MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

July 16, 2014

Renewal officials OK start on land valuation

No sense in waiting for developers’ ideas, city attorney says

Urban renewal commissioners took steps Wednesday to get ahead of the curve as they await responses to their request for proposals from potential developers.

Commissioners authorized efforts to appraise properties located within the first-phase project area and initiate contract negotiations for property acquisition. The area fronts West Shawnee Bypass and is seen as a prime location for big-box retail development.

Commissioners also authorized city staffers to take the steps necessary to secure funding from the City of Muskogee Foundation. The funding, if approved, would be used to acquire property and pay for other redevelopment-related costs.

“There is no sense in delaying reaching out to those property owners who are in the area we believe is most likely to be developed first,” City Attorney Roy Tucker said during his pitch to move forward with negotiations to acquire the parcels needed for retail development. “We wouldn’t be buying the property, but we would be negotiating a purchase price and paying a small price to secure those options and have everything ready for execution once we have proposals in place.”

Planning Director Gary Garvin said the area consists of 256 lots owned by 24 individuals, companies or other governmental entities. The first-phase area, which is mostly vacant, is the site of three existing commercial structures — including the Muskogee County Regional Juvenile Detention Center, which will be relocated — and two residential structures.

The blighted area designated for urban renewal is bounded by Chicago and 11th streets on the east and west and Shawnee Bypass and Talladega Street on the north and south. The area designated for first-phase development is bounded by Fairmont and Ninth streets on the east and west and Shawnee Bypass and Katy Avenue on the north and south.

Former Mayor John Tyler Hammons identified the area in 2011 as having the best potential of meeting urban renewal criteria set by state law, and its redevelopment is expected to have an immediate economic impact. Since then, urban renewal commissioners and city councilors have signed off on a blight study and adopted an urban renewal plan for redevelopment.

Commissioners divided the 90-acre urban renewal area into three project areas. The first was set aside for big-box retail development. The second- and third-phase areas have been targeted for infill commercial growth and residential options they hope will help support local employment goals.

“Since we don’t have the proposals in ... nor implemented the project to acquire these properties, we have no authority to condemn or take at this point,” Tucker said. “These would be pure voluntary conveyances, and even once we do have eminent domain authority we are required to negotiate in good faith with property owners before exercising that authority.”

Ward II Commissioner Robert Goolsby said the appraisals and negotiations, which likely will be done by a local real estate professional or appraiser, could be a good gauge of the interest of property owners to sell. City administrators say they have fielded calls already from interested sellers, but Goolsby expressed concern that interest in second- and third-phase development might lag behind first-phase projects.

“From my perspective I would hope we get someone who wants to develop the whole 90 acres,” said Goolsby, a real estate professional and advocate for the planned development of the entire urban renewal area. “My fear in this whole thing is we are going to develop this front section and this back is just going to flounder ... (and) if we aren’t careful we will have streets to nowhere.”

Tucker said he has fielded an inquiry by one prospect who has expressed an interest in developing part of the back parcels for residential occupancy. That person, Tucker said, has yet to submit a proposal.

In addition to paving the way toward the facilitation of redevelopment, commissioners also established the framework for a citizen advisory committee. The panel would work with the city’s retail development team to help guide redevelopment of the urban renewal area.

The citizen committee, the members of which are expected to be appointed when the Urban Renewal Authority meets Aug. 20, will consist of five voting members and a city councilor. Two members will be owners of property within the urban renewal area and three will be residents appointed from the city at-large.

Committee member terms will be staggered, with the two local members serving two-year terms. Two at-large members would serve three-year terms, and the third at-large member would serve a four-year term. The city councilor’s term would coincide with the unexpired term for which he or she was elected.

Any person interested in serving on the committee should contact Garvin at the planning department. Garvin or an office associate may be reached by calling (918) 684-6232.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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