Tulsa suburbs saw fastest growth before economic downturn

Thursday, July 10th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Three Tulsa suburbs were the fastest growing cities in Oklahoma before the metropolitan area lost thousands of jobs last year, Census Bureau estimates released Thursday show.

Housing booms, along with the reputations of local schools, drove growth in Bixby, Jenks and Owasso between July 2001 and July 2002, developers said Wednesday.

``They have a lot of choices out there in terms of explosive growth in those communities,'' said Darcy Melendez, who works with all three cities as director of area development for the Tulsa Metro Chamber.

Bixby's estimated 9 percent growth to more than 15,500 people topped the Census Bureau estimates of Oklahoma cities with populations greater than 10,000. Jenks saw its population increase by 6.2 percent to 10,955 and Owasso grew by 4.7 percent to 20,555 during that time period.

The Oklahoma City suburbs of Moore and Mustang followed with population growth of 3.6 percent each.

The estimates showed Oklahoma City's population growing by 1.3 percent to 519,034, and Tulsa's falling by 0.1 percent to 391,908.

Melendez said she wouldn't be surprised if the growth in Tulsa's suburbs had slowed somewhat since the census tally because of the economic downturn.

The unemployment rate in the Tulsa metropolitan area was 4.7 percent in July 2002. By the next January, it reached 6.4 percent.

Bixby Superintendent Mary Jane Bias said the school district added only 17 students last year, down from about 100 the year before.

``My guess is it would be the economy,'' she said. But ``I see the housing additions filling up and I know these people are bound to have children.''

Newcomers tell Bias they made the move for the school district, which improved its fine arts facilities and added an elementary and a soccer and track complex in the last three years to accommodate growth.

Along with schools, the new suburbanites are drawn to new housing developments featuring spacious homes, said Gail Monnot, spokeswoman for the Homebuilders Association of Greater Tulsa.

Homes with game rooms, media rooms, large master suites and small yards are the most popular, she said.

New houses in the fastest growing communities vary in size from 1,700 to 6,000 square feet and cost from $110,000 to $800,000, she said.

But housing starts in those communities have slackened in the past year. Bixby, for example, had 200 housing starts in May 2002 but only 124 this past May.

Melendez did not see Tulsa's estimated population decline as a sign of urban flight.

She instead attributed it to ``new opportunities for families to take advantage of out there,'' noting Bixby's neighborhood greenbelts, new retail development in Owasso and Jenks' newly opened Oklahoma Aquarium.

``My personal feeling is it starts with their school districts, their quality of life, the character of their communities,'' she said.

The entire metropolitan area would benefit, Melendez said, if the city is successful in its efforts to woo a new Boeing plant and expand American Airlines' Tulsa maintenance base.

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