University North Park

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

The entrance to University North Park welcomes shoppers to the Tax Increment Finance district, which was established in 2006.

On Tuesday, the city council will vote on a resolution to begin the process of ending the University North Park TIF.

The resolution would request a recommendation from the Statutory TIF committee on how to best end the TIF while addressing the council’s concerns about how the move could affect state funding for Norman Public Schools.

The committee, which includes representatives from the ad valorem taxing jurisdictions and is headed by Mayor Lynne Miller, is required to give its recommendation on any major changes to the TIF project plan.

From there, the council could adopt the committee’s recommendation, or, with a super majority vote make unilateral modifications to the agreement, including ending it.

A super majority may not be needed, however, as council member Bill Hickman reportedly aims to add language to the resolution aimed at ending the TIF while providing financial benefit to the city’s TIF partners — Norman Public Schools, Cleveland County, Cleveland County Health Department, Pioneer Library System and Moore-Norman Technology Center.

The move follows Tuesday’s study session where the council affirmed its aims and comes after years of public pressure and the recent election of two council members — Joe Carter and Alex Scott — who ran on a platform to end controversial sales tax appropriations to the retail district and thwart the OU Foundation’s publicly financed arena ambitions.

Though UNP has failed to generate a regional draw component, which was a major selling point for its creation, it has attracted roughly $230 million in private investment. That’s according to a staff report, entered Thursday by City Attorney Jeff Bryant, that indicates the district has generated nearly $75 million in gross sales tax and over $20 million in ad valorem tax since 2006.

The TIF’s total investment target of $54.75 million in incremental revenues — a portion of sales tax revenue apportioned to infrastructure and project costs in the district — was projected to attract $500 million in private investment.

Despite the development's perceived successes, the problem, critics say, is that it has diverted over $30 million away from the city’s general fund and effectively cannibalized Norman’s spending dollars to the detriment of existing businesses and other areas throughout the city.

Though there are still $25 million in remaining authorized project costs, with the TIF district’s outstanding loans now paid off and with $10.7 million in its account, City Finance Director Anthony Francisco said ending sales tax allocations to UNP is now a viable option. The often reserved Anthony, who avoids any appearance of telling the council what it should do, has said in no uncertain terms that ending the TIF would benefit the health of the city's beleaguered general fund. 

Carter has already publicly pledged his support for Hickman’s version of the resolution to bring the 25-year plan to an early end.

“Many council members have said the are in favor of ending the TIF,” he said. “Tuesday night will be our night to find out.”

Mack Burke is an investigative reporter and award-winning feature writer and columnist for The Norman Transcript. An OU alumnus, he has lived in Norman since 2003.