What is the plan for OKC's Innovation District?
Close to 1,000 business leaders gathered together in September for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber’s annual Health Center Breakfast, where they were treated to an update on creation of a master plan and action steps for the new Innovation District.
“We're starting to have a conversation on where the ‘there' is in the Innovation District,” said Stephen Coulston, principal with Perkins + Will, the architecture firm charged with creating the district’s master plan. “Where is the place you can point at and say that's the Innovation District, the fundamental forum where it all comes together?”
The master plan for the district’s development should be completed by spring 2019, said Coulston. He also said the master plan's goals include creating connections between various institutions and firms throughout the district.
The Innovation District encompasses an area alternately known as the Oklahoma Health Center, OU Medical Center and the Health Sciences Center. The Brookings Institution and the Project for Public Spaces have been studying the district since October 2015. The district stretches north and south from NW 13 Street to Fourth Street, southeast to the railroad tracks, east to Lottie Avenue, and west to Robinson Avenue.
“You have currently a series of nodes that are acting somewhat independently from one another,” Coulston said. “I think there is a great opportunity for them to connect better. You have an extraordinary medical center and remarkable research and activities. There is more opportunity for building strong connections between academia and industry.”
The district is a major economic hub for Oklahoma City, home to a combined workforce and student enrollment of 18,000 people and about 1,500 residents.
Coulston said the work is a deep dive into the district. The firm is trying to find the district’s epicenter. He said this is important because that’s how the firm will be able to figure out where to connect to fundamental nodes, and the growth plan.
He said the OU Health Sciences Center is extraordinary, but there’s an opportunity to develop strong relationships between academics and industry. He called it a blank canvas.
The goal is to create a place where people want to work, and part of that is having connections to amenities and other resources, he said.
“The path we are now on in the Innovation District is to capitalize on our dominant industries; investing in high-quality places where research institutions, firms, and talent concentrate and connect,” said Katy Boren, Innovation District CEO and president. “We want to be more competitive as a region, both in attracting investment and the talent necessary to continue our community’s economic expansion. And, not incidentally, it is critical that we provide more opportunities for area residents who are not currently connected to the innovation economy.”
Boren said that implementation of the Project Plan, which defines how tax increment financing (TIF) can be utilized to support the initiatives of the Innovation District, will be focused on innovation, placemaking, enhanced education and training. Under the plan, the TIF can be used for such things as the financing, construction, or long-term leasing of business incubators and accelerator spaces, education and training facilities, public spaces such as conference facilities, gathering spaces, entertainment spaces and green space. Funding can also be used for enhanced educational programs, skills training programs, internships, workforce development and entrepreneurial support activities.
“As we transition into this new, emerging ecosystem known as the innovation district, our aim is to realize the potential of this community for turning ideas into jobs and new investment,” Boren noted. “Along with the newly formed board of directors, we are forming numerous committees and task forces to support the execution of the recommendations of the Brookings Institution report. We have a clear plan and are on track with our first year efforts.”
Perkins + Will has created similar plans for 34 research and innovation districts. Part of its assessment of Oklahoma City is to compare Oklahoma City with national peer innovation districts such as Capital City in Austin and Cortex in St. Louis. The firm sees Oklahoma City’s distinction and opportunity in our ability to connect and collaborate across industries and existing institutions and develop new partnerships.
“We have an opportunity to weave the district together in a more collaborative way,” Coulston said. “And that’s what we hope to do.”