Looking back at 2019, many of the highlights for the year in Shawnee involve changes. Whether they are perceived to be good or bad, progressive or reactionary, innovative or just different, some changes the community has undergone this year could be considered defining moments.
Here are just a few:
• Operation of The Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center was switched to Spectra Comcast, a venue management and hospitality services company, after a vote by Shawnee City Commissioners.
• The City of Shawnee decided to take leadership of the Senior Citizens Center. The facility is now operating under the Parks and Recreation Department.
• Citywide installation of an automatic water meter reading (AMR) system began several months ago. In a loan agreement with the OWRB, the city secured funds to implement the project. Instead of monthly manual meter reads, the new system is hoped to collect multiple remote reads per day, allowing for more accurate billing, leak detection and less manpower needed to operate it. Customers also will have access to daily information about their water use.
• In June, new speed limits slowed down drivers along Kickapoo Street. City Engineer Michael Ludi said increased retail development — with still more coming — and the potential for wrecks made Kickapoo a prime candidate for backing off its previous 45 mph speed limits.
• In August, Shawnee welcomed new City Manager Chance Allison, who replaced yearlong Interim Eric Benson.
• Rodney Foster was named Shawnee's new fire chief after the retirement of former Chief Dru Tischer at the end of last year.
• Stacy Cramer Moore was chosen to fill the city's new position of director of tourism.
• Medical Marijuana ordinances were a topic of conversation a few times as brand new regulations were getting sorted out — both on the state and local levels.
• The trendy new habit of keeping backyard chickens was approved within Shawnee city limits.
“With interest in food security and local food systems on the rise, more and more communities are amending their animal control and zoning codes to allow the keeping of chickens in residential districts,” City planner Rebecca Blaine said.
• After a series of vaping-associated illnesses were reported in the U.S., the issue was brought before city leaders by Chuck Skillings, SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital-Shawnee president. He said data he was reading suggested vaping is even more dangerous and more harmful than cigarette smoke. Skillings challenged commissioners to take a firm approach to banning and regulating the practice.
• Formerly known as Wolverine, Shawnee Tubing Industries (STI) closed its doors this Fall. The plant provided copper tubing for the industrial, technical, HVAC and refrigeration markets. STI's attorney Ed Maguire cited the copper market failing as cause for the company's end.
• Shawnee's new Comprehensive Plan was adopted recently. The living document is meant to be used as a guide as the city makes decisions about future projects and permitting. Participants in several roundtable events took on major topics of discussion like transportation; parks and recreation; housing; the downtown district; planned use and development; and community appearance.
• The Parks Master Plan is about to be underway as it strives to make significant improvements to a handful of its main parks while stripping away some high maintenance issues of its vast number of green spaces. In its goal to make its parks system more productive and manageable, the first two premiere parks — Woodland and KidSpace — are now on the verge of getting started.
• Even though it's been in talks for two years now, a Broadway bike lanes proposal recently received a lot of discontent among residents in town, especially Broadway residents hoping to keep access to curbside parking. In past workshops led by RDG Planning and Design, adding bike lanes to Broadway was used as an easy example for creating design changes with minimal cost attached. No final decisions have been made yet.
• Hobby Lobby just donated Shawnee's former St. Gregory's University campus to Oklahoma Baptist University. Hobby Lobby purchased the property last year following SGU’s bankruptcy proceedings. St. Gregory’s closed its doors in December 2017. At that time, OBU offered a teach-out agreement to current SGU students, with many of them transferring to OBU to finish their degrees.