Improvements planned for downtown Chickasha

By: Molly M. Fleming The Journal Record January 24, 2019

Downtown Chickasha will soon see renovation work begin on six buildings, a project made possible by a city-backed grant program.

In total, the developers renovating 28,000 square feet of downtown space could get $560,000 through the program. The two projects will include five buildings in the 100 block of W. Chickasha Avenue and a mixed-use building at the former Williams Shoe Store, 317 W. Chickasha Ave.

But the city isn’t giving out cash. It’s a two-to-one matching program. The city doesn’t pitch in its money until the developer turns in its receipts.

“There’s accountability this way,” said Chris Mosley, Chickasha mayor. “We want to make sure the developer has skin in the game.”

The money is part of a larger $2.7 million economic development fund. The money was collected through a now-ended 7/32nd sales-tax measure that specifically provided funds for economic development work.

In December, the City Council set aside $1.2 million in the already-collected economic development money to be used for new construction and renovations. The applications for the $560,000 are the first approved by the City Council, with a recommendation from the city’s economic development council.

Economic Development Council Executive Director Cody Mosley said he has three more applications to review from people interested in the grant program. Cody Mosley and Chris Mosley are not related.

At the Williams Shoe Store building, owner Johnny Trammell is making way for Crazy 8 Cafe to take the first floor, which will give the cafe a roadside storefront. Trammell is also putting a loft apartment on the second floor.

Chickasha Today LLC is renovating the five buildings on the 100 block. The entity consists of the DeHart family and First National Bank Holding Co. Cary DeHart started CMSWillowbrook construction management company in Chickasha.

DeHart’s son, Weston DeHart, moved back to Chickasha seven years ago. He’s been involved with the community since returning. During his Leadership Chickasha class, the group concluded that they wanted to work on bringing the city’s Christmas spirit downtown.

The Chickasha Festival of Light brings about 300,000 people to the city annually. But the festival’s location doesn’t abut downtown, so people might not see the historic district.

For Christmas 2018, CMSWillowbrook sponsored a 50-foot tree downtown and strung lights across the streets. Weston DeHart said that will be an annual tradition, with plans to expand downtown’s holiday festivities this year.

DeHart said the five buildings being renovated by Chickasha Today may be home to a restaurant and bar, a microbrewery, and other retailers. The tenants will likely open up by year’s end, he said. The spaces range in size from 3,700 square feet to 7,500 square feet, though the five buildings could be leased by the time construction is done.

“It kind of goes to show that in our sleepy little town, there’s a lot of pent-up demand,” DeHart said. “We’re really excited for there to be a destination and a district.”

The city’s downtown will soon have a master plan, which is being created by the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for Quality Communities.

The city’s money plus the IQC’s plan can help downtown become a place.

“I think every community needs a place,” said Cody Mosley. “Every community needs a strong downtown. We have a lot of success going along the interstate. What will really differentiate us is having that next place.”

The city has the income levels to attract national brands like Aldi and a Walmart Supercenter. More hotels are coming to help house visitors to the Grady County fairgrounds and the sports complex.

But Chickasha residents want somewhere to go when it’s not Christmas. DeHart can remember growing up and thinking there was nothing to do, so he moved. He doesn’t want his kids to have to move away because there’s nothing to do in the city.

Mayor Mosley said he think it’s time for the city to be selfish.

“Let’s improve us, then people will come join us,” Mosley said.

The city has existing tax increment finance districts on its south side, so that will help spur development, he said.

But downtown can be more difficult. He’d like to see the empty buildings filled with coffeehouses, music venues and brewery taprooms.

“We need a destination where people can be social together,” he said.

Larisha Hunter