Future at a Crossroads

Resting in the heart of Oklahoma, Cleveland County is one of the most culturally and economically diverse areas in the state.

Large, growing suburban metropolises, like Norman and Moore in the northern part of the county, give way to the much smaller and more typical Oklahoma rural communities like Lexington and Noble in the south. Eastward is almost entirely agricultural, or homes scattered on large acreages.            

Such diversity brings a broad spectrum of possibilities, progress and problems for the communities and residents of the county.

For several years now, the future of the county and its cities and towns have been hotly debated by an array of citizens, community groups and public officials. Civic and business development has generated major debates in many parts of the county.

The major question has not been whether cities, towns and their outlying areas are expanding. Everyone knows they inevitably are and will continue to do so.

The most pressing questions and quandaries facing county residents have been how that growth is manifesting itself. Where is the growth occurring? Why? What does that growth look like? Is it the right kind of growth? Is it in the right area? Is it sustainable? Is it properly regulated? What do county residents really want to see in the way of growth?

In short, what does Cleveland County’s future look like?

Of course, it’s rare that a majority of county residents can agree to the answers to any of those questions.

However, that is the very question Cleveland County Lifestyle recently decided to pose to group of area movers and shakers who we thought would have good takes on the years ahead.

The magazine brought together three area businessmen to discuss what they think about the current state of the county’s growth, its future development and the vision they see for the state’s third most populated county.

Dr. Tim Shannon, who received his board certification in 2006 from the American Board of Orthodontics (only 1 in 3 orthodontists in the state achieve this distinction) and has been voted the “Best Dentist/Orthodontist” in Norman on multiple occasions, also is a real estate developer working with a number of community groups and charities, including the local United Way. Every Mother’s Day, he provides three children with braces for free as a way of giving back to county residents.

He’s also donated playground equipment to nearly a dozen county schools and worked to erect athletics scoreboards at numerous others.

Attorney Noble McIntyre is the founder and principal partner of McIntyre Law. He is active in charities and church programs in the area.

For the past several years, he and his firm, along with other organizations and attorneys, have distributed thousands of turkeys each year to area residents around Thanksgiving in connection with World Kindness Week and Oklahoma Kindness Day.

In addition, McIntyre has established “Noble Cause,” a civic program on local television that recognizes and rewards young people who are “changing society.”

Executive Chef Anthony Compagni, who owns Benvenuti’s Ristorante, Press & Plow and Volare, spends time working with the local Food Bank and helping sustain Food and Shelter for Friends. He helps raise funds for St. Jude’s Hospital and the local Assistance League. Another of his interests is “Backpacks For Kids,” a program that ensures children have enough food to eat over the weekends.

Asked about the county’s future, all three quickly agreed that as Cleveland County continues “growing up,” the issues of space and municipal funding sources will become even larger concerns than they already have been.

“I see a lot of cannibalism throughout the county continuing,” Shannon said of area business and industry movement from one location to another. “We aren’t really getting a lot of ‘new’ businesses anywhere. Existing businesses are just moving from one spot to another.

“I think that’s something people, especially our elected officials, are going to have to deal with more effectively in the near future.

“When you couple that with our cities and towns having to live off only sales tax revenue, it makes developing a vision for the future of an area like Cleveland County even more uncertain.”

Compagni, who is currently looking for a new restaurant location on Norman’s west side, said that, at the current time, he wasn’t able to consider any other location in the county because of the population growth on the county’s western edge and the fact that the Moore and Norman have virtually becoming one large area for dining out.

“Restaurants can only make it where the people are,” he said.

Shannon agreed, but he said he doesn’t think it will be long before that problem begins to wane: “At some point, maybe sooner than many think, the growth eastward and southward has to explode.

“I don’t think there’s anywhere else to go.”

Shannon added that he also sees all areas of the county becoming more of a melting pot for different races and nationalities. Currently, the county population skews younger, and racially it is still primarily white.

“The Hispanic population in the county is going to grow significantly in the coming years and businesses and our residential areas are going to be adapting to that,” Shannon said.

To that end, he said, he has built a bilingual clinic to better serve Hispanic families. “There was a need that was being unmet and, as a businessman, I’m trying to respond to it. Others will too, I think.”

McIntyre said he believes Amazon’s new fulfillment center in the far northwest stretches of the county, which brought 1,500 new jobs to both Cleveland and Oklahoma counties, could make a dramatic impact on the county’s future.

The 600,000-square-foot shipping center sits in the uppermost northwest corner of the county, barely within its borders.

“Anytime you bring a job to someone, you really are doing something,” he said. “I think it’s going to make a big difference, stimulate all kinds of growth. Up until now out there that hasn’t happened.”

He envisioned that area becoming far more suburbanized with moderately priced homes and new and different small businesses because people are going to want to live close to where they work.

“No matter where there is growth, you’re always going to have the chain and box stores,” McIntyre said. “But I think people are beginning to look for something different, something that can make a place special.”

“Somebody, someday, is going to figure out what that difference is.”