Oklahoma City thinks downtown's Santa Fe train depot is worth $2.5 million. The owners, Brent and Brett Brewer, think it's worth $23.5 million.
Neither side is budging, so the city is going to court to force the dispute into eminent domain to turn the depot into a transit hub for a new $128 million streetcar system.
Twenty years ago, the depot stood abandoned and dilapidated with no eager takers when the Brewers' father, the late Jim Brewer, entered into a yearslong purchase negotiation with the BNSF Railway.
By time the $375,000 sale was completed in 1998, Amtrak was set to restore passenger rail service, and the state Transportation Department paid for half of the depot's $2 million renovation to get it open in time for the Heartland Flyer's 1999 debut.
The city presented its $2.5 million offer, backed by a professional appraisal, in October. The Brewers waited until January before making their $23.5 million counter-offer. That led to an eminent domain filing by the city against the Brewers earlier this month.
“We received the counter-offer from them and we asked for an appraisal from them to see if we could make another offer to them,” said Urban Renewal director Cathy O'Connor. “We never received it.”
Brent Brewer was unavailable for comment. In March he told The Oklahoman his appraisal was “pretty close” to being done. He said the appraisal was complicated due to the property's uniqueness.
“They're the ones who seem to want to move fast,” Brewer said of city officials.
O'Connor at that time said she had yet to hear updates on the Brewers' appraisal in response to calls and emails placed to the Brewers and their attorney since January.
Oklahoma City's public works department is set to start construction of the streetcar system next year. The project includes $10 million for purchase and expansion of the depot.
The depot, if acquired, is set to become a transit hub that would connect current Amtrak service with a downtown streetcar system and potential rail service to Midwest City, Norman and Edmond.
Plans also call for the depot to be used for high-speed rail if it ever is established in Oklahoma.
Assistant City Attorney Dan Brummett said when an eminent domain action is filed, the court appoints three commissioners to independently determine a value for the property. That may happen after the first hearing on June 20.
The Brewers can accept that ruling or ask for a jury trial. If the ruling is appealed, the city is required to deposit the amount in escrow, and if any increase is deemed due to the Brewers, that money is paid and funded through an assessment added to annual property taxes.
Brummett said such evaluations usually take about 30 to 45 days, which could allow the city to acquire control of the property by the end of summer.
Zach Martin, a broker with Newmark Grubb who has represented several transactions in Bricktown, expects the Santa Fe valuation will be closely watched by the downtown real estate community.
“There's a huge spread in that number,” Martin said. “That is a unique property. I don't know how one can value that — you've got a lot of frontage there, and that adds value. But $23.5 million? I suspect that would set new record for the area
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