Oklahoma City: Bright and Booming in the Heartland

Download Main Street News PDF 2009/12

2009-12-MSNews CoverOklahoma City has repeatedly made national news with reports of economic indicators showing signs of resisting the recession. BusinessWeek listed it third in its "Forty Strongest U.S. Metropolitan Economies" released in October 2009, trailing only San Antonio and Austin-Round Rock, Texas. With low unemployment rates, strong housing market, and gross metropolitan product, Oklahoma City's economy showed definite signs of stability.

Read the Oklahoma Main Streets case studies in this issue:
 Stockyards City
 Plaza District
 Artists Alley

That same month, CNN Money magazine listed it as the best large city in which to launch a small business, calling Oklahoma City stable and affordable and praising its diverse local economy and "high concentration of deep-pocket investors" who are connected to the gas and oil industry. In 2008, the city's housing market was ranked the most affordable, among large metropolitan areas in the United States by Bizjournals.com.

You could say that Oklahoma City has taken off like a shot, much like the way it was founded. In 1889, a gun was fired and a frenzy of about 10,000 homesteaders scrambled in a historic land grab. Becoming a railway hub and center of commerce, the city doubled its population within 10 years. In 1928, oil was discovered, bringing prosperity as well as numerous oil rigs, one of which was located on the lawn of the capitol building.

Oklahoma City has been noted in several national media outlets for its strong economy and bright future. © Oklahoma Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The growth of the suburbs put an end to Oklahoma City's heyday. Population loss led to vacancies that opened the door for urban renewal demolition. In an effort to get things back on track, in 1993 Mayor Ron Norrick rallied 54 percent of residents to pass the Metropolitan Area Projects plan, or MAPS.

Residents voted for a five-year, one-cent sales tax increase to fund nine major catalyst projects downtown, including a new central library, a new ballpark and arena, a canal through Bricktown, a trolley system, improvements to the North Canadian River for recreational uses, and renovations to the civic center and fairgrounds. This series of capital improvements helped bring the city a higher quality of life, new jobs, residual investment, and a momentum for growth that led to other MAPS campaigns. In 2001, voters passed the second plan, MAPS for Kids, which channeled around $470 million in sales tax revenue to Oklahoma City schools.

The third MAPS plan was introduced during Mayor Mick Cornett's 2007 State of the City Address when he announced a survey to get residents' input on future city improvements. More than 85 percent of respondents supported a MAPS 3 and many suggested that it focus on road and transit improvements. The plan was put to a vote on December 8, 2009, and 54 percent of citizens approved the seven year and nine month, one-cent sales tax increase to raise $777 million.

MAPS 3 projects include a 70-acre, amenity-filled park that will link downtown with the Oklahoma River, a rail-based streetcar system, a new convention center, biking and walking trails, Oklahoma River upgrades for rowing and kayaking courses, health and wellness senior centers, and more.

Mayor Cornett celebrated the passage of the MAPS 3 plan and said that Oklahoma City's golden age will continue because of it. Billions of dollars of private development resulted from the first two MAPS, and the hope is that the trend will continue. A citizen oversight board will help determine which of the planned projects will come first.

Unfortunately, the last time many Americans checked in with Oklahoma City was in 2000, when the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum was unveiled as a tribute to the victims of Timothy McVeigh's attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995. The largest domestic terrorist attack on American land resulted in the deaths of 168 people, including the 19 children in the daycare center. That dark moment in this city's recent past failed to deter the resolve of its citizens. Revitalization and an eye on becoming a world-class city make Oklahoma City a great place to live, start a business, and enjoy an ever-growing number of amenities.  

What's Where: Districts in Oklahoma City

Here is a list of cool districts in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City is one of the three largest cities in the nation with some 632 square miles within the city limits (this excludes some 60+ suburbs).

Arts District. Walk to this newly created downtown area. The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is housed in a recent past architectural gem, the former Centre Theater. Stop at the Museum Café for drinks and some of the best French fries to be found. On Thursday evenings, there are cocktails on the rooftop. Visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum or stroll through the Myriad Botanical Gardens before visiting the Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory.  

Asian District. The subject of articles in National Geographic, the Wall Street Journal, and other major publications, this wonderful area on Classen Boulevard from N.W. 23rd Street to N.W. 30th Street has many excellent − and inexpensive − restaurants and shops. Enjoy some pho, Vietnamese noodle soup, along this stretch of historic Route 66. Experience happy hour at The Prohibition Room in the Gold Dome, a major preservation victory. This is just a short cab ride from downtown.

