One year ago I pondered the question: “Is this the new boom, or just the new normal?”
Define normal. Is “normal” a pattern of growth that stretches out over a few years? Does it have to go on for a decade?
What we now know is that the economic good times for Oklahoma City, briefly interrupted with the national economic recession, have pretty much clipped along for Oklahoma City for the past decade.
Sales tax coffers at City Hall are abundant. As reported by The Oklahoman's retail reporter Jennifer Palmer on Sunday, stores once deemed out of Oklahoma City's league are taking notice and looking for expansion opportunities. Just about every economic, jobs, quality of life, entrepreneurial, creative class and retirement listing gives the city high marks for the transformation begun with the passage of the original Metropolitan Area Projects in 1993.
With the year being the 20th anniversary of the MAPS initiative, it's important to note that the total spinoff investment predicted way back when was $140 million. Oklahoma City surpassed that figure long ago, and the investment that can still be credited to MAPS is now racing toward $3 billion. Yes, that's no typo — billion with a “b.”
With construction set for a $53 million expansion of St. Anthony Hospital, construction under way on the $36 million Edge apartments in MidTown and the $24 million 4th Street Apartments in Deep Deuce, it's quite easy to predict the MAPS spinoff for 2013 alone will exceed $140 million.
What's yet to be announced will likely dwarf that figure. An anticipated announcement on a new office tower did not take place in 2012, but multiple sources have indicated that information about the mystery project should become public this year. Don't be surprised if plans for two separate tower projects are announced.
More housing yet to be announced also is on the drawing boards, with at least two new developments planned in Deep Deuce and a significant project being looked at in MidTown. The hotel market likely will see hundreds of rooms added in and around Bricktown.
Challenges lie ahead as well. Much of Project 180 is complete, and a new two-way street grid is beginning to emerge that will require re-education for downtown's workforce and visitors.
A growing residential population is demanding more emphasis on pedestrian-friendly streets — a conversation that is making city engineers increasingly uncomfortable as they attempt to shift their own focus from simply accommodating fast, easy vehicular access in and out of downtown.
This year also likely will be when the effort to redevelop the blighted Core to Shore area south of the Central Business District gets real.
City engineers are moving forward with plans to build a new convention center and park in the area. But debate has yet to subside over how and when the park should be developed, and contention continues over the convention center site south of the Myriad Gardens.
Interest is picking up among developers looking at the area for more housing. But don't be surprised if plans that emerged from the Core to Shore task force seven years ago quickly prove to be outdated and irrelevant to what's taking place in 2013.
Plans for a grand boulevard set to travel through Core to Shore also remain a point of contention, though advocates for an at-grade road won a victory when state highway engineers agreed to consider new designs that do away with a massive elevated street they hoped to build between Western and Walker Avenues.
Public investment also will alter and change growth patterns along the southwestern fringe of downtown with construction set to begin this year on a new police headquarters, courthouse, elementary school and parking garage.
From the flawed implementation of Urban Renewal in the 1970s through this past decade, downtown suffered the blight of numerous empty lots and reminders of failed dreams from that previous era. Those scars finally are closing, the empty lots are filling up, and downtown's geographic boundaries are set to expand.
What a wonderful way to mark the 20th anniversary of MAPS — a dream a city collectively dared to make a reality.