South Tulsa County communities Jenks and Bixby have earned great reputations for comfortable residential living and good schools.
But over the last five years the pace of commercial construction has picked up. Today, plans in both towns are revealing a potential not there just a few short years ago.
Of course, they are not becoming a destination in themselves just yet. They remain Tulsa suburbs; but, over the next five years, that will change.
The Tulsa Business Journal visited with Bixby and Jenks officials for a look ahead at projects in those communities either coming out of the ground or being lined up.
Bixby, long known as the “Garden Spot” of the state, has been perceived as a great place to live. The schools, low crime rate, golf courses and available land are a big draw for prospective residents.
Evidence of the growth is seen in the population surge. The number of Bixby residents has grown 44.7 percent over the last six years, according to U.S. Census Bureau. Bixby reported a population of 13,336 in 2000; the estimated population in July 2006 was 19,294.
Activity in Bixby is hot along Memorial Drive from 101st Street to 111th Street, said Trish Richey, Bixby Economic Development Director. The trend began more than 10 years ago, she said.
“We believe Bixby has put a lot of good things in place for that development. We have made significant investment in infrastructure, including street widening south of 151st Street and water drainage.
“Our schools are a preferred district, we have quality residential growth and proximity to the Tulsa city limits,” she said.
Bixby also has excellent access to U.S. 75 via Oklahoma 67, which is a four-lane divided highway that is also 151st Street, and access north along Memorial Drive, which doubles as U.S. 64, to the Creek Turnpike.
Not only has new home construction in Bixby been booming, but commercial development has been soaring.
The largest construction project is the $50 million Regal Plaza complex by the Bixby-based Remy Cos. The heart of the development, at 103rd Street and Memorial Drive, is the 4,500-seat capacity SpiritBank Event Center.
The Regal Plaza, at 105th Street and Memorial Drive, is a flexible retail community with 150,000 SF of retail surrounding the Event/Convention Center. About 73,000 SF, or 68 percent of the center, has been pre-leased, said Richey.
The four-story, 102-room Hampton Inn Hotel lies on the south edge of the property.
Later this month, Remy Co. officials plan to make an announcement concerning the opening of the Event Center, said Kim Parsons, assistant Events Coordinator.
Parsons joined Remy at the first of the year after serving nine years at the Tulsa Convention Center.
Construction worth $20 million is nearing completion at several other projects. The Suites of Ravenwood is a 60,000-SF, $8.7 million office complex at 7700 E. 111th St. Another office/retail/warehouse project, Crosscreek, is at 128th Street and Memorial Drive. That project follows the pattern used in Remy’s Market Place at Pointe South complex. It was a $9.5 million development at 12800 S. Memorial Drive when built in the late 1990s. Remy sold it in 2005.
“[Tim Remy, construction manager for the real estate company] is a first class developer,” Richey said.
Remy declined to be interviewed.
Palazzo Shopping Center, which faces Memorial Drive and sits in front of the StarWorld 20 Cinema, lies north of the Regal.
The collection of upscale retail, restaurants, office and hospitality businesses, led by the event center, create a critical mass destined for success for the area, Parsons said.
Although construction is ongoing, the impact of sales tax revenue is already being felt, she said.
In a year-over-year period covering seven months, sales tax receipts climbed 11.3 percent, or $420,000.
The project is having an impact on Bixby’s image, said Bixby Mayor Ray Bowen.
“Tim Remy has made that a destination area,” Bowen said. “Once open, we will begin having concerts, sporting events.”
It definitely will have an impact on tourism, he said.
Besides the Regal, Remy is working on another $50 million project. This one will front the Arkansas River east of the Memorial Drive bridge.
“That development will start at the end of January,” Bowen said. The Bixby City Council approved a preliminary plat for the project earlier this month. Final approval is expected Jan. 28.
Dirt work could begin as soon as Feb. 1, he said.
“We will need a minimum of three to four hotels in the next two to three years because of the impact of this growth,” Bowen said.
Another attraction is the Bentley Park Sports Complex. The planned 100-acre baseball complex is partially complete. Bixby played host to a tournament in November, Bowen said.
“They told us it was one of the nicest parks they had seen in the five-state region,” he said.
That project should be complete by May 2009.
“Bixby’s best days are still ahead, Bowen said.
“A lot will happen in the next couple of years,” he said.
In Jenks, which calls itself the “Antique Capital of Oklahoma,” the building of a $20 million public aquarium created momentum that continues today, said City Manager Mike Tinker.