Automobile Alley. Directly north of the convention center is Broadway Avenue, better known as Automobile Alley. This row of historic car showrooms is the largest concentration of certified tax credit projects in the state. Coffee Slingers and Java Dave's are local gathering spots. Eat at Red Prime, a contemporary steak house in an old Buick Building. Venture north along N.E. 9th Street to the Iguana Grill for Mexican dishes, then hop next door to Sara Sara for cupcakes. While you walk, look for the historic sidewalk plaques that talk about the car models of yesteryear that were once sold here. Visit this district on the 10 years of Tax Credits in Automobile Alley tour.

Capitol Hill. A short cab ride south of downtown is an emerging Hispanic cultural center that once was a separate little town. You'll find small, hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants sprinkled throughout the area. Visit this district on the Capitol Hill Urban Main Street tour.

Deep Deuce. Originally a hot bed of the 1920s emerging jazz scene, this once African-American district is now home to many new residents and businesses. Within walking distance from the conference site and just over the Walnut Street Bridge from Bricktown, this area offers the Deep Deuce Grill and Sage Restaurant.

Downtown Oklahoma City. There is much to do in downtown Oklahoma City. For a wonderful overview of all the districts, visit this website:  http://www.downtownokc.com.  Tours of Art Deco buildings, The Underground, tax credit projects, Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, a city overview, and MAPs projects will go through downtown and the areas around the city's core.

Eastside Capitol Gateway. This urban Main Street program is home to some of the greatest Oklahoma landmarks: the State Capitol, the Oklahoma History Center, and the Governor's Mansion. For a good overview of Oklahoma art and history, this is the gateway. Eastside is a short cab ride from downtown. The Big Bash will be held at the Oklahoma History Center in this district.

Film Row. Due west of downtown − and within walking distance of the convention center − is a remake of a classic show, Film Row. This area of classic Art Deco storefronts is being reclaimed by professionals, artists, and residents. Public improvements that are under way will bring Technicolor to the silver streetscape. 

MidTown. Just a short cab ride, or hearty walk, from downtown, MidTown is an 81-square block district of rehabilitated buildings and new construction of all types. For Main Streeters, there is a super collection of restaurants: Café do Brasil, Irma's Burgers, the Grateful Bean, 1492, Midtown Deli, Prairie Thunder Bakery, and James E. McNellie's Public House − all locally owned. Historic eateries include Brown's Bakery and The Boulevard Cafeteria. Visit this district on the Midtown Urban Neighborhood tour.

Paseo District. Just a short cab ride from downtown, the Paseo District features two curvilinear blocks of late-1920s Spanish Revival buildings filled with art galleries, unique shops, restaurants, and bars. Once billed as the "Haight-Ashbury of Oklahoma City," the area retains its counter-culture feel even though many of the revolutionaries have aged a bit. Visit this district on the Paseo Artists Colony tour.

Plaza District. This small, two-block district has a concentration of unique live/work businesses that offer merchandise you can't find in other parts of town. Several Guatemalan restaurants, as well as other small cafes, dot the district.

Route 66. Historic Route 66 meanders through Oklahoma City. It's not well marked, but it still has the feel of the open road. For the most part, take N.W. 23rd Street west from the State Capitol. Turn north on Classen Boulevard. Turn west on N.W. 39th Street and head west to California, the state. If you want to say you made a stop on Route 66, here are some historic, new, and interesting places to visit: Cheever's (adaptive re-use in a floral shop), Big Truck Taco (tacos, of course), the Historic Milk Bottle Building (N.W. 24th and Classen, $1.85 Vietnamese sandwiches on French baguettes), Grand House (Asian), Kamp's (historic neighborhood grocery), Lido (Asian), Fung's Kitchen (Asian), Braum's (local ice cream store chain), Coit's Drive-In (burgers and classic cars), Ann's Chicken Fry (what else do you need?), and 66 Bowl (burgers, beer, and bowling!). Note: Three tours will be offered during the conference. One will go west to Weatherford and Clinton, Oklahoma. One tour will go east to Chandler and Arcadia, Oklahoma. Another tour will go to El Reno, Oklahoma, a GAMSA town on Route 66.

