Coming Paradigm Shift in OKC Community/Economic Development?
Bart Binning, Ed. D.
We are, it is suspected, entering a new paradigm when evaluating the public assistance needed to support economic development; in the future we will look at the more overarching-concept of community re-development rather than the narrow-focused concept of economic re-development. This new paradigm was launched by the requirements for developers to take advantage of opportunity zones (OZ), which generally require the assembly of a variety of public/private funding sources to meet community approach to job creation in economically depressed areas of high unemployment. A development company is generally required to develop an OZ, generally to assemble land as well as financing from public and private sources, contract for the development of specific projects within the OZ and distribute the tax benefits to private investors. Federal OZ legislation typically requires an OZ project receiving tax benefits to both create jobs as well as to address community needs such as education/training, health care, affordable housing, public transportation, and other community services. It is suspected that requirements for OZ will also be applied to non-OZ community/economic re-development projects.
Supplemental public financing, such as TIF, Community block grants, affordable housing assistance, Economic Development Administration, Minority Business Development assistance, Quality Jobs Program, etc., are increasingly being evaluated on the basis of community development needs, and are sometimes available only as a last resort to make re-development projects viable. Federal OZ enabling legislation encourages the design and creation of micro-communities within the OZ to meet community needs where people live, work, and play. The implication being that local zoning authorities need to expand their scope of interest when considering approval of these re-development projects.
The City of Oklahoma City, through the Alliance for Economic Development, has done a very good job at assembling a prospectus describing funding opportunities available for both Opportunity Zones and other non-OZ projects.. However, what is missing from the current package is an assessment of community needs for the specific re-development project. Nationally, needs of depressed communities (the focus of Opportunity Zones) typically include access to public transportation, food stores, medical & education services, affordable housing, and protections from gentrification.
Before Opportunity Zones were a gleam in some bureaucrat’s eye, the City of Oklahoma City’s EMBARK trust (also known as the Central Oklahoma Parking and Transportation Authority – COPTA) was considering how public transportation could benefit the communities in economically depressed areas. For the past several years they have submitted grant requests for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route that would run from the downtown Transit Center, up Classen Boulevard, and terminate at Meridian and NW Expressway (the Lake Hefner Recreational Area). In the grants, discussed were the benefits of handicap accessible public transportation for elderly, disabled, and the working poor. Earlier this year the BRT grant request was approved, and planning has started with expected completion before 2022. The BRT route will run from the Downtown Transportation Center, near St Anthony Hospital and the Plaza District, through NW 23 and the Asian District, near Oklahoma City University, WalMart Super Center, Penn Square/50 Penn Place, passing the Belle Isle Library and the Integris Baptist/Deaconess Hospital campus, terminating at Lake Hefner.
Locally, BRT development will be handled by EMBARK, building permitting & zoning in areas surrounding the BRT Stations will be handled by the OKC Planning & Building Services departments, and supplemental public funding assistance will be handled by Alliance for Economic Development. All coordinated by the OKC Council. It is expected that the City Council will examine proposed projects with an eye to re-development of micro-communities, not just the individual projects.
I am this year’s President of the Central Oklahoma Commercial Association of REALTORS®. To establish a baseline of community needs, the National Association of REALTORS®, through its local board (the Central Oklahoma Commercial Association of REALTORS®) agreed to conduct a telephone survey of residents living within 1 mile of the proposed BRT route. The 8-mile route was divided into zones of about 8 micro-communities, and results were analyzed from each zone. Survey was conducted by American Strategies of Washington DC. Results were presented at the Commercial Real Estate Summit on September 25. It is hoped that this data, describing a community-based needs assessment, might streamline the processes of re-development in areas adjacent to BRT stations. It is hoped that survey results will be used as a baseline for micro-community needs assessment on future BRT routes.
The Commercial Real Estate Summit had a focus on real estate development. Thanks are given to Club 29 member Mark O. Neumeister who gave an enlightening presentation on the Oklahoma Pass Through Equity Tax Act of 2019, a topic that all investors should be aware. Additionally, Club 29 member Darrell Beavers discussed Affordable Housing Financing. We also had sessions on Opportunity Zones, how to assemble financing packages that include tax credits and other assistance, how to construct buildings that withstand disasters, update on federal environmental laws, and the unintended consequences of the State’s new marijuana laws.
A significant part of the Summit was devoted to Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) and OKC’s new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. We brought in Chris Zimmerman, VP of SmartGrowth America, who is an expert on TOD. OKC’s new BRT system, about eight miles in length, will run from the downtown transit center, up Classen Blvd. and terminate at NW Expressway and Meridian (the Lake Hefner recreational district and water supply.) Chris conducted a morning session, a crash course on transit-oriented development, covering both the basics of TOD, and how to plan BRT Stations.
The topic of the Summit’s afternoon session was a coming paradigm shift in the way Oklahoma City might think of public transportation and its relationship to development. Specifically, the impact of Oklahoma City development after having been awarded a grant from the US Department of Transportation to construct a Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT). Typically, a BRT system uses public streets, at least partially dedicated to busses, and gives priority to buses at intersections where buses may interact with other traffic; alongside design features to reduce delays caused by passengers boarding or leaving buses, or purchasing fares. A typical BRT system can be installed at about ¼ the cost of an equivalent rail-based system, with almost all the benefits.
