Article by Steve Lackmeyer for The Oklahoman
Key leaders of an effort to create an innovation district east of downtown [Oklahoma City] say they’re ready to implement changes that will include more flexible zoning, making streets more pedestrian friendly and launching symposiums for scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs.
David Harlow, chair of the foundation, said its board voted unanimously to take on the challenge of providing staffing and resources to begin implementing the report.
“That was the easy decision,” Harlow said. “Now the real work begins. It’s really about job creation, industry development and that’s what we need to focus on. And we have a nice framework to work with.”
Lacking a mix of uses
Brookings and the Project for Public Spaces spent 18 months interviewing more than 100 people about how to make the district competitive in a world where collaboration is critical to attracting entrepreneurs and startup companies.
The report noted the cluster of research institutions, medical schools and bio-tech firms is ideally situated next to downtown, but is designed to be walled off from the outside and from each other. Streets are lacking any mix of housing, restaurants or retail.
Ben Davis, a state planning officer, told the crowd the lack of retail or restaurants was a consequence of longtime rules set up by the Capitol Medical Center Zoning Commission.
“There are a lack of third places in the health center — places outside your home and work that you love to frequent — coffee shops, cafes, restaurants,” Davis said. “And that’s because there are only nine uses allowed in the zoning district.”
Davis said the zoning commission acted quickly as they heard from stakeholders that they wanted to see more mixed-use development. Regulations were changed to allow for any institutional, commercial or office use of the area, and those changes are now awaiting final approval at the state Capitol.
Another recent action recently taken by the city amended the area’s tax increment financing district to extend its life and to provide money for STEM-oriented education that could benefit both the innovation district and residents.
The study urged the innovation district to create opportunities for the residents to easily find job training and employment, and added hundreds of jobs do not require a four-year college degree.
Due for a makeover
Bruce Katz with the Brookings Institute noted the area is due for a makeover that will allow for such interaction and make the district more vibrant and attractive to researchers and entrepreneurs.
John Westerheide, the oil field facilities & systems program manager at the [GE Global Oil & Gas] research center, said GE is looking to grow in Oklahoma City via startups within and outside its campus.
“Big data analysis is not just a problem for energy. It is one health care is facing, it is something aerospace is facing,” Westerheide said. “So how we get all these industries in the same room is something we are still working on.”