POSTED ON AUGUST 7, 2013:
More than Apartments
West Park project shines light on Kendall-Whittier
Already, the lush landscaping and bright buildings form an island of serenity within the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood.
The area east of downtown is perhaps best known citywide as home of independent movie house Circle Cinema.
But various efforts have sought to bring wider improvements to a neighborhood where about one in three live in poverty, according to a report from the Community Action Project of Tulsa.
Almost exactly one year ago, Mayor Dewey Bartlett and others hailed the construction of about 120 mixed-income apartments known as West Park just off S. Lewis Avenue, a partnership involving the University of Tulsa and the George Kaiser Family Foundation, among others.
"The important thing was, with all the investment that the foundation and others are putting in the neighborhood, to try to uplift the current residents there," said Josh Miller, a Kaiser Foundation program officer. He said the neighborhood has a lack of quality, safe affordable housing.
"The last census showed that about 60 percent of housing stock in Kendall-Whittier was below average or poor," he said.
Already, 25 West Park units have been occupied since early summer, with construction expected to wrap up on the remaining apartments by the middle of October. Many of the occupied units have two stories, with a brick exterior on the lower level. Others are three stories tall.
Rather than the cramped feel of many complexes, the approximately six-acre site has the living units tucked away from the traffic of S. Lewis Avenue. It may be a side effect of the limited number of occupants having thus far moved in, but the ambience of the area is decidedly quiet and low key.
The units have proven popular, with 96 applications as of Aug. 2, according to Mary Kellers, vice president of McCormack Baron Salazar, Inc., the St. Louis-based developers who used tax credits valued at about $6.9 million to help finance the approximately $20 million project.
A separate building near S. Lewis Ave. will house University of Tulsa students, with the school describing it as a "trendy" option for upperclassmen and graduate students. The 20 units, a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments, will be available this month.
"Regarding the expansion, the university has had a backlog of housing requests for the past decade -- especially requests from students who wish to have a pet. (This student housing is pet-friendly.) TU also is interested in the continued improvement of the Kendall-Whittier Neighborhood and is pleased to be part of the West Park development," university officials said in a statement. The university's neighborhood outreach program, True Blue, will have its headquarters on the ground floor of the new building.
The new apartments may be a beacon for a resurgent neighborhood, according to Ed Sharrer, executive director of Kendall-Whittier Main Street.
"I think that people that are driving past, maybe haven't been to Kendall Whittier in a while, it's something they can't help but notice," Sharrer said.
It's a high-quality investment that can only attract other potential investors, Sharrer said.
"It's been a real catalyst for, if not other development, then certainly a lot of interest in development in Kendall Whittier," Sharrer said.
Along with the apartments, the Kaiser foundation has been involved with restoration of Kendall-Whittier Park, just steps from the apartment complex.
Miller said residents wanted an improved park.
"In the evening, it wasn't lit very well. There were just a lot of issues to it. It just wasn't a very inviting place, unless you kind of stuck next to the parts that were up next to the street," Miller said.
So a major overhaul has been ongoing, with the park currently only partially open pending completion of the project, scheduled to be finished by the end of this month.
Miller said he's already seen more children enjoying the park than previously.
While the park remains officially a city park, TU has agreed to maintain it -- a big factor in the approximately $2.5 million project, Miller said.
"We probably would not have done the project without the commitment from TU to maintain it at their standard, at the TU standard," Miller said. "That just sends the message that this is a park that is important, and when the residents see that it's a park that's being taken care of, they'll take care of it, as well."
At the West Park apartments, about 70 units are being offered at market rates, which range from $675 for a one-bedroom unit to $1,150 for a three-bedroom unit. The apartments range in size from 669 square feet of space to a 1,362-square-foot area.
Another 58 units are set aside for those with a limited income, with some apartments designed to be affordable for those earning only a quarter of the neighborhood's median income, while others are specified for those earning a little more than twice that.
While such mixed-income housing isn't uncommon in other cities, it's a rarity in Tulsa. The St. Louis-based developer, however, has experience with such projects in many cities and touts the benefits of such housing on its website.
"The idea of mixing incomes in residential settings is not new," the company's website states. "Urban neighborhoods have traditionally included a mix of rental and for sale housing types suitable for an array of incomes and family sizes. Recognizing the need to recreate the mixed-income neighborhoods that once existed in cities, and understanding that public support for new all-affordable housing can be difficult to obtain, mixed-income housing has emerged as a feasible solution to provide workforce housing and affordable housing while simultaneously rebuilding distressed communities."
Miller noted that the Kaiser Foundation helped usher the company into the Tulsa market.
"We brought McCormack Baron to town on this deal," he said, praising the developer as "everything they're cracked up to be." He noted that there is a potentially similar project that's been talked about as a possibility for the Eugene Field neighborhood.
Sharrer noted that the neighborhood as a whole has gained some commercial momentum since last year's ceremony, with a new Mexican bakery opening up and some small businesses like a yoga studio. Soon, a furniture store, Urban Furnishings, will from its Brookside location to E. Admiral Boulevard.
"There's a cool factor there that is appealing to me," said owner Rebecca Joskey. The mix of families and children in the new West Park complex may not be as interested in cool, but the affordable rents and nearby park access may prove to be an even stronger lure.
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