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Rejuvenating the strip

OKC Pride works with community leaders on a revitalization plan along 39th Street.

Kelley Chambers December 12th, 2012

For years, the area around N.W. 39th and Pennsylvania has been home to a loose-knit collection of bars and businesses catering to Oklahoma City’s gay and lesbian community. But Jeremy Crites, president of OKC Pride, said it has lacked a sense of community.

A snapshot of the area shows a somewhat rundown collection of buildings with lively nightlife on weekends but little activity during the day. To thrive, the neighborhood needs public and private investment.

“A mixture of businesses that bring daytime and nighttime business to this area is going to be key,” Crites said. “If you look at other gay districts in other cities, you see bookstores, coffee shops and restaurants.”

Bringing more commerce to the community is not an official Pride project, but the organization is championing the effort and setting up its offices on the west end of the strip at N.W. 39th and Youngs. It has also found an ally in Ed Shadid, Oklahoma City Ward 2 councilman, who said the time to act is now, or the area could be left behind in future bond funding for infrastructure improvements.

Two of the initial goals are forming a steering committee and branding. Crites said it is unofficially known as both The Strip and The 39th Street Enclave. OKC Pride roughly maps the area as between N.W. 39th and N.W. 36th, Pennsylvania, Youngs and Interstate 44 on the north.

“To build enthusiasm and to build a vision for this area, branding is essential,” he said.

About once a decade, the city puts a bond measure before voters. The last one, for $835 million, passed in 2007. The next major bond issue is likely to be around 2017. With those initiatives placed so far apart, Shadid said it’s critical for business owners and other stakeholders to determine their goals as soon as possible, and then get the ear of those who decide which projects will be included.

“You’ve got to be organized and have your goals well defined right now,” he said. “If you’re not on that list you might have to wait another 10 years.”

Eric Wenger, Oklahoma City public works director, said recommendations for the area could be included in the discussion for a future bond issue.

“It’s never too early to start a dialogue,” he said.

Getting organized
At the first community meeting about the plan Nov. 26 at Expressions Church, about 50 attendees broke into groups to discuss goals. Oft-repeated suggestions included sprucing up the area, making it more pedestrian friendly, improving lighting, and adding a more diverse roster of businesses.

Credit: Mark Hancock
Crites said the overarching hope is to include the businesses that cater to the gay and lesbian crowd, but also appeal to others, and expand the efforts to nearby residential areas.

“This isn’t a gay project necessarily,” he said. “We envision including the residential area to the south and east of here, but we’re going to start on the strip.”

When plans begin to come together, Shadid said he will present the wish list to the city.

“If a group like this is well organized, and has well defined goals, I absolutely think the council and the public works department will respond to that,” he said.

In the coming months, Crites said, he wants to establish a forum to share ideas and to build enthusiasm while managing expectations. He stressed that projects of this scale don’t happen overnight.

“This is simply the beginning of a conversation,” he said. “And it’s a conversation that we’ll have together as residents, business owners, property owners and community members.”

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12.13.2012 at 10:54 Reply

I went down there for the first time in 2011 for the festival, and I have to admit it was very off-putting.  I don't like the bar-scene in general (cigarettes are GROSS), so the notion that the only place to meet gay people is in this place really churned my stomach.  

There needs to be more to the Strip than bars and clubs.  And frankly it only adds to the stereotype that gay people want to party and have sex with anonymous strangers.  I thought that was an image the community was working to quash?  

Some of us just want gay friends, good conversation, smoke free atmosphere, and relavtive quiet.

Where is that place?