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City of Tulsa Officials May Turn to Tax Increment Financing for Route 66 Improvements

Matt Trotter

Tulsa city officials looking to give Route 66 development a shot in the arm will consider a novel method to finance projects.

Two proposed tax increment financing districts around Mother Road Market and the old Tulsa Welding School site would generate an estimated $23.7 million dollars over 25 years to pay for public improvements. The revenue would be captured from increased property taxes and the undedicated 2 percent of city sales tax from new businesses.

One twist to the proposal is Mother Road Market owner the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation will pay for work around the food hall now.

"The city will still pick all of the components. They’ll say, 'Here’s where we want a crosswalk. Here’s what it will look like. Here’s where we want lighting. Here’s what it will look like,'" said developer Christopher Ellison, who is married to Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation President and CEO Elizabeth Frame Ellison. "The city still makes all those design decisions, and then [the foundation will] fund those decisions with the hope, which is not guaranteed, that they’ll then get reimbursed through the TIF."

Around $11 million in revenue could be used to help pay for public projects like pedestrian improvements and lighting roughly along 11th Street from the Inner Dispersal Loop to Delaware Avenue and along Lewis Avenue from Archer Street to 16th Street.

Currently, the proposal earmarks $11.5 million for financing assistance, with the rest going toward administration and contingencies.

Ellison said properties in the area sit vacant because redevelopers face a big risk absent other investment.

"That incentivizes them to move forward, and that gets banks excited as well and it lets them know that their collateral might be worth the money they’re going to loan to you," Ellison said.

City Councilor Blake Ewing said the arrangement would be good for Tulsans — and not just those living in the area.

"If you’ve got enough going on, on your Route 66, people will stop, spend the night and go see your other attractions. So, any investment, I believe, in Route 66 is an investment in the community as a whole because it opens us up to so much more tourism business," Ewing said.

The TIF district around Mother Road Market would apply to the food hall and would likely be put into effect upon final adoption of the plan. The district that includes the old Tulsa Welding School site could be enacted in the future.

Ellison is planning a mixed-use project with retail and more than 300 residential units for the site.

A review committee approved the TIF plan Monday. It must be approved by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and the city council before it's enacted. That process could be done by late November.

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.