Brownstone for Greenwood

The head of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce has spearheaded plans to bring a new standard of living to northern downtown Tulsa.
In late January, Reuben Gant, president of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, based in the heart of the Greenwood district at 131 N. Greenwood Ave., Ste. 2, announced its non-profit arm, the Greenwood Community Development Corp., had agreed to purchase a six-acre tract of land at the northeast corner of Elgin Avenue and Archer Street.
The tract will soon be home to a mixed-use development that was then estimated to cost $30 million. The development, which will be built in phases over an estimated three years, was originally planned to include 44 “brownstone” residences, 52,000 SF of office and retail space and an 82-room hotel.
New plans make way for 66,000 SF of office and retail space, a boutique-style hotel that could house up to 100 rooms, 24 loft-style apartments and 32 of the brownstone residences.
The land for the development was purchased for $1.8 million from the Tulsa Development Authority.
In America’s urban northeast, “brownstones” are known as multi-level rowhouses with facades of brownstone.
The brownstone was canonized into the annals of classic American vernacular architecture when the buildings were featured as the scenes of several popular television shows, ranging from “I Love Lucy” and the “Cosby Show” to “Sex in the City.” Brownstone residences are being re-implemented in cities across the country to aid urban renewal.
Gant hopes the brownstones the GCDC will bring to Tulsa will be available to a wider audience than what the affluent Huxtable family and Carrie Bradshaw represent. Gant aspires to keep rental prices under $1 per square foot.
“It’s a hope and a dream,” he said. “It depends on how well we’re able to control the costs of construction.”
Gant wants to ensure the residences will be enjoyed by individuals who earn a variety of incomes.
“What I have observed is, most of the developments occurring downtown are skewed toward upper income wage earners. I think we’ve gotten hung on this concept or definition of ‘professional,’” he said.
“Well, ‘professional’ is very broad in its definition. There are professional plumbers, and professional auto mechanics. Professionals are more than just white collar workers. We want to create an environment that includes all of these professions, or at least the opportunity for them to live in a downtown, urban setting.”
The project as currently planned includes 56 residences, up nearly 30 percent from the 44 originally proposed. The updated number of units includes 32 units of the brownstone-style residences, which will come in one-, two- and three-bedroom layouts. The 24 remaining residential units will be one- and two-bedroom urban lofts situated above retail spaces.
To be intermixed with the residential spaces in the Greenwood District’s mixed-use development is 26,000 SF of office space, along with 40,000 SF for retail. Offices are planned to be situated above the retail spaces.
The GCC has been working with Thomas Boxley and Harry Bjornberg, principals at the Tulsa architecture firm EWC Inc., headquartered at 415 S. Boston Ave., Ste. 300, on the design of the units. The cost to build the units has not been determined.
No contractor has been selected, but Gant is in talks with the Tulsa branch of Littleton, Colo.-based environmental consulting firm Innovar Environmental Inc. The Tulsa branch is at 320 S. Boston Ave., Ste. 715.
Talks with Innovar could lead to the development being added to Tulsa’s growing portfolio of green buildings.
“If the cost parameters allow us, and they don’t get out of hand, we intend to make this development a totally green development,” Gant said.
The project is in its due diligence period and environmental testing and land surveys are now under way, Gant said. The GCC continues to work closely with the Tulsa Development Authority during this process.
“There is a 90-120-day period after the due diligence period during which I must submit to the TDA my final construction plans. Upon approval of those plans, I must break ground within about nine months.”
Calls to TDA to verify the details of the agreement went unreturned at press time.
Reuben doesn’t count on the $30 million price tag sticking around until time to start construction.
“I’m sure it’s going to be some adjustment, because of the rising construction costs. It would behoove me to get all this preliminary stuff out of the way as quickly as possible to take advantage of current prices.”
Gant is working to cobble together the funding needed to complete the development, as well as the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, to be located across the street and west of the development.
Gant said he is in talks with a private underwriter for the development project. He plans to apply to the New Markets Tax Credit Program.
The New Markets Tax Credit Program, established by Congress in 2000, permits individual and corporate taxpayers to receive a credit against federal income taxes for making qualified equity investments in vehicles known as Community Development Entities, or CDEs.
The credit provided to the investor totals 39 percent of the cost of the investment and is claimed over a seven-year period. Substantially all of the taxpayer’s investment must be used by the CDE to make qualified investments in low-income communities.
Successful applicants are selected only after a competitive application and rigorous review process that is administered by the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Through the first five rounds of the NMTC Program, the CDFI Fund made 294 awards totaling $16 billion in tax credit allocation authority. The Fund anticipates awarding another $3.5 billion of allocation authority to CDEs in the fall of 2008.
The NMTC Program expires this year, but President Bush has asked Congress to extend the Program with a $3.5 billion authorization for 2009.
“We are now in the process of talking to groups, organizations, individuals and the community about coming up with the funds to complete this project,” Gant said.
“Ideally, by giving this community a grassroots involvement in completing the project, we’re actually demonstrating ownership by the community. Really, we think that’s a plus. We want the community to become stakeholders in what we’re trying to do.”
Funding for the mixed-use development as well as the park will be funneled through the Greenwood Community Development Corp.
Greenwood Community Development Corporation, established by the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce in 1998, seeks to alleviate social and economic distress in North Tulsa by providing financing opportunities that promote economic development.
Since the creation of the GCDC micro enterprise loan fund, reports say the non-profit has assisted more than 250 businesses and has helped to create 30 jobs, including 22 jobs for low- and moderate-income individuals.
Plans for the mixed-use development and the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park have been on the table for about ten years, Gant said.
“We have had aspirations since then about doing a development in the area to raise the visibility of the area and to become more integrated in the revitalization of downtown. Also, to bring attention and awareness to the significance and the historical nature of the area.”
“A lot of people in Tulsa aren’t familiar with Greenwood itself. They know where OSU-Tulsa is, but that’s about the extent of it.”
“That told us we need to do a better job of building awareness of the area, and the significance of it – the part it has played in Tulsa’s growth, its history. We want to create a destination point for tourism, if you will.”
The GCC has identified 13 points of destination that are of historical significance in the district, going through the OSU-Tulsa campus, down Elgin and ending at the new park and development.
“We’ve experienced a lot of buses coming here, during the summer especially, of folks interested in seeing Black Wall Street. We’ve identified the best destination points, and we’ve created a walking tour brochure with these points listed.”
“We think it creates for the city an opportunity to capitalize on tourism dollars. It creates an opportunity for us to bring awareness and attention to the historical nature of the district.”
John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park is being designed by EWC Inc., the same firm commissioned to design the mixed-use development. The three-acre park, which is to serve as a memorial to the 1921 Tulsa race riots, will feature a 30-foot tower in addition to a 20-foot artwork.
The state authorized $5 million for the park in 2001. More fundraising is needed, however, since current plans for the park require an additional $1.3 million.
None of the funding authorized by the state or the Oklahoma Historical Society for the park has been appropriated to the City of Tulsa.
“With this attraction, which has the potential to become a national park, Tulsa can revive an urban renewal area with an estimated $6.4 million economic impact annually,” said Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor in a weekly newsletter to the public. “This Center will attract tourists and citizens to an area of Tulsa that needs economic revival.” ?



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