TDA Chairwoman’s 2020 Annual Report
As Tulsa and TDA looked ahead at what is certain to be a challenging multi-year recovery from the impact of COVID-19, 2020 became a “pivot year” for TDA. In preparation for an overarching City of Tulsa goal of streamlining and strategically aligning the activities and costs of several authority boards, TDA shifted its operations, shifted its public engagement activities, and began to prepare for a new focus on revitalization in the areas North and East of downtown Tulsa.
The TDA team saw significant leadership transitions during the first half of 2020. In addition to losing a long-time and valued Executive Director and Chairman in 2019, TDA also welcomed a new Chairwoman (yours truly) who also served as the interim Acting Executive Director as well. With a steep learning curve, the TDA staff and their new leader used Q1-2020 to engage in a deep dive to identify the key areas where improvements were needed. The entire year had a focus toward Operational Efficiency and Staff Empowerment. With a new leader in place unexpectedly and the needs of the organization identified clearly, Operation Transformation went into effect in the first quarter of 2020.
Operation Transformation had two key components: operational transformation and public engagement and transparency. Both components were centered on re-building a foundation of solid trust with TDA’s stakeholders – the general public, the communities where TDA is doing revitalization work, the City of Tulsa staff with whom we engage regularly and the Mayor’s Office. Through improved operational processes and reduced expenses, combined with increased engagement and transparent reporting of our activities, TDA empowered its staff while building stronger relationships with existing stakeholders.
In the area of operational efficiency, a list of key achievements from 2020 includes:
- Improved staff empowerment
- Key process documentation
- Digitization of documents and processes
- Adoption of modern practices including electronic signatures and storage
- Enactment of real-time performance reporting from our key vendors
- Implementation of new TIF Administration reporting practices
- Use of zoom, online and secure access to board packets, searchable public record site
- Enhanced content and transparency using upgraded website and social media
- Engagement of local development expertise at the staff level
- Movement to bi-monthly board meetings
- Providing input to the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development regarding aligning the operations and strategic focus of the various authorities involved in improving Tulsa
In the area of public engagement and transparency, TDA made tremendous progress with enhancements to its website, newsletter and social media (check out our live Video feeds for Board meetings) practices. Additionally, in a year when a global pandemic triggered a national economic crisis, and a national election incited unprecedented racial tensions, TDA (with the help of Commissioners Ashley Harris Phillipsen and Carl Bracy) facilitated a year-long series of now publicly available monthly education sessions and conversations with Greenwood-Unity Heritage Citizen Advisory Team (GUHCAT) around the potentially divisive topics of the power of (and limitations around) eminent domain, unwanted gentrification, affordable housing and how development can happen without property being “taken”. Those round-table discussion led to a unanimous decision of the TDA Board in December, which received support from the Mayor and the Office of Economic Development, to enter into a 2-year moratorium on the exercise of eminent domain in the Greenwood/Unity-Heritage Sector Plan area. While discussions will continue, the moratorium will give the GUHCAT and TDA time to explore further how development in this area can (from a practical fiscal standpoint), should (from a moral and shared prosperity standpoint) and will (from an economic development standpoint) proceed. In the meantime, the Kirkpatrick Heights Master planning process will continue to take shape and will help inform the development approach for the rest of the Greenwood/Unity Heritage Sector Plan area.
Also in the area of public engagement and transparency, TDA conducted an internal review of its TIF Administration and Reporting Practices so as to make it clear and visible what money had been spent and where those expenditures had been made in each TIF it administered. This blueprint will serve as a model to be followed in other areas of the City where TIF administration and reporting practices are involved.
Finally in the area of public engagement and transparency, TDA made accessible via its public-facing website and social media sites meeting agendas, board packets, meeting minutes, presentations, reports and live views of meetings. Contact forms were added to make it simple for the public to submit requests for information in a manner that can now be tracked and reported. This enhanced ability to “see and report” the activities of the organization should be highly useful going forward.
COVID Impact and Response
Of course, no organization can give a year-end report without mentioning the impact that COVID had on its people and its performance. In the case of TDA, we are proud to report that COVID served as a tremendous catalyst for our staff to learn how to operate using remote technology. Cleaning efforts, remote work, adobe electronic signatures, scan and send mail, zoom staff and board meetings, facebook live feeds and Microsoft Teams all became standard operational protocol in 2020 – and TDA is all the better for it. To COVID, we at TDA say “thank you” for the opportunity you gave us to expedite the operational transformation we already had underway.
Revitalization Through Redevelopment
In addition to Operation Transformation, TDA continued to focus on its core mission – revitalization. While a complete list of both completed and in-progress projects can be found via the map (with pins as to project locations and key project details) on our website, a few of the key areas where TDA was able to make a difference included completion of Hartford Crossing, collaboration with Tulsa Economic Development Corporation to help address the food desert problem in north Tulsa through Project Oasis, engagement of redevelopers who are focused on preservation of our Laura Dester buildings and completion (or near completion) of two single-family homes in North Tulsa.
Moving Into 2021
With every new year comes new announcements and changes, and this year is no different. The new calendar year brings an agenda focused on redeveloping existing single-family lots in North Tulsa and on aligning our strategic vision and operations with the other authorities and boards. The work done in 2020 at TDA can and will serve as a blueprint for the future-state operations of the aligned public authorities and will be a foundation upon which economic development and revitalization can be delivered.
While my ability to step in as the volunteer Chairwoman and Acting Executive Director on an emergency basis through this calendar year provided stability and a steady hand, my turnaround efforts are essentially completed and the organization is moving forward on a foundation of trust that has been built through truth, transformation and transparency. With that, my role as Chairwoman and as a TDA Commissioner is completed and our Vice-Chair, Steve Mitchell, will be stepping up to serve as Chair in 2021. As the leader of a private equity group, Commissioner Mitchell has a passion for Tulsa, a brilliant financial mind and a keen understanding of how to transform an organization from a strategic and visionary standpoint.
To the staff of TDA, I say thank you for maintaining strength, hope and confidence amidst the tremendous changes that 2020 brought to all. To the City of Tulsa and Mayor’s Office staff who worked with us to evaluate how we had done things and find ways to make meaningful but reasonable improvements, I say thank you for supporting me, helping TDA and always being committed to excellence. To the developers and community members who are integral to the work TDA does to revitalize Tulsa, I say never give up.
To my (current and previous) fellow Commissioners who have proven their personal and professional commitment to making Tulsa and making TDA better, I thank you for the investment of your time and talents in Tulsa. Finally, to all of you I say, nothing worth achieving is achieved without having to overcome significant hurdles and challenges – and doing that together is always easier than doing that alone.
Always making progress,
Nancy Lynn Roberts
Tulsa Development Authority