Neighborhood

When downtowns go downhill, some retailers fight back with massive revitalization projects

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.


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