POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 5, 2012:
City Councilor G.T. Bynum says Riverside Drive project could transform Brookside
Throughout a driving tour of his city council district, G.T. Bynum shared bits of his personal story. Much of his life has been spent in this part of town.
Bynum, District 9 city councilor, lives with his wife and their children in the historical area known as Ranch Acres near South Harvard Avenue, just a few blocks from his childhood home. Growing up, he also lived in Brookside.
His district mostly stretches from East 31st Street to East 61st Street, with borders that include Riverside Drive to the west and South Sheridan Road to the east.
The area, with a population of roughly 42,500, runs the gamut, with South Peoria Avenue and East 61st Street among the most crime-plagued parts of town.
Yet the intersection is just a mile away from Southern Hills Country Club, mused Bynum, who stopped by the South Tulsa Community House at South Peoria Avenue and East 58th Street as part of the tour.
Almost every seat was taken inside the cramped waiting room, with visitors likely there to take advantage of services that include a food pantry, counseling and GED classes. "They get some block grants, money from the city, but for the most part it's privately funded," Bynum said, singling out Lanny Endicott, an Oral Roberts University professor and leader at the center, as "an honest-to-god community organizer."
As far as crime, Bynum praised Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan for re-instituting the beat patrol system for officers.
"People have the opportunity to get to know the police officers who work in their part of town, in their neighborhood," Bynum said, stressing the importance of community outreach.
He blamed the high number of apartment complexes in the neighborhood as contributing greatly to the safety issues.
"There's over 30 different Section 8 apartment complexes just within a square mile of this area," Bynum said.
It's a spot where the city could have done better, he suggested.
"Ultimately, what it comes down to is land-use planning, which is a lot of what we do on the council," Bynum said. The neighborhood around the intersection, which also spills into District 2, represented by Jeannie Cue, serves as a reminder that land use planning "isn't just about, 'Oh well, where's a gas station going to go' ... It's also really a public safety concern."
Farther north, the neighborhood changes into one of the more stable parts of Tulsa, and Bynum's family has been a part of that. He described himself as part of "a big old Catholic family that's been here for 140 years," with many relatives living in this section of town or just slightly removed. Relatives include two former mayors: Bynum's grandfather, Robert LaFortune, and a cousin, Bill LaFortune.
To be sure, change has taken place, but Bynum doesn't speak wistfully about the past. He's more interested in extolling the virtues of planned projects that he said could transform this section of the city.
Chief among these is the planned park site under development by the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
"All of this will be torn down in the next four years," Bynum said while driving north on South Riverside Drive. The foundation essentially owns the area just east of the street starting at East 33rd Place and continuing north to include the Blair Mansion site, he said.
Bynum pulled into the parking lot of the Sundance apartments, where he himself once lived.
He expects the apartment site to be redeveloped into something new. Open-space park land is slated for further north, while in these few blocks "they're looking at different options for a children's museum or types of mixed-use development, high-end stuff," Bynum said.
He noted that the foundation has held several public input forums to discuss their plans for the area.
"I have, to date, heard nothing but excitement about the project, with the sole exception of some of my friends in the historic preservation community," Bynum said, explaining that those concerns relate to the fate of the Blair Mansion north of his district. The home is currently expected to be moved out of the neighborhood, he said.
"The Kaiser folks have really bent over backwards to have public meetings and public input. They've created a website for it, created email lists that people can sign up for updates. They've brought in the planner from out of state that's designing this thing to meet up with town hall groups," Bynum said when asked how many people living in Brookside houses know about the impending change.
The new development "will be integrated with Brookside," Bynum said, adding that the future development is "going to be a regional destination."
"This is something that's going to bring people from all around the region," Bynum said. He added that he expects property values to rise for homeowners in Brookside.
"Usually when you meet somebody who lives in Brookside and talk with them, they've been there for years and years," Bynum said. Asked if some might grumble at the possible higher tax assessments, Bynum said, "I can see that as a concern, but that's a problem we'll address when we get to it." The area has "a long ways to go before we're worried about property values increasing so much that people can't afford to live there anymore," he said.
Along with the parks project, Bynum stressed the importance of renovations at Saint Francis Hospital on South Yale Avenue. He also spoke about plans being discussed with the Indian Nations Council of Governments to pursue a "bus rapid transit system" along portions of South Peoria Avenue and Riverside Drive.
Bynum said he gets "maybe one or two calls a week" from citizens in his district with complaints about trash pickup or a neighbor's unkempt property.
"My constituents really want me and expect me to be working on larger policy issues. They're concerned about crime, they're concerned about the condition of the streets, they're concerned about economic development," he said.
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