Norman’s city leaders have important decisions to make over the next few months regarding the future of the University of Oklahoma Foundation’s proposed University North Park Entertainment District development.
The proposed entertainment district, anchored by a new arena, is the latest chapter in the dynamic story of University North Park (UNP), a 500-plus acre mixed-use development on the east side of I-35 extending north from Robinson Avenue to Tecumseh Road.
The first phase focused on retail development. In 2006, with the cooperation and collaboration of the city, Cleveland County, Norman Public Schools and others, a tax increment financing district (TIF) was created to help provide financing for public improvements.
Since 2006, thanks in large part to the TIF, the portion of UNP south of Rock Creek Road has been transformed from raw land into a thriving commercial area with a variety of stores, restaurants and hotels. By any measure, the existing UNP development is a clear financial success. Norman sales and property taxes generated from the existing development are almost $13 million annually, and that number could double with the completion of the proposed entertainment district.
But, financials and tax numbers aside, this opportunity is special for other reasons. The university must either substantially renovate the 44-year-old Lloyd Noble Center or build a new arena. Development of the remaining land at UNP is essential to the city’s continued healthy economic growth. Two challenges combine for one extraordinary opportunity.
Cities across the country are developing entertainment districts in and around their arenas, stadiums and ballparks. Pairing OU athletics with existing and future mixed-use development along the city’s north gateway on I-35 is a win-win for the city of Norman, OU and our neighbors in Cleveland County.
The arena will serve as the new venue for OU basketball games, as well as other public performances and local and regional events. The entertainment district surrounding the arena will bring new attractions, new visitors, new dining and entertainment facilities, and new quality-of-life opportunities for residents of Norman.
The city and the OU Foundation jointly engaged a firm to prepare a conceptual “master plan” for the remaining undeveloped property in UNP. Norman economic development professionals and city staff worked with us over the past year to develop this conceptual plan. Now, Norman city councilors are rightly asking questions, analyzing the merits and ensuring they balance safeguarding the economic health of the city while fully using their resources to bolster Norman’s economy.
We are asking the city (and other taxing jurisdictions) to approve an amended project plan for the UNP TIF. A TIF is Norman’s best economic development tool for a project like this — and it is an absolute necessity for the proposed arena and entertainment district to become a reality.
This is the time for city councilors to support unique, sustainable growth. I know they, and others in our community, have questions and concerns. I am committed to answering those questions and ensuring we create a regional draw and a place to live, work and play that is a win-win for everyone.
This is a one-time opportunity to make a long-term difference. So, let’s get to work and do this together.
Guy Patton is president of the University of Oklahoma Foundation.