Jerry Bohnen–First there were the wind farms, then came the northern Oklahoma oil and gas boom and today, the City of Woodward is growing—filled with new businesses, hotels and motels, downtown improvements and construction of residential developments, and turning into a northern Oklahoma energy hub.
City Manager Alan Riffel rattles off one new business and city improvement after another, a new movie theater, a new convention center, a new strip mall, new hotels and motels, new homes and downtown improvement projects. Thanks to wind and oil and gas.
“We had a 33 percent increase in city sales tax revenue over fiscal year 2011-12 and we’re already 17 percent over that now,” he said with a hint of excitement in his voice. Riffel’s been the city manager for 10 years and recalls when he first arrived, Woodward’s sales tax revenue totaled about $6.5 million. “We’ll more than double that this year with about $13.5 million.”
He cites the addition of a new retail strip center with 25,000 square feet along highway U-S 270, the so-called Northwest Passageway that takes visitors and others from central Oklahoma to Woodward. “For years we didn’t have a movie theater and now we have a six-screen theater put in by Mitchell Theaters. It’s drawing 14,000 tickets a month.”
Riffel gives all the credit to the energy industry, beginning with the first wind farm christened in 2004 in the sand hills northwest of the city. The huge towers dot the hilly-landscape north and south of Woodward and according to Riffle, represent part of a $2 billion energy investment in northwest Oklahoma.
Woodward city leaders have taken advantage of the energy money, starting a downtown $1.3 million Streetscape project to improve streets and sidewalks. A new $7 million, 30,000 square foot city convention center opened a year ago. A new 4-story Candlewood Suites Inn will open soon, the 4th new motel in Woodward in the past five years. And a new Fairchild Inn is in the planning stages. And Riffel says you still can’t get a room in the city because of the energy pressure on the economy.
The energy boom has also put pressure on Woodward’s housing sector. “We languished for years but new homes are coming. We started to see the kick-off last year,” remarked Riffel. “A new 40-unit apartment complex has opened and Halliburton got most of that.”
He said one new housing addition of 27 homes sold out quickly. Two other additions are underway. One with 70 homes is being planned and a 20-home addition is already half filled as work continues to complete the construction.
A new Tractor Supply store is under construction—hanging iron as Riffel put it— and the City is planning construction of a new fire station. The boom of course has also meant the kind of problems city leaders appreciate—the need for more public service. Three firefighters have been added to the fire department and two new police officers have been added per shift.
The county has also built a new $11 million jail. “The county and city together have made about $70 million in improvements in the past five years,” added Riffle. Just in the past month, the county spent $12 million making improvements to the county fairgrounds. It follows $25 million in park improvements plus a water park. “Quality of life projects” is what Riffel calls them. All because of energy.