A couple of intriguing proposals are in for the area around the old Page Woodson school. For the longest time, it appeared this property had no hope of being redeveloped. But an amazing thing has happened in the surrounding John F. Kennedy neighborhood. The Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority tore up this neighborhood back in the 1960s and early 1970s at the same time the agency was demolishing hundreds of buildings downtown. It’s a story that is far less known simply because downtown was drawing all of the attention back then.
The results were as mixed as they were downtown. A large swath of land up and down NE 4 east of Kelley Avenue ended up being just a series of suburban style street grids with nothing but vacant land. But not everything went wrong. One can drive along NE 5 Terrace east of Stonewall Avenue and see a nice stretch of well maintained homes built in the 1970s and early 1980s. And even more amazing, this stretch of the neighborhood has done well despite being a block south of the large Page Woodson school – a structure that has been empty and boarded up for 20 years.
The area itself has a great topography – gentle sloping hills, several tree groves and a boulevard-style NE 4 that connects to Deep Deuce and Bricktown to the west and to the more developed “upper” section of the John F. Kennedy neighborhood that has seen more than 200 new homes and residences built as part of a revived, smarter Urban Renewal effort the past decade.
That part of the JFK is also intriguing. I’m not sure I’ve seen a better example of a neighborhood benefiting from an array of new housing for low, middle and upper income families mixed with older, existing homes belonging to folks who never left. And these homes? A lot of them are being built and bought by folks who grew up in the area and wanted to return to where some of their friends and families still live.
I’ve been blessed to witness this transformation from the start. And that’s why I predict this next wave of development has serious potential. But first Urban Renewal commissioners have a choice to make between two very different proposals.
Let’s begin a look at the site itself.
Keep in mind that Ron Bradshaw, who leads one of the two competing development groups, already owns the Page Woodson school after buying it a few months ago from Oklahoma City Public Schools. The school is in the block southwest of Stonewall Avenue and NE 6.
The new OK Kids Korral, the great lodge for families with children receiving cancer treatment (a wonderful gift to Oklahoma by country western recording artist Toby Keith), recently opened at NE 8 and Laird.
Meanwhile, construction crews recently topped out a new Embassy Suites Hotel being built at NE 8 and Phillips Avenue, across the street from the Kids Korral.
So now we have the greater context of the overall area. Now let’s zoom in a bit at the area to be redeveloped.
Remember, the Page Woodson school is already owned by Bradshaw. So the question is, does Urban Renewal do a deal with Bradshaw for the rest of the vacant property to the west and south of the school or does it do a separate deal with the Ohio-based Miller Valentine Group?
Success for this development could result in a huge success story for northeast Oklahoma City – one that might spur a positive domino effect with more neighborhoods getting rebuilt and improved over ensuing years. A failure could have the exact opposite effect …
We have only one site plan for Miller Valentine Group. I called both development groups Friday after the proposals were turned into the Urban Renewal Authority. I reached Bradshaw, but I had no luck with either of the lead developers with Miller Valentine. So for now, we have this to work with:
Under this scenario, there is no connection between redevelopment of Bradshaw’s Page Woodson school and the development of the surrounding property. It involves community park space, but would not reopen the block’s old street grid and at first glance has suburban apartment development feel to it. We also do not know what, if any communications have taken place between the Miller Valentine Group and the neighborhood, which is still skittish about any sort of Urban Renewal development in the area considering actions of the past.
That past included a drastic reconfiguration of the neighborhood’s street grid.
So what did Urban Renewal do? From what I can tell, the agency way back when took the street shown above (circa early 1950s) and connected the two sections of Kelley Avenue that were cut off by houses at NE 5. The agency also dead-ended High Avenue at NE 5 and also eliminated NE 5 between High and Kelley Avenues. The new street grid, I assume, was created with the intent of making the area friendly for suburban style housing development.
Where the Ohio group does nothing to address that eliminated street grid, the Bradshaw seeks to bring it back.
Bradshaw’s group suggests this restoration of the street grid can promote pedestrian access to the surrounding neighborhoods and districts, and also provide more opportunities for recognizing the school’s history and that of the African American community through a series of plazas, monuments and park space. It also creates an opportunity for street curbside parking not reflected in the Miller Valentine site plan.
To pull off the restored street grid, Bradshaw is asking for tax increment financing, and the project time line itself is twice as long as the one proposed by the Ohio group.
This ought to be an interesting process to see play out.