A large portion of northeast Oklahoma City centered at NE 23 and Martin Luther King Avenue was declared “blighted” Tuesday by the Oklahoma City Council after the panel received a new study showing the area is struggling with high unemployment and crime, plummeting home ownership, unsafe conditions and crumbling buildings and infrastructure.
The blight declaration allows the Urban Renewal Authority to pursue a redevelopment plan for an area bounded by Phillips Avenue, Sooner Road, NE 36 and NE 20. City officials also have indicated their focus will be on commercial properties, not residential, and will concentrate on a one-half mile area surrounding NE 23, N Kelley Avenue, N Martin Luther King Avenue, and Interstate 35.
Assistant Planning Director Ian Colgan told the city council the Northeast Renaissance Renewal Area study looked at whether the area met four conditions for blight — dilapidation, arrested economic development, unsafe conditions, deterioration of site or other improvements. In all four cases, the area was found to be blighted.
Population, Colgan said, dropped by 11.1 percent between 1990 and 2000 and by 4.8 percent between 2001 and 2010. Citywide population, meanwhile, grew 13.8 percent during the first 10 years and 14.6 precent during the second decade surveyed.
“In total, about 2,500 people left the study area in those two decades,” Colgan said.
The study also revealed that in 1990, the area still enjoyed a high percentage of homeownership, with 66 percent owning homes in the study area compared to 59 percent citywide. But in the past 20 years, homeownership dropped to 50 percent for the study area, while citywide homeownership increased to 61 percent.
The study also showed 139 vacant and abandoned buildings per square mile in the study area, compared to 19 citywide.
“This shows people are leaving— a decline in investment,” Colgan said. “Decline in taxable market value has been stark.”
Unemployment for the area in 2012 averaged 11.6 percent, almost twice the citywide unemployment rate of 6.6 percent the same year. The city’s own investment also was shown to be lacking, with 30 percent of streets and infrastructure in poor shape.
Homicide, rape, robbery, assault, weapons, burglary, narcotics crimes were all rated higher than the rest of the city. The area is littered with contaminated properties and illegal dumping sites.
The study is being done as the area’s Ward 7 councilman, John Pettis, is leading the charge to change the area’s direction. The city, along with The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, is working on creation of a tax increment financing district to rebuild the area and draw new development.
Those efforts include King’s Crossing at NE 23 and Martin Luther King Avenue — a $30 million development led by the owners of Buy For Less that will include a new 58,000-square-foot Uptown Market, other new retail and space for offices, a school and housing. Construction on the store is expected to start this winter.