Oklahoma City, County Officials Consider Redevelopment Of Jail, Journal Record Building | KGOU
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Oklahoma City, County Officials Consider Redevelopment Of Jail, Journal Record Building

Jun 5, 2015

On Tuesday the City Council of Oklahoma City approved a revised agreement for the redevelopment of one of downtown’s most historically significant buildings.

The east half of the Journal Record Building, which was damaged in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building across the street and now houses the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, is being redeveloped into Class A office space with $4.75 million in assistance from the city.

The Journal Record’s Brian Brus reports the council voted to change when the payouts will come and got a commitment for more money from the developer.

Developer JRB Holdings LLC is increasing its original planned investment from $1.5 million to $7 million, officials said, while City Hall’s financial commitment remains the same, with changes in how payouts are timed.

City Manager Jim Couch said the project is one of the best examples of the “but-for” policy underlying the use of a tax increment financing district – redevelopment in the area is unlikely to occur but for the city’s investment in the property.

“When they say a 'but-for' project, what they mean is something that wouldn't happen without that public assistance,” said Journal Record managing editor Adam Brooks. “So the city thinks that funding these sorts of project can make or break a deal, and having more office space in this area will really revitalize the area. It could cause other development, and it should generate more taxes. So it should be a good investment.”

During the meeting, Couch said redeveloping the Journal Record Building would be one of the more difficult projects the city’s undertaken – even harder than the $54 million, 2006 renovation of the historic Skirvin hotel in downtown Oklahoma City.

“We’ve had I don’t know how many false starts on this building. It’s upside­ down financially. It’s a marginal building,” Couch said. “But it’s a building that has to be saved because of the emotional ties to the memorial It’s a very challenging project, and it would not be redeveloped without TIF [tax increment financing].”

The Oklahoma County Jail.
Credit Brent Fuchs / The Journal Record

County Jail Juggling Act

This fall, Oklahoma County voters could see a ballot question for a new jail facility. The 24-year-old facility west of downtown has been plagued by problems since it opened in 1991 – everything from leaks to design flaws that allowed inmates to escape. There’s also possible federal legal action.

“The U.S. Department of Justice found that medical care was so lacking that it violated inmates' civil rights,” Brooks said. “And there was a memorandum of understanding to fix some of the problems, and while there's been some progress, the feds have notified the county that a lawsuit could come soon, because not everything was fixed.”

And no one seems to agree on how to deal with this problem. Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel, county commissioners, and Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch all disagree about the best way to proceed.

Whetsel in April proposed a financing framework that would involve a sales tax increase of two-tenths of a cent for 15 years, which was projected to produce about $24.4 million annually for construction of a jail, juvenile detention center and mental health facility, and three-tenths of a cent to provide for operations and maintenance.

Johnson said she’s considering Whetsel’s plan or something similar, but she’s only one vote on a three-member board representing the county. Rick Buchanan, Commissioner Ray Vaughn’s deputy, recently said he would urge his boss to support a ballot initiative before the year ends.

Commissioner Brian Maughan said Monday, “At this time, we do not have a recommendation before the county commissioners as to what we’re going to do, and we do not know what the needs are going to be.”

“If the feds do come in and win a lawsuit, that could force a change right away, which would probably mean property taxes go up pretty drastically,” Brooks said. “If we're talking about a $350 million jail, that's an extra $226 per year on every $100,000 value in a home for three years. It's pretty significant.”

During a June 11 meeting, the committee hopes to come up with a plan that could be put in front of voters later this year.

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