NORMAN — Construction of Legacy Park in north Norman could begin by late August or early September.
The large public park is designed to be the focal point of the University North Park Addition, a tax increment financing district east of Interstate 35 on 24th Avenue NW, between Robinson Street and Tecumseh Road.
In a 7-2 vote Tuesday, city council members approved a financial agreement with the developers that paves the way for construction to begin. Councilmen Tom Kovach and Roger Gallagher voted against it.
According to the agreement, nearly $8 million of debt authorization is available to build Legacy Park and the Legacy Park Drive and 24th Avenue intersection. Revenue to pay the debt comes from a portion of the sales tax collected in the district and a portion of the district's annual property tax.
Terms of the agreement call for developers to deed about seven acres to the city once a final plat is approved. A design by Scott Howard of Howard-Fairbairn Site Design has been approved by the city. The park will feature a small, man-made lake, amphitheater, public art, walks and an area where restaurants can be built around the lake.
Development of the park is “the key” to the long-range success of the northside retail district, Councilman Jim Griffith said.
“The development of the TIF district has not been spectacular yet, but the park is the tipping point, and we are ready for it. If we build the park then the growth of the district will occur,” he said.
In a past financial agreement, the developers committed to building a minimum of 250,000 square feet of “high-end” retail space on the east side of 24th Avenue NW by 2016, or face paying penalties of about $5.9 million to the city.
Under the newest agreement, the deadline for penalties has been extended to 2018, and developers will be given credit for a 109,000-square-foot Crest store that will be built within the district but outside the high-end Village Center portion.
Developers remain committed to building 250,000 square feet of retail space in the Village Center in addition to the Crest store and hope to increase that amount to 350,000 square feet, Assistant City Attorney Kathryn Walker said.
The developers have agreed to donate two acres of land to the city near the Village Center to build a cultural center. In exchange, their penalties if they don't complete 250,000 square feet of retail space by 2018 would be reduced by $435,600, Walker said.
Gallagher and Kovach opposed reducing the penalties and criticized the developers for dragging their feet on deeding land to the city for Legacy Park. Kovach said the developers have continued to promise “spectacular” but have not delivered.
“They are looking at ways of reducing penalties. I have great reservations where this agreement is leading us,” Kovach said. “I'm looking at them calling Crest a regional draw. The public doesn't view it as that.”
Developers have said they are actively seeking major department stores to anchor the Village Center, which would then spark construction of other high-end shops to round out the village-style layout.
“What gets lost in nuances was this district was to be built in phases,” Councilman Hal Ezzell said. “The first phase is not spectacular. It's garden-variety retail. … Legacy Park is a spectacular design. This agreement opens the door and effectuates that. Our responsibility is to see it through.”
To further delay — “to take our toys and go home” — would be wrong, Ezzell said.