Innovation District supporters present MAPS 4 proposal
The Innovation District’s supporters gave their request for $100 million to the Oklahoma City Council on Tuesday during the last round of MAPS 4 presentations. The request includes four projects and an operating fund, which were outlined as economically-vital district improvements in Perkins + Will’s land use and strategic development plan, released last week.
“The Innovation District MAPS 4 projects are an ideal application of the MAPS model,” said Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. “(The projects) are transformative public investments that will spur private investment, create jobs and improve lives.”
The Innovation District is anchored by the Oklahoma Health Center and Automobile Alley and includes the surrounding neighborhoods.
The project list presented Tuesday is backed by the findings in the P+W plan, which followed the 2017 study by the Brookings Institute. The four projects that could be funded by MAPS4 money are $20 million for Innovation Hall and related infrastructure, $15 million to renovate the Henrietta B. Foster Center into a small business and entrepreneurship hub, $5 million to update Booker T. Washington Park, $30 million for an expanded Tenth Street bridge over Interstate 235, as well as $30 million in an operational fund for district-wide programming.
These projects are part of P&W’s recommended first-phase of district updates. Once completed, the projects are anticipated to have a $1.2 billion annual economic impact and create more than 3,000 permanent jobs and another 3,500 secondary or induced jobs. The annual tax revenue would exceed $21 million annually.
“The projects are absolutely necessary to attracting the private investment that is included with this first phase and facilitating the remaining phases of development that will only grow this area’s potential,” said Cathy O’Connor, president of The Alliance for Economic Development. “These are very real impacts that will make a difference to our citizens and our city revenues.”
The four main projects will mean new construction and an uptick in activity for the area. Innovation District Executive Director Katy Boren explained that making the area’s key entities into an Innovation District will benefit all involved. She said unlike a traditional commercial district or neighborhood center, an innovation district is about building an ecosystem that facilitates the creation and commercialization of new ideas, adds jobs and supports the economy.
“We know that if we place creative institutions, firms and workers in proximity, then we will create collisions that result in new ideas and knowledge that can be transferred more quickly and seamlessly,” she said.
The area already has the building blocks for an ideal innovation district, which is leading edge anchor institutions and companies. The P+W land use plan looked at what’s needed to better connect people at the Oklahoma Health Center, the University of Oklahoma campus and research park, the state capitol area, the adjacent neighborhoods, and the retail district known as Automobile Alley.
P+W recommended building the Innovation Hall around the historic Stiles Circle and the Beacon of Hope. The building would have a connecting outdoor space, making it an innovation plaza. Modeled after District Hall in Boston, Oklahoma City’s Innovation Hall would provide work and event space that would help bring the district together both inside and outside normal working hours.
The single, standalone building at the district’s epicenter would include a small café where researchers and entrepreneurs cross paths and share ideas. The building would be a welcoming place for school-aged children, where STEAM academies and other events to develop the next-generation workforce can be held. There will be a co-working space where the newest company owners can get their business to the next level.
In the evening, the building is alive with events for company launches and celebrations of exciting research.
“This is a proven concept,” Boren said, showing pictures of innovation centers in St. Louis and Boston.
“Innovation centers like these in other markets are incubating ideas and new businesses; they are bringing new skills to students, teachers, and more; and they are creating community,” she said.
The planners also recommended expanding the Tenth Street bridge over Interstate 235. The $30 million expansion wouldn’t be a cap; rather, additional space for walking and cycling.
The Henrietta B. Foster Center update rang through as a need after nearly 500 people attended 60 interviews and 15 focus groups. The Perkins + Will team, with the community stakeholders, held several meetings in 2018 and attended the oNE OKC community festival this year to make sure the neighboring residents’ concerns were heard and not neglected in the plan.
The Foster Center will be transformed into a hub for small business and entrepreneurship.
“We know that innovation and entrepreneurship can change lives and communities,” said Boren. “This new center will focus on the creation and growth of small business with a particular focus on minority businesses that will spark revitalization in the surrounding neighborhoods.”
The fourth project is the complete renovation of Booker T. Washington Park, which was another need mentioned by the Innovation District’s neighbors. The park along Fourth Street, south of Page Woodson school and east of the Foster Center, will serve as an asset to the Innovation District’s employees and the neighborhood.
“This renovated park would serve as an outdoor extension of the activities taking place at Innovation Hall and the Foster Center, while at the same bringing new life to the community it serves,” said Boren.
Williams said these investments are needed to help the Innovation District’s existing employers continue their growth. He cited a 2001 report by Hammer Siler George, which found that there were just over 12,000 full time workers in the Health Center. Today there are 18,000.
“This 50% increase in just 18 years is indicative of the growth potential – and a real motivator for continued strategic investment,” he said.
But those jobs aren’t just for the college-educated, said O’Connor, which is important to remember when considering adding the Innovation District to the MAPS4 project list. People without a four-year degree earn about $23 an hour when employed in the district, which is above the Oklahoma County average of $19.22 per hour.
O’Connor said it’s crucial that this district be inclusive in not only its employment, but also its development.
“These projects 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,” she said. “The investments in infrastructure and the pursuant redevelopment push will spur the growth of small business in the area in addition to bringing outside private investment. They will create not just economic development, but they will create community - not a campus, but development that is part of the fabric of this place.”