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June 24, 1995

Several things happened this week that can be viewed as good omens, to put it mildly, for Perry and all of Noble county. First and foremost, because of its direct impact here, is the $162,239 grant awarded to the Perry Development Coalition for its "Hopes and Dreams Plaza" project. This is perhaps the biggest plum yet for the Coalition, the newly formed group which has set some lofty goals for our community.

This grant is an Intermodal Transportation System award, popularly known as "Iced Tea" for reasons that are not entirely clear. Competition among cities for these funds is fierce and Perry is most fortunate to have scored on its first try. Lois Malget wrote the grant application after attending a seminar on that subject a few months ago, and she received considerable help from Karen Wilcox and Betty Warner, co-directors of the Perry Development Coalition, as well as Tom Ruth, president of the PDC, and other officers and members of the organization. The same team also cooperated to enable Perry to become one of Oklahoma's "Main Street" cities, starting this year.

With the grant and local participation, including in-kind contributions, our beautiful courthouse park and its Centennial commemorative statue, "Hopes and Dreams," are going to be enhanced even more. Six-foot wide sidewalks of concrete and brick will encircle the outer perimeter of the park for use of pedestrians and bicyclists. That will eliminate the narrow, and in some instances incomplete, sidewalks now in use. In addition, 133 new light posts resembling those used at the turn of the century will be placed around the walks. Each corner will have access ramps and parking places designated for the disabled.

Design features such as these have been talked about here for many years, but lack of funding always made it impossible to undertake the plan -- until now. This is a major step forward in revitalization of our downtown area, and it will only lead to more such projects.

Now we have another reason to be thankful for the effort it took a few months ago to organize the Perry Development Coalition. It seems the entire community has joined hands to make that organization a success. City and county officials and numerous local organizations and individuals are cooperating in the Coalition's efforts to clean up and beautify the city, promote its tourist attractions, preserve its historic elements, and work together in so many other ways to keep Perry in the vanguard of Oklahoma's liveliest and most progressive cities.

In just a few days, a public meeting will be held to determine goals of the Perry Main Street organization. A similar public forum last year helped to launch the Perry Development Coalition's program and a large turnout is being urged for the forthcoming meeting. All segments of the population should be represented. Plan to attend if you possibly can.

Other newsworthy developments this week also are significant in the life of this community. Among them are efforts now being made to obtain funding for major overhaul and improvement work on I-35, the north-south interstate highway that brushes Perry's west side. J. E. McReynolds, an editorial writer for the Daily Oklahoman, puts it this way: "Think of it (I-35) as a tree trunk stretching from Monterey, Mexico, to Kansas City, Mo. Its roots go to Guadalajara and Mexico City, its branches to Denver, Winnipeg, Montreal and New York City. This is the profile of a proposed NAFTA superhighway system. Ready or not, Oklahoma, this tree's about to bud."

He goes on to describe the impending impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement and its probable reliance on I-35 as a major transportation artery for goods and services. That will happen by the end of this year. By the start of the year 2000, tri-national trucker access will extend to all states and throughout Mexico and Canada. But, McReynolds, asks, "will Oklahoma be a passthrough state, or will we be bypassed?" How we react now will determine whether or not we benefit from being a "corridor state." Likewise, Perry is on the cusp here. Our proximity to I-35 can prove to be a bonanza if we prepare to take advantage of its potential. Do we recognize the challenge and are we up to it?

Don Betchan, manager of the Perry Airport, gave Rotarians some facts to think about the other day and they certainly tie in to the I-35 story. Don quoted a recent study which showed how valuable our airport is now, even with its present limited resources. But, without a master development plan, it probably will never amount to much more than it is, and without an airport trust authority or some similar body with continuing oversight, there probably will never be a master plan. Our city council is not legally able to enact policies that would be binding on a future city council, so no matter how much they might want to help, our city fathers can do virtually nothing to improve the situation. Can we find a way to utilize that huge airport asset?

Tinker Field, Oklahoma City's giant military neighbor, has been spared once again from the air base closing axe, and that is good news for this entire state. Thousands of jobs at Tinker were on the line; their loss would have been devastating not only for our capital city but for all of Oklahoma. Perry would have been affected, so we can breathe a sigh of relief along with our big-city neighbor to the south. Sen. Nickles says the fact that Tinker was retained probably means it will grow larger, and that is good news for all of us.

And finally, let me call your attention to a story from the Business page of the Daily Oklahoman the other day. In it, staff writer Jon Denton describes how a major software trade journal with national distribution is published in Shawnee, Oklahoma, rather than in New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles. The magazine owner, T. Allen Rose, says Oklahoma has many small towns and cities which are ideal places to operate information-age companies, and he would not live anywhere else. Advantages he listed include tax and crime rates, housing and food costs, traffic volume, family life, air quality and recreation. All of these help describe Perry.

Somewhere out there, some company is looking for a small city just like ours -- with its forward-looking Perry Development Coalition, cooperative spirit, interstate highway, railroad and airport facilities, plus many other features. It's up to us to find them and bring all of these qualities to their attention, then convince them to set up shop here. Can we handle it?

I cannot remember a time when Perry's prospects for tourism and business development looked so rosy.