With the passage of MAPS 3, city leaders can now take a more serious look at the real estate in the Core to Shore area south of downtown.
A redevelopment plan for the hundreds of acres between the central business district and the shore of the Oklahoma River was completed in 2008. The Core to Shore steering committee determined that to get the private sector to invest in the redevelopment of the area, there would first have to be public improvements. Two public projects included were a city park and a convention center.
Both projects were included in a list of eight MAPS 3 initiatives. The park is set for 70 acres, while the exact site of the convention center hasn’t been determined.
In anticipation of the park, commercial real estate broker Mark Beffort was hired by the city about 18 months ago to begin mapping out a plan to acquire that land.
Several entities owned that land, including the United States Postal Service, which sold its building to the city for $3.68 million. That was purchased with funds from a general obligation bond. The city also purchased the Goodwill headquarters for $2.3 million. Beyond that, the process was at a standstill, as the city was not in a financial position to acquire any more land for the park and public improvements in Core to Shore.
“We didn’t have the money without MAPS 3 to purchase all the land for the park,” said David Holt, chief of staff to Mayor Mick Cornett. “Now that MAPS 3 has passed, we are going to focus on that public investment.”
MAPS 3 included $130 million for the park, meant to cover the cost of acquiring the land, razing any existing structures and the park construction.
Another key piece of real estate the city will need for the park is the city block just north of the old post office, which has several buildings and lots owned by the Salvation Army. To the north of those properties is vacant land that will be the northern border of the park along the proposed new boulevard.
Now Beffort, managing director of Grubb & Ellis/Levy Beffort, can go to property owners and talk real numbers on behalf of the city.
The park will not sprout up overnight, although Cornett would like to see it completed by 2014 to coincide with the opening of a planned boulevard where the current Interstate 40 bridges now stand.
Beffort’s marching orders are to identify and purchase the parcels. With the park’s opening four years out, he has not yet been given a timeline for when deals need to be finalized. That will give him time to carefully look at each piece of the puzzle and not be rushed in dealing with property owners.
“We know who all the owners are, and we have made contact with a majority of them, and we are in discussion with some of them,” he said. “Our goal is to continue to purchase land at market prices as we can.”
The city has its sights on that land, but Beffort said that although it is set for public improvements, sellers can’t just name their price, hoping for a windfall.
Unlike situations where a private party can pay above-market values for properties it hopes to acquire, the city is bound to pay market values as determined by a licensed appraiser. Beffort said he is not setting the prices property owners will be offered, and the city intends to be upfront when approaching people to tell them what they will receive for their property.
Michael Laird, an attorney specializing in real estate at Crowe & Dunlevy, explained the ways the city can acquire the land for the park: It can buy the property from private parties or condemn them and exercise eminent domain.
In planning for Core to Shore, city officials have said eminent domain will be only as a last resort.
Laird said owners have rights. But on land slated for public improvements, an owner’s argument that he or she is not happy with the price they are offered will not stand up in court.
He stressed owners can rest assured that even in a worst-case scenario, they will still receive the market value for their land, and that no one will wake up one day and simply find their land is not theirs anymore.
The good news for property owners in the Core to Shore area is that most of the land will remain in private hands. In areas not slated for public improvements, it will be the individual owners’ prerogative to try to redevelop their land or sell it to a developer. For those areas, owners are free to negotiate to get a premium for their land.
The next task for Beffort could be acquiring land for the MAPS 3 convention center if it is determined it will be in the Core to Shore area. The plan recommended it be south of the Ford Center and east of the park.
Regarding the convention center’s location, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber President Roy Williams has said other possible sites could be the Producers Cooperative Oil Mill site, the lumberyard north of that facility or the Deep Deuce area north of Bricktown. Cornett said the community would have input in public discussions for all potential sites.
City officials do agree that the park will be the key project to spur development in the area. Holt said the city sees the park playing the same role in Core to Shore that the canal played in Bricktown by adding a large public improvement and then watching the market respond.
But nothing will happen overnight.
Core to Shore is envisioned as a long-term plan expected to bloom over the next 50 years. Holt said that is plenty of time to bring public improvements to the area and then see what develops with investment from the private sector. He added that while the colorful maps and renderings created for Core to Shore are meant to serve as the framework for the area, there is no final plan set in stone for much of the area.
“That Core to Shore plan is a 25- to 50-year vision, and we mean it when we say that,” Holt said. “That’s a grand vision you see in Core to Shore.””Kelley Chambers