May 5, 2023

Forward-Thinking Policies Behind Downtown Tulsa’s Resurgence

By: Spencer Mitchell
Director, Economic Incentives, PartnerTulsa

From a previously underperforming city center to a vibrant hub of activity, Downtown Tulsa’s re-emergence is a success story comprised of innovative and visionary economic development practices.

This success is not a stroke of luck, but a product of the City’s commitment to forward-thinking economic policies. Since the late 1990s, Tulsa has invested more than $27 million in low-interest loans for Downtown construction projects through a series of voter-approved sales tax packages. This has resulted in the creation of approximately 1,000 units and spurred millions of dollars in private investment.

Most recently, PartnerTulsa, the City’s economic development arm, announced a new Downtown Development Redevelopment Fund comprised of $8.1 million for Downtown construction projects, with a focus on multifamily housing that prioritizes affordability. By encouraging developers to build a mix of workforce, affordable, and market-rate housing, the City is continuing to drive growth and investment Downtown, while ensuring that it remains affordable for years to come.

The success of Tulsa’s investment in the Downtown Development Redevelopment Fund is evident not only in the 146% increase in the Downtown population from 1995 to 2021 but also in the emergence of new companies, restaurants and events that define Downtown. Tulsans who live Downtown are vital to the success of local businesses and also play an important role in the future of Tulsa’s economy by creating and working at companies at the forefront of Tulsa’s growth.

As Tulsa voters prepare to decide on a new round of funding through the extension of Improve Our Tulsa,  they will have the opportunity to help address the City’s affordable housing crisis. A recent study published by Housing Solutions revealed that it would take $245 million a year for the next 10 years to address the affordability crisis. The study found that over the past four years, rent in some areas of Tulsa has seen a 53% increase, and housing prices have risen by 43% citywide.

Similar to the indirect impact the Downtown Development Redevelopment Fund has had on the success of downtown Tulsa, the Improve Our Tulsa extension not only presents the opportunity to increase housing affordability throughout the city, but it also increases Tulsans’ economic prosperity. Affordable housing has been shown to have numerous economic benefits, including increased disposable income, job creation, increased property tax base, reduced homelessness and improved economic mobility.

Housing affordability is a national problem, and Tulsa is not immune to this issue. However, the City has demonstrated its ability to tackle difficult issues through innovative and strategic investments in economic development programs. In addition to the housing investment proposed in the Improve Our Tulsa extension, the Downtown Development Redevelopment Fund can contribute to the solution by increasing access to cheaper forms of financing for developers, thus increasing the housing supply and putting downward pressure on rents. Additionally, the program will create a mix of housing units with a range of affordability.

The citizens of Tulsa, along with current and past elected officials and city staff, have shown that forward-thinking economic development programs can have wide-reaching positive impacts. By continuing to invest in innovative and strategic economic policies, Tulsa can continue to thrive and emerge as a model for other cities to follow.