Downtown Bixby Positioned for Growth

Contributing Writer

GROWING DOWNTOWN: Scott’s Hamburgers is a long-time downtown Bixby business. In 2005, Southern Living Magazine rated it one of the top hamburger establishments in the Southwest. New tenants have recently moved into downtown, including Stone Mill and Inspire Performing Arts Studio. Growth in Bixby’s downtown is currently slow, but tenants and city officials foresee future growth coming quickly.

GTR Newspapers photo

As Tulsa creeps southward, Bixby is reaping the benefits. Both Bixby City Manager Doug Enevoldsen and Mayor Ray Bowen are hopeful that what has traditionally been downtown Bixby, just east and south of 151st Street and Memorial Drive, will continue to benefit from a recent wave of redevelopment that has taken root along Memorial Drive from 101st Street southward.

A drive through downtown Bixby shows relatively few empty buildings, but most of them are old and one level.

The primary draw for people living outside Bixby is Scott’s Hamburgers, a local establishment that got a boost when in 2005 Southern Living Magazine rated it as one of the top hamburger establishments in the Southwest. The owners of Scott’s then have both died and the restaurant has been taken over by Dale Merkt who isn’t changing the menu. “We get some business from Bentley Park Sports Complex when they are hosting their tournaments,” says Merkt, “but our big problem is letting people know we exist. Most people from out of town come from Tulsa and pass all the restaurants along Memorial going to the park so they retrace their steps when they get hungry. We have to find a way to let them know we’re only a few blocks away.”

In the last few years only a couple of start-up businesses have opened in downtown Bixby. What was once a feed store has been totally renovated into Stone Mill, a business that manufactures building products. A long-absent car dealership and car repair shop has been transformed into the Inspire Performing Arts studio, currently offering lessons from ballet to tap dancing and with dreams of much, much more. Owned by Kristin Wills, an ER physician for the St. John’s Medical System, the studio came into being almost by accident. “I had always wanted to have a dance studio,” she says, “and had come to Bixby to look at another building. I didn’t even know Bixby had a downtown, but I turned a corner and there was the old car dealership and it was perfect. I wanted a studio south of the Arkansas River because they didn’t have one in this area. Now we have students from Bixby, Jenks, Haskell, Glenpool, Tulsa and even Owasso. “Two friends and I own the studio but my husband and I own the building. I want to turn it into an event center for things like Christmas parties, wedding receptions, family reunions and things like that. It has tremendous potential.”

Two new businesses isn’t much, but Bruce Baker hopes it is the tip of an economic iceberg. Baker, a lifelong resident of Bixby, has helped form the Downtown Bixby Business Association, a group of people anxious to bring new life into the aging city center. “We had an initial get-together that drew a lot of people anxious to bring businesses to downtown Bixby. Now we’re working with a core group of about a dozen people tossing around ideas and making contact with people we’d like to draw to Bixby. We’re particularly contacting some restaurants.” He envisions events that will be a draw to people throughout the broader Tulsa area. He hopes to put into place what he calls a “mini-Mayfest,” a festival of artists and crafts which he’d like to see held in early September. He is even hoping to get a change in city ordinances so that retirees in a yet-to-be-built facility will be able to drive the streets of downtown Bixby in golf carts.

Enevoldsen and Bowen both believe the groundwork has been skillfully laid for a resurgence of downtown Bixby. They point to several programs that have already been approved, including roughly $23 million in bonds that include street and construction projects either immediately adjacent to or serving downtown Bixby. Funds have been invested in paving streetscape improvements (including sidewalks and decorative street lighting) for the downtown area. A sponsored flood reduction project in excess of $2 million was completed downtown to acquire drainage corridor properties and construct a storm water drainage system. Major additions will soon be made to the adjacent Bentley Park, one of the midwest’s finest youth sports complexes.

“All of this leads,” says Enevoldsen, “to a tremendous opportunity for people to get in on the ground level.” He and Bowen are confident Bixby has two corridors ripe for commercial and residential development. Memorial Drive from 101st south has already been discussed. The widening of East 151st Street to state highway 75 is another prime location ready to be developed. Both men say that there have been ongoing discussions with entrepreneurs but, with the caution of gamblers holding cards close to their vests, they refuse to divulge exactly who is in the picture.

Bixby isn’t so much growing as exploding. The last decade has seen a 57 percent increase in its population (to roughly 23,000) and with plenty of vacant land available there is no reason to believe it won’t continue. What part the downtown area will play is the stuff of possibility and dreams. Or, as Kristin Wells believes, “in five years it will be a different place.”

Updated 02-22-2013

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