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.
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.
“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.”