The Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority is preparing to pursue eminent domain against the owners of downtown's Santa Fe train depot after the city's $2.5 million offer was rejected and countered with an asking price of $23.5 million.
The asking price by the owner, Brent Brewer, is more than twice the $9.7 million the city has budgeted as part of MAPS 3. The city plans to acquire the station and convert it into a transit hub that would serve Amtrak along with a new streetcar system and possible future commuter rail links to surrounding suburbs.
Cathy O'Connor, who is overseeing acquisition of the depot, 50 E.K. Gaylord Ave., in her role as Urban Renewal director, said negotiations began in August, and the counter-offer was not received until January.
O'Connor said eminent domain, the right of a government entity to forcibly acquire a property with the price to be determined by mediators or a court, is the likely next step unless a more acceptable offer is pitched quickly by Brewer.
“Condemnation (under eminent domain) is used on public projects frequently,” O'Connor said. “It's used for street improvements, drainage improvements. And we used it on the first MAPS projects.”
Brewer said Tuesday he still hopes to provide the city with an appraisal being done on his behalf, and called the $23.5 million a “starting point.”
“I'm still in due diligence,” Brewer said. “My appraiser isn't done with his work yet; it's a difficult property to appraise.”
Brewer could not estimate how much his family invested in the once-dilapidated depot. County records show Brewer's father, the late Jim Brewer, bought the depot in 1998 for about $375,000 and used a $1 million federal grant toward renovations. Jim Brewer reported at the time of the renovation he estimated the entire project cost about $2 million.
The depot is nestled between Bricktown and downtown and is where Amtrak's Heartland Flyer starts its journey to Texas each morning and ends its return to Oklahoma each night.
The Brewers attempted several times to develop the property into a hotel and retail, but to date the only tenant is the cupcake shop Pinkitzel.
Brent Brewer said Monday the property also has provided his family with revenues from paid parking, and that a furniture store is interested in opening next to Pinkitzel.
“We've been down here for so long, we just want it to be fair,” Brewer said. “This property is important to our family. These kinds of investments are starting to make a return for us, and at the end of the day, we want to be able to support our children.”
O'Connor said she is willing to give the Brewer family “a few more weeks” to provide a copy of their appraisal. Otherwise, she warned, the city will begin condemnation of the property.
Brewer contends he was not contacted by the city until October, though in a January 2012 interview with The Oklahoman, he discussed the city's desire to acquire the depot and predicted the transaction might end up with a condemnation action.
“They've had two years to do studies and do their due diligence, and we need time,” Brewer replied. “Our appraisal is pretty close. They're the ones who seem to want to move fast. Everything is negotiable. … Right now, we just can't accept their number.”
About the train depot
The Santa Fe train depot was boarded up when President Jimmy Carter ended Amtrak passenger rail service to Oklahoma in 1979. The train station was repeatedly vandalized, the ceiling caved in, and the depot became an eyesore in the next 20 years.
The late Jim Brewer bought the station in 1998 as the state was progressing in its efforts to restore passenger rail traffic. Brewer received a $1 million federal grant to renovate the station, and he agreed to provide access to Amtrak passengers under a temporary agreement that waived rent but charged the state for utilities and costs associated with use of the station.
In 2010, Brewer's son Brent locked the doors twice in the week leading up to the annual OU-Texas game in Dallas, causing travelers on Amtrak's Heartland Flyer to be diverted to vans and buses. At the time, Brewer complained state Transportation Department officials had failed to respond to his repeated efforts to draw up a new lease agreement.
The dispute ended with a lease that required the state to pay $15,297 a month for the passenger station and parking lot at the depot. The department allowed the Brewers to operate the parking lot with the two parties splitting revenues, with rates set by the Brewers.