Path Home Shows 2009 Show Archive May 2009 Show 0922 Stillwater Fastest Growing City

Stillwater Fastest Growing City

A recent online daily ranked Stillwater, Oklahoma, as the sixth best small city in America. Stillwater has developed into a business triangle where business owners have come together in a unique effort to make downtown the vibrant entrepreneurial hub of the city.
Stillwater Fastest Growing City


For more information visit these links:

City of Stillwater
Stillwater Chamber of Commerce

Show Dates

Show 0922: Stillwater Fastest Growing City

Air date: May 31, 2009



Rob:  Well a recent online daily ranked Stillwater, Oklahoma, as the sixth best small city in America.  Located within an hour’s drive of the state’s two major metro areas, Stillwater has become an entrepreneurial hub in what has developed into a business triangle.  The latest census numbers show Stillwater as one of the state’s fastest growing hotspots with population growth close to 15 percent since the year 2000.  Yet despite such success, Stillwater’s downtown has struggled with decline, something city leaders are hoping to turn around.  Joining me now from downtown Stillwater is our Russ Jowell.

Russ:  Well, Rob, if two heads are better than one, and four heads are better than two then just imagine what could come about if the heads of nearly 200 business owners came together.  Well that’s exactly what’s happened here in downtown Stillwater.  All the business owners have come together in a unique effort to make this central area the vibrant hub of the city.


It’s late evening at Zanotti's Wine Bar in Stillwater.  Music fills the room as an eclectic mix of college students and business professionals file in, filling their glasses with spirits while freeing their minds from the worries of the day.  You might say this crowd represents a microcosm of the town around it, one rooted in collegiate heritage while slowly changing into a city of opportunity.  If you've lived in Oklahoma for any length of time, chances are you know Stillwater as a college town, but its grown up and fleshed out over the years, transformed into a mecca for young professionals, academics, and everyone in between, and where they all meet is right where you'd expect, in the heart of it all, downtown.

John Bartley:  Historically the downtown area is the historic core part of a city.  It’s the heartbeat of a city.  It’s the lifeblood.

Russ:  And in a way, Stillwater's heart is getting a shot of new blood.  In the past nine years, 10 new businesses have opened their doors in downtown Stillwater, everything from casual restaurants to retailers of furniture and fashion. And in these tough economic times, Stillwater's community leaders want to be sure those businesses thrive and that the city's heart keeps a steady beat.

John Bartley:  The history of Stillwater’s downtown says exactly that.  It has always been the centerpiece of the city.  And we’re just doing our best to bring it back to where it was and make it the best place that you can be doing business in Stillwater.

Russ:  And one of those leaders is John Bartley, himself a downtown business owner, who sees the importance of having a vibrant downtown area and how that vitality can radiate throughout the larger city.

John Bartley:  While we are in the big picture of things still a small city.  We’ve got the leadership and we’ve got the forward thinking from our elected officials, our city officials, and our business leaders to want to do those things to make Stillwater even better

Russ:  So John became involved in his local business improvement district or B-I-D, a city ordinated program, of which he is now the chair, that pools the financial resources of business owners within it for the purpose of bolstering the success of those very businesses.

John Bartley:  The BID district is an organization that has been put together through the city of Stillwater to have all the business owners in the downtown area, all the property owners in the downtown area, be able to work together towards making the downtown area the most viable business opportunity area in the city.

Russ:  It’s a geographic region defined within a city where business owners have agreed to pay a nominal tax in exchange for business development services.  Stillwater’s district is divided into nine areas encompassing twelve city blocks and over 200 businesses.

John Bartley:  It was created under the city council.  It’s a department of the city.  But the way it’s set up is, the people that are directly affected by it, the property owners, we call them members and that term’s there for an important reason. They’ve got a vested interest in what’s going on.

Russ:  And just as the business owners have a vested interest in the district, so too does the district have a vested interest in them.  Alane Zannotti is founder and owner of Zannoti’s Wine Bar, and says starting such a unique business in Stillwater would not have been possible without the help of the city and the district.

Alane Zannotti:  I have to honestly say the city of Stillwater was amazing.  Once we showed that we were actually serious about starting this business, everyone helped down from the banks, to the city manager, to building inspection.  I mean it was just an amazing process everyone seemed excited that there was going to be a business entity downtown that was going to be unique to Stillwater.

Russ:  And it’s these types of unique businesses that the BID hopes to attract downtown.  Mike Decker is founder and owner of The Ridge, a boutique clothing store and salon just next door to Zannotti’s, and says the business improvement district helped him and his wife to fulfill a lifelong dream of owning a true family business.

Mike Decker:  My wife does hair in our salon and so; we had a baby, which is Micah, and we decided that after a year of her staying home she wanted to go back and do hair, and we’ve always thrown around the idea of doing a clothing store, and so we decided to put a hair salon upstairs for her, and do the clothing store downstairs.

Russ:  Mike says that being part of the business improvement team has given him a chance to feed off the diverse ideas that come with a unique group of business owners.

Mike Decker:  Well the important thing is, you can bounce your ideas off of everyone.  You know, you have a wide diversity of age groups.  You have a wide diversity of businesses.  So what happens is, as one person throws an idea out, the other person can kind of draw from that idea and really relate to how it benefits their store, plus the other person’s store.

I don’t want to buy a business, and turn around and I have no parking.

Russ:  And it’s that interaction that makes the BID successful.  Every six months the district holds a public hearing to get the input of its members.  Rex Horning is president of Stillwater National Bank, and says the diverse collection of ideas is what makes the district strong.

Rex Horning:  So you get a real blend of what people are thinking and what their needs are; and I think with collaboration of that diverse of a group, you usually come up with some pretty good ideas.

Russ:  And perhaps the most important collaboration is that between the business owners and the city government.  Dan Galloway is city manager for Stillwater, and says that revitalizing downtown will give Stillwater a fresh identity and harken back to the days when downtown was the place to be.

Dan Galloway:  I think it still has a place as a vital hub.  And I think it; Stillwater like in many, many cities, it needed some kind of incentive, some kind of an impetus to rekindle that spirit of having a central heart and not lose that heritage that they have.

John Bartley:  To my knowledge, Stillwater is the smallest city to actually implement a BID district, and so I like to think we’re out there on the cutting edge of trying to do the things necessary or available to make Stillwater even better.

Russ:  Showing that in cities both big and small, downtown is still the place to be.  Now the Stillwater improvement district isn’t the only one in the state, both Oklahoma City and Tulsa have numerous districts, in places like Bricktown in Oklahoma City, and in downtown Tulsa.  But they all have one common purpose of helping to bolster the businesses within these areas.

Rob:  So Russ, let me ask, what is the difference between a business improvement district and the main street program?

Russ:  Well Rob, a main street program and a business improvement district both have a common goal of helping to bolster business.  The difference is that a main street program has voluntary participation, and a business improvement district is an ordinance implemented by the cities that they are in and run by those municipal governments.