Like Bixby, Jenks has experienced rapid growth since the last official census. The 2000 population was 9,557. In July 2006, it was estimated at 14,123 — a 47.8 percent increase.
Cities need a critical mass of retail, restaurants and distinctive destinations to give prospective visitors something to do, Tinker said.
“My goal is, and Tulsa’s goal should be, that once someone decides to get in their car and drive to Tulsa we need plenty for them to do,” he said. “That is why Oklahoma City is kicking our butts in attracting people, because they have created that energy. But, we will get there. It takes a lot of people to make a lot of investments.”
Jenks has had a string of good investments in the last five years. Once the Oklahoma Aquarium opened, local developer Jerry Gordon was inspired to build the $25 million Phase I of RiverWalk Crossing. A year ago, Gordon announced he plans to add a $24 million Phase II to the north of the original complex.
Developer Lynn Mitchell announced plans last year to build a $900-million, mixed-use center south of the Creek Turnpike to be called the River District. Dirt work could begin this spring, with completion expected by spring 2010.
“I know with my own family, when we go somewhere, the drive time needs to equal about half of whatever the event is at the destination,” Tinker said. “You need to create that destination for people to have something to do from Friday evening to a Sunday afternoon, or over a Monday holiday.”
Tinker does not see Jenks competing with Bixby or Tulsa.
“We want the BOk Center to be productive and bring people to the area. We want people to attend big events downtown, have a high-energy downtown. Then they can come to Bixby, Jenks or Owasso.”
Near Owasso, along 36th Street North, is the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Tulsa Zoo.
The distance between those venues is a reason a light rail system would work in Tulsa, Tinker said.
“If you look at the system that exists today, all the lines head to the BOK Center. Whether it is Broken Arrow, Owasso, Sand Springs, they all come to downtown Tulsa.”
But Tinker is “not a bit concerned” about competing with other communities. What Jenks has is so distinctive, Tinker said, that “we will draw people regionally as well as from multiple states.”
It is important to be building something and moving forward, Tinker said.
“You cannot sit still.”
In the Tank
The Oklahoma Aquarium, a public non-profit organization, started it all.
Located on the Arkansas River, the Oklahoma Aquarium brings an estimated 400,000 visitors to the area annually.
The Aquarium belongs to a group of 20 different aquariums across the U.S. While officials share numbers with each other, they decline to reveal revenues, Tinker said.
“We are running ahead of the average and we are ahead of our sales from a year ago,” Tinker said.
Tinker did not reveal Jenks’ sales tax figures, but indicated that revenues from the Aquarium and RiverWalk were not the panacea that people might think, he said.
“Our problem for years has been the sales tax leak at all our borders,” Tinker said.
For example, a new Wal-Mart is being built at 121st Street and U.S. 75, just across the street from Jenks’ city limit. The Tulsa Hills, a mile-long outdoor retail center at 71st Street and U.S. 75, falls on the Tulsa side of the limit line. The Riverside Market and Kohl’s sit across the Arkansas River from Jenks.
However, Jenks-side Arkansas River retail projects will “get us to a point where we can provide essential services to the city,” he said.
Jenks erected a second fire station on 121st Street west of Elwood. The cost of the station and all operations took 115 percent of the growth that Jenks had enjoyed the previous year, Tinker said.
The focus is on building retail, Tinker said.
“RiverWalk Part II, the River District – once we get that retail inside the city limits we will be at the point that we can operate the city efficiently like we want,” he said.
There have been plans for a restaurant to sit north of the Aquarium next to the Jenks Bridge. Those plans have been delayed, Tinker said.
The city has several more parcels available east of the levee, but plans are on hold for several reasons.
“First, as the River District starts coming out of the ground, those parcels will gain value,” he said. “Second, two different roads will be cut into the campus.”
Apache Street, one block south of Main Street, will be extended east over the levee toward the hotel entrance.
“We will punch it through, nearly at the hotel’s front door, to relieve traffic that normally turns north to RiverWalk,” Tinker said.
Next, a new ramp off the Creek Turnpike will access Lewis Avenue to accommodate traffic in and out of the River District.
Westbound traffic will drop down into the Aquarium campus, Tinker said.
“It will affect one parcel on the south end. So, we can’t sell it until we see where the ramp goes,” he said.
“Our goal is to connect everything we can along the river,” Tinker said.
The master design is to have something like RiverWalk Crossing lining the river to the River District.
“I think there are many, many things to come. I think folks will see a different Jenks in five years than we see now, as far as tourism and the things we have to offer.” ?