Right now, downtown Tulsa is having one of its largest development booms in decades.
Historic buildings are getting makeovers and new apartments, even a major museum, are in the works; but some of downtown’s trailblazers say there’s more to be done to keep the city growing.
Tulsa remains resilient after many booms and busts.
For downtown in 2016, the city is in the middle of its comeback.
Projects planned or underway include the $150 million Santa Fe Square, the $50 million Central Library renovation, $40 million for The OkPop Museum, and the same $40 million price tag for The View.
Think that’s a lot? It is only part of the big picture.
Right now, almost a half a billion dollars is being invested in downtown Tulsa.
Elliot Nelson is behind Santa Fe Square - a full city block that will include office and retail space, apartments and a hotel. This project comes 12 years after opening his first restaurant downtown.
“It is great, it needed to happen and it is past due,” Nelson said. “We are finally, I think, catching up with a lot of the other cities our size in the country.”
Nelson, along with other urban planners, says in order for a city to keep up this pace, a strong workforce is a must.
Tulsa is making progress on that as well, with a number of companies moving or building headquarters downtown.
Tim Jackson, Jackson Technical owner, said his company is growing 20 to 30 percent a year.
“This is going to be four times the size we are now, but we want this building to serve our needs for the next decade, at least,” he said.
Hogan Assessments has grown 15 percent since the beginning of the year. And ConsumerAffairs, which just opened its new headquarters in the Petroleum Club building, hopes to hire ten new employees a month and has already had to expand from two to three floors.
ConsumerAffairs COO, Eric Jenkins, said, “We have a goal to build a really big business here, and we believe that will change the face of Tulsa if we execute that.”
But Tulsa is still trying to find its identity - employment is down and population growth is below the national average, and the oil industry is not helping anything.
So what needs to be done to make sure the city can grow?
Jenkins said, “In order for Tulsa to get to that next level it is extremely important that we diversify our economy here.”
And also continue to make downtown a place where people will want to move.
“We need an environment where really vibrant and where talented young people want to live so that people have the comfort to grow their business here,” said Nelson.
But, as Nelson points out, cities can't wait to do that and can't worry about what company might leave next and leave our economy unable to support the growth.
"You just have to build the city that you dream of and imagine and want to exist. And yeah it’s risky, and if it doesn't work you took a risk and at least you tried," Nelson said. “I mean, you have to decide what you want to be when you grow up. Do you want to be an urban city where people want to grow up, or do you want to sit on your hands and let it all go?”