A primary benefit of a BRT system is not necessarily in moving people, but rather in community benefits by encouraging walkable communities and mixed-use redevelopments that provide citizens easier access to amenities, parks, and other public services. The area surrounding a BRT Station (typically extending between ½ and ¼ diameter) is a Transit Oriented Development, a walkable micro-community with the BRT Station as its hub. As background, major takeaways from the Summit’s sessions on TOD & BRT include:
- 75% of BRT users live/work within ¼-mile of a BRT Station (90% of users are within 1/2 mile of a BRT Station)
- The TOD impact area around a BRT Station is about 200 acres (1/4-mile diameter from the BRT Station)
- Current Zoning along the proposed BRT route is typically C3 (Community Commercial) or O2 (General Office). Off Classen Blvd there are many Historic Neighborhoods, with R1 (Single Family) and (R2 Duplex) zoning.
- Successful TOD impact areas are walkable mixed/use micro-communities where people live, work, and play, with a significant residential component.
- OKC’s EMBARK system is responsible for the planning and operation of the BRT system.
- The federally funded BRT Route, from the Downtown Transit Center, up Classen Blvd, and terminating at the NW Expressway and Meridian, is about 8 miles long
- The BRT Route is expected to have about 16 stops, with a wait time between busses of about 10 minutes
- It is expected that Hospitals near the BRT route (SSM – St Anthony and Integris – Baptist) will coordinate their internal bus transportation services with the BRT system
- It is expected that EMBARK will coordinate their bus routes stops (ex. #10 – N Portland, #23 – 23ed street CrossTown, #38 – 10th street CrossTown) with BRT Stations, where appropriate
- In general, only BRT Stations serving as gateways to other destinations on the BRT route need to have Park & Ride facilities. OKC is in the process of securing parking for the BRT Station at Meridian and NW Expressway
- Only a small portion of the anticipated BRT route (east of Western, South of NW 13th) is in a federally designated Opportunity Zone, and in TIF District 2, which would be coordinated through the Oklahoma City Alliance for Economic Progress
- OKC’s Embark system is responsible for the planning and operation of the BRT system. The Oklahoma City Planning Department staff will be responsible for coordinating future development surrounding BRT Stations.
- Property values near a BRT Station significantly increase because of the Redevelopment that occurs in the TOD impact area
- Based on results of the Survey, Oklahoma City residents within 1 mile of the proposed BRT Route are generally dissatisfied with the following availability (satisfaction %):
- Bike trails that connect to community places (31%)
- Electric scooter rentals (33%)
- Both Availability and Condition of sidewalks (34%)
- Access to Public transportation (41%)
- Shops or restaurants within walking distance of your home (49%)
- The survey suggests Near Majorities see too little housing availability for those with Low Incomes, Special Needs, and Seniors
Oklahoma City will be having meetings with all neighborhoods along the BRT route to discuss BRT route and station locations. For more information, call
- Georgie Rasco at the Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma (405-528-6322) or
- Kristen Torkelson at Embark (405.297.2539 )
For more information on the Commercial Real Estate Summit or the Central Oklahoma Commercial Association of REALTORS®, call Jessica Dietrich at the Oklahoma Association of REALTORS® (405-848-9944)
Thanks to the following who had significant input on the Community Needs Assessment Questionnaire:
- Georgie Rasco – Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma
- James Cooper – OKC Ward 2 Councilperson
- Larry Hooper – EMBARK Planning Manager
- Kristen Torkelson – EMBARK Community Engagement Liaison
- David Chapman, Ph.D. – University of Central Oklahoma, Real Estate Program
- Josh Cockroft – Senior Director of Government Affairs for Oklahoma Association of REALTORS®
- Jessisa Dietrich – Director of Commercial Services for Oklahoma Association of REALTORS®
- Bart Binning, Ed. D. – Sales Associate at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services – Anderson Properties Commercial Division and President of Central Oklahoma Commercial Association of REALTORS®
 Oklahoma City Investment Prospectus. Prepared by NEW LOCALISM ADVISORS In collaboration with THE CITY OF OKLAHOMA CITY, A project of ACCELERATOR FOR AMERICA. November 2018. (https://www.theallianceokc.org/opportunityzones)
 Funding for the community needs assessment survey was provided by a Smart Growth Polling Grant through the National Association of REALTORS® and was conducted by American Strategies of Washington DC
 Oklahoma City BRT Community Needs Assessment Survey. American Strategies, Washington DC, funded by a grant from the National Association of REALTORS®. August/September 2019. (http://www.okrealtors.com/brt)
 Why Transit-Oriented Development and Why Now? (TOT 101) Reconnecting America and the Center for Transit-Oriented Development (http://www.reconnectingamerica.org) or (http://www.okrealtors.com/brt)
 Station Area Planning: How to Make Great Transit-Oriented Places (TOD 202) Reconnecting America and the Center for Transit-Oriented Development (https://www.reconnectingamerica.org) or (http://www.okrealtors.com/brt)
 City of Oklahoma City Zoning Map (https://www.okc.gov/departments/development-services/subdivision-zoning/zoning-map)