An ambitious project to make over one of Oklahoma City's most depressed areas has upset a few property owners who said they will not give up their land without a fight.
Garland Hope Jr., 69, who lives in Purcell, where he and his brother co-own a hardware store, said a condemnation lawsuit filed in May by Oklahoma City on his downtown property won't change his mind.
“They've got these big, grandiose ideas about things that would look good only in a science fiction movie, but you've got to have some sense,” the Hopes said. “We don't want it stolen, and that's what the city is trying to do.”
The $130 million urban renewal project is part of MAPS 3, a major capital improvements plan backed with a penny sales tax approved in 2009. Plans call for a 70-acre park and boulevard to be installed just south of downtown, stretching from SW 3 to the Oklahoma River, and split nearly down the middle by the new Interstate 40.
Since condemning the land in 2010, the city has spent $8.7 million on the acquisition process for northern half of the park, said Dan Brummitt, assistant city attorney for Oklahoma City.
Work to secure the southern half, as well as properties that line each side of the zone, will start in 2014.
Brummitt said of the 27 properties the city put on its initial acquisition list, 21 were settled without going to court.
Two eminent domain lawsuits filed last year have since been settled, and the Hope property is one of four now in litigation.
“We've really worked hard to try to come to an agreement with these people,” Brummitt said. “Six or seven condemnations out of 27 is a pretty good success story, and I'm encouraged we could settle some more. It's been a relatively peaceful and agreeable acquisition process so far.”
Claimed two lots
In 1889, D.W. Chandler — the Hope brothers' maternal grandfather — along with their great uncle and aunt, claimed two lots on the block that now comprises the far northwest corner of the planned municipal park.
The family moved from Texas, and Chandler opened a saloon on a business lot around the corner, current site of Myriad Botanical Gardens. A photo hanging in the brothers' Purcell shop depicts Chandler, the great uncle, and two unidentified men standing at the entryway of the pool hall that later replaced the saloon.
Ample grocery stores and movie theaters, as well as a corner ice cream parlor, were in the immediate area when Garland Hope Jr. was growing up here, he said, not to mention the amenities of the budding downtown area just a few blocks to the north.
Hope's late father, who worked as a district judge in Pauls Valley, ultimately acquired 27 lots on the city block Chandler settled, he said. The family moved away when Hope was in the second grade, but he and his brother, David, helped manage them as low-income rental properties until the last of them burned in the 1980s.
Now, a single magnolia tree is all that remains on the property.
“When I was in grade school, I could walk down through there and not have any problems with people, and that was at night,” Hope said. “I wouldn't walk down there now in the daytime.”
Midcentury urban flight followed by a zero reinvestment in the 60 years since has pushed the former Riverside neighborhood to the top of the city's blight list. But still Hope sees his old stomping grounds the way it was: A community of middle-class workers, the sons and grandsons of pioneers, looking to make something of life in a growing metropolis.
Until a few years ago, the neighborhood was home to the city's main post office facilities and a couple nonprofit organizations. Now The Salvation Army headquarters is the last major tenant within the proposed park's footprint; its land sold to the city last year, and the organization will move into a new building by January 2014, said Jeff Lara, director of operations and programs.
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