By Susan Ingram
ADA — It seems like new construction is going on all over town as of late. Over the past couple of years Ada has experienced somewhat of a building boom and if the buzz of rumors constantly floating around hold true then the building boom is nowhere near slowing down. The difficult part is deciphering between what is rumor and what is fact.
“Companies start checking with private land owners about the availability of land and that is how a lot of times the rumors will start to circulate,” said Ada City Council member Barbara Young.
Many Adans have taken note of the land development along Lonnie Abbott Blvd. What was only a year ago mostly trees and brush is now cleared, leveled, and staked.
“The things the city council has been told we are getting,” said Young, “is a Quiznos which will be immediately to the west of Taco Mayo. A little further west there will be a Santa Fe Steak House and then a Hampton Inn. I think that corridor has been one of the hottest areas of development in town because Shane Sweeny has worked so diligently to get the land ready for development. Many times what it takes is contacting those companies to see if we can get them here.”
Other new businesses around the Lonnie Abbott corridor that have either been completed within the past couple of years or are still under construction include Home Depot, Microtel, Applebee’s, Chili’s, Starbucks, Sears, Holiday Inn, Taco Mayo, an office building complex, and Radio Shack in the North Hills Center.
“I think a lot of the development we’ve had stems from the fact we got Home Depot here a couple of years ago,” Young said. “When you get a major company that decides to invest in your community a lot of other companies take notice of it. Things began to fall into place. Probably a reason for some of the development is that we went from a regular Wal-Mart to a super Wal-Mart around 1994. It takes awhile, but all of those companies start to do their demographic studies and then you start to get the Applebee’s and the Chili’s that we’ve been fortunate to get here. Once that first pivotal company comes others start to take a look at you.”
One of the key factors in the business boom in Ada can be traced back to Propositions one and two. Proposition one is a 3/4 cent sales tax, money from which is invested in infrastructure improvements. Proposition two collects 1/4 cent sales tax that funds economic development.
“Propositions one and two are what I call tax payers making an investment in the community. I think that signals to everybody that this a community that is willing to make an investment in itself,” Young said.
“If the city is able to do the needed infrastructure - to have the money to do those left turn lanes for Home Depot when they come to town and to do what we did originally for Sykes. And even though Sykes went out we were able to attract another business (IRT) to go in that location, potential companies take notice. Ada also had a major expansion and investment on the part of Pre Paid Legal to grow their business. Combine all of that with the vast investment that the Chickasaw Nation has made here. Prospective companies know that all of these entities have a lot of people that come into town to do business or they bring in people for training and I think that has helped us get the Holiday Inn Express and will help us get the Hampton.”
In addition to the new Microtel, Holiday Inn and Hampton Inn there are unofficial rumors floating around there will probably be a couple of more hotels sited here within the year.
“Any time you add a new restaurant or business it serves to draw in people from the surrounding area. They eat here, shop here and they begin to feel comfortable in the community and that gives you in the years to come the ability to bring people back,” said Young. “Take the university for example, people coming to ECU are going to more or less spend four years here. Once they become accustomed to what we have now they are going to look at our community in a different way than they would 10 or 15 years ago. They look at our community as more progressive. I think if you feel good about the place that you go to school you will be more likely to return there later.”
While Ada’s rapid growth is exciting it is a cause of concern for some. With the influx of major corporations into the area small locally owned businesses face an uphill battle to face the competition. They must find creative ways in which to compete.
“I served on the board of directors for Ada Main Street for 15 years and I’ve been to a lot of workshops addressing that issue. It was always the downtown stretch or the shopping center areas that felt like they were in such competition with Wal-Mart. What they have to realize if they want to stay in business they have to do something that is value added. Small businesses have to offer some kind of service to their customers that goes beyond what they would get at a major chain store. They have to offer that personal touch or convenience,” said Young.
“I can remember when my husband and I moved back here in the spring of 1978. When Christmas rolled around I can remember going to downtown and there were police directing traffic because there were lines of cars waiting for parking spaces. Every building was filled and there were four or five men’s stores to choose from and there were at least three really good shoe stores. There was everything that you could imagine and that has since changed.”
Young attributes the changes in downtown to the choices that the citizens of Ada have made over the years.
“What we have to realize as citizens as that we are in charge of how our town is going to be. We make the choices to go someplace else and shop therefore we have caused the face of downtown to change. You can’t blame a business for putting someone else out of business. You’ve got to figure a way to go toe-to-toe with them the best you can and offer something special. We are fortunate in that we still have some excellent businesses in the downtown area.”
Another possible drawback of growth and expansion is the neglect of the older areas of the city. Both the city council and the Ada Area Chamber of Commerce have recognized this as a potential problem and are taking steps to insure that parts of Ada don’t get left behind during the construction boom. The main thing the city council has done is to form the Beautification Committee whose purpose is to help identify dilapidated properties and work with property owners on clean-up efforts.
“You have to be careful as a city in planning for someone else’s property,” Young said. “Through this committee we will continue to encourage property owners to bring their property up to a better standard. There are many people that can’t afford to own a home and they have to rent, but we want to make those houses habitable. We don’t want anyone living in conditions that are dangerous and unhealthy.”
One might assume that rapid business growth for Ada would go hand-in-hand with population growth, however, that is not the case with Ada’s population.
“We haven’t really grown in population. People call me and say, ‘Where are all of these people and traffic coming from?’ We’re extraordinary for a town with a population around 16,000. When people drive through here they think we are a town of 35,000 to 40,000 people and it is because of the businesses that have located here and the way the town is laid out. It’s also because we have a regional medical center, we have a vo-tech, we now have CLEET, we have a world class water lab, and we have a four year university. We have all of these things that you don’t typically see in a town that’s less than 16,000 people,” said Young.
“When you look at where we are geographically, Ada is basically 60 miles from any other town its size or larger so we have the opportunity to draw people from at least 30 miles around us. In a way the population has actually shrunk because we’ve annexed surrounding areas to Ada yet the population numbers have stayed the same.”
The future of Ada looks bright and for many long-time Ada residents who were here during the oil bust of the 1980s it is truly amazing. In addition to the new businesses along Lonnie Abbott there are several other new or upcoming businesses at other locations throughout Ada including Drug Warehouse, Walgreens, the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center, Braums, the surgical center at Valley View Regional Hospital, and the Chickasaw Nation hospital to name a few.
“I think that looking toward the future for Ada is very positive,” said Young. “I see that we have a lot of new things that are coming or have already come. I’m just very positive and hopeful that our whole population will see that we are being progressive and that everybody will be involved and want the future of Ada to be better. I’m very proud of the progress Ada has made and I’m proud to be apart of it.”
By Susan Ingram