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Busy Week for Norman City Council - May 28, 2018

Wow, what a week. Tuesday ended up with a marathon meeting that started at 5 p.m. and went on until after 10. We had a lot of important business to take care of. Our study session was a presentation about the possible partnership between the OU Foundation and the city of Norman on the development of the north part of the University North Park, south of Rock Creek along 24th Avenue. We have been partnering with them on the south half since, and now it is time to look at a master development plan for the north half.

The area has always been envisioned as primarily residential and office, with some light manufacturing. The new element in the proposal is to add an entertainment district anchored by a sports arena. The study session presenters were from a group that does feasibility studies on arenas, a representative from the company that did the master plan, a representative from the Commerce Department, Dr. Bob Dauffenbach and our consultant from the Center for Economic Development Law. The purpose was to allow the public and the council to learn more about the proposed development and its implications, in terms of our city’s economic growth.

I have written and spoken of this proposal for several months now. I will reiterate that I like the idea of a state-of-the-art arena along I-35 for OU sports and regional and local concerts, high school sports and activities. A large regional draw in this location could make a big difference in our tax collections. This arena would be surrounded by an entertainment district, mixed-use housing and office and light industrial. 

Arenas may vary in size and are used for multiple purposes. If it is done right, the area has plenty of green space, the housing is mixed use and the area is walkable; we have a very special opportunity to consider. This is especially true if the financial projections are even close to accurate. Financing the whole project with a TIF allows the city and other taxing jurisdictions to pay for the needed infrastructure and still reap the benefits of stimulated economic growth.

There are many skeptics, however, and rightfully so. This would require a significant public investment and there are no guarantees. That is why it is so critical that we have sufficient information to make a good decision. Despite the fact that we have been given a lot of information, the council feels strongly that we should have an independent financial analysis, and that is being arranged. If the projections work, this could provide relief for the general fund and enable us to build a parking garage.

That could encourage the establishment of a parking authority, which could provide parking downtown and the campus area. 

It could free up the land on the north base for several Norman Forward projects and possibly provide a funding stream for the senior citizen center.

In addition, it could provide a good increase in ad valorem taxes going to Norman Public Schools, the county, Moore Norman Technology Center, the PLS system and the county health department.
As we moved to the agenda for our regular council meeting, the need for the right decision on the TIF became abundantly clear. We have been dipping in to our reserves to balance our budget for several years. We desperately need to do something about this systemic problem. It is a result of our reliance on sales tax for funding and the decline of brick and mortar real estate. 

Our options are the adoption of a stormwater utility and to end, restructure or expand the UNP TIF. We spent a long time discussing the budget and got a lot of input and suggestions from the audience. Anyone who missed the meeting can find information on the homepage of the city’s website, or the direct link is bit.ly/UNP_Info.

We also passed two very important resolutions.

One was the Environmental Control Advisory Board’s updated recommendations to implement the Mayor’s Climate Control Agreement with their 10-step plan of action.

The second was the 100% Renewable Initiative submitted by a community group. These two documents provide a framework for our city to fund resources and adopt practices that will encourage the use of renewables, promote green building practices, increase recycling rates and encourage the maintenance of our urban forest. 

During the same meeting we approved a new incentive program to encourage builders to achieve a certain score on the Home Energy Rating System Energy Rating Index. Congratulations to Council member Hickman, whose committee — along with staff help — crafted the new ordinance

One of the things I believe strongly is that if a community is to survive, it has to focus on these things: economy, education and environment. I felt like we addressed something in each of those areas this week.