Studying the cities 

Roy Williams
Credit: Mark Hancock

Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, spoke of insights gained from the Chamber’s visits since 2005 to five cities out of state: Charlotte, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; Indianapolis; Kansas City, Mo.; and Minneapolis.

Williams described the cities in terms of seven areas — sports, visitor development, regionalism, downtown development, transit, economic development and education — forming a broad cross section of programming. Both successes and failures in these realms can provide lessons for moving Oklahoma City forward.

Regarding sports, Chamber officials learned from Charlotte that there can be too much saturation from professional sports teams.

In visitor development, Williams said a concerning trend is the proliferation of limited-service hotels in Oklahoma City’s core, which can hamper efforts to bring in a full-service hotel to be associated with the future MAPS 3 convention center.

In addition, Oklahoma City lags behind others in terms of its ability to attract conventions and branding-level events, such as Austin’s South by Southwest conferences and festivals.

“In all communities we went to, we saw how far behind we were in the convention industry, because they all had very substantial and modern convention centers,” Williams said.

Most of the cities visited had some sort of regional structure for collaboration with their surrounding local governments. Williams noted that there was no “silver bullet” solution for driving growth in downtown development.

Several cities faced challenges similar to those of Oklahoma City. Almost all the communities in question, he added, had problems with their public school districts.

Williams said that planning for transit systems should take a long-range view.

“You build the transit for the city you want as opposed to the city you have,” he said. “That’s a salient message, thinking out there long term.”

Representatives from the planning departments in Fort Worth, Texas, and Charlotte presented stories of their growth and development, including what their respective municipalities did right and wrong.

Debra Campbell, Charlotte’s planning director, cautioned against relying solely on one industry or a handful of large companies to fuel growth. Charlotte, home to Bank of America, learned this during the 2008 financial crisis.

She said the focus on revitalizing downtown Charlotte has helped reinvigorate that city, and that it is important for planning and public works to work closely on issues.

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