Bringing Public and Private Together
Leslie V. Batchelor makes economic development partnerships happen
Published in 2016 Oklahoma Super Lawyers magazine
on October 10, 2016
Updated on October 25, 2016
In the early 1990s, Oklahoma was one of the last states to adopt tax increment financing, the public funding method for community improvement projects that encourages redevelopment by freezing its tax rates for a few decades. Right out of the gate, Guymon felt the program’s impact.
“It was the Seaboard plant—a pork processing plant,” says Leslie V. Batchelor, a founder at the Center for Economic Development Law. “At the time that Guymon managed to attract the project, the demographic conditions there were literally as bad as they had been in the Dust Bowl. And that project brought several thousand jobs to the Panhandle. It really has been a tremendous influence.”
Batchelor’s father, Dan, was instrumental in bringing tax increment financing to the state. He’s been general counsel for the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority since 1966. He and Batchelor formed their firm when she returned from working for the Clinton administration in 2000.
The firm now “follows the general trend that cities have had to follow to move past this top-down federalized system of urban renewal into a more modern and local-based system of local planning,” she says.
The center focuses on two elements of tax increment financing work statewide: pure economic development, which targets job-generating projects like technology firms; and redevelopment, which focuses on revitalizing neglected areas.
Batchelor worked on bringing Dell’s business campus to Oklahoma City, a project she says created hundreds of jobs. And her favorite project was helping to renovate the Skirvin Hotel, which was boarded up for years before the city purchased it. “A patchwork of assistance had to come together to make the project possible,” Batchelor says.
Some projects involve both sides of the firm’s work. In Broken Arrow, the Center helped expand jobs at FlightSafety International, a company that builds air traffic-control training equipment. Batchelor also patched up the city’s Rose District. “The city has been able to use the TIF program there to revitalize the historic buildings, bring new restaurants and other retail establishments to that street,” she says. “That was one place where you could get a good thing going nearby, and use some of the positive effect of that for what might seem to be an unrelated end.”
The firm has also begun working on affordable housing, representing Oklahoma City Housing Authority in redevelopment programs. “It’s a similar, logical extension of the work we’ve done before—representing a public entity, meeting a community need and using financial or economic strategies to generate value in the community,” Batchelor says.
Their niche is an interesting one, she adds, because they’re essentially government attorneys working for the interests of citizens. “We represent the public side but happen to be in a private law firm,” she says. “Not very many people really know both sides of it—what the public is allowed to do and what it’s not allowed to do, the government entities, but also know what it takes to make development happen, and how to read a pro forma if there’s a gap that needs some money.”
Believing the world has evolved past the days when the private and public sectors barely interacted, Batchelor sees public-private partnerships as a win-win for both sides. “Important projects are so complicated, and they inevitably require both private investment and a high degree of cooperation on the public side to make them happen,” she says.
Recently, the Myriad Gardens Foundation has taken on operational duties for Oklahoma City’s downtown park. “It’s still completely a public park for the benefit of the citizens and the city,” she says. “But the flexibility that a private entity has to program the park—to attract sponsors, to attract activities—makes it a better public park.
“Done right, a public-private partnership can achieve greater public benefit than the public having to go it alone.”