Smart choices, collaboration fueling Broken Arrow’s growth: Spurgeon
By John Dobberstein, Editor
Broken Arrow is continuing to grow and prosper by nearly every measure and more of the same is expected, even as city leaders grapple with the challenges of overburdened streets and utilities and underfunded public safety departments, City Manager Michael Spurgeon said Wednesday in his annual State of the City address.
Spurgeon told a sold-out audience at the Central on Main Ballroom that he is often asked about what has led to Broken Arrow’s record of growth and development success.
The city’s population is now 116,330, making it the fourth largest city in Oklahoma and the 250th largest city in the U.S. In 1990, Broken Arrow had 58,000 people and was ranked 421st.
“It’s not a result of us living in a vacuum, but a result of smart choices and collaboration by many different individuals and entities in our city,” Spurgeon said. “Whether it’s a decision made by the city, or the school district or the private sector, it’s setting us on the path for a stronger Broken Arrow.”
Working with MCN
Spurgeon highlighted some projects the city partnered on with the Muscogee Creek Nation, which has a large population in Broken Arrow. In May the city hosted a welcome reception and luncheon with the MCN National Council and discussed, among other things, the need for “unity in the community.
“I hope these meetings will continue in the future because they’re important -- we have a shared citizenry,” he said.
MCN and the city also worked with the Mission 22 organization the build the War at Home Memorial in Broken Arrow, which is designed to draw attention to the challenges communities face with veteran suicide.
The Broken Arrow Senior Center Annex, Broken Arrow Veterans Center, Military History Center and Brown-Kimbrough Center for the Arts have all opened recently in or near the Rose District.
The financial numbers for Broken Arrow appear to be healthy. Sales tax proceeds are up 6% over this time in 2021, and use-tax revenue is up 16%, which Spurgeon believes is a “good sign that our economy is growing at a steady pace.” Average household income in Broken Arrow is up 7% from last year, increasing from $75,000 to $81,000.
Broken Arrow’s community assessed value for 2022 is $1.1 billion, compared to $750 million 2021. Spurgeon said that is important for the Broken Arrow Public Schools as “it means more dollars to help educate our children.” The city continues to hold a Aa3 bond rating.
for public safety
Even though sales taxes revenue is increasing, Spurgeon said he is still concerned that it’s the only means available to fund police and fire services.
The Broken Arrow police and fire departments have often been below their maximum level of authorized forces and are facing recruitment challenges on top of that.
State legislation that Broken Arrow leaders hoped would allow Broken Arrow to fund public safety through property taxes was passed by lawmakers but will not survive the most recent court challenge, Spurgeon noted.
Spurgeon said no efforts will be spared to ensure public safety in Broken Arrow is protected.
“I can assure you that Broken Arrow will never defund the police," Spurgeon said to rousing applause. "Despite their challenges, our police and fire departments have never wavered in their dedication to protecting our residents and keeping Broken Arrow a safe place to live and work."
“We need to continue to grow our economy by supporting existing businesses and recruiting more of them so there are more opportunities for our residents to shop locally,” Spurgeon warned. “If we don’t, it will be had to sustain our operations.”
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Creating a skilled workforce and environment for business growth has been another priority for city leaders, Spurgeon said. The Broken Arrow Economic Development Corp., city of Broken Arrow and Broken Arrow Chamber visited more than 200 businesses during the “BA Business Blitz” last fall to identify expansion opportunities, pain points and assess individual business needs.
The Broken Arrow Chamber’s Amplify BA program – a 5-year strategic capital investment campaign – will go a long way to benefit the city’s “entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he said. “We need resources to promote workforce and job training, provide data-driven information for business that are here or looking to come to city. Will have funds available to help businesses expand and recruit new ones,” Spurgeon said.
On Broken Arrow’s north side, development continues with the opening of Tiger Hill Plaza, and Ascension-St. John recently announced an $8 million expansion of its Broken Arrow campus that will increase the number of beds from 44 to 67 and create 37 jobs. The hospital is also starting a $2 million project to add a state-of-the-art CT scanner that will provide wider access to health care, he added.
Further south, the Aspen Ridge development just north of Aspen Avenue and the Creek Turnpike is starting off with a 65,000-square-foot Reasor’s grocery store that is undergoing construction, and additional retail tenants may be announced early next year.
Innovation district holds promise
In the long term, Spurgeon said the vision is being finalized for Broken Arrow’s Innovation District to be located on 90 acres at Florence Street and Olive Avenue and layout and infrastructure design is starting. Aerospace and oil-and-gas are mainstay industries in the Tulsa area and Spurgeon hopes to build on the “solid foundation” they have laid and add new industries, “and the Innovation District gives us that. The project could be shovel ready within 2 years.
“I believe the right project and implementation (of the district) has the potential to change the face of south Broken Arrow and the entire community for generations to come,” he said.
There are, no doubt, plenty of challenges for Broken Arrow as it continues to shed its image as a sleepy suburb. The first reason is infrastructure: Elm Place and Lynn Lane Avenue, particularly between Kenosha and Albany streets, are frequently jammed with traffic, including at the interchanges with the Broken Arrow Expressway.
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Addressing the Lynn Lane corridor with widening, turns lanes and bridge replacement from Kenosha to Albany will cost an estimated $42 million, and similar work for Elm Place would cover more than $30 million. The city applied for two federal grants to fund the work but was rejected.
Spurgeon said city staff will have to “look at every available option” on how to reconfigure those thoroughfares.
More street projects
The city is planning to invest more than $50 million in streets and utilities in 2023. Some of the major roads being worked on include Albany from Lynn Lane to County Line, County Line from Kenosha to Houston, with a bridge replacement, Washington from Olive to Aspen, and Houston from Garnett to Aspen.
The city recently completed a public transit study and opted to most toward a micro-transit system.
“In my opinion the more orange cones the better because they represent progress, construction and growth. And while the inconvenience is temporary it will set us on the stage to handle the residents and cars coming in and out of our community,” Spurgeon said.
He added the costs of hauling trash from Broken Arrow to western Tulsa for disposal are adding up, not just in resources but in wear and tear on equipment. Spurgeon wants to explore a regional partnership with other communities as a way for them to meet trash disposal needs while stabilizing rates and reducing operational costs.