The planned location for the $252 million convention center, the former Fred Jones automobile dealership property across Reno Avenue from Myriad Botanical Gardens, is north of the boundary that currently defines the Core to Shore Urban Renewal Plan area.
In order to buy the property, however, the city must redraw the plan’s boundaries to include the area, which lies between S. Robinson on the east, S. Hudson on the west, the old Interstate 40 alignment on the south and Reno on the north.
In addition, the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority (OCURA) is seeking to have the Santa Fe Station listed as a “property to be acquired” under the Central Business District Urban Renewal Plan in order to purchase — and then develop — the site as the planned Intermodal Transportation Hub.
Although state law does not allow municipalities to use eminent domain to obtain land for economic development reasons, it does make an exception for urban renewal authorities seeking to purchase properties in areas considered “blighted.” If a landowner in a redevelopment area does not accept a reasonable offer, the urban renewal authority can take the matter to court to get the property condemned and sold for a reasonable price.
If a municipality, rather than an urban renewal authority, were to acquire the property via eminent domain, that property could not be transferred later to private ownership. That caveat is why OCURA would prefer to revise the Core to Shore map and make the purchase itself. However, many of the properties being acquired by OCURA will eventually be for public use, such as the downtown park, said Planning Director Russell Claus.
OCURA is also obtaining property around the planned MAPS 3 park to likely be used for private development once the park is built, according to Claus.
The Core to Shore Urban Renewal Plan is a city project to improve the area from just north of the old Interstate-40 alignment to the Oklahoma River between Interstate-235 and Interstate-44. Within the larger Core to Shore area is the Core to Shore Urban Renewal Plan region, which declares much of the area between the old I-40 alignment and the Oklahoma River to be blighted. This authorizes OCURA to use eminent domain, if necessary, to acquire the land for redevelopment purposes.
Although the location of the planned MAPS 3 convention center is inside Core to Shore, it falls just outside of the designated Core to Shore Urban Renewal area, according to city documents.
On Aug. 9, the Planning Commission voted to table a request by OCURA to expand the Renewal Plan area to encompass the convention center site. That measure will be heard again by the Planning Commission during its Sept. 13 meeting.
The City Council previously authorized the Urban Renewal Authority to begin work toward purchasing the land for the convention center. Nevertheless, in order for OCURA to possibly obtain the land by eminent domain, it must be brought into the urban renewal plan area, said Cathy O’Connor, president of the Alliance for Economic Development.
Currently, the land for the convention center is located within the Central Business District Redevelopment Area. As part of the Santa Fe Station item, the Planning Commission is also being asked to change language that would allow building a convention center on the proposed site, including a hotel.
A convention center hotel has been a point of contention between advocates who say it is necessary for the success of the convention center and opponents who worry about the public incentives that might be used to lure a hotelier.