A new alliance of city officials from across the country hailed Oklahoma City as a model for community development and promotion of inner-city projects using opportunity zone incentives.
The delegation, led by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Bryan Barnett, mayor of Rochester Hills, Michigan, and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, ended their visit in Oklahoma City this week explaining how their new organization, Accelerator for America Advisory Council, is seeking to use opportunity zones to address stubborn challenges.
Garcetti, who founded the group, asked then newly elected Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt and mayors in South Bend, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky, to create a prospectus to encourage developers to make full use of the tax incentives in disadvantaged areas.
“It’s a federal tax benefit that individuals, companies and investors can claim,” Holt said. “We as a city do not get any opportunity zone cash, we don’t administer it, we don’t make any judgments about it. But we certainly want to advertise opportunity zones in our cities, especially those in disadvantaged areas.”
The prospectus was drawn up with assistance from Bruce Katz, a nationally renowned author and planner who previously oversaw planning for creation of an innovation district east of downtown.
The prospectus has already paid off, Holt said, with the recent announcement of a new Homeland supermarket to be built at NE 36 and Lincoln Boulevard. It will be in a long-time food desert in a historically African American community that lost its last remaining grocery last month with the closing of Smart Saver at NE 23 and Martin Luther King.
“We’re looking for wins,” Holt said. “Two weeks ago, everyone saw the news of a Homeland in northeast Oklahoma City, and that’s great. One of the major investors is an opportunity zone fund backed by historically black universities and colleges. It’s a first big win for us and we hope there will be more.”
Accelerator for America Advisory Council used the first three prospectuses to create similar documents in other cities to repeat the success being seen in Oklahoma City with its opportunity zone.
Mayor Andrew Schor, mayor of Lansing, Michigan, credited the work done by Oklahoma City as projects were sparked in all but one of his city’s seven zones.
Holt, meanwhile, said the accelerator trips to Philadelphia provided him with the inspiration for the MAPS 4 proposal to convert the Foster Center in northeast Oklahoma City into a business start-up and incubator tied to creation of an innovation district.
Garcetti said the accelerator was created as a “do tank,” not a think tank, and that it has already helped in efforts that have generated $14 billion. The group’s goal is to see Opportunity Zones attracting $100 billion in investment. The tool has been used in 43 cities to date.
“We’re trying to ask, what can cities bring to build infrastructure, to provide training, speed up building permits,” Garcetti said. “The model here is one of the best, it’s a minority neighborhood and it’s a food desert.”