The city is moving forward with providing the Urban Renewal Authority $5 million in MAPS 4 funding to acquire a northeast quadrant corner that was once envisioned for $30 million shopping center.
Plans by Susan and Hank Binkowski to anchor the corner at NE 23rd Street and Martin Luther King Avenue to replace a worn-out Buy For Less with an Uptown Grocery drew cheers from the predominantly Black northeast quadrant, which was in an area deemed devoid of a grocery supermarket.
The Binkowskis spent more than $2.1 million acquiring the decades-old store that they were leasing, along with the adjoining shopping center and several undeveloped acres. The city pledged to provide $8.5 million in public assistance for the development, but the deal fell apart when the Binkowskis sought to build a smaller, discount store and asked for more assistance.
The couple later closed the store, razed all structures on the property and sold the remnants of their chain to multiple buyers. The 22-acre property represents the only portion of MAPS 4 specifically targeted to spur redevelopment of private property.
David Todd, head of the city’s MAPS office, said the $5 million can be used for land acquisition, site cleanup and administrative costs. The $5 million is part of $25 million approved by voters for city beautification projects.
“We’re asking Urban Renewal to do this because more than likely it will be a redevelopment project, and this is what they do,” Todd said. “What we typically do is get land and build something there.”
Discussions between the Binkowskis ended when a second plan to build a MAPS 3 senior wellness center on the corner fell through with a decision to build the venue instead at NE 36 and Lincoln next to a new Homeland grocery.
The Binkowski property is in the heart of the eastside and at an intersection where MAPS 4 is building a Clara Luper Civil Rights Center and private donors are paying for restoration of the historic NAACP Freedom Center.
Susan Binkowski said Thursday she filed an application in 2019 to change the residential zoning to commercial for the undeveloped property at NE 23 and Martin Luther King as part of ongoing efforts.
“This was done to keep moving forward after the city changed its mind and moved the senior wellness center,” Binkowski said. “We also continued to remove dilapidated buildings, do asbestos remediation to again keep investing to move the land forward.”
Binkowski said the city’s efforts are complicating those plans.
“It is problematic to obtain financing on property approved for eminent domain,” Binkowski said. “Any plans that could be acted upon are now being held hostage. We continue to pay mortgage payments and interest on property we no longer have any control over as a private citizen.”
When plans first fell apart, then Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis asked the Binkowskis to consider selling the land to Urban Renewal as a way to move the development forward.
Kenton Tsoodle, who recently succeeded Cathy O’Connor as Urban Renewal director, said he is reviewing the matter.
“There have been some offers in the past, which she rejected,” Tsoodle said. “I believe we’re in the process of getting a new appraisal. We will continue to try to get the land without going through eminent domain.”
Binkowski said she welcomes a call from Urban Renewal to hear more about their intent.
“No one from OCURA has reached out to our attorneys or our teams to engage in productive discussions,” Binkowski said. “We would look forward to such opportunities.”