Stockyards City. Ready for a true western experience? Founded in 1910 as a commercial district to support meat packing plants, Stockyards City still retains its western flair. Shop for just about anything from boots, jeans, and hats to western décor, saddles, and ranching supplies. Be sure to have a chicken fried steak at the world-famous Cattlemen's Café or Stockyards City Café. This district is about a 10-minute cab ride from downtown. Visit this district on the Historic Stockyards City tour.

Western Avenue. Just a short cab ride from downtown is the eclectic, rambling, surprising Western Avenue. Beginning at N.W. 36th Street and heading north to Wilshire Avenue is a string of wonderful antique stores, vintage clothing shops, record stores, and restaurants of all types. Guest Room Records, Cock-of-the-Walk Bar, the 42nd Street Candy Company, Hideaway Pizza, Atomic Scooters (at N.W. 30th), and the French Cowgirl are places worth exploring. A core group of restaurants are within walking distance: Musashi's, The Lobby, Will's, The Will Rogers Center, Sushi Neko, Café Nova, and VZD's.

Oklahoma Main Street: Celebrating a Quarter Century of Revitalization Successes 

The timing of the 2010 conference couldn't be better for the Oklahoma Main Street Center. The program, which is housed in the Department of Commerce, is celebrating its 25th year, and a lot has changed since the days when it only had five Main Street communities. When the program began, it focused on communities with populations ranging from 5,000 to 50,000. Today, Oklahoma Main Street serves 42 programs: five are urban programs and half of the remaining programs are in communities with less than 5,000 people. What's more, five Oklahoma Main Street communities have won the Great American Main Street Award: El Reno, 2006; Okmulgee, 2002; Enid, 2001; Newkirk, 2000; and Cordell, 1999.

As the program grows, so does the Oklahoma Main Street Center's services and staff. Many readers know Architect Ron Frantz, who started with the program in 1985. He and Director Linda Barnett have been joined by Tracey Cox, Lindsey Galloway, Jim Watters, and Alice Johnson to bring local programs innovative services in all four points. Local programs benefit from architectural services, including interior design; marketing; business development; and promotional services.

Oklahoma City Hot Spots: Where to Unwind after Educational Sessions

The following were provided by Downtown Oklahoma City, Inc.

•Over the Counter Bar in the First National Center concourse: Grab a cold one at this blast-from-the-past dive bar. Millions of dollars have been made and lost in this secret lair of oilies and wheeler dealers.

•In Midtown, enjoy the rooftop at the popular Bossa Nova Bar at Café do Brazil.

•Two new party spots in Bricktown: sing at the Dueling Piano Bar or dance on the bar at Coyote Ugly.

•Grab a bowling ball and a great martini at the Red Pin on the Canal in Lower Bricktown.

•People watch on the deck at the Purple Bar at Nonna's with music on the patio and happy hour half-price appetizers.

Cocktails on the Skyline. Thursday nights on the Oklahoma Museum of Art rooftop you can score "$5 after 5:00" deals and enjoy live music, as well as admission to the museum. 

Each year, a local program can host a training so that program managers from all across the state can visit a fellow Main Street community and learn about revitalization by taking part in hands-on activities. Oklahoma Main Street also offers an energy grant program that is funded through federal stimulus dollars. "Energy conservation is another way our small businesses can increase their profitability and feel good about their efforts environmentally," says Barnett.

The Oklahoma Main Street Center also works to extend its reach beyond its network. To help spread the "image message," its DesignWorks program brings preservation and design services to non-Main Street communities. DesignWorks is a two-day workshop with design professionals who help members of local communities identify ways to maximize their existing assets. Focused on projecting a positive image of downtown, the team looks at everything from sidewalks to buildings to wayfinding. DesignWorks was developed through a partnership among the Oklahoma Arts Council, the Oklahoma Main Street Center, and OSU Cooperative Extension. "We want all Oklahoma communities to celebrate their heritage and work toward more attractive, welcoming environments," says Barnett.

Oklahoma also has a variety of online resources that anyone can access. Its website offers a number of business assistance tools that Main Street businesses and volunteers from any state can use. Several enhanced Excel spreadsheets offer explanations of the tools and formulas that business owners can use to plug in information and get the answers they need to improve business operations. The "Break-even Sales Analysis Tool" helps calculate how much revenue is needed to pay for expenses and still yield a profit. The "How Price Changes Impact Profit" is a management tool that estimates how much a store will need to increase its business and still make money when discounting merchandise. The "Cash Management Tool" calculates short-term cash flow. And, finally, the "Company Pro Forma Tool" helps create the framework of a good business plan.

