Oklahoma City Council hears peer cities’ development tales

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

by Michael Kimball

The Oklahoman

Patience, partnership, planning and compromise will be key elements in sustaining Oklahoma City’s redevelopment momentum if experiences in Fort Worth, Texas, and Charlotte, N.C., are indications.  

The Oklahoma City Council spent Tuesday morning in a special meeting at Oklahoma City Community College to hear the redevelopment stories of Fort Worth and Charlotte, both a few years further along with major redevelopment initiatives similar to things happening here.   

Planners from both cities shared their stories with the council and stressed that a longterm view, careful planning, partnerships with the private sector and compromises in the face of controversy have been catalysts to sustained success. 

Charlotte’s redevelopment efforts focused on a revitalized downtown core and a revamped, expanded transportation service in the metro, said Debra Campbell, planning director for Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Continued efforts focusing on making the downtown area viable, livable, memorable and sustainable have been hallmarks.   

But lessons have been learned over decades and applied in contemporary efforts, Campbell said.   

The city has worked hard in recent years to minimize the number of people displaced by urban redevelopment after low-income families were kicked out of downtown in the 1960s.  

“We will never, ever make that mistake again ” Campbell vowed.  

Charlotte’s transit renaissance involved making sure a light rail system serving outlying areas connected with bus services to help commuters, not just tourists and people who spend all day downtown.   

And in words that may resonate with people following development of the future Oklahoma City Boulevard downtown, Campbell left no doubt where she thinks the focus should be when tackling Oklahoma City’s transportation challenges.   

“A good land use plan is a good transportation plan,” Campbell said. “But land use should lead.”  

Greater Oklahoma City Chamber President Roy Williams echoed Campbell’s remarks when sharing lessons the chamber has learned from its own visits to peer cities.   

“You build transit for the city you want, not the city you have,” he said.   

A patient and well-detailed planning process with the long term in mind also has been key in Charlotte, Campbell said.   

Fort Worth
The redevelopment project in Fort Worth most similar to an effort in Oklahoma City is the relocation of Interstate 30 in downtown Fort Worth. The new alignment is a few blocks south of the previous roadway, which is similar to what Oklahoma City has done with the new alignment of Interstate 40.  

Images shared by Randle Harwood, Fort Worth’s director of planning and development, showed what Oklahoma City leaders hope to see take shape here: An ugly, elevated roadway transiting over a blighted area has given way to an elegant boulevard that has already spurred redevelopment, with more planned in the near future.  

But Mike Brennan, president of Fort Worth South Inc., a nonprofit development advocate similar to Downtown OKC Inc., cautioned Oklahoma City leaders that “tough compromises” will have to be made. For example, planners in one Fort Worth district hoped for a code requirement for multistory buildings, but compromised when some developers were willing to invest only in single-story buildings for now.

Still, Fort Worth’s mixed-use development successes should be encouraging to Oklahoma City’s civic leaders looking for a broader range of development in the urban core. Clearly written city codes, investment from public-private partnerships and clear vision similar to some projects in Oklahoma City have yielded small businesses in Fort Worth that occupy the first floor of some buildings, many that take design cues from regional history, with residential loft space overhead.