The Innovation District will have a Positive Impact

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The Innovation District will have a Positive Impact

by Cathy O’Connor

After almost a year of work by a team led by the planning firm Perkins + Will, the Land Use and Strategic Development Plan for the Oklahoma City Innovation District was recently introduced.  The plan addresses key considerations identified through community engagement with nearly 500 area residents, employees, workers, business owners, students and others who frequent the district.

When we set out to create a strategy for this district, we knew that we had a tremendous opportunity to focus on one of our city’s key economic engines and take it to the next level. We also knew that we should create a strategy that provides for inclusive growth – connecting residents in the surrounding area with jobs and training, connecting area businesses with the institutions and organizations, and preserving and improving the accessibility of affordable housing.

The plan calls for high intensity development to take place in a “core” area centered around the existing Stiles Park and the Beacon of Hope.  This area will include Innovation Hall, a standalone building which will be the heartbeat of the district.  Innovation Hall and its surrounding plaza will be the location where vital connections and collaborations will occur, where STEM programming will take place, where people will receive valuable job training, where tours will begin.  The development of this area will include research lab and office space, co-working space, hotel and residential development and retail and restaurant amenities.

The plan also calls for projects in the nearly neighborhoods surrounding the district.  The redevelopment of the Henrietta B. Foster into a Minority Small Business and Entrepreneurship Center will provide wealth building opportunities for community members while giving new life to a building with historic significance to the community.  The complete renovation of Booker T. Washington Park will provide an improved community gathering space and the eastern anchor for a redeveloped commercial corridor along NE 4 Street, once a center of commerce in the area.  Connections between all of these assets, the surrounding neighborhoods and Automobile Alley are the other key aspect of the plan, including the expansion of the NE 10 Street bridge over I-235 with sidewalks, lighting, landscaping and public art.

These projects will allow us to create a sense of place for the neighborhoods that surround the Innovation District, which is particularly important because past development of the area did not. The planned development of the Innovation District creates not just economic development, but also enhance the sense of community and place.

The Innovation District has made a proposal for a MAPS 4 allocation from the city to fund the construction of Innovation Hall, Innovation Plaza and related infrastructure including parking, the redevelopment of the Henrietta B. Foster Center, the renovation of Booker T. Washington Park and the expanded bridge over I-235.  These initial projects are the catalysts that will spur the private development in the area, leading to significant economic impact for the city as a whole and for the nearby community specifically.

The first phase of planned development is expected to generate as much as $1.2 billion in annual additional economic impact, $423 million in additional annual payroll and 6,600 new jobs. Many of the jobs will not require a college degree and will have higher than average wages, which could be life changing for nearby residents.  This plan is an important step for connecting Oklahoma City residents with the significant economic impact of the transformation of the district into an innovation ecosystem.

Cathy O’Connor is the president of The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City

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