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Master Plan Has Great Possibilities - September 24, 2017

This has been an exciting week. I had the most amazing visit Friday morning to the Moore/Norman Technology Center. I was invited to attend a breakfast by their wonderful superintendent, Jane Bowen. I had an opportunity to visit with administrators, teachers, students and business leaders. 

As a former educator I have always been impressed with our career technology center, and it is amazing that so many of our residents are not aware that Oklahoma has one of the premier career tech programs in the country. They are able to educate high school students, adults and people already in the work world. 

Unlike many schools, many of their instructors come directly from the industry. Their technology programs are cutting edge. Did you know that they have one of the top cyber security/virtualization programs in the region?

I think visiting with students may have been the highlight. Two of their top students, one in cyber security and one in auto mechanics, spoke and took us on a tour. Visiting their programs and hearing their stories was inspiring. Students in these two programs are virtually assured of good-paying jobs right out of school. 

MNTC is such an important link between our public schools and the world of work. We are indeed fortunate in our community to have both a major university and an award-winning technical training center.
Earlier in the week, the council met in study session to consider a master plan to develop the north half of the University North Park area. It was well covered in local newspapers. This is land that the OU Foundation owns along I-35 that, for many years, sat vacant. 

We have been in a partnership with them on the south half of the UNP. That was envisioned as primarily a retail area. When the idea was originally brought to the city in 2006, there was a lot of controversy because a tax increment financing district was put in place. 

A TIF is a vehicle that is used by many communities to help spur development. It uses all or part of the new taxes generated by the new development to help pay for the new infrastructure that is needed. 
However, it defers some of the taxes from the taxing jurisdictions (schools, city, county etc.). On the other hand, when the TIF is paid off, all of those entities generally receive a lot bigger revenue stream than they previously had.

Many also have expressed concern that the UNP development did not result in the high-end retail or the walkability that some residents expected. 

However, it was developed using an overall master plan that resulted in a very attractive, convenient shopping area with landscaping, a beautiful park and many new hotels, including one with a large conference area. It also has resulted in a much more robust tax base for the area.

The OU Foundation and the city both put in money to complete the master plan for the north half, which had been authorized by the city council a year and a half ago. This study included a diversified offering of housing, some office and light industrial space. 

The most unexpected element was the inclusion of an entertainment district, with the centerpiece being a multi-purpose are

It is the kind of development that can become a regional draw. It can be a great way to bring other people to Norman to stay, enjoy sports or concert, etc. and spend their money.

As a council, we have just begun to explore the idea. We have a great deal of information to gather, most importantly the financial impact of such a project. Our job is to provide services for our residents, and one of our most important jobs is making sure we have enough money for the things Norman residents want and need. 

The master plan has exciting possibilities.