By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — “They’ve had more activity and interest this year than they’ve had since 2007,” Kathryn Walker, assistant city attorney, said of the recent growth in the University North Park shopping district.
Buildout started quickly in the UNP after it was established as a Tax Increment Finance District. A portion of the sales and ad valorem taxes generation from retail development in the UNP pays for road and other infrastructure improvements, including the Legacy Park which is currently under construction. Business was booming prior to the onset of the recession.
Now, with a number of new businesses opening weekly in the UNP, down-trending economics are receding into the background.
Zoe’s Kitchen is coming along quickly and should open soon. This is the first Zoe’s in this part of the state and third in Oklahoma. Zoe’s has two other locations in Tulsa. The casual dining restaurant features Mediterranean-inspired recipes that originate from the kitchen of founder Zoe Cassimus who draws on her Greek heritage for inspiration. Everything is made fresh daily.
On the north side of Zoes, Aspen Dental and a new Sprint store are shaping up. This will be the first Aspen Dental in Norman. Aspen is one of the largest and fastest-growing networks of dental care providers in the U.S. with about 400 locations in 26 states.
Across the street to the west and further north, DSW — Designer Shoe Warehouse — opened recently. Neighboring HomeGoods is currently hiring and is targeting an opening date near the end of the month. HomeGoods is a home furnishing store that offers high-end designer goods at a cost savings.
Back to the south, Crest Foods plans to be open in time for Thanksgiving shopping.
On the north end, a Holiday Inn Express going in next to Embassy Suites Norman will provide rooms for business travelers and overflow space for conventions. The new hotel will expand the number of conventions the Norman Convention and Visitors Bureau and area hoteliers such as Embassy suites can bring to town. Attendees at conventions also eat in Norman restaurants and may also take the opportunity to shop at nearby stores.
All of these stores are new and the city will collect 40 percent of the sales taxes generated by these businesses.
The TIF will keep 60 percent to pay off debt services on Legacy Park and other amenities and to finish out the required infrastructure in the University North Park area. Half of the ad valorem growth goes to TIF but the rest will go to the local taxing jurisdictions including the schools, Cleveland County, the county health department, and Pioneer Library Services. Norman gets a very small percent of ad valorem as well.
The boom at the University Town Center couldn’t have come at a better time, with Norman’s sales tax running flat or under budget through most of the last fiscal year.