Earlier this year, the cities of Davis and Sulphur teamed up in an effort to beef up the areas’ economic output and the cities’ revenues. The collaborative effort allowed the sister cities to split the cost of hiring a retail development consultant.

Rickey Hayes, CEO and economic development consultant of Retail Attractions, was hired in August to spearhead the efforts with early results garnering interest in the small municipalities from a national recreation company that wants to bring a water park to the area.

The park, if implemented in Davis or Sulphur, would use the natural resources available in the area to implement a large scale water park similar to parks in the Dallas metro area.

“Imagine White Water or any water park with the rides and the lazy rivers on a static body of water,” Hayes said. “The parks that they have now are averaging $10 million a year in sales. They do collect sales tax. They have a restaurant or grill with them. Most of them have beer sales. It’s one of the things we don’t see very much of in my world. Recreation use is very uncommon.”

Davis City Manager Tom Graham said the city’s hope when hiring the consultant was to remove its reliance on Turner Falls for funding.

“Right now, we have to put 30 percent of what Turner Falls pulls to run town business,” Graham said. “We are fortunate that the city owns Turner Falls. We’ve always wanted the city to be able to stand on its own and to be able to put more money back into the park.”

Graham said the city was also hoping to grow its population, which he says hasn’t seen any significant growth in more than 20 years. 

Hayes said that there were at least 4 restaurant chains showing interest in the area, one of which would be a build-your-own burrito type similar to Chipotle. Grocers that previously avoided the state due to liquor laws have also shown interest.

“Since we changed the liquor laws, beer and wine sales in grocery stores have opened up the whole state for grocery retailers,” Hayes said. “There are about 40 grocers looking at Oklahoma cities right now, and they really like areas that don’t have shiny new grocery stores.”

Hayes said the grocery retailers were companies that also tend to focus on organic, farm-to-table and locally grown produce.

Changes in ways states change laws have also played a role in the way retailers are looking at expansion.

“As you know, retail is in a strange flux right now. You have the online, brick and mortar war going on. About 95 percent of the retailers are digging in for the brick and mortar war,” Hayes said. “Walmarts all over the state have started to build the kiosks that allow you to order online purchases. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to order your groceries online and pull up to the store and they will bring your groceries out to the car. Nobody should buy anything online. I wouldn’t buy a sweater or a pair of boots online without being able to try them on. But that’s not where the retail world is right now, you can buy a pair of boots tonight (Monday) and have them at your house by Wednesday morning with no shipping, and most of the time without any sales tax.” 

Hayes said the dynamics of retail sales have changed since he first began work for the cities. Earlier this year, Oklahoma reached an agreement with Amazon to begin collecting sales tax. 

“I was working in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and something I never thought I’d see, the mayor, in his state of the city address told the citizens of Muskogee that if you are going to shop, either do it in Muskogee or do it online. Don’t go to Tulsa or Broken Arrow,” Hayes said. “His grounds for that, the online sales taxes are starting to trickle in and they are starting to see the impact.”