The founder of Coalign, in her role with the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, created a TIF district and the master plan to incentivize development as Oklahoma City was developing Scissortail Park, a 70-acre urban park on the west end of the city’s new 275,000-square-foot convention center. An adjoining convention center hotel was key to maximizing conference and convention business, so Cathy O’Connor developed a hotel RFP, met with the Omni and other hotel operators and wrote and finalized a development agreement and public funding method.
For over 20 years, city leaders, elected officials and developers tried multiple times to attract a grocery store to Northeast Oklahoma City, a neighborhood long considered a food desert by the FDA. The founder of Coalign found the right grocery partner and developed the operating agreement, identified investors and lenders, acquired New Market Tax Credits, and compiled the acreage from multiple sources needed for a new 30,000 square foot Homeland Grocery store on the corner of NE 36th and Lincoln, adjacent to the MAPS4 Senior Wellness Center opening fall 2022.
The GE Global Research Oil & Gas Technology Center, designed to advance technology in these industries, selected Oklahoma City over several other large cities in the region heavily involved in the oil and gas industry. A large factor in the selection was an economic incentive package that included the Strategic Investment Program, a publicly owned site and Tax Increment Financing.
When the company opened its doors in 2016, it had already invested more than $100 million in the building, equipment and startup costs. Long-term it is estimated to generate $13 million annually in economic impact.
Page Woodson residential development started with the historic renovation of the Douglass High School building. Built in 1910 as Lowell School, the school was renamed Frederick Douglass High School in 1933 when it became the only all-black high school in Oklahoma City during segregation. The beautiful 90,000 square foot structure sat abandoned for nearly two decades. Cathy O’Connor, in her role as the President of the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, worked with the developer to successfully secure Historic Tax Credits, Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Urban Renewal support. She also helped raise funds to restore the Douglass auditorium, creating a quality performing arts venue. Today, Page Woodson offers more than 200 affordable housing units, meeting a critical and growing demand for downtown housing. The project was a recipient of the 2018 Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Award.
GO Bond Job Creation Incentives
Cathy O’Connor advocated for General Obligation bonds to help fund the Strategic Investment Program in 2007. The Strategic Investment Program is a deal closing fund designed to incentivize job creation with companies that are looking to expand or locate their operations in Oklahoma City. SIP requires that companies create at least 50 full-time jobs with a new total payroll of at least $1.75 million, meet specific average wage requirements and make an investment in facilities and equipment in Oklahoma City. Several recent examples of SIP success include the General Electric and Baker Hughes development in OKC, and expansion of existing companies, like Boeing and Paycom. That private-sector growth boosts Oklahoma City’s economy.
To encourage development in key areas of Oklahoma City, Cathy O’Connor created 13 Tax Increment Financing districts in Oklahoma City. This economic tool helps to promote development in blighted, underserved, and economically distressed urban areas as well as attract new investors, consumers and employers into the area. These TIF districts have encouraged redevelopment and investment in Oklahoma City’s Innovation District, Riverfront, the area around Scissortail Park and dozens of private investments including hotels, apartments, commercial districts and more.
Cathy O’Connor was founder and served as president of the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City for 10 years. She helped design this non-profit corporation to coordinate public participation in economic development projects. In that role, O’Connor was instrumental in furthering development throughout Oklahoma City and promoting job creation. She was the point person on the team that worked to locate both the GE Global Energy Research Facility, and the Boeing Aircraft Modernization and Sustainment division in Oklahoma City. She also led the efforts to create the NE Renaissance Urban Renewal Area and Tax Increment Finance district, the Core to Shore Tax Increment Finance District and to develop the Omni Convention Center Hotel to complement the new MAPS 3 Convention Center and Scissortail Park.
O’Connor has been a champion of affordable housing in Oklahoma City. She proposed the creation of the Affordable Housing Fund and gained City Council approval to include the fund in the successful 2017 GO Bond authorization. Her advocacy and zoning guidelines have resulted in developers including more affordable and workforce housing in the urban core. She committed Urban Renewal Authority resources to help develop Northeast Oklahoma City’s retail, health services, grocery and affordable and market rate housing including redevelopment of the Page Woodson School, the opening of a Homeland grocery store and a plan for NE 23rd and MLK.
O’Connor helped lead the visioning and planning to create a 1.3 square mile Innovation District in Oklahoma City. She advocated to include northeast OKC residents and neighborhood representation in the studies, helped identify other development and resources needed and worked to align interests of the health care institutions, technology companies, higher education institutions and other businesses to create an area where entrepreneurship and innovation can flourish. Her planning and advocacy efforts were successful with the Innovation District’s inclusion in MAPS 4, with a public investment of $71 million.
Prior to becoming President of the Alliance, O’Connor served as an Assistant City Manager with Oklahoma City where she enjoyed an almost 30 year career. She was appointed Assistant City Manager in May 2001 and worked to develop the incentives to bring Bass Pro Shops, QuadGraphics and Dell Computers to the Oklahoma City area. She led the City’s team to structure the terms for the redevelopment of the historic Skirvin Hotel.