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July 13, 2013

Investing in Stillwater’s growth

STILLWATER, Okla. — It’s time to make Stillwater a better place to live and work, Stillwater National Bank Vice President and former Stillwater Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Kevin Fowler said last week.

And that’s the sole reason a group of approximately 25 Stillwater residents formed the Our Stillwater Steering Committee more than a year ago and developed the improvement plans presented to the Stillwater City Council in May.

The city’s Capital Improvement Program Committee reviewed the proposals and crunched financial numbers. Councilors Joe Weaver and Chuck Hopkins are expected to discuss the panel’s findings at Monday’s City Council meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Stillwater Municipal Building, 723 S. Lewis.

The genesis of the Our Stillwater Steering Committee likely can be traced to December 2009’s Making Place Matter initiative, which was part of a national campaign that encouraged colleges and universities to connect with their communities.

Fowler was one of the business and community leaders on the 14-member team that developed projects to improve communication and planning, create an environmentally friendly regional transportation system and enhance the business environment to attract industry to Stillwater.

“We wanted a vibrant economy. We wanted a livable community so quality of life initiatives were important to us. We wanted social inclusion. We wanted people to be involved and feel like they had a voice. We wanted a governance that was collaborative,” Fowler said.

“Not everyone knew exactly what was coming down the road, but if you open the window just a little bit, opportunity presents itself,” Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Roy Williams told community leaders at the 2011 Stillwater Chamber of Commerce Economic Summit.

Williams outlined Oklahoma City’s metropolitan-area projects initiative and the 1-cent sales tax increase, originally passed in 1993, that continues to fuel the state capital’s rebirth.

Oklahoma City’s MAPS initiative can be applied to any city in Oklahoma, Williams said.

Williams’ speech, Fowler said, refired the idea that Stillwater needed to invest in itself.

A handful of community leaders united behind the idea of a MAPS for Stillwater. Each invited five others into the group and the Our Stillwater Steering Committee was born, he said.

The panel didn’t start from scratch. Some members had the institutional memory from the Making Place Matter initiative. Others pushed favorite issues. A consensus emerged after five, three-hour meetings.

“We talked about projects that we were aware of that were at stalling points — even infrastructure issues that were kind of at a spot where they needed a push, some momentum,” Fowler said.

Stillwater Chamber President/CEO Lisa Navrkal, businessman Stan Clark and banker Jerry Franklin stepped to the podium on May 20 and outlined a multiple-phase project to rejuvenate Stillwater’s infrastructure and uplift the city’s quality of life.

A fire station in west Stillwater, replacing and upgrading the police fleet, a youth sports complex, completing the trails system and revitalizing Boomer Lake Park are included in phase I, which carried a $28 million cost estimate.

Oklahoma State University has invested more than $500 million in its campus in the past five years. Stillwater Public Schools have invested $91.5 million on programs and facilities since 2007, Navrkal said.

City councilors asked city staff, and the Capital Improvement Program Committee to work with Our Stillwater proponents to identify project priorities, define their scope, prepare cost estimates and examine funding methods.

The city panel has reviewed the Our Stillwater’s notes. It is looking at city needs, like fire stations, technology and road improvements, Fowler said.

“They are coming together to make a recommendation to the City Council as to how these projects could be pushed forward in a MAPS for Stillwater phase I,” Fowler said.

The committee will present its findings, allowing city councilors to decide what’s next, he said.

“The economy has turned,” Fowler said. “Stillwater is on a roll already. ... Let’s make a plan. How can we position ourselves better for where we want to be in 10 or 20 years?”

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