Seeds are planted and Claremore is ready to reap a harvest of new business and industry.
Only time will tell what exactly that harvest will include, but city leaders are optimistic big things are in store.
With three new hotels under construction, by May of 2015, Claremore will have 240 new rooms.
“We are more than doubling the capacity we currently have,” said Jeri Koehler, executive director of the Claremore Industrial and Economic Development Authority (CIEDA). “We have over half a million tourists a year just through Claremore. That’s outside dollars coming in. We’re trying to encourage them to stay here, spend the night, eat and shop.”
Koehler, who assumed her position with CIEDA in June, along with her staff, have been aggressively working with the Tulsa Regional Chamber’s economic development office as well as the state economic development office to market Claremore and bring business here.
CIEDA has inventoried property available in the city and identified prime targets for each site.
“We’re seeing activity increase,” said City Manager Jim Thomas. “There are a lot of things we’re working on that we’re not ready to announce, but we’re planting a lot of seeds. I’ve seen steady growth in the two years I’ve been here and we are on the right trajectory. I think there is some pent-up need and I always get nervous because the public’s expectation is so high. They’ve been starving for so long. They’ve been looking for someone to lead them into the promised land.”
On the industrial side, Baker Hughes and AXH Air-coolers are leading the way, investing millions in their facilities and planning for future growth.
AXH has three new buildings under construction and has spent $4 million this year alone renovating the former Burgess Norton building. One hundred new jobs have been added this year, Koehler said.
Baker Hughes recently completed its $50 million research and development facility.
“These are businesses already in our community,” Thomas said. “Maybe that goes back to the growing. We are harvesting with Baker Hughes. We are harvesting with AXH. Both of them are talking to us continually, ‘what if we did this, what other property is available.’ I met with the president of Baker Hughes in February. He said, “We like Claremore. You guys have stepped up to the plate. You put in a substation just to service our facility.’ He says, ‘we’re here for the next 50 years.’”
Manufacturers are choosing to start their business and grow their business in Claremore, according to Koehler, who reports businesses in the Claremore Industrial Park are growing and others are interested in locating there.
“There was a time when we would get 10 inquiries or site visits to the Industrial Park a year,” Koehler said. “Every business out there is growing. So with that comes population growth and need for more housing, more shopping, more restaurants. So we’re in the right part of the equation for the growth to happen because the primary jobs are there and they continue to grow.
Thomas and Koehler acknowledge Claremore Plaza has a dark cloud hovering over it from years of stagnancy and say they are doing everything they can to change that.
Spirit Bank, who owns 110 acres between Wal-Mart and Lowe’s, was mandated by the FDIC to get out of the development business in 2013.
“They have passed their deadline of trying to make something happen there,” Koehler said. “We took them five private developers that wanted to investigate making an agreement with them and they just weren’t able to come to an agreement. So we have reason to believe they may auction it very soon.
“We know development will happen there. It is a site primed for development,” she said. “So it’s not a matter of if it will develop, it’s a matter of who’s going to be the one to do it. We’ve tried to influence that process. We’ve worked very diligently.”
In their efforts to assist Spirit Bank in finding a potential client, city staff have marketed the property at conventions in Las Vegas and Dallas, and talked with numerous prospective developers.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that eventually something positive is going to happen, but it’s going to take Spirit Bank saying, ‘You know what, we made some bad decisions in ‘07,’ because (current city staff) can’t take responsibility for what happened in ‘07. We’re dealing with 2014, 2015, 2016. We want to get (Claremore Plaza) back on the rolls.”
The city has invested $2 million in infrastructure for the development, putting in water, sewer, roads and lights.
Now, they are working with economic development consultant Rickey Hays who owns Retail Attractions to continue their marketing push.
“He’s got a history with Claremore. So we’re working our rolodexes, we’re working our networks. I guess I was hoping by now, we would have something to put our arms around. Unfortunately, we don’t, but we are getting inquiries from potential retailers that are interested in Claremore. When you build three hotels in a year — all of them are under construction, St. John’s in under construction — people are perking up, they’re taking notice. They’re saying Claremore is supportive of economic development. So we’re hoping to capture that enthusiasm.”
The goal of economic development in the city is simple: to get people to spend their money locally, instead of driving to Owasso or Tulsa to shop and eat.
“We’ve had some great conversations with a sports bar and grill, a couple of fast food chains and a couple of retailers — on top of the industrial conversations,” Koehler said. “So we’re keeping all of that going. Those projects are moving forward and when we can officially make announcements, we definitely will.”
In addition to increased industry and retail development, city leaders know there is a need for more housing.
Recently, a private developer, a commercial developer and a property owner approached the city about developing 120 acres on the west side of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad track, north of Catalayah Elementary School.
“It’s in city limits,” Koehler said. “ They’re proposing a mixed use development — so it would be part residential and part commercial development. They’re kind of in the planning phase of that, crunching the numbers. They wanted to discuss a special assessment district which would levy a fee on either the residents that buy in there or the commercial development that happens there.”
Talks are already underway between the developers and the city council about working together to build a frontage road that would connect Country Club Road to King Road.
“We’ll collaborate in putting this thing together,” Thomas said. “To me, when you get people to sit around the table and figure out, ‘how can we make this work?,’ that’s when we are going to meet our full potential. And it goes back to January of this year when we facilitated a conversation between the city council and CIEDA board members.
“We all said, ‘You know what, we’re on the same page.’ So, that’s why I say we’re on the right trajectory,” he said. “We’ve got a Vision 2020. We know where we want to go. The public has been supportive of it. The city council has been supportive of it, along with the business community. The harvest will come.
“I just can’t tell you when that harvest is going to come. I’m still watering my plants.” he said.