HARRISON-WALNUT: . . . Out of the Ashes
By Jan Paschal
Sunday, September 12, 1982
Edition: CITY, Section: NEWS
Someone is burning parts of it down fast, but planners and concerned citizens hope they can rebuild Harrison-Walnut even faster.
And if things go well, more than $30 million worth of private investment will be pumped into northeast Oklahoma City’s Harrison-Walnut area in 1983-1984.
“Basically, we’re talking about Lincoln from NE 4 to NE 13,” said David Bisbee, executive director of the Harrison-Walnut Redevelopment Corp. “We’re going to start along Lincoln Boulevard, the strongest part of the area, and work our way in.”
That nine-block stretch along Lincoln is the site of most of the Phase I projects outlined in seven proposals submitted Sept. 3 to the Harrison-Walnut Redevelopment Corp., Bisbee said. If all Phase I projects are approved by the redevelopment corporation’s board of directors and the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority, the construction could result in at least $30 million in private investment in the area, Bisbee said.
A medical/professional office building, a restaurant, commercial office buildings (ranging from two to six stories), apartments, townhouses and an office supply company are among the projects proposed by the seven developers.
The seven proposals will be scrutinized for compatibility with the overall Harrison-Walnut Redevelopment Plan, which will be considered on Sept. 23 by the OKlahoma City Planning Commission. In October, the redevelopment plan will go before the Oklahoma City Council for final approval.
In March 1981, the City Council approved the expenditure of $155,000 to hire American City Corp. of Columbia, Md., to come up with an overall redevelopment plan for 120 blocks on both sides of Lincoln; the prime redevelopment area is the 60-square-block area west of Lincoln.
The redevelopment corporation is a private, non-profit entity set up in September 1980 to coordinate the rebuilding of that area, which includes some of northeast Oklahoma City’s worst slums. The area will be divided by the Central Expressway, which will eat up about 20 blocks in the prime redevelopment area. Redevelopment of the remaining 40 blocks will be half residential and half commercial or office buildings, Bisbee said.
The recent rash of fires in the near-downtown blocks of NE 4 to NE 6 have not affected the plans for redevelopment, Bisbee said.
“Developers will be buying mostly vacant land. But people are scared their property will be burned down before it can be acquired,” Bisbee said. “Any area that has a large number of vacant buildings is a natural target for people who want to set fires.”
The Urban Renewal Authority, which will acquire the land for the redevelopment corporation, and the state Department of Transportation will pay displaced residents a relocation fee plus fair market value for their homes to enable them to find comparable housing.
“There is some advantage to having your property acquired by a public entity rather than a private entity because a public entity must pay you relocation benefits,” Bisbee said.
The redevelopment corporation was created as a result of a 1980 mitigation plan that settled a 1978 civil rights complaint filed against the federal and state Transportation Departments by black residents who were slated to be displaced by the Central Expressway.
About 500 area residents will be relocated as part of the redevelopment process, in addition to 650 people who will be displaced because their homes lie in the path of the Central Expressway.
“There are about 30 to 40 vacant lots in the area. Sixty to 70 percent are owned by absentee owners. A good share of the existing housing is in very poor condition, especially west of Lincoln,” Bisbee said.
Why would a private investor want to build in this area?
“Lincoln is a great selling point,” Bisbee said. “It’s one of the most attractively landscaped streets in the city and it’s part of a state park. It’s the entrance to the state Capitol complex and to the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.”
The area also has what developers and city planners call “good market potential.” About 55,000 people work in or near the area, which is adjacent to the city’s central business district downtown. The overall redevelopment plan, which covers at least 10 years of development, calls for a major hotel, a commercial/retail center and 702 units of new housing to be built in the area.
The seven proposals submitted to the Harrison-Walnut Redevelopment Corp. were responses to ads that ran in July issues of The Wall Street Journal; Black Enterprise, a business magazine published in New York City; Guffey’s Journal, and the Journal-Record.
The developers behind those seven proposals are: Park Place Associates, Chicago; Renaissance Developers, Inc., Oklahoma City; Lincoln Property Co., Tulsa; Royal Office Products, Oklahoma City; ESB Associates, Oklahoma City; Presbyterian Hospital, Oklahoma City, and the Oklahoma affiliate of the American Heart Association.
“We’re pleased, really pleased, to get responses from seven developers, especially since these proposals are basically compatible with one another,” Bisbee said.
Three of the seven proposals are from businesses that are owned or managed by blacks, Bisbee said.
“We’ve got a good mix. The proposals that we’ve received show that this has been an open project all along,” Bisbee said.
As recently as 1980, some leaders of the black community had expressed fears that the ambitious revitalization plans for the Harrison-Walnut area were going to benefit wealthy white developers at the expense of black businessmen.
However, a safeguard against that is the fact that 10 of the 12 members of the Harrison-Walnut Redevelopment Corp. board of directors are black people, all lifelong residents of the area like Julia Brown, lawyer and board chairman, Artelia Crawford, and other leaders of the fight to get some compensation from the federal government for those people whose homes would be razed to make way for the Central Expressway.
“That’s the wonderful thing about this whole project . . . the continuity . . . you’ve got to really hand it to these people who have stuck it out for a number of years,” Bisbee said.
If the redevelopment plan is approved, land acquisition could begin in late fall or early 1983, Bisbee said. Land probably would not be sold to any developers until June 1983 with construction on some projects beginning by 1984.
The Urban Renewal Authority will acquire the land targeted for redevelopment because it has the power of eminent domain, Bisbee said.
“We don’t own any land,” Bisbee said. “The redevelopment corporation won’t buy any land until we have a commitment, perhaps even “earnest money,’ from an individual developer for a certain property for a specific project. That is unlike urban renewal projects in other cities, where huge tracts of land were acquired and then stood vacant for years, waiting for developers.”
The Harrison-Walnut Redevelopment Corp. will buy the land, which will be resold at “fair market value” to developers.
“With our budget, we can’t afford much of a write-down,” Bisbee said, when asked whether developers were being enticed to the area by bargain land costs.
Developers will be responsible for getting their own financing, either through tax-free bonds, conventional mortgages or other means, said Bisbee.
The redevelopment corporation, funded this year by $1.18 million in federal Community Redevelopment Block Grant funds, will spend most of that money to buy land acquired by the Urban Renewal Authority, which has the power of eminent domain in the area.
“With each block priced at $300,000 to $500,000, that money won’t go very far,” Bisbee said. “Our entire budget is enough to purchase about two city blocks.”
Another $5 million might become available to the redevelopment corporation for land acquisition if the Community Development Citizens Committee approves a proposal on Sept. 23 for Urban Renewal Authority notes that would be backed by Sec. 108 loan guarantees by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Bisbee also met last Thursday with executives of a major local bank, whose name he would not disclose, to present details of the redevelopment plan.
“The financial community is interested in seeing this area redeveloped,” Bisbee said. “The fact that it will be developed as an entity makes it attractive.”