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January 28, 1995

It is interesting to note that Oklahoma City and Perry have very similar goals regarding their downtown business districts, although they are approaching them in vastly different ways. Both are trying to resuscitate their downtown shopping areas. Of course, the much bigger capital city operates on a grander scale than we do in our humble little town. Their budget is funded by a $238 million kitty derived from a five-year, one-cent sales tax voted by Oklahoma City residents in 1993. Perry has a motel tax, paid primarily by tourists passing through, which helps the Perry Development Coalition, but most of the work is done by unpaid volunteers with little or no money to spend. Remember that difference, because you and I contribute to Oklahoma City's fund each time we purchase something there.

But this is not intended to be bitter or critical of Oklahoma City. It is quite true that local shoppers often are forced to go there by default simply because local merchants do not provide all goods and service required here. As merchants here and in other small towns have disappeared, shoppers have had to seek merchandise in the bigger cities. The trend toward regional shopping centers has been growing for several decades. Some small towns have been devastated far worse than we have.

Oklahoma City, meanwhile, lost its primary downtown shopping area years ago when it was demolished in what seemed to be badly handled, incomplete urban renewal program. The city's finest shops, department stores and movie theaters were wiped out by wrecking crews. Modern new structures were supposed to replace all that, but it never happened.

Many of us can remember the crowds on Oklahoma City's Main street, Broadway, Park avenue, Sheridan and numerous side streets as we trudged from Rothschild's, Halliburton's, Kerr's and John A. Brown Co. department stores, all now gone from the landscape; or perhaps from a first-run movie at the elegant Criterion theater, on the way to Katz or Veazey's drug store for a Coke. Perhaps later a dinner at Beverly's or Anna-Maude's, or dancing at the Black Hotel or the Persian Room at the Skirvin Tower, or maybe even a weekend luxuriating at the Biltmore Hotel. Pedestrians had to dodge trolley cars or, later, metropolitan buses. And if you couldn't find a parking meter at the curb near the store you wanted to visit, parking garages had plenty of levels for your use, even if that meant walking a few more yards to reach your destination. Most stores validated parking tickets. All of that is but a misty dream now.

Two years ago Oklahoma City devised an ambitious restructuring plan to recapture some of that magic. The plan, called Metropolitan Area Projects, or MAPS for short, is totally funded by the sales tax. It will include nine entertainment and cultural sites to make Oklahoma City a major tourist destination. Major features will be a new baseball stadium in the downtown area, expanded convention and cultural facilities, and a riverwalk. All of this is expected to jump-start private investments.

The program has inspired renewed intensity in the restoration of Bricktown, just east of what used to be Oklahoma City's primary shopping area. Malls have created new retail hubs in scattered locations throughout the city, and that much probably will not change. But in Bricktown, things are humming.

Historic street lamps dot the sidewalks in Bricktown, and they are similar to the ones ready for installation in downtown Perry at some future date. Lack of parking is a problem in Bricktown and may be here one day, but it is not now a major concern. Antique shops, art galleries and souvenir stores are doing a booming business now in Bricktown, and Perry also can provide some of those services to satisfy tourists' appetite for such things.

The Perry Development Coalition basically is composed of local people who are willing to roll up their sleeves to make Perry a more beautiful city, improve its numerous existing features, urge new businesses to locate here, assist those already here, and in general make our little city an even finer place to live.

There may come a time when well need to provide a few dollars for some of these things, just as Oklahoma City had to do. Our budgets will be far more modest, but you and I will have to foot the bill, whatever it is. If a need for that can be realistically demonstrated at some point in the future, Perry citizens will be behind it the way we always rally to the support of worthy causes.

Just remember what your sales tax dollars are doing to help Oklahoma City next time you're down there on a shopping spree, and make a silent pledge to be as generous in case the Perry Development Coalition comes calling one day in the future.