Inspire • Equip • Restore

Developing Thriving Downtown Communities


"The concern I have for the future advancement of the University, is the continuing decline of the community." Those words of care and concern will always hold a place in my mind, as Dr. Path, President of Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology candidly shared with me about the community of Okmulgee. Like me, when he looks at Okmulgee, he doesn't t see decline, but tons of opportunity! For years the University just East of the downtown had been disconnected from community and the downtown. OSUIT is known as "The Harvard of Jobs," meaning that if you want to go to school to virtually be guaranteed a job earning more than $55,000 per year, you need to attend the two year school of OSUIT. The number fluctuates, but somewhere between 93-97% of every student that graduates on Friday, has a job to go to on Monday. An amazing institution right in the heart of Okmulgee, and many citizens of Okmulgee County don't even realize the talent and influence it holds. The average age of this unconventional university is 24-26 years old. These young adults don't come to school to party, they come determined to learn to succeed. I quickly realized these are the types of people that need to be invested in the downtown, not just financially, but emotionally as well.

"The best way to bring LIFE downtown, is to bring LIVES downtown." This is a statement I realized many years ago in the involvement of restoring and revitalizing my hometown. Suddenly I find myself in a downtown that needs life, and just down the street are many lives...hm. Further conversation with Dr. Path, discussing philosophy and belief in community, along with the discussion of the University Master Plan, we discussed the need for more student housing on campus. There are about 3,000 students that attend OSUIT, yet currently only about 850 beds. So where do the rest of the students live? Some live fairly local so they commute from home. But most travel from surrounding communities. We quickly discovered that if there were cool housing options in Okmulgee, many of the students would live in town! What a simple idea, yet one that was undiscovered for many years prior. I would say this conversation was the birth of the #OkmulgeeRising phenom. From this conversation we realized if people would purchase buildings in the downtown, restore them to have cool housing in the second floor the students would live downtown. The downtown could be full of young determined people that go to college just over a mile down the street. Perfect plan, but Dr. Path wasn't finished yet...

"Ron, I want to purchase buildings downtown." I remember feeling like I needed to pick my jaw up off the ground as I heard Dr. Path say those words to me in a meeting scheduled through Main Street about a month later. "I want to purchase buildings for student housing downtown, and I want them to be cool, and I want to make an impact on the community." There may be a little paraphrasing there, but that was the gist of what he and his team had to say. He asked me to work for OSUIT to make this happen, and I was suddenly now on the most exciting venture of my career. Not only did he want buildings that would house the most possible students, but he wanted to make a major impact. "Let's purchase the biggest building, or the worst, or an entire block. I want the community of Okmulgee to know that OSUIT has a vested interest in the community."

By the fall of 2017, OSUIT will have a full functioning student housing project in downtown Okmulgee! With an anticipated investment of over $8,000,000 in the project and the community. 75 lives will be transplanted into the downtown in what could most likely be the coolest student housing project in America. Restaurants and stores are popping up, even a retro arcade is in the works. A single idea about bringing lives downtown, all while meeting the need for the University, is changing the way people think about Okmulgee. I think someone should open up a sunglass shop, because the future looks pretty bright.

To learn more about OSUIT, check out their website!

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