Oklahoma City has secured the key and control to downtown’s Santa Fe Depot, clearing the way for it to be converted into a $28 million transit hub that will serve downtown’s new streetcar system, Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer and a potential new regional passenger rail line.
The city spent two years negotiating with the prior owners, Brewer Entertainment, and successfully sought an eminent domain ruling on the property last summer when court-appointed commissioners set the purchase price at $4.5 million.
Assistant City Attorney Dan Brummitt said Wednesday that Brewer Entertainment is still seeking a jury trial to contest the purchase price, which could result in the city paying more or less than the $4.5 million. During negotiations, Brewer Entertainment, owned by the family of the late Bricktown developer Jim Brewer, sought to sell the property for $23.5 million, countering the city’s original offer of $2.5 million.
Brummitt said Brewer Entertainment, which sometimes charged $20 for parking on the property during special events downtown, is no longer involved with any of the property’s operations. Control of the building and lots was transferred to the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority (COTPA).
However, on Wednesday evening, a Brewer Entertainment sign was advertising parking in the depot’s north lot for $20. COTPA spokesman Michael Scroggins said negotiations regarding leases on the property are continuing.
Leases signed with the Brewers will continue, including a lease with the Oklahoma Transportation Department for parking for Amtrak customers and access to the depot, leases with Tyler Media for two digital billboards on the property, with Pinkitzel Candy & Cupcakes for a shop in the depot’s freight wing, and MidFirst Bank, which leases parking spaces during Thunder home games at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Those leases involve complications that are proving to be challenging to the city to sort through.
“We haven’t seen any of the agreements yet — we just have hearsay of what they encompass,” Scroggins said. “We are aware of who they are with, and we’ve notified them we are now responsible and will be negotiating with them in the future.”
Scroggins said issues remain with the parking agreements with MidFirst Bank and the state Transportation Department.
“It’s all very unclear,” Scroggins said. “It’s also unclear as to whether there is sufficient money for upkeep. Upon inspections, there are definitely repairs to be made that definitely need to be made.”
Scroggins said parking rates will be in alignment with other city-owned parking, where charges are capped at either $8 or $10 a day. Such arrangements eventually be altered once the transit hub project is started.
When will work start?
Conversion of the 84-year-old depot into a transit center is set to begin early next year. David Todd, coordinator of the city’s MAPS office, said design contract negotiations are underway with TAP Architecture.
The city was awarded a $13.5 million federal grant last year that allows it to pursue its full plan for conversion of the depot into a transit center.
Specific improvements include opening a tunnel in the depot through the BNSF Railway viaduct wall facing the Bricktown Canal to allow for a direct passenger connection to the entertainment district, improved Amtrak boarding platforms, ticketing and baggage areas, a pedestrian plaza extending to E.K. Gaylord, and hastened construction of a streetcar alignment in front of the depot.
The work coincides with construction set to begin later this year on the first phase of the streetcar system, which is set to open by mid-2017.