Neighborhood group rallied to rescue Paseo area

City funding helped Positively Paseo to get rolling
BY DYRINDA TYSON dyrinda@gmail.com Published: September 8, 2012
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Ward 2 Councilman Mark Schwartz got on board early on, though, helping the Paseo group craft its plans. It incorporated as a Community Development Corporation in 1991, legally called Oklahoma City Housing Services Corp., to encompass its wider-ranging mission to revitalize neighborhoods throughout Oklahoma City. In the Paseo, it does business as Positively Paseo.

But without money, Positively Paseo couldn't carry out that mission. City officials assumed Positively Paseo would do its work through private funds, but they weren't forthcoming. One family donated its restaurant site and two adjacent lots to the organization in 1992, but the properties had to sit idle.

But in 1993, Garner Stoll changed the game for Positively Paseo. Stoll, director of Oklahoma City's newly created planning department, pulled money from a city trust fund to pay for an Urban Land Institute study of an area including the Paseo.

That study, in a nutshell, found the Paseo was a perfect fit for revitalization efforts.

“It backed up everything that we had said since 1987,” Blackburn said.

Vindication got things rolling for Positively Paseo. The city council got on board, Community Development Block Grants began coming in, and Positively Paseo was finally able to buy land and pay a staff. The group started on its first house in 1994. It recently sold its 24th house, and rehabilitation work has started on the 25th.

Stoll left the city amid discord in 2000, but Blackburn said she still remembers the last bit of advice he gave her: “Do not give this up because you all are at the top of the hill,” he told her, “and you are ready to roll down and really make a difference.”

The spark and vitality in the Paseo bears out Stoll's estimation. Property is in high demand, and it's drawing a mix of young families, young professionals and retirees. Art galleries, music venues and restaurants keep the commercial area lively, and the residential streets are normally quiet.

Blackburn said she delights in seeing the result from what was essentially a bunch of neighbors putting out a call to action. “It's wonderful now to see where it's gone,” she said.