Oklahoma leaders announce ambitious $1B entertainment district plan

A coalition of prominent figures from Norman’s civic, business, and education sectors has revealed ambitious plans for a groundbreaking $1 billion entertainment district. 

The proposed development, spearheaded by “Team Norman,” seeks to transform the city with a slew of amenities, including a new arena for University of Oklahoma athletics, hotels, offices, shops, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, and housing for thousands, the Oklahoman reported.

The coalition has emphasized that the project will not burden city or county general funds nor necessitate a tax increase. Instead, it plans to fund 80 percent of the venture through private investment, with the remaining 20 percent coming from public sources. 

Norman Mayor Larry Heikkila suggested that tax increment financing and potentially revenue bonds would be employed to secure the public portion of the funding.

TIF districts are instrumental in harnessing tax revenues generated by new developments to fund public improvements in the area. In some instances, bonds are issued and repaid with increasing ad valorem taxes, while others function as rebates.

University of Oklahoma President Joe Harroz Jr. expressed support for the project, particularly the replacement of the Lloyd Noble Center. 

While the university won’t shoulder development costs, it will contribute by paying rent for the arena and other facilities. These revenues are earmarked to support the use of revenue bonds, which are financed through increased development-generated income.

Lawrence McKinney, president of the Norman Economic Development Coalition, highlighted the city’s housing shortage and the need to attract new residents and businesses to avoid stagnation. The coalition envisions a district that aligns with residents’ desires for walkable, safe, green neighborhoods that are inclusive of an economically diverse population.

Situated near the University North Park district, the development will front Interstate 35, specifically at Rock Creek Road and 24th Avenue NW. The proposed development would include a venue designed to host various events, from concerts and shows to OU basketball games and women’s gymnastics competitions. An outdoor plaza will be adjacent to the performance venue.

This announcement comes five years after a previous effort, which sought tax increment financing but was withdrawn by the OU Foundation due to opposition at City Hall. 

— Ted Glanzer

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