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‘Today is historic,’ council uses unusual tool to spur millions for N.E. OKC growth

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OKLAHOMA CITY - An effort to improve northeast Oklahoma City to spur more retail and commercial development is taking a huge step forward.

It's an area that has been plagued by urban blight and crime for years but now, the city council wants to create a special tax district along N.E. 23rd St.

On Tuesday, the council voted to approve the move, which is pretty unusual.

In the history of Oklahoma City, only eight of these tax districts have ever been created.

The one for N.E. 23rd St. would be the ninth.

In the past, officials have used either a sales tax or ad valorem tax to fund the improvements.

Folks who live and work in this area couldn't be happier about the decision.

Victoria Kemp, a restaurant owner in the area, said, "I never plan on living anywhere but the east side, but I would like to see it improved."

In addition to many vacant buildings, the lack of retail properties in the area is a problem.

"I have to leave my neighborhood to do almost anything," said Kemp. "I would like to see more business."

John Pettis, Ward 7 councilman, said, "Ward 7 is the only ward without a full size grocery store or retail development, so today is historic because we're getting ready to change that."

Councilman Pettis spearheaded the fight to establish a Tax Increment Finance district along N.E. 23rd St.

Officials say 'TIF' districts provide financial incentives to developers.

Cathy O'Connor, with Alliance for Economic Development, said, "It's been an incredibly effective tool for the city to use to make private investment happen."

The move has already guaranteed a new Buy For Less grocery store will be built, anchoring a $20 million development at MLK and N.E. 23rd.

Past 'TIF' districts focused on downtown, the Devon tower, the Dell building and the OU health center.

Organizers say it's a track record of success that hopefully translates to N.E. 23rd St.

O'Connor said, "We don't do this very often, so it is a big day for northeast Oklahoma City."

The vote establishes a committee to oversee creating the tax district.

The council will vote in a couple of months to officially create the boundaries of the district.

A blight study would also allow the city to use eminent domain to demolish problem properties in the area.