MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

November 25, 2012

City mulls urban renewal grant

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Officials are contemplating the submission of an application with the City of Muskogee Foundation for funding to buy available property within an area targeted for urban renewal.

Mayor Bob Coburn said he and City Manager Greg Buckley approached the economic development committee about the proposition during a recent meeting. Coburn and Buckley are members of the foundation’s directing board.

“They seemed to indicate it wouldn’t be a wasted effort,” Coburn said about the prospects of applying for a grant.

Obtaining funding for the urban renewal project, Coburn said, is speculative at this point.

Buckley said the application, should the request be approved, would be a joint endeavor between the city and the Muskogee Urban Renewal Authority. If an application is approved for funding, Buckley said the city would operate as “fiscal agent’ while the authority would have access to the funds to buy property within the proposed project area.

Frank Merrick, who serves as the foundation’s executive director, said a grant such as the one being considered would “fall within the purview of what we do.”

“We have discussed this and are very interested in learning more details,” Merrick said. “I would say this particular project is due for some more in-depth discussion, but the timing is unknown at this time.”

Merrick said it “is too early to tell” whether any funding that might be made available would be in the form of a grant or a loan. Since the authority could realize a return on its investment, Merrick and Buckley said it could be packaged in way that allowed the foundation to recoup its initial outlay.

Buckley said he envisions a two-part grant. The first application, Buckley said, would be a request for an amount ranging from $350,000 to $500,000. That funding, if provided would be available for initial acquisitions. The second part, Buckley said, might include a request for another half-million dollars or more that could be used to package property for development.

“This is all speculation at this point,” Buckley said, noting the grant application could be submitted outside the normal cycle since it involves economic development.

Buckley said there are parcels within the proposed urban renewal project area presently on the market. An exact number, however, was unknown. A request for submitting a grant application must be approved by city councilors.

The City of Muskogee Foundation is a nonprofit corporation formed in 2008 by the city for the purpose of developing, supporting and promoting programs designed to improve the city’s quality of life. Its board of directors — made up of nine at-large members, two city councilors, the mayor and city manager — is entrusted with overseeing and investing the organization’s assets to meet that objective.

The foundation was funded with proceeds from the 40-year lease of Muskogee Regional Medical Center, now part of Eastar Health System, to Capella Healthcare. A portion of its returns on the investment of that money is used to fund grants designed to promote its mission.

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