The legacy of the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority is almost cliche by now: a group of people who operate out of public view and tear down old buildings.
Looking back on the agency’s four-plus decades of existence, it’s easy to understand how it got such a bad rap. In the 1970s, the agency did tear down hundreds of old buildings downtown, regardless of public sentiment. Even after current director JoeVan Bullard promised two years ago the agency would establish a Web site, the agency’s only online presence consists of agendas posted at the city’s Web site. Anyone searching for records of properties the agency controls or the status of various developments will get nowhere searching online.
Preserving pastAnecdotally, however, some stereotypes are simply outdated. More often than not these days, Urban Renewal’s actions have resulted in the preservation of distressed older properties. Consider Deep Deuce, where all but two buildings — the Luster home and a two-story warehouse on NE 1 converted into offices — were boarded up and dilapidated when the agency did a redevelopment deal with First Worthing to build apartments in the area. The deal required that apartments be built around the boarded up properties and that the developer take a leap of faith that renovations of the old buildings would follow an influx of residents. That theory played out nicely, and the area has seen all but one boarded-up building renovated and converted into restaurants, shops and apartments. The agency also worked with the Oklahoma City Museum of Art in preserving the facade of the old Centre Theater as it was turned into the museum’s new home.