Planning for Economic Development

Article excerpt

For Oklahoma City to compete with similar cities like Austin, Denver, Kansas City, Memphis and Nashville, the challenges lie ahead in good planning and economic development to join the "big leagues" in the 21st century. John Dugan, the city's new planning director, is meeting such challenges.

To be competitive, Dugan said Oklahoma City needs good tax incentives.

"We don't have any good tax incentives," he said. "We don't have development incentives; building incentives."

Dugan, an Oklahoma City native, explained that planning departments in places like St. Louis, Kansas City and Denver have numerous brochures about how to obtain money from those cities, or receive money back from them. All the developers and investors need is a plan.

"It's all there and they can cut their prices by 50 percent," he said.

Oklahoma City is growing about one-fourth the rate of other cities, which have good incentives.

"They have good incentives, they've got a quality of life, they've got an environment conducive to people wanting to create wealth by investing from outside. We need to be competitive."

To stimulate the competition, Oklahoma City must increase the quality of life of the built-in environment, "what we see built around us," he said. Many people and organizations invest in a city based on the city's appearances.

"How they interact, how the streets work, how it looks, how easy it is to get around, shopping areas, neighborhoods, business areas," Dugan said. "We're competing with all those communities, so the real challenge here is to bring up our level of competition. That means we've got to be real concerned, and the council in particular, in what the streets look like and the signs, how much landscaping we have on commercial properties.

"Some people may think that's just a frill, but it isn't. It's what's expected from other places we're competing with for jobs for our future and that's really an important component. So we have to look a lot, and our new plan talks a lot, about how to enhance the appearance of the city."

Among the inducements Oklahoma City could use is creative use of its taxing laws -- tax abatements, tax refunds, special taxing districts, sliding scales for taxes for properties, and sales tax.

"Tax increment financing is part of the debate just approved, at least in concept," Dugan said. "I think that's really good. Kansas City, Missouri has over 45 tax increment districts in effect right now. They don't build anything without it.

"Using the tax laws is really important. Using the zoning laws to give developers, for instance, density bonuses if they put in a public park or amenities or if they want to build higher than otherwise. You get more values out of a piece of property if you can increase the intensity of development in exchange for public amenities like plazas, colonnades and different types of architectural features. There's a whole program of things like that that could be done."

A partnership between the private and public sector is vital in building the future of a city, Dugan said, to create wealth and enhance the quality of life of the community's people.

"When you knock head-to-head on every issue, you train to work with the neighborhoods so that the neighborhoods understand when the developer comes in and wants to do something nearby, there's not such huge battles all the time, so they can understand and negotiate," Dugan explained.

The most successful communities negotiate, collaborate and work together.

"If you don't have an environment that's conducive to that, you've got to create one," he said. "So that the bottom line is creating an environment for the future. People will want to come here and really invest here and grow the wealth of the community, and then everybody who is here already can participate in that."

Dugan said the plan has worked in Norfolk, Va. …