Bland encourages plan for economic growth

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The city of Pawhuska's new economic development director last week urged the City Council to develop a vision for the community's future and plan for its economic growth.

Kelly Bland is not new to Pawhuska's political leadership. She has been executive director of Osage County Tourism for more than three years. On June 1, she became executive director of the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce, as well. As the Chamber executive, she will serve as city government's economic development director.

Bland warmed to the challenge, asking the council in a June 8 meeting to hold her to a standard of excellence in her job performance.

"Who are we and where are we headed?" Bland asked the councilors. "Are we planning to grow or are we only hoping for it?"

Bland outlined the type of city government activity that she thinks will make Pawhuska more competitive. First, she said that she thinks the city should have a tax system that rewards improvements, "but one that also penalizes vacancy of commercial buildings."

She also advocated increasing the five-year tax exemption on improvements to a 10-year exemption to spur investment.

Turning to the city's code enforcement system, Bland said she favors "fining commercial property owners whose properties are vacant and falling into disrepair."

"We need the power to make uncomfortable those unwilling to open the doors of their commercial properties to businesses willing to operate in them," she said.

Bland said the council needs to think creatively and set ambitious goals, and said the city budget should reflect that creativity and ambition.

She pointed to hotel accommodations as an area of economic development in which Pawhuska needs to make improvements, but also said the community needs more affordable housing for families.

"Our workforce is short at times," Bland said. "Many commute from Bartlesville and Tulsa. We need affordable housing for families to be able to move to Pawhuska -- such as an apartment complex."

She clarified that she was talking about privately developed, investor-financed apartments rather than apartments backed by government funding.

"I do have a vision for this area," Bland told the council. "I believe in Pawhuska and Osage County."

Interim City Manager Tonya Bright expressed a desire to meet with Bland on a regular basis. Bright added that she, also, has a vision for the future of the community.

Jerry Mosley, who has been involved with recent efforts to improve the Constantine Theater in downtown Pawhuska, offered comments in support of Bland's remarks to the Council.

"This is what this town needs, completely," Mosley said. "And I hope you guys use her for her experience."

Bland's background includes prior experience as a Chamber of Commerce director, and she has 15 years of experience as a licensed real estate broker. She said that she has studied the business base, demographics and economic climate of Pawhuska.