The city’s effort to create destination districts is quietly taking shape, with two areas already part of the initiative and more neighborhoods expected to be selected in the fall.
Ed Sharrer, who manages the program for the city, said the Tulsa Route 66 and Kendall Whittier Main Street organizations have joined the Destination District program. The move makes sense, he said, because the neighborhoods chosen to be part of the city program will be asked to join the Main Street program.
“We want to see the establishment of additional Main Street programs where they might have the most benefit,” Sharrer said. “That would be the ultimate goal, to see additional programs started with a hyper-localized board of directors, a staff person doing exactly that work in those communities like what is happening in southwest Tulsa and Kendall Whittier.”
The Main Street program is approximately 40 years old and works with more than 1,000 communities across the country, Sharrer said, making it an invaluable resource for the Tulsa neighborhoods selected to be part of the Destination District program.
Better yet, the goals and approach of the two organizations align.
“We’ll be helping to stimulate economic development. We’ll be helping to improve the quality of life,” Sharrer said. “We will be providing additional opportunity to people who may not have traditionally experienced quite that level of opportunity …
“Basically, we’re just creating places where people want to be, whether they want to live there, whether they want to work there, whether they just want to visit there for shopping or entertainment.”
Sharrer said the city is targeting its efforts on neighborhoods that have experienced some level of disinvestment. Among the communities being considered for the Destination Districts program are the historic Greenwood District and the International District at 21st Street and Garnett Road.
“We do feel that both of those are places that would be excellent locations for the Destination Districts initiative,” Sharrer said. “Should people in those areas like to do that and have the grassroots support, we think there is a lot of opportunity there, and other places.”
City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper said she does not expect the Greenwood Destination District to include all 35 acres of the neighborhood.
“But it will be more than what we call deep Greenwood, which is just the buildings that are down there just to the south of the IDL (Inner Dispersal Loop),” Hall-Harper said. “That is something that will have to be discussed at length and determined as far as what those boundaries will be. But it will be more than (Black Wall Street).”
Councilor Connie Dodson said she has discussed the possibility of creating a Destination District at 21st Street and Garnett Road with city officials but that no decision has been made.
“I think that is one that they are really focusing on,” she said.
Dodson said she is also considering using funds from the Improve Our Tulsa renewal package to help draw attention to the neighborhood. If approved by voters in November, the $639 million capital improvements package would provide each City Council district with $1 million to use on a community development project.
“I am looking at potentially investing (some funding) in that destination place stuff,” Dodson said. “Whether it be for small things, like trash cans in the area, small banners, different things like that can really kind of tie that intersection together and make it more of a destination.”
The Main Street programs established as part of the city’s Destination Districts program would be independent, nonprofit organizations that would receive financial and other forms of assistance from the city.
That help could include collaboration on infrastructure projects or guidance in implementing the Main Street program.
“The city will make sure you can have one if you want one,” Sharrer said.
But he stressed that the Destinations Districts program will not be limited to a particular area of town, nor will its services be confined to helping neighborhoods join the Main Street program.
“The initial push is to create additional Main Street programs because of the proven model and great fit for many places in Tulsa,” Sharrer said. “However, we will develop additional programs over time to complement this initial focus on the Main Street program.”
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