For months, drivers around Norman have probably noticed red-and-blue "Norman Forward" signs adorning medians, parking strips, and front lawns.
On Tuesday, the City Council approved an ordinance to put a half-penny sales tax on the ballot this fall that's more or less Norman's version of Oklahoma City's MAPS 3 proposal.
Journal Record managing editor Adam Brooks says the 15-year sales tax extension's goal is to raise $209 million to fund revenue bonds.
"Those would pay for lots of amenities around town, including expanding the Legacy Trail, building two new libraries, a new soccer facility, a new pool, upgrades to all the parks, and building a new center, though there's still some controversy about whether that would be placed in the old downtown library, or if they will get a brand-new facility for that," Brooks said.
Norman's civic leaders hope the so-called "quality-of-life initiatives" will help bring in new businesses. Norman Chamber of Commerce President and CEO John Woods told The Journal Record's Molly Fleming that's what companies consider when they relocate, and potential employees are interested during the recruitment process.
“The location of your business and what your community looks like matters a lot,” he said. “The type of things your (city) offer makes a huge impact on that. The amenities and the recreational facilities matter (to employees). Businesses are aware of that. They locate in communities that are attractive to employees.”
Woods said updated parks and sports facilities do not replace a quality education system, but not every future resident is concerned about the school district. Seniors looking for a place to retire and Millennials relocating for their job may find other extras attractive.
“One of the things that was fortuitous or luck is that we have a package that has an appeal to Millennials, young families with kids, retirees and seniors,” Woods said. “It has something that appeals to you no matter where you’re at in your life.”
But the Norman Forward initiative is drawing the ire of those in favor of a more limited role of government, like Sooner Tea Party spokesman Al Gerhart.
"Being Tea Party, they don't really want a tax at all, and they especially think that this one isn't a good idea, because it would fund hobbies," Brooks said. "They also point out that sales taxes tend to affect poor people more than rich people."
The October 13 ballot initiative could also hurt Norman's chances of getting a stormwater utility, designed to keep runoff and pollution out of Lake Thunderbird.
having this issue on the ballot affects Norman's chances of getting a storm water utility, which some people is needed to protect Lake Thunderbird.
New Life For Troubled Tavern
As it does every August, traffic is picking up along Lindsey Street. As incoming University of Oklahoma freshmen and their parents pass the southeast corner of Berry Road, they may glance just beyond the orange cones and barricades to a restaurant slightly more overtly tied with Norman's most famous country singer.
Toby Keith and the Hal Smith Restaurant Group partnered to open Big Dog Daddy's Ice House last year, a play on one of the Grammy Award-winner's nicknames.
"The restaurant group said people liked it, but they didn't get the variety of audience that they wanted," Brooks said. "They didn't really get as many students, so they're going to change the concept, and they're going to call it Toby's American Grill. They're adding steaks and fish to their menu, which is mostly burgers and pizza now. They say it's going to be a little bit more like Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill, but they went with a name that doesn't require people to be familiar with Toby Keith to get it."
Woods, the Norman Chamber's executive director, said he's happy the restaurant group recommitted to the location, despite the unforgiving construction zone, according to The Journal Record:
“I think something that’s fantastic about the restaurant group is they’re always willing to try new lines, try new concepts and are not afraid to pull back and try something else if something isn’t working,” Woods said.
The Lindsey Street roadwork will wrap up before school starts, but will resume in seven months when the street is widened. When that happens, Woods said, the chamber has plans to help businesses in the area keep their customers.
The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.
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