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O’Connor: Wheeler District development moving forward
The Oklahoma City Council approved a $120 million tax increment financing plan for the Western Gateway TIF District near downtown, which includes the Wheeler District, recognized by the iconic Ferris wheel on the river. The project area is east of S. Blackwelder Avenue and west of S. Walker Avenue, between the Oklahoma River on the north and Twin Creek on the south.
The Wheeler District is proposed as a vibrant, mixed-used community that will include residential and commercial development, as well as open space. The 150-acre master planned development will include as many as 2,000 units of housing. One of the goals of the development is to encourage a range of housing types including town houses, small lot single-family homes and multifamily apartments. The development will also include commercial and retail development and is designed to integrate with the existing neighborhoods by extending the street grid. Plans for the district were developed by the Humphreys Co. over the past several years, including many hours of community engagement and other forms of public input.
The tax increment financing plan calls for $60 million in infrastructure projects such as water, sewer, drainage, grading, streets and alleys, trails and bike paths. TIF will also help fund the development of a new elementary school in the area and eventually a mid/high school. It is an investment in raising a vibrant community from a blighted and economically depressed area.
The Western Gateway TIF is structured so that financing and risk are assumed by the developer. Once private development creates an incremental increase in property taxes, that increment will be used to repay the developer’s cost to finance and install infrastructure. The developer believes, as we do, that an investment in this area south of the Oklahoma River will bring success to the Wheeler District and have a ripple effect on surrounding neighborhoods.
With the approval of the City Council, Blair Humphreys plans to break ground as early as April. The development will progress over 10 phases, beginning with housing and the elementary school.
Cathy O’Connor is the president of the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City.