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KC Field Trip Has Tulsa Development Authority Thinking About Future Local Efforts

Matt Trotter

The Tulsa Development Authority is looking to our neighbors to the northeast for some inspiration.

Commissioners and staff recently journeyed to Kansas City, Missouri, to take a look at their transit systems and recent downtown economic development efforts.

Missouri’s second-largest metro area is years ahead in transit, with two bus rapid transit lines in operation and leaders now eyeing an extension of the downtown light rail service dubbed KC Streetcar.

Voters approved a $100 million investment for the first phase of the KC Streetcar in 2012. Kansas City officials said the streetcar has spurred $2 billion in additional downtown development.

"And then a roughly $4 billion with a ‘B’ economic impact just in that 2.2-mile area with plans to expand, I think that’s a game changer, and that’s definitely something that we’ve talked about in the City of Tulsa for years but I would really love to see something like that happen," said TDA Commissioner Thomas Boxley

The first phase was built using $20 million in federal grant funding, but voters also set up a special taxing district. Tulsa Director of Economic Development Jim Coles said that’s important to know.

"Because that’s probably the model as our future and our BRT starts to provide the proof that these types of things work and we move toward light rail as the next phase, how we sort of just see how people did it without a giant federal subsidy," Coles said.

The development authority has no immediate plans to move forward on light rail service like the KC Streetcar.

TDA General Counsel Jot Hartley said Kansas City's development efforts touch more than transit.

"They are funding a grocery store in a food desert, and the city, through its economic development agencies, is funding that store," Hartley said.

Kansas City has seen a surge in its downtown population, with three in five new downtown residents coming from within the metropolitan area.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.