By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
A consensus was reached among officials about the need to relocate the Muskogee County Juvenile Detention Center to make way for retail development.
Accomplishing that goal without saddling taxpayers with the relocation costs, however, continues to be an issue that divides city and county officials.
The detention center and the property upon which it sits is owned by the county, which contracts the day-to-day operations to a third-party vendor. The facility is located within an area targeted by city officials for urban renewal and retail development.
Muskogee County Commissioner Gene Wallace, District 1, said the need to relocate the detention center clearly is “in the best interest of both the county and the city.” But a year and a half after representatives of both governmental entities began exploring their options, they have yet to identify a plan to meet those interests.
“There is no sense in nibbling around the edge of this,” Wallace said during a meeting of the ad hoc committee established to explore relocation options. “The big hole here is the money — it is in the best interest of the city and the county to give a clear and concise statement so developers will know the cost of having to move this facility.”
Muskogee Mayor Bob Coburn expressed concern about pricing the parcel so high that it drives away potential developers. Coburn initially said developers won’t “pay a stinking fortune” for the parcel regardless of how much interest they have shown.
The 10-bed juvenile detention facility, which is located in the 600 block of West Shawnee Bypass, was built in the 1980s by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services on county-owned property. The county would be responsible for the costs of acquiring property and constructing a replacement facility if the detention center is relocated.
An architect told county commissioners in August it could cost up $2.25 million to replace the 10-bed facility and could climb higher with the passage of time. City officials say it would be difficult to sell the five-acre tract for an amount commissioners need to relocate the facility.
“That area, in and of itself, is probably not worth $2 million as just a general sales price,” said Interim City Manager Roy Tucker, who described the detention center as “a big sore thumb” during a subsequent meeting of the Muskogee Urban Renewal Authority. “Obviously, if we acquire it from the county we can then sell it and get some of that money back, but it’s not worth $2 million as it sits.”
Efforts have been made to minimize relocation costs by identifying publicly owned land suitable for a new juvenile detention center. County commissioners have ruled out several municipally owned or accessible parcels because of compatibility concerns.
“Every time the Phoenix writes about this the public gets somewhat exorcised and there is an outcry because they think we are coming into their neighborhoods,” Wallace said. “We have got to be sensitive about where we do put it, not only on a political level but with the infrastructure that can support it.”
Muskogee County Treasurer Kelly Garrett plans to look at county-owned parcels that might prove suitable as relocation sites. Ad hoc committee members say the site needs to be easily accessible to law enforcement agencies that transport inmates to and from the detention center but outside residential areas and away from schools, parks and other sensitive areas.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.