In April, Tulsa City Manager, Jim Twombly, attended the American Architectural Foundation’s (AAF) inaugural City Manager’s Design Academy  (CMDA). The Academy, which brings together urban designers, architects, economic development specialists and other experts to develop solutions to urban challenges, assisted City Manager Twombly with his vision to grow Tulsa’s East Downtown Investment Area. It became clear to City Manager Twombly during the Academy that follow-up assistance would continue to benefit his project, so AAF convened a public and private sector workshop to identify next steps for the implementation of the East Downtown revitalization.
The three-day intensive workshop kicked-off with Dawn Warrick, City of Tulsa Planning & Development Department Director, and staff providing a comprehensive overview for AAF resource team members Brent Brown, AIA of bcWORKSHOP  and John Southgate of John Southgate Consulting, LLC. The City of Tulsa team showcased successful recent redevelopments in the city’s downtown such as the Guthrie Green  — an outdoor gathering place for music and theater — located in the northern Brady Arts District . This popular and well-designed project helped attract new private investments in residential, commercial, and cultural properties, thus attracting many new users who appreciate this urban neighborhood setting. Conversely, the group visited blighted sites such as the Performing Arts Center (PAC) and Santa Fe lots — two surface parking lots in the East Downtown Area – that are primed for redevelopment and located next to the bustling Blue Dome District .
Back at City Hall, the group joined Tulsa’s Mayor Bartlett, City Manager Twombly, city staff, and the local development community to outline and clarify a redevelopment vision for the East Downtown area based on the current Downtown Master Plan and accounting for current market realities. After much review and discussion, the group agreed on a renewed vision that spoke to an urban, dense, pedestrian-friendly, and mixed-use environment with supporting objectives like more housing choices to foster a diverse downtown population, better street and trail connections between downtown and Tulsa’s new riverfront park , and streetscaping interventions that help calm vehicular traffic to provide for a more pedestrian-friendly and welcoming place. Additionally they identified necessary procedural and financial steps to redevelop the Santa Fe and PAC lots through a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Plan for the East Downtown Tulsa Investment Area that will help leverage approximately $150 million in private investment and catalyze other appropriate infill investment and development across the city. Finally, the group identified that sharing increased revenue with taxing jurisdictions, especially the school district, will be critical to establish a vibrant, 24/7 urban core.
The workshop concluded with a realistic and aggressive action plan for East Downtown Tulsa that the Mayor, the City Manager, and senior staff believe will help to take steps toward making this long-awaited downtown revitalization a reality. AAF’s staff and resource team are proud to support Tulsa move toward creating a downtown that is walkable, a great environment for local business development and residential living, and a place to educate, serve, and entertain Tulsans, ultimately creating a better sense of community and a sustainable vision.
Photo courtesy of the American Architectural Foundation.