Oklahoma Main Street has helped change the face of communities throughout the state. Cumulatively, Main Street communities have seen $707,552,794 in public/private reinvestment; 3,610 building rehabilitations; a 3,980 net gain in new business expansions; a 12,506 net gain in new jobs; and 763,356 volunteer hours. Barnett believes that so many historic buildings are still in use because of the state Main Street program.

"The Oklahoma Main Street Center works closely with the State Historic Preservation Office and I think we have done a great deal toward bringing the preservation message to the grassroots of Oklahoma," says Barnett.

A Warm Welcome

Hosting the conference in 2010 means a lot to the Oklahoma people working in Main Street revitalization, explains Barnett. "The 2010 National Main Streets Conference coming to Oklahoma City is a culmination for us. We have traveled to the Main Street conference for more than 20 years and have seen it grow and become the best in its field," she says. "To bring it to Oklahoma is truly a goal realized for us. Oklahoma City has made outstanding improvements in its downtown and they are ready to show off their accomplishments. It's also a chance for us to highlight our many outstanding Main Street communities."

The central location of Oklahoma City also should make it easy for conference-goers to travel by car, which opens up wonderful road trip and extended stay opportunities. “We work very closely with our friends at the Department of Tourism and they would love to help anyone coming to the conference find a perfect itinerary for visiting other parts of our state,” says Barnett. “We will roll out the red carpet. I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed — our hospitality is well known.”



National Main Streets Conference: Oklahoma City, May 2-5, 2010

There is only one gathering each year that brings together people who understand exactly what kind of work you do… the kinds of opportunities specifically available to a community like yours… the types of challenges you face and the creative ways to overcome them. It's the National Main Streets Conference.

For three days, you'll experience a whirlwind of great ideas, inspiring speakers, innovative solutions, and thought leaders who are involved in historic preservation-based economic development. Other conferences may explore community revitalization, but only our conference frames it within the structure of the proven Main Street Four-Point Approach® and shows you how to achieve your goals using volunteer teams.

We are pleased this year to showcase the successes and stories of Main Street communities throughout Oklahoma. This article showcases our host city and its revitalization story. Case studies from communities throughout Oklahoma highlight what's been happening in recent years around this great state to get you amped about joining us in Oklahoma City for our upcoming conference.

Free Main Street 101 Training from National Experts!

There's no free lunch anymore, but there is free Main Street 101 training by National Trust Main Street Center (NTMSC) staff. New directors, board members, and volunteers are invited to participate in our day-long, free training on the basics of the Main Street approach on Sunday, May 2, at the 2010 National Main Streets Conference. You don't have to be registered for the conference, but we bet the valuable education and the enthusiastic atmosphere will make you want to stay. If you are a Main Street executive director from a town near Oklahoma City with board members and volunteers who plan to experience the conference vicariously through you, encourage them to come for the day and attend the free Main Street 101 sessions. NTMSC staff will cover each point of the Main Street Approach and share inspiring examples so you'll know how things should be done.  Main Street 101 Training (free): Sunday, May 2, 8:30 a.m.–6:00 p.m 

Planning Your Trip

If you've only visited the state capital – Tulsa – get ready to be wowed. It's difficult to offer everything to everyone – but Oklahoma City has such a wide range of cultural and entertainment amenities that you're sure to find something to do after the conference's educational sessions. After you arrive at your hotel, you can unpack and hop on the trolley to explore.

If you're bringing the family, check out the Frontier City Theme Park; sports fans can head to the Amateur Softball Association's National Softball Hall of Fame; if the Old West is your thing, head over to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum; and if eclectic is your favorite adjective, stop by the World Organization of China Painters Museum or the World of Wings Pigeon Center.

But that's only scratching the surface. How is that possible? Well, Oklahoma City is the second largest city in the continental United States by geographical size, after all.

Planning an extended trip or curious about what there is do after hours? Here are a few links:

­Oklahoma City Convention and Visitor's Bureau. Tourism videos, visitors' guides, and coupons.

­Downtown Oklahoma City, Inc. Find out where to eat, shop, and play.

­Metro Transit. Bus and trolley maps and schedules.

­Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Don't miss the Chihuly glass installations in the lobbies.

­Oklahoma River Cruises.

­Bricktown. Visit this website even if it is jut to check out the really cool interactive map with 360-degree views of the district. Find a place to hang out or have